Science Fiction and Games Special Issue - Science Fiction Film & Television
Science Fiction Film and Television and Gaming
CfP for a Special Issue of Science Fiction Film & Television
Guest editors: Cameron Kunzelman and Darshana Jayemanne
6000-8000 word Paper Submissions due 31 Jan 2020 to firstname.lastname@example.org
Camera-ready papers due 30 November 2020
Publication mid-late 2021
Queries to Cameron Kunzelman and Darshana Jayemanne at email@example.com
It only takes a cursory glance at a contemporary videogame storefront - whether physical or online - to reaffirm the predilection for science fiction themes in digital games established by Krzywinska & MacCallum-Stewart’s review of popular games in 2009. From the breathless military futurism of Apex: Legends (Respawn, 2018) to the managerialist climate change imaginary of the Gathering Storm expansion for Civilisation 6 (Firaxis, 2016) or the climate change mod for Minecraft (Mojang, 2011), the science fiction video game imagination has kept pace with the science fiction literary and cinematic movements. This affinity was perhaps best exemplified by the long strange event that is No Man’s Sky (Hello Games, 2016), which sold itself as having limitless speculative value. As their marketing so often promises, science fiction video games deliver a future, but one that is interactive, complex, and mechanically friendly to veterans and newcomers alike.
While there seem to be some fairly straightforward commonalities that make science fiction themes, imagery and settings particularly palatable to game developers - super-powered individuals, exotic worlds with bespoke scientific laws, miraculous devices - we suggest that there are more complex ways of thinking the relation between simulating, screening and writing possible worlds. This is vital because in spite of surface-level homologies, mainstream digital gaming has in fact been quite selective in its sci-fi inspirations. Golden Age fictions of vast empires and Heinleinian super soldiers fighting against grunting enemies dominate store fronts tempered by Star Trek-ian interpersonal adventure games.
If gaming and sci-fi are such a neat match, we ask, then where are the videogame movements that can aesthetically rival - for example - the decolonial potentials of Afrofuturism, Afropessimism, Sinofuturism, Gulf Futurism, or Latin American Uchronias (Betancourt 2019)? Why did it take so long for Ripley, one of the most renowned protagonists in science fiction, to appear in the numerous videogame adaptations of Alien (Keogh & Jayemanne 2018)? Why are some terrorisms over-represented as villains when popular speculative characters such as superheroes bear a powerful anti-fascist provenance (Spiegelman 2019)? Why have mainstream gaming’s metamorphic characters so often resisted queer codings, arcs and thematics? Or, if such potentials have always existed in gaming, how best can we as scholars contribute to the work of finding and conceptualising them in the gaming archive and speculative future? In this special issue we call for papers that ask: What thoughts arise at the shared event horizon of science fiction and game studies?
An early - if tantalisingly brief - academic mention of videogames can be found in Carl Freedman’s discussion of the impossibility or strong unlikelihood of a properly science fiction cinema:
‘It is no accident that the art of George Lucas emerged onto the scene of American mass culture at almost exactly the same time that video games did likewise. For in the Star Wars series… the immense movie screen is often given over to precisely the same sort of visually intricate but intellectually barren patterns that… were being daily produced in a slightly more creative mode by the players of Space Invaders and its innumerable successors.’ (1998, 311).
In bringing game studies to the journal Science Fiction Film & Television while also evoking a leading proponent of the Marxist ‘Suvin event’, we are posing something of a time-travel scenario: what if early game studies had been less influenced by the gravity well of an arid formalism, and instead achieved the escape velocity of thinking along with Le Guin, Butler, Delaney, Suvin, Jameson, Mieville, and other great science fiction writers and critics? What methods in science fiction studies would benefit the study of digital games, and what new challenges do digital games bring to theories of sci-fi?
This rethinking comes at a crucial moment as digital game diversify their subjects across a range of scales, themes and techniques - as can be seen in full-throated postcoloniality of games such as 80 Days (inkle, 2014), Never Alone (Upper One Games, 2014), Thunderbird Strike (LaPensée, 2017), Falcon Age (Outerloop Games, 2019), Dandara (Long Hat House, 2018), Heaven’s Vault (inkle, 2019), and Don’t Wake The Night (Brujería at Werk, 2019). It is also a time when China is vying with the US as the largest market for games (Newzoo 2019), when sci-fi authors are talking about how Japanese RPGs influenced their development as writers (Moher 2019) and Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem won the first Nebula for a translated work, bringing new light to Anglophone biases in game and sci-fi criticism. Digital games are at a keen inflection point and some sci-fi futurist thinking is in order - even as we acknowledge that videogames have always been queer (Ruberg 2019). We invite 6000-8000 word articles on topics which entangle or strangely attract game and sci-fi studies; these may include (but are not limited to):
- Indigeneity, indigenous science, Indigenous futures and Indigenous critiques of key science-fiction inspirations or tropes such as the anthropocene and climate catastrophism (Whyte 2017; Loban & Apperley 2019)
- The relation between speculative genres and the videogame form
- Videogames as a ‘popular font’ of simulation and simulation/systems thinking, both in positive and negative valences
- Science fiction and game characters
- Game dev fiction as science fiction (Gallagher 2018)
- Science fictional representations of games
- The relation between future cultural formations and the video game form
- How video games speak to cyborgs, the cthulucene and plantationcene
- ‘Worldbuilding’ across video games and other speculative media
- The connection between faith, games, ritual, and potential orientations of those concepts
- Eco-criticism and ecological futures in games
- Metamorphoses of science fiction, “ludic mutation” and players’ power to change the game (Schleiner 2017)
- The commonalities between game studies’ conceptions of rules and science fiction’s use of in-world “rules”
- Sense-of-wonder (‘sensuwunna’) in VR, MR and science fiction affect and marketing
- Connected histories of sf and gaming
- The high culture/low culture distinction across sf and games
- Simulation as speculation
- The influence of games on sf cinema and television (Now this is podracing!)
- Queer futurisms and ‘the queer art of failing’ (Ruberg 2019) across sf and games
- “Frustum culling”: technobabble, argot, and language across games and sci-fi
- Science fiction and fantasy as cognitive forms as they appear in game design
- Archaeologies of the ludic future
- The ‘blackground’ of sci-fi games
- Whiteness across sf and gaming cultures
- Artificial intelligence as deployed in game and in sf
Betancourt, M. 2019. “Decolonize Sci-Fi: This Film Series Showcases Utopian and Dystopian Tales Set in Latin America”. Remezcla. Online resource, accessed 19/07/2019: https://remezcla.com/film/uchronias-and-dystopian-futures-latin-american-science-fiction-cinema-momi-2019/
Freedman, C. 1998. “Kubrick’s 2001 and the Possibility of a Science-Fiction Cinema”. Science Fiction Film Studies, 25(2), 300-318.
Gallagher, R. (2018). “From Bildung to Coding: Novelizing the Development of Videogame Development”. BACLS Biennial Conference: What Happens Now. Loughborough University, U.K.
Krzywinska, T., MacCallum-Stewart, E. (2009). Digital Games. The Routledge Guide To Science Fiction. Mark Bould, Andrew Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint (Eds.). London: Routledge.
Keogh, B. and Jayemanne, D. (2018). “Game Over Man, Game Over! Looking at the Alien in Film and Videogames”. Arts, 7(3), 43.
Loban, R. and Apperley, T. (2019). Eurocentric values at play. Videogames in the Global South. ed. Penix-Tadsen, P. Pittsburgh, PA: ETC Press., 87-100.
Moher, A. (2019). How Japanese RPGs influenced a new generation of fantasy authors. Online resource: https://kotaku.com/how-japanese-rpgs-inspired-a-new-generation-of-fantasy-1836426975
Ruberg, B. (2019). Video Games Have Always Been Queer. New York: NYU Press.
Newzoo. (2019). Global Games Market Report. Online resource, accessed 18/07/2019: https://newzoo.com/solutions/standard/market-forecasts/global-games-market-report/
Schleiner, A. (2017). The Player’s Power to Change the Game: Ludic Mutation. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Spiegelman, A. (2019). “Golden Age superheroes were shaped by the rise of fascism”. Online resource, accessed 09/10/2019: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/aug/17/art-spiegelman-golden-age-superheroes-were-shaped-by-the-rise-of-fascism?CMP=share_btn_fb&fbclid=IwAR2bQ3Zic5tQbFuRu9zawtnXtEh1g8mSER9hAplKugY9__xMN84mlWr4Gzc
Whyte, K.P. (2018). “Indigenous Science (Fiction) for the Anthropocene: Ancestral Dystopias and Fantasies of Climate Change Crises”. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 1 (1-2), 224-242.