News Update: Gamergate, Hospital Play, VR Experiences, Neoliberal Narrative, Player Diversity, Funding, Digital Culture and Comics.

Welcome to another post that rounds up some recent new stories and journal articles that deal with issues relevant to Gaming Horizon’s focus on gaming, education, culture and society.

In a recent Guardian article, Anita Sarkessian reflects on her role in the Gamergate episode and the ongoing harassment and abuse faced by those who challenge dominant narratives in video games, and the video game industry as a whole. Whilst Sarkessian notes that change has happened in some aspects relating to gaming, there is still clearly a ‘toxic’ atmosphere around discussions of gender that manifest on social media and, therefore, still much work to be done.

An article by Dylan Yamada Rice considers the value of gameplay in the lives of hospitalised children. The article describes a multi-disciplinary project that brought together hospital play specialists, academics and representatives from the digital games industry to co-produce knowledge that could be used in the future production of a video game designed for children in hospital.

A new virtual reality ‘experience’ has highlighted issues around the use of digital technologies that deal with contentious, sensitive or serious  issues. Here, Alpha ask ‘Does a VR Auschwitz simulator cross an ethical line?’ They report on how a design studio ‘believe virtual reality has untapped potential to immerse and educate the world on the most important parts of human history’. However, they also draw attention to the ‘ethical minefield’ that such a virtual environment presents.

A new article in Games and Culture considers the way in which video games portray narrative, exploring specifically how the game Bioshock Infinite potentially serves to reinforce ‘neoliberal values’. This helps to emphasise one of our project’s dimensions, relating to the cultural impact of videogames. Also in Games and culture, a paper entitled ‘Friends with Benefits’,  challenges the notion of ‘hard core gamers’ being predominantly ‘straight, cis-gendered, White, adolescent men’, seeking to explore the diversity of players who actually engage regularly in video game play.

An article by Patrick Klepek on Waypoint considers issues around game design relating to the financial viability of particular games, taking aim at games that include microtransactions that form part of the game’s mechanics. There is a concern raised here that complex, single player, narrative based games could be at risk in an environment where the development of such titles is dictated by the fact that ‘publishers want to make as much money as possible—at whatever cost.’

Meanwhile, Rob Gallagher suggests in the Guardian that video games would be a good place to start if politicians are seeking to develop their understanding of digital culture.

Finally, a new collaborative comic seeks to represent the complex social effects of videogame play. According to the website: ‘Video Games For Good’ is a multi-artist collaboration that focusses on the positive outcomes of video games be they strengthened family bonds, stress relief and escapism, new friendships or simple nostalgia. The project also aims to tackle negative stereotypes that video games are only enjoyed by certain types of people or that the hobby only has detrimental effects.’



Gaming Horizons workshop at ICEM 2017 Conference in Naples Italy

The first in a round of Gaming Horizons workshops will be taking place at the ICEM 2017 Conference in Naples Italy on Wednesday, September 20. The workshops form part of the second phase of project initiatives dedicated to cultural expansion, namely direct interaction with gaming and gamification stakeholders on the issues that have arisen from project analysis of the gaming landscape.
The workshop will take a participatory, hands-on approach to examine current project findings on games and learning that have been gleaned from various sources. These findings will be examined from diverse perspectives, including pedagogy and education, psychology and health, and ethical concerns. Ultimately, the outcomes from this and the other workshops in the series will inform and shape a set of scenarios sketching out possible future directions for gaming and gamification.

More information available here.

News Update: gamification, government investment, time wasting, hospital play, autism and sexism.

Welcome to another roundup of recent gaming news that is relevant to the Gaming Horizon project’s focus gaming, culture and society.

A new article in The Sociological Review by Woodcock and Johnson takes a critical approach towards the concept of gamification. Suggesting that ‘gamification is not a neutral tool’ they differentiate between ‘gamification-from-above’ and ‘gamification-from-below’, positioning the former approach as ‘a terminological foreclosing of alternate possibilities’, as a ‘reinforcement of work’ rather than the ‘subversion of work’ offered by the latter approach.

