MLA 2024: "I've struggled a long time with survivin':" Video games, environmental imaginaries of apocalypse, and hope among the ruins

deadline for submissions: 
March 15, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
2024 MLA Annual Convention
contact email: 

"I've struggled a long time with survivin', but no matter what you have to find something to fight for."- Joel, The Last of Us 

Apocalypse, whether brought about by nuclear war or solar storms, viral contagion or runaway climate change, locates within video games particularly hospitable cultural, speculative, and environmental ecologies: from the irradiated wastelands of the Fallout franchise to the twisted fungal infections of The Last of Us to the tidal-locked sun and creaking, rust-riddled factories of NieR:Automata, video games and depictions of apocalypse, catastrophe, and existential crisis are far from strange bedfellows. Oftentimes, this relationship is fraught with horror and grief, terror and tribulation, the diegetic imperatives of the game itself turned wholly towards eking out an existence on the ragged edges of a ruined world. Wandering the post-apocalyptic landscapes within video games facilitate popular critical encounters with what anthropologist Nils Bubandt terms the "three-headed dragon of ‘capitalism’, ‘ecology’, and ‘apocalypