Special Virtual Panel CFP Esotericism, Occultism, Magic, and Gaming at Southwest Popular/American Culture Association (deadline Dec 28) (online conference Feb 22-27)

deadline for submissions: 
December 28, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Southwest Popular/American Culture Association
contact email: 

The Area for Esotericism, Occultism,and Magic at the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association invites paper proposals for a special online panel at this year's all-online conference.  This panel will focus on the prominent and pervasive role and significance of esoteric, occult, and magical themes, aesthetics, imagery, conceptions, and content in gaming media.  This is intended to encompass games themselves (board games, table-top/RPG, console/PC, live-action RPG, alternate reality games, simulations, etc.) as well as tie-in media of any type (books, films, television, internet series, etc.).  Of equal interest is the reception and application of games and game-like systems or content within esoteric, occult, and magical worldviews, whether present as inspiration, influence, symbolism, or actual creation/play.  

Examples range from the inclusion of fictional content and figures in practical magical practice and/or as representative of established gods, spirits, heroes, and so forth.  Similarly, contemporary occult and magical theory and practice has been influenced by gamefied conceptions of magic in various ways, particularly in the case of conceptions of magic conceived as secular but nonmaterialist.  This phenomenon may or may not overlap with occultist tendencies to embrace modernist conceptions of progress, whether social or technological, and it could be examined as an expression of distinction between worldview conceptions embracing one such progressive conception but not the other.  There appears to be further overlap between the popularity of information models of magic and the popularity of analogizing magic as a type of coding and/or manipulation of abstract concepts via arbitrary semiotic representations; these and other developments in what some practitioners have self-described as "postmodern" magic might suggest a corresponding conception of the "post-occult".  Gamefied models of magic (which might or might not overlap with the use of gaming content or aesthetics) could be examined as a characteristic example of this phenomenon, related to similar developments in popular culture representations of esoteric worldview, particularly (but not exclusively) Gnostic worldviews, that present reality as simulation. Beyond examples of game content in magic and gamefied models of magic, the use of games or game components within or as tools of magical practice and/or sortilege divination is equally worthy of examination. Some systems of practice conceptualize magical and/or causal processes in general as not only symbolized but analogically represented by random or semi-random sorting.  This overlaps with esoteric and even mystical practices centered on the symbolism and imagery often used in sortilege divination.  Probably the most significant example of this is the use of the Tarot as a totalizing symbolic system by some esoteric practitioners, in some cases exemplifying what founding scholar of the academic study of esotericism Antoine Faivre called "the praxis of concordance" by then syncretizing correlations from other totalizing symbolic systems, such as geomancy and the I-Ching, Aleister Crowley's Book of Thoth being a paradigmal example.  The widest overlap of all is probably in those esoteric, occult, and magical worldviews that regard impersonal Chance, quasi-personified Luck or Fortune, or deified Fortuna or her equivalent as supreme.  These can perhaps be compared with mythological conceptions of figures such as the Moirae as themselves drawing lots to determine destiny, or instead Norns or Wyrds who weave it individually, collectively, or interactively.  Despite the seemingly deterministic character of the latter conception, cultures holding it have continued to employ sortilege divination to discern patterns of destiny and fate, and most practitioners using the Tarot have, until the advent of neo-paganism, been monotheists.  

These examples may significantly contrast with the tendency of games not to represent magical causation as gamefied within the game, while players may tend to conceive its operation in the game in this way.  Relatedly, games that are deliberately self-referential with regard to gamefied conceptions of magic within the world of the game, or that attempt to identify out-of-character metaconcepts with in-character magical beliefs, sometimes encourage and in other cases foil fourth-wall-breaking expressions of a fully "simulationist" view of reality.  Such conceptions are probably more prominent than any of the foregoing in contemporary fiction and even in pop philosophy, in which debates concerning not only the plausibility but the likelihood that experienced reality is a kind of simulation have been referred to in popular intellectual journalism, a developed fueled by the overwhelming popularity and familiar currency of The Matrix series in the pre- and post-millennial turn, but supported by numerous other examples and related conceptions themselves represented self-referentially in gaming.  Within contemporary esotericism, these popular cultural examples reflect, and perhaps are reflected by, conceptions such as "metamagic," a term also appearing within gaming with a similar valence, referring to magic that manipulates and modifies magic and/or to insights and perspectives that transcend established categories and subdivisions of magic.

The manifold examples above merely survey an under-researched popular-culture phenomenon that probably represents the most significant change in the general Western cultural conception, reception, and production of magical practice since the modern occult revival.  Relatedly, while the hobby of roleplaying was directly stigmatized in the moral panic of the 1980s associated with Satanism and the occult, and subsequently associated with ridiculed subcultures (periodically resuming a role of vilification, such as of Vampire roleplaying, prior to its own subsequent subcultural ridicule), the recent explosion of game-related content into unchallenged mainstream popularity has been followed by broader acceptance of and enthusiasm for gaming activities themselves.  Their immense prominence in remote social interactions during the current pandemic has already been recognized in popular online journalism.  Given the pervasive presence and prominence of esoteric, occult, and magical themes, imagery, and content in gaming media, this development, in combination with increased reliance on the internet for social and professional interaction, suggests the most widespread accessibility and dissemination of theoretical and aesthetic content particular to esoteric, occult, and magical worldviews on a popular level since the Hellenistic age, while being immensely greater in depth, scope, and variation.

Proposals in any way related to the intersection of gaming and esoteric, occult, and magical worldviews and practices will be considered for inclusion in this special panel despite the closure of general conference submissions.  Please contact the Area Chair with your interest as soon as possible, even if you have not yet completed or begun an abstract, as it will be impossible to accept submissions even to this special panel after December 28.  The Area Chair, Dr. George J. Sieg, can be contacted GeorgeJSieg@gmail.com or (505) 440-2105, though text is much preferred over voicemail.  You are welcome to request the Area's general CFP as well.

We look forward to any and all inquiries concerning this conference Area or this special panel.  All papers presented will be considered for inclusion in a volume within conference-related anthologies, and depending on interest and reception may be considered for a special volume focusing on this particular topic.