A recent article published by Nesta seeks to explain ‘Why governments should invest in video games’. The article itself attempts to debunk a number of ‘myths’ around gaming, and the lives of gamers, by drawing on recent research by Borowiecki and Bakhshi. They suggest that ‘Gamers tend to be more educated and more likely than non-games players to participate in other forms of culture, especially through active participation’, also revealing the average age of a gamer to be 43.2 years.

There is a call for papers from the Game Studies, Culture, Play, and Practice Area of the 39th Annual Southwest Popular / American Culture Association (SWPACA) Conference February to be held 7-10, 2018 at Hyatt Regency Hotel & Conference Center, Albuquerque, New Mexico. The call requests ‘papers, panels, and other proposals on games (digital and otherwise) and their study and development. Unusual formats, technologies, and the like are encouraged’. The submission deadline is October 22, 2017.

In the light of ‘economic research in the US [that] suggests that young men are dropping out of work to play games more’ a recent show on BBC world service posed the question ‘Are Videogames a waste of time?’ Here they draw on comments from four different ‘expert witnesses’ to offer insight into the issue, ultimately leading to a conclusion that we should not treat work and play as binary opposites but that there is potentially rich insight and experience that can stem from the practice of video game play.

An article explains how the Gamers Outreach foundation provides video games to children’s hospitals to help children who are undergoing long term treatment. The accompanying video demonstrates how the non profit organisation, founded in 2009, aims to use video games as a way of supporting children through treatment by providing them with the opportunity to play but also to socialise with others (adults and children) in response to their interest in games. 

An article reflecting on recent research by Englehart and Mazurek  considers the benefit of video game play for children with autism. Whilst they note that there are fears, often from parents, around addiction, specific games have demonstrated specific benefits, particularly those that support children with issues around socialisation.

Finally, The Guardian describes how Australia’s gaming industry is ‘leading the way in fighting sexism’, thought the use of initiative intended to level the gender imbalance in the gaming industry. Setting out one particular vision for the future, Ally McLean, project lead at Sydney independent game development studio Robot House, suggests that:

“The more women making games, the better representation will be both industry-wise and in the content we’re producing: more games with relatable and complex female protagonists, games that tell women’s stories, that provide role models, and that can excite and inspire them to create their own.”

News Update: cultural significance, eSports, philosophy, games studies, serious play and social awareness

Welcome to another roundup of gaming news, where we draw together some recent stories from the media and elsewhere relevant to the Gaming Horizons project vision.

The Guardian continues to provide insightful and thought provoking writing in relation to gaming, with an article by Keith Stuart that reflects on the cultural significance of video games, considering how this impacts on the ways in which we think about them. Meanwhile, Tauriq Moosa suggests that there should be place in the Olympics for competitive eSports video gaming.  Jordan Erica Webber writes, also for the Guardian, on the ethics and philosophy of gaming in advance of a new book on the subject: ‘Ten Things Video Games Can Teach Us: (about life, philosophy and everything)’

September sees a new edition of the Games and Culture journal, looking specifically at the field of games studies. This includes articles considering the concept of the game, the history and future of the discipline and the possibility of shifting focus towards player experience. They have also issued a call for papers for articles for a future edition on ‘Queerness and Video Games: New Critical Perspectives on LGBTQ Issues, Sexuality, Games, and Play’.

A new book entitled ‘Serious Play, Literacy, Learning and Digital Games’ by Beavis, Dezuanni and O’Mara explores ‘digital games’ capacity to engage and challenge, present complex representations and experiences, foster collaborative and deep learning and enable curricula that connect with young people today’.  

Researchers from Manchester Metropolitan University are looking for participants to help them to explore the complex relationship between player and avatar, particularly focussing on avatars that resemble the player themselves. A call for papers has been issued for a forthcoming McFarland published book relating to ‘women, video games and modding’.

Polygon report on a new game that seeks to combat the sex trafficking trade. Missing: The Complete Saga depicts the life of Champa, an ‘Indian village girl’, who is targeted by sex traffickers, as a means of raising awareness of the issues involved. Meanwhile, Mashable write about a game called Little Red Lie that seeks to tackle the ‘harsh reality of modern day poverty’.

The Banterbury Tales: An ethnographic approach to studying video game play

This post is about my own research and how it relates to the issues being raised and explored by the Gaming Horizons project. As such, it reflects my personal perspective and recent thinking, rather than that of the project as a whole. Nevertheless, I hope that by sharing this overview I can make my own small contribution to the ongoing dialogue that this project aims to open up between a diverse range of stakeholders. Here, I consider in particular how a researcher’s choice of methodology directly influences what we ‘find out’ and ultimately shapes how we see and understand gameplay.

My doctoral thesis explores the ‘lived experience’ of a group of ten and eleven year old children playing in and around the popular multiplayer, world-building video game Minecraft, during a year-long after-school club in the UK. In this work I focus on the nature of the children’s play, which spanned the club’s multiple on and off screen spaces. Participants were tasked with creating a ‘virtual community’, interpreting this prompt in a range of different (often unpredictable) ways. To explore the players’ lived experience of the club I used participatory and visual methods to generate data to help illuminate the socio-cultural experience of this group. I developed an approach that I called ‘rhizomic ethnography’, drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) ‘image of thought’ as a way of taking account of the multiple factors that make up something as complex as ‘lived experience’. In this way, I was able to make connections between diverse aspects and dimensions of the club, in order to acknowledge and make present the club’s multiple ideas, objects, actions, interactions, people and places in my analysis of data.

The Gaming Horizon project’s ‘State of the Art’ literature review emphasises the predominance of quantitative and experimental methodologies in the work around video game play. Clearly, such methods can help to develop our understanding of particular aspects of video game play. However, I suggest that the privileging of quantitative methods also potentially results in the underrepresentation of other important aspects of player experience. This could mean that we end up looking at the practice of video game play in a way that potentially misunderstands or misrepresents aspects of the games’ potential, or their appeal. This helps to explain why I chose ethnography as a research approach, and why I was interested in looking at ‘lived experience’ in my study rather than, more explicitly, ‘learning’. Ethnography is concerned with investigation the lives of a group of people, describing what participants do and the meanings they ascribe to their actions (Wolcott, 2008), whilst locating a site within the wider social, cultural and historical contexts (Flewitt, 2011). It assumes that the researcher can gain some insight of the lives of participants by spending time observing and discussing their actions.

Qualitative Studies of Video Game Play

There have, of course, been a number of studies that take an ethnographic approach to video game play, although these have tended to focus on adult play rather than that of young people. Notable example include  Dibbel’s (1999) book ‘My Tiny Life’, an ethnographic account of the social life of the online, text-based virtual world LambdaMOO. Nardi’s (2010) anthropological account of World of Warcraft also examines group experience, with a focus on different groups that form within the game. Boellstorff (2008) ethnographic work in Second Life shows how virtual worlds can change players’ ideas about identity and society. Pearce’s (2011) ethnography of a ‘community of play’ examines the ‘social emergence’ (p.42) in massive multiplayer online worlds (MMOW). Apperley (2009) explores the experience of gamers in an internet cafe whilst Walkerdine’s (2007) study of videogame play in afterschool clubs takes a gendered perspective to examine the impact of videogames on players.

