Seminar: Existence and Emotion in Play

Theodor Kittelsen: Huldra Forsvant (Wikimedia Commons)

When: Friday May 25, 09.30-17.00

Venue: Media City Bergen, 2nd floor (Seminar room 2, UiB)

NB: If you are arriving late and have problems entering the venue, register as Kristine Jørgensen’s guest at the registration screens in the foyer at Media City Bergen. She will come and meet you there.

Games have a long tradition of dealing with myths and monsters, thereby tapping into topics that are associated with how we as humans understand ourselves and our role in the world. At the same time, as games are maturing as medium, there are still challenges relating to how existential and profound topics can be implemented into games in an experientially interesting way. 

This seminar concerns games and play that tap into such issues, covering the design of games that tap into the mythical and the existential. Further, the seminar will look at the emotional impact that games can have upon us, from the awe and terror brought forward by monster play, to the emotional response that players have when encountering uncomfortable and provocative game content. The seminar also asks what we can learn from live-action role-playing games concerning how to create emotional impact and immersion in games.

Redirecting attention from how games move us emotionally to how they move the boundaries between play and gambling, the seminar will end with a presentation on loot boxes as a form of transgressive game design.

Seminar program:

9.30-9.45 – Kristine Jørgensen, professor UiB: Welcome and introduction

9.45-10.45 – Doris C. Rusch, associate professor DePaul University Chicago: Designing Mythical Games as Existential Petri Dishes 

 Throughout the history of humankind, myths have served the purpose of connecting us with our deeper selves, with a sense of who we want to be and how we might get there. Their themes have been derived from the ultimate concerns that constitute the human condition: the fact that life is ultimately limited, has no inherent meaning, yet we need to choose our path, figure out who we are , where we fit, and how we relate. Joseph Campbell wrote: “Mythologies present games to play: how to make believe you’re doing thus and so. Ultimately through the game, you experience that positive thing which is the experience of being-in-being, of living meaningfully.” The old myths have lost their popularity in society, yet we still die, we still struggle with our identities, with isolation and purpose. But now, we have videogames and a chance to re-envision myth in new, contemporary ways. The question, though, is how? This talk explores potentials and pitfalls of designing games that allow players to ponder existential questions, promote self-reflection, insight and emotionally transformational experiences. It discusses the connections between play personalities and finding one’s purpose, intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, and the fine line we have to walk as game designers between providing playful frameworks of self-inquiry for players while not focusing their attention outwards, towards the game structure and its quantifiable outcomes. Drawing on existential philosophy, mythology, learning sciences, and play research, this talk proposes tentative guidelines for designers who want to bring myth to the 21st century and to one of its most culturally most relevant medium: videogames. 

10.45-11.00 – Break

11.00-11.45 – Jaroslav Svelch, postdoctoral fellow UiB: Awe, terror and spreadsheets: Gamification of monsters

The paper outlines a short history of how monsters have been adapted into computer-controlled opponents in digital games. Traditional conceptualizations of monsters emphasize their “sublime” aspect. Monsters evoked the emotions of awe and fear through their unknowable, cognitively challenging nature (Asma 2012). Monsters in games, on the other hand, have become objects of player action and usually need to be well-defined through predictable algorithms and stat tables. The paper shows how monsters have been “gamified” and suggests some ways in which game designers attempt to rekindle the awe and terror monsters had traditionally evoked.

11.45-12.30Torill Elvira Mortensen, associate professor ITU Copenhagen: Playing with the unspeakable: emotions, meaning and transgressive games

We tend to think about the unspeakable as the horrible, awful or shocking, and we find all of this in transgressive games. But it can also be the difficult, the ambivalent, and that which counters the hegemony or goes against the norm. In a search for a model of meaning-making in games, this talk discusses that which can be best expressed through process and experience, and that experience is the highly mediated procedurally based presence which a digital game can offer. Starting out as a discussion of reader response theory as Mortensen and Jørgensen presents it in their upcoming book, this presentation discusses norm-breaking through form and content, and how to research and critically analyse it.

12.30-13.30 – Lunch

13.30-14.30 – Erik Aarebrot, manager Urokråke: Creating and maintaining trust in roleplay

Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) can be a surprisingly aggravating field of discussion, ranging from complete obliviousness through utter disdain to red-hot enragement. I want to share with you some qualitative assessments on how I have used roleplays and interactive approaches to highlight and discuss HSE with openly hostile audiences and how interactivity can harness hostility to an engine for workshop dynamics. I will share wins and blunders equally, all in the hope of sharing how I navigate the trenches of emotions.

14.30-15.00 – Break

15.00-15.45Kristian A. Bjørkelo, PhD student UiB: Creating realism through discomfort – crafting a LARP from the refugee crisis

Can physical discomfort stand in for or enhance emotional discomfort? This presentation aims to present the experience of playing “Asylsøkjarane” a short LARP inspired by Nordic LARP and the game Papers, Please. It attempts to create the stress and emotional experience of the asylum seeking process, in particular the interviews, in a short available time, by creating an uncomfortable situation and environment. The game has been played twice, and were followed by group sessions where the players discussed how they felt game shed light on the process.

15.45-16.30 – Faltin Karlsen, professor Kristiania University College: The hazardous border between gaming and gambling: the case of loot boxes in Star Wars Battlefront II

The release of Star Wars Battlefront II in 2017 created an uproar in the player community, accusing the publisher, Electronic Arts, for implementing loot boxes as a pay-to-win feature. Loot boxes can be bought in-game and contain items of varying value. Authorities in several countries have investigated whether loot boxes are a form of gambling and the Netherlands and Belgium have banned this feature. This presentation discusses how the use of loot boxes in computer games may affect society’s view and regulation of computer games, as well as the debate concerning whether computer games may lead to addiction.

16.30-17.00 – Summary and discussion

18.30 – Dinner for speakers and organizers at Bare Vestland, Vågsallmenningen 1.

For questions about the seminar, contact Professor Kristine Jørgensen

About Kristine Jørgensen

Professor in Media Studies at the Department of Information Science and Media Studies, University of Bergen. Project manager and principal investigator of the Games and Transgressive Aesthetics project.

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