Playing the Field II: Video Games, American Studies, and Space

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Dietmar Meinel (University of Duisburg-Essen)

Call for Papers

Playing the Field II: Video Games, American Studies, and Space

May 15-18, 2019, Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen (KWI) and University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany

Over the course of the last four decades, video games have blossomed into a main feature of contemporary popular culture with millions of players around the globe. The development and sale of video games has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Similarly, the study of video games has moved from the unassuming pages of (analog and digital) fan sites to major journalistic sites and academic journals. As an interdisciplinary field, Video Game Studies draws from numerous disciplines. Although American Studies has also productively engaged with the phenomenon, the study of video games continues to occupy a fringe position within the field. As the first of its kind, last year’s “Playing the Field: Video Games and American Studies” conference brought together American Studies scholars in the hopes of exploring, to quote from the call for papers, “the particular perspectives that American Studies with its highly diverse toolbox of theoretical and practical approaches may bring to the analysis of video games, and how in turn other approaches to video games (and the games themselves) affect and change these established theories and methods.”

The 2019 conference aims to continue conversations about video games and American Studies in general to explore a multiplicity of approaches. This time, however, the conference features a thematic focus on a topic central to American Studies: space. The rich theoretical repertoire of the study of space has yet to be brought into conversation with the study of video games, and American Studies discourse on spaciality in turn has yet to incorporate how Video Game Studies has approached the subject with regard to its particular medium.

From Pong (1972) to Pac-Man (1980), from Gun Fight (1975) to Donkey Kong (1981), space has been a core feature of (most) video games since their inception. As computers and consoles became increasingly more powerful, the representation, creation, and navigation of spaces also became more elaborate in, for example, Super Mario Bros. (1985), Nebulus (1987), the Civilization series (1991-), Prince of Persia (1989), or Metal Gear Solid (1998). In manipulating game-space, contemporary games such as Minecraft (2009), Antichamber (2013), or The Bridge (2013) exemplify the unique possibilities of a multimodal medium and its ability to imagine, present, and manipulate space. Today, space and movement in space are an inherent part of the visual, auditory, and haptic gaming experience as navigating a digital world continues to be an essential feature of modern-day first-person shooters, sports games, competitive fighting games, MMORPGs, or open world games.

The field of American Studies has developed to no small extent around a theorization of space, as the concept has been crucial in asserting the experiences the land and landscape granted to white settlers in America and in the development of an American culture. While leading notions of a “wilderness,” a “virgin land,” a “garden,” the “frontier,” or a “city upon a hill” of the early period of American studies have been shed, spatial conceptions of North America and the United States as a contact zone, borderland, or transnational site continue to draw from geographical language. Similarly, the imperial and neo-colonial features of the geopolitics of space are as relevant as ever for drawing attention to American “legacies of conquest” as well as their numerous contestations. Contemporary scholarship explores the produced character of “American” experiences of space and place. For instance, the long-standing history of debates about North American cities as quintessential global models and the Jeffersonian tradition of rural, even anti-urban notions of open space and “wilderness” also speak to the perpetual contestation of space in US American culture. These two prominent examples indicate the relevance of the spatial turn in American studies.

We invite contributions seeking to bring such critical perspectives in American Studies to the study of video games or vice versa. Topics may include, but are not limited to, the representation, (technological) production, and experience of space in video games; the configuration of spatial myths and symbols in video games; the ways in which players interact with or shape space; the interconnectedness of rural, urban, and suburban spaces in video games; the production of space through movement of avatars, characters, and objects; the geographical literacy video games foster; the function of maps and practices of mapping in video games; the geographical network of the gaming industry from studio location to game fares and digital market places; the formation of digital public spheres in online gaming communities; the spaces of gaming from the arcade to the convention center and the home; the dissemination of gaming in public spaces thanks to mobile devices and augmented reality games; the materiality of digital spaces; video games as heterotopias; historical perspectives examining the changes of video game spaces. Feel free to play around.

If you would like to present a paper at the conference, please submit a proposal of no more than 300 words. The deadline for all submissions is 30 September, 2018. Please send your proposal along with a brief biographical statement to Dietmar Meinel at