There is also some qualitative research which is influenced by work on ‘new literacy studies’ (Street, 1993), exploring the socio-cultural impact of video gameplay, often with children. These studies frequently use the term ‘virtual world’ to describe the game being played, and therefore end up evading literature searches that are looking explicitly for ‘video games’. Examples here include Marsh (2011), who identifies the potential for further exploration into how virtual worlds ‘shape the literacy practices in which the children engage’ (p.114). Beavis et al. (2009) suggest that ‘computer games are texts in the broadest sense… cultural objects which both reflect and produce the meanings and ideologies of the settings in which they are produced and received’ (p.169). Merchant (2009) explores children’s interactions in a virtual world video game called Barnsborough whilst Maine (2017) examines children’s interactions around the mobile puzzle game Monument Valley

Back to Minecraft Club

So, what did this project’s rhizomic, ethnographic methodology reveal about the club and the children’s play? Well, during the club I observed how the children engaged in lively and imaginative play, communicating whilst using laptop computers to play Minecraft. They often sang, danced, did impressions, told jokes, laughed and acted out roles – both in and out of the game. They frequently described their behaviour during the club as ‘banter’, a word which also partially formed the name they chose to give their virtual world: ‘Banterbury’. Play was messy, inconsistent, exuberant, problematic and, sometimes, mundane. My research focussed on a number of ‘episodes’ or events that unfolded during the club, exemplifying what I called ‘the emergent dimension of play’. For instance, the children built a virtual library  populated with their own (often transgressive) texts, which they composed collaboratively and often acted out in the physical space. They spontaneously sang a song about freeing a virtual sheep, based on an on-screen gameplay event and an adaptation of the charity song ‘Feed the World’. The play in and around Minecraft was so lively and visual, on and off screen, that I developed a similarly playful way of representing these experiences, using comic strips to represent these ‘episodes’ from the club, as in the following example where they performed a funeral for a virtual horse…

Of course, not all gameplay is like this; Minecraft Club was one particular manifestation, involving one particular group of children, using one particular game. However, I suggest that studies that take this kind of qualitative, ethnographic approach to gameplay are valuable as they demonstrate some of the ways in which video game play can be engaging, enjoyable, complicated, problematic and even social. A focus on specific game mechanics, how games can stimulate particular types of brain activity or lead to a defined learning outcome can, of course, lead to important innovations in how we use, think about and develop video games. However, it is also important to remember that methodologies shape outcomes, and the way in which we examine the world dictates what we see. I suggest, therefore, that qualitative, ethnographic work plays an important role in emphasising the valuable place that video games have, as socio-cultural experiences, in the lives of players.


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Call for Educator Interviewees

Teachers! Want to add your voice – and the educator’s view – to European research on games and gamification?

Gaming Horizons is looking for educators in Europe with solid Game Based Learning experience to share their thoughts and ideas on games in education and beyond. Over the coming months we’ll be holding a round of individual online interviews, via Skype, lasting about 45 mins. Teachers who are interviewed will receive an official project certificate acknowledging their participation in Gaming Horizons activities. All interview output will be anonymous.

Interested, or know someone who might be? Then send an email to Jeffrey Earp (jeff – at –, who is with project partner ITD-CNR.

Gaming Horizons is co-funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 program. The project is led by the University of Leeds (UK) in collaboration with NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences (NL) and the Institute for Educational Technology, CNR (IT).

Looking forward to hearing from you!

News Update: Now Play This, Characters and Franchises, Religion, DiGRA UK, Identity and Game On

In our fortnightly news update we seek to draw together some recent stories from a range of sources that reflect our project’s vision around video games and culture.

The Guardian recently presented a roundup of the Now Play This Festival. Billed as ‘a festival of experimental game design’ the examples explored here demonstrate the varied ways in which those exhibiting at the festival have approached the concept of gaming, generating gaming experiences that take place both on- and off-screen.

Two recent publications seek to explore the relationship between games, gaming and religion. Religion in Games by Oliver Steffen  provides ‘a methodological framework for the study of religious contents in games, combining religious studies and game studies methods’. Meanwhile, ‘Gamen Mit Gott’, also by Steffen, discusses ‘religion in games, religious games, religious gamers and religious answers to games’.  

