Tag Archive: video games

CFP: Permadeath and Precarity

I was fortunate enough to be on a great gaming panel at last year’s SCMS in Montreal, organized by Braxton Soderman and Peter Krapp at UC Irvine. The success of that panel, which took on the topic of permadeath in gaming, has led us to propose a special issue to the Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds. As a first step, we are now soliciting ideas for individual contributions to the issue (abstracts ONLY). Call below! Please circulate widely.


Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds

Proposed Special Issue: Permadeath and Precarity

Summer 2017

Call for Abstracts

Due: February 15, 2016

Length: 350-500 words

In the early days of coin-operated arcade games, the cost of defeat was clearly defined in monetary terms. A player inserted a coin and played until her skill, luck, or money ran out. But as arcade games waned in many markets throughout the 1990s, home console and PC game development replaced coin-op design with approaches built instead around player empowerment and narrative progress. The sense of risk was minimized. Recently, a new counter-design movement has emerged which reemphasizes the precariousness of play by making defeat, death, and failure irrevocable. Permanent death or permadeath (PD), as it has come to be known, is experiencing a renaissance with the release of games such as Heavy Rain, DayZ, Don’t Starve, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and One Chance.

Why might this be the case? What does PD teach us about the current state of game culture and its future? How does PD illuminate the history of video games? And what distinguishes the new PD from older forms of permanent player death found in coin-op games and roguelikes? How might the rise in ludic experiments with the mechanics of mortality relate to contemporary issues surrounding the Anthropocene, neoliberal economics, and even the so-called death of the monolithic “gamer” identity?

We have paired permadeath as a design principle with the conceptual nexus of risk invoked by the term “precarity” in order to suggest parallel historical and cultural trajectories. We hope that the juxtaposition of permadeath and precarity will inspire contributions that address continuing gaps in games scholarship as well as support ongoing interest in topics such as gamification, game history and narrative, gamer identity, and the nature of play. In this proposed special issue, we would like to assemble not only essays that explore what perspectives PD games open up in terms of game design, the psychology of play, and interactive narrative in single-player games, but also those that discuss why PD is less prevalent in multiplayer games (though this might be changing), and what limitations the option imposes on what is or is not likely to be a part of designing playable characters in the future.

Please note that while we are soliciting contributions that address PD specifically, we would also welcome those that approach issues of precarity, death, and the consequences of failure in video games in broader terms.

Some potential areas of interest:

  • The history and culture of PD
  • PD and narrative
  • PD and crisis culture
  • PD and avatar identification
  • PD as genre (or PD with respect to “The Berlin Interpretation”)
  • Cultural determinates of the rise of contemporary PD
  • Player preservation vs. player persistence
  • PD as a difficulty setting (hardcore mode in Minecraft, Diablo, etc., or as a player-imposed goal such as a “no death run”)
  • Player communities and PD
  • Player responses to PD
  • “Save scumming”
  • PD as an emerging genre (as opposed to PD as a feature across game genres)
  • Roguelikes and PD games
  • The concept of PD in relation to ideas/concepts such as player affect–e.g., thrill, tension, frustration, failure, risk, and or mastery
  • A close reading/playing of a game related to PD
  • Comparative media approaches to PD

Abstracts should be submitted to permadeathCFP@gmail.com by February 15, 2016. Please feel free to direct any questions to that account.

Thank you! We look forward to your submissions,

Braxton, Jesús, and Alenda


Editor Info:

Braxton Soderman is an Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at UC Irvine.

Jesús Costantino is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Notre Dame.

Alenda Chang is an Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at UC Santa Barbara.

Reposted from the CCRMA blog. Note: travel expenses and room and board are not covered, just tuition. But no previous experience in computer music is required! Just lots and lots of enthusiasm for both music and games!

Women in Music and Gaming Scholarship

Summer workshop opportunity to study Music and Gaming

Promote the engagement of young women in the fields of game design and development and interactive electronic and computer music.


Up to 2 (two) women (between ages 16-30) will be selected to attend the Designing Musical Games::Gaming Musical Design Summer Workshop at CCRMA with full tuition scholarship. A certificate will be given to each participant upon successful completion of the workshop.


This hands-on workshop will explore cutting edge techniques for building interactive sound and music systems for games and 2D/3D rendered environments. To better understand the link between virtual space and sound, students will learn the basics of 3D art and modelling, game programming, interactive sound synthesis and computer networking using Open Sound Control. During this intensive week, students will build their own fully functional interactive musical game world. Each student will leave the workshop with a fully playable demo of their own custom musical game experience.
Topics and technologies covered will include:
● Game Design and Development with Unreal Engine 4 and Unity3D
● Interactive Audio Programming with Pure Data, LibPD, SuperCollider and ChucK
● 3D Art and Modelling with 3DS Max and Maya
● Procedural Music and Sound
● Algorithmic and Generative music


The Stanford Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA, pronounced  ‘karma’) is an internationally renowned multi-disciplinary facility where composers and researchers work together using computer-based technology both as an artistic medium and as a research tool.


