Demystifying video game monsters
Organizer: Jaroslav Švelch (University of Bergen)Since the early role-playing and arcade video games, monsters have been among the most recognizable elements of the medium. From Pacman’s ghosts to Dead Rising’s zombies and Dark Souls’ demons, they have provided gameplay challenge as well as audiovisual or narrative attraction. But despite their prominence, they have not been extensively researched in game studies. Most of the existing accounts relate to the horror genre. For example, Diane Carr, as well as Hans-Joachim Backe with Espen Aarseth have written about in-game zombies (Backe & Aarseth, 2014; Carr, 2009) , Clara Fernández-Vara about vampires (Fernández-Vara, 2010), and Carly Kocurek investigated the thin and problematic line between human and monstrous opponents (Kocurek, 2015). All these papers hint at the specific ways in which video games portray monstrous opponents and suggest that traditional theories of monstrosity need to be reassessed.
Traditional conceptualizations of monstrosity are deeply connected to the notion of transgression. Carroll defines the monster as “any being not believed to exist now according to contemporary science” (Carroll, 1990, pp. 27–28). In his view, monsters are impure, because they transgress the categories and rules we normally use to understand the world around us. Kristeva’s approach to horror similarly revolves around the concept of the abject, arguing that the cause of abjection is “what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite” (Kristeva, 1982, p. 4). A canonical example of this kind of monstrosity may be the Lovecraftian “non-Euclidean” monsters which defy human senses (Lovecraft, 2007).
However, these concepts of monstrosity do not take into account the rule-based and playful nature of digital games (Juul, 2005; Salen & Zimmerman, 2003). In games, monsters can never fully stand outside of the computational and rule systems of the game. They become objects of the player’s agency; they are obstacles to be experimented with and eventually overcome. Digital game monsters might inspire awe or shock by the virtue of their audiovisual design, but it could be argued that players tend to approach them analytically and playfully. Do monsters in games then retain the role of the “monstrous other” of myth and of much horror fiction, or is their transgressiveness transformed in a playful environment? It is in this context that the nature of monsters and the monstrous in games should be examined – on functional, aesthetic and ethical levels, among others.
• theories of monstrosity for video (or non-digital) games
• ludic reworkings of monsters from mythology, folklore and fiction
• monstrosity and horror games
• the monster as a metaphor for games, game technologies or algorithms
• the player as a monster
• the relation of the monstrous in games to other aesthetic categories (the uncanny, the marvellous, the fantastic etc.)The panel will ideally consist of four speakers presenting original research. Theoretical and empirical contributions, as well as close readings, are all welcome.
If you are interested, please submit a 250-300 word abstract to the panel organizer, Jaroslav Švelch, at Jaroslav.Svelch@uib.no by August 17th, 2017. It’s even better to get in touch beforehand, so that I know how many abstracts I can expect. I will let you know right after 17th if your abstract will be included. I will be happy to collaborate with all participants on the final version of the full panel abstract. Please let me know if you have any questions.
You can also check out the Games and Transgressive Aesthetics project undertaken at the University of Bergen (gta.w.uib.no), which I am attached to.