Rowman and Littlefield have announced two new volumes that relate to gaming, both edited by Banks, Meija and Adams. The first volume,
‘100 Greatest Video Game Characters’, explores the cultural significance of video game characters across a range of games,  considering what each tells us about the ways in which we relate to games and the experiences they provide. Meanwhile, ‘100 Greatest Video Game Franchises’ considers the influence and impact of what could be considered the most significant game franchises.

The DiGRA (Digital International Games Research Association) UK 2017 Conference is to be held on 5th May, 2017, at the MediaCityUK in Salford, hosted by University of Salford. DiGRA is the international association for academics and professionals who research digital games and associated phenomena. It encourages high-quality research on games, and promotes collaboration and dissemination of work by its members. For this conference they welcome submissions on a range of topics, including: game cultures, gaming in non-leisure settings and gender and games.

A recent paper from the Television and New Media Journal, ‘What Does a Gamer Look Like? Video
Games, Advertising, and Diversity’
by Chess, Evans and Baines, explores media perceptions of gamer identity. Performing a content analysis on a number of video game commercials, they consider ‘how the gamer is represented in terms of physical and behavioural attributes’.

There is a call for papers for the 18th annual Simulation and AI in Games Conference,  GAME-ON 2017, to be held at the Institute of Technology, Carlow in Ireland from September 6-8, 2017. They are seeking papers on a range of game related topics, including Gamification and Social Game Mechanics; Learning and Adaptation; Games Applications in education, government, health and corporate contexts.

News Update: Brexit, Hall of Fame, Tetris, Digital Storytelling, Ludified Cinema

Welcome to the latest update where we draw attention to some recent gaming news relevant to our project’s focus.

With the triggering of Article 50 signalling the beginning negotiations for Britain’s exit from the EU, The Guardian reported on the impact on the gaming industry in the UK. They suggest that 40% of the gaming industry are considering moving their business from the UK as a result of Brexit, due to the uncertainties that Britain leaving the EU brings in relation to European workers. 🙁

The Register reported on a recent study that explored the use of Tetris in response to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They suggest that, as a form of ‘mild brain stimulus… playing a game of Tetris in the aftermath of a traumatic event can help alleviate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.’

NME reported on the nominees for induction into the Video Game Hall of Fame at The Strong – National Museum of Play. The 2017 Finalists represent what could be considered a classic selection of video games, perhaps reflecting a desire to establish practices resembling curatorship around digital artifacts. In terms of more contemporary games, The Guardian also report on Rezzed 2017, outlining what they considered the ’12 most interesting games’ on show from the indie games festival.

The International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling (ICIDS​ ​2017) have issued a call for papers. The event will take place in Funchal, Madeira Islands, Portugal and be hosted by the​ ​Madeira Interactive Technologies Institute. They are seeking proposals that investigate interactive digital storytelling, including interactive narratives in digital games,  and its possible applications in different domains.

A new article by Lasse Juel Larsen in the Games and Culture Journal exemplifies the concept of ‘ludification’, in the context of cinema. Larsen explores five traits of computer game influences on contemporary cinema such as play worlds, ludified quests, controller and interfaces, play experience and game structure. A special edition of Games and Culture also examines applications of serious games in relation to training. This set of paper stem from The SIRIUS project, described as ‘a 4-year, multiteam experimental research program designed to study the effectiveness of games as a training tool for teaching about and mitigating cognitive bias’. Papers cover serious games and decision making, design and development of serious games for training purposes.

News Update: Diversity, Art, Moral Panic, Sexism and Simplification, Events, Awards and Call for Papers

In our fortnightly news updates we  draw together recent stories and events from the media and academia that reflect or explore concerns relevant to the Gaming Horizon’s project.

The Guardian dedicate a lengthy piece to the claim that  the videogames industry has ‘a diversity problem’, stating that ‘just 14% of people working in the UK games industry are women’. They suggest that, whilst moves may be underway to expand the scope of the lives represented in video games themselves, there is still some way to go before the gaming industry provides sufficient ‘opportunities for women and people of colour’. They advocate a number of possible actions to rectify this situation, including intervention in education, at school level.

A new exhibition held at IULM University in Milan, Italy, is exhibiting video game art, in the form of machinima. This form of digital art uses video games as ‘a raw material’. The exhibition, GAME VIDEO/ART. A SURVEY, features works that ‘explore themes related to simulation and representation, replay and re-enactment, architecture and urbanism, sex and race, politics and ideology through the lenses of the videogame’.

New York Magazine report on a recently published book, ‘Moral Panic’ by Markey and Ferguson, that deals with the perceived connection between video games and violence. The article explores the extent to which these claims can be framed as a moral panic, suggesting that the dominant dialogue around these issues is often influenced by ‘preconceived biases’.

Meanwhile, the Huffington Post focus on the reporting of a particular study, said to present findings linking gaming with sexist attitudes. Whilst noting the admitted limitations the study itself, they turn their attention to examine more directly the reporting of the study in the popular press, revealing a lack of complexity, nuance and the use generalisation and simplification to make a case that does not stand up to scrutiny.

The Digital Arts and Humanities Research Group at the University of Huddersfield have announced Historia Ludens, a Conference on History and Gaming, to be held on 19 May 2017. QGCon 2017: The Queerness and Games Conference is to be held at the University of Southern California on April 1st and 2nd 2017.

Engadget report on the recent SXSW Game Awards, providing an overview of the winning games that included the a Cultural Innovation Award for That Dragon, Cancer.

Finally, there is a call for papers on special edition of International Journal of Human – Computer Studies on gamification. With an emphasis on critical challenges and new opportunities, the journal is seeking papers with a focus on strengthening gamification studies.

News Update: Representation, Violence, Addiction, Minecraft, Awards and Events

Welcome to our latest instalment of fortnightly gaming news, where we seek to roundup recent stories from the media and elsewhere that are relevant to the Gaming Horizons project vision.

Firstly, in an article on the concerning lack of diversity of representation in video games, Waypoint noted that, where race is concerned, ‘white is still seen as a kind of default’ for video game characters. Also with regards to representation, this time in relation to gender, Polygon provided a detailed insight into the design decisions that went into making the multi-platform indie game ‘Shovel Knight’.

There have been a number of articles over the past few weeks relating to the impact of video game play on players. For instance, Gizmodo reported on a recent study around video games and empathy. They noted that this long-term project found that video game play was not linked to changes in levels of aggression or empathy, therefore suggesting that any ‘desensitising effect’ arising from gameplay is likely to be short lived. The researchers advocated more long-term study in this area. The Guardian, meanwhile, explored motivations for ‘getting hooked on technology’ in a recent long-read article, whilst Andrew K Przybylski blogged for the ESRC on the (lack of) crisis around games, drawing on a recent Understanding Society survey.

With a focus on the impact of one game in particular, Polygon report that Minecraft is more popular than ever, having now sold a reported 122 million copies across different platforms, with an ever increasing number of active monthly players. Such popularity perhaps helps explain the existence of Microsoft’s recently released Education Edition of the game.

Leading up to awards season, The Guardian report on the forthcoming Bafta Game Awards, whilst the finalists have also been revealed for the International Games Festival Awards, to be held in San Francisco.

In Nottingham, UK, The National Video game Arcade have announced their Playful Writing Group, that aims to ‘build a better world with words’. Registration is also open for the Games for Change festival in New York, which seeks to explores the ‘positive power of digital games and virtual technology’.

Finally, Gizmodo report that the classic arcade machine is soon to become extinct, due to a lack of availability of CRT screens, serving as a reminder that the ways in which we play games is evolving, alongside the nature and complexity of the games themselves.