Young women enthusiastic about music and gaming are invited to apply. Age range is approximately between 16 and 30. No previous background in computer music is required.
Please send an e-mail to Nette Worthey (networth _AT_ ccrma _DOT_ stanford _DOT_ edu) with the following information:
a) Full name
b) Date of birth
c) Phone number
d) Preferred e-mail address
e) Current school (if any)
f) A one-page document stating why you are interested in this opportunity. Though no previous experience is required to attend the course, feel free to mention any past work you may have done (for example, any relevant game design or development experience, musical experience, music and gaming software you have used, etc. If there are links available to any of your work online, feel free to include them as well).
DEADLINE: June 1, 2015.
Recipients will be selected after review of all applicants’ materials.


*  The workshop will take place from July 20 to July 24, 2015 (click here  for details: https://ccrma.stanford.edu/workshops/designingmusicalgames2015 )
*  The recipients will receive a full tuition waiver to register for the Designing Musical Games workshop. This scholarship does not include room and board, nor transportation expenses, and it does not have any cash value.
* The selected student(s) may choose to participate of the workshop at either full time or part time capacity (see workshop website for details on each option).

The official call for submissions is now up for this conference at Berkeley in the fall, organized by several of my current colleagues at the Berkeley Center for New Media. Details below, and at the conference site:

The Queerness and Games Conference brings together academics and developers to embark on an innovative and interdisciplinary exploration of the intersection between LGBT issues and video games. The event will combine traditional paper presentations and panels with design discussions and creative workshops. Main focuses will include LGBT representation in games, LGBT concerns in the games industry, and the newly forming scholarly field of queer games studies.

Academics and game-related professionals from all disciplines are welcome to submit proposals for talks, panels, or experimental sessions.

Submission Deadline is July 1st.


Slow Violence (link to Ant, Spider, Bee)

The editors at Ant, Spider, Bee recently asked me to pen something about the place of video games in the growing digital environmental humanities, and I’m happy to report that these thoughts are now online. The post is, perhaps surprisingly for those who know my work, strongly inflected by the latest hullabaloo over video game violence following the Sandy Hook shootings in December, as well as Rob Nixon’s rumination on the ecologically disenfranchised in Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor.

Please head on over and let me know what you think!

The Art of Video Games?

2011 was a banner year for video games, at least in terms of aesthetic and institutional recognition. Not only did the National Endowment for the Humanities revise its charter to include games as a fundable art form, but the Smithsonian American Art Museum also opened online nominations for a groundbreaking exhibit entitled The Art of Video Games, which opened this year on March 16 and closes on September 30. With the help of a Berkeley Center for New Media summer research fellowship, I was able to visit the exhibit in June and meet with exhibition coordinator Georgina Goodlander, exhibition designer David Gleeson, media specialist Michael Mansfield, and curator Chris Melissinos. What follows is a very brief glimpse into my behind-the-scenes experience at the museum.


The Art of Video Games occupies a modest, three-room footprint on the third floor of the American Art museum. Though many visitors mistake the massive Nam June Paik video installation near the start of the exhibit as its opener, The Art of Video Games in fact begins with a projection wall featuring gameplay footage and a small, introductory area that testifies to the imaginative and artistic merit of games through displayed concept art, filmed interviews with leading game designers and scholars, and my personal favorite—a triptych video installation offering screen’s-eye-views of players’ faces as they game, wearing expressions running the entertaining gamut from disbelief and zombie-like engrossment to surprised elation. (The faces shown belong to actual Smithsonian personnel and their relatives, most of whom are not self-professed hard-core gamers.)


At the heart of the exhibit is its large, softly lit central room, which highlights five games, one for each “era” of videogame history (the eras are labeled Start!, 8-bit, Bit wars!, Transition, and Next Generation, and together comprise the years between 1970 and 2010). The featured games, each playable in its own semicircular kiosk, are Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower. Chances are at least one of those titles holds a fond place in your childhood memories, though for me it is the last and most recent game, Flower, that has proven integral to my research as one of my go-to examples of ecological gameplay.


The exhibit’s final room provides a comprehensive look at the eighty games voted into the exhibit in 2011, drawn from a list of 240 first handpicked by curator Melissinos and advisory board members from the game industry, game journalism, and academia. Members of the public voted within the pre-established matrix of five eras, four genres (action, adventure, target, and combat/strategy), and historically significant game platforms, and in the end, some 119,000 people in 175 countries cast over 3.7 million votes.


For exhibit curator Chris Melissinos, a longtime video game enthusiast and “chief evangelist” and “chief gaming officer” at Sun Microsystems, games are “a unifying, multi-generational medium.” For him, the exhibition examines “the 40‐year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects, the creative use of new technologies, and the most influential artists and designers.”

Though the exhibition will soon end its run in Washington, D.C., The Art of Video Games begins a limited national tour of 10 cities in October. For more information, visit the extensive online archive.

Here are some recent statistics (albeit gathered by the Entertainment Software Association) from the industry itself.  It might be interesting to look at the things that are not so surprising and the things a general audience might find interesting.  It is also important to recognize that this is the industry presenting data about itself (particularly on the section about video game violence), but it does shed some light about who plays, buys, uses video games and what they play, buy, and use.

entertainment_software_association_logoIndustry Facts

America’s entertainment software industry creates a wide array of computer and video games to meet the demands and tastes of audiences as diverse as our nation’s population. Today’s gamers include millions of Americans of all ages and backgrounds.  In fact, more than two-thirds of all American households play games. This vast audience is fueling the growth of this multi-billion dollar industry and bringing jobs to communities across the nation.  Below is a list of the top 10 entertainment software industry facts:

  1. U.S. computer and video game software sales grew 22.9 percent in 2008 to $11.7 billion – more than quadrupling industry software sales since 1996.
  2. Sixty-eight percent of American households play computer or video games.
  3. The average game player is 35 years old and has been playing games for 12 years.
  4. The average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 39 years old.
  5. Forty percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (34 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (18 percent).
  6. In 2009, 25 percent of Americans over the age of 50 play video games, an increase from nine percent in 1999.
  7. Thirty-seven percent of heads of households play games on a wireless device, such as a cell phone or PDA, up from 20 percent in 2002.
  8. Eighty-four percent of all games sold in 2008 were rated “E” for Everyone, “T” for Teen, or “E10+” for Everyone 10+.  For more information on game ratings, please see www.esrb.org.
  9. Ninety-two percent of game players under the age of 18 report that their parents are present when they purchase or rent games.
  10. Sixty-three percent of parents believe games are a positive part of their children’s lives.

Sales & Genre Data

According to data compiled by the NPD Group, a global market research company, and released by the ESA in January 2009, computer and video game companies posted records sales in 2008.  The industry sold 297.6 million units, leading to an astounding $11.7 billion in revenue.  Of these sales:

  • Game console software sales totaled $8.9 billion with 189.0 million units sold;
  • Computer games sales were $701.4 million with 29.1 million units sold; and,
  • There was a record $2.1 billion in portable software sales with 79.5 million units sold.

The most popular game genre once again was “Family Entertainment,” which accounted for 19 percent of all games sold in 2008, up from 9.1 percent in 2006.   In addition, of the games sold in 2008, 57 percent were rated “Everyone (E)” or “Everyone 10+ (E10+).”  The NPD Group’s data also indicates that only 16 percent of games sold last year were rated “Mature (M).”

Games & Violence

Facts, common sense and numerous studies all debunk the myth that there is a link between computer and video games and violence.  Blaming video games for violence in the real world is no more productive than blaming the news media for bringing crimes of violence into our homes night after night.  Having someone or something to blame is convenient, especially after an incident of terrible and unexplainable violence.  But to do so is simplistic, and more importantly, it’s wrong.

Credible real-world evidence demonstrates the fallacy of linking games and violence:

  • Violent crime, particularly among the young, has decreased dramatically since the early 1990s.  During the same period of time, video games have steadily increased in popularity and use, exactly the opposite of what one would expect if there were a causal link.
  • Many games with violent content sold in the U.S. — and some with far more violence — are also sold in foreign markets.  However, the level of violent crime in these foreign markets is considerably lower than that in the U.S., suggesting that influences such as the background of the individual, the availability of guns and other factors are more relevant to understanding the cause of any particular crime.
  • Numerous authorities, including the U.S. Surgeon General, the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and several U.S. District Courts have examined the scientific record and found that it does not establish any causal link between violent programming and violent behavior.

The truth is, there is no scientific research that validates a link between computer and video games and violence, despite lots of overheated rhetoric from the industry’s detractors.  Instead, a host of respected researchers has concluded that there is no link between media violence and violent crime.

Some facts about the computer and video game industry today may just surprise you:

  • The average gamer is 35 years old.
  • More than one-third of gamers are women .
  • More than one in four gamers is over 50.
  • The average game purchaser is 40 years old.
  • Sixty-three percent of parents believe games are a positive part of their children’s lives.
  • Sales of “family entertainment” video games more than doubled in 2007, making it the fastest growing segment of the video game market.
  • Ninety-four percent of the time, parents are present at the time games are purchased or rented.
  • Eighty-eight percent of the time, parents report always or sometimes monitoring the games their children play.
  • Seventy-five percent of parents believe that the parental controls available in all new video game consoles are useful.

From: http://www.theesa.com/facts/ with the fuller report at: http://www.theesa.com/facts/pdfs/ESA_EF_2009.pdf

Crossposted to the Critical Gaming Project @ UW: https://depts.washington.edu/critgame/wordpress/2010/04/fyi-video-game-statistics-by-the-entertainment-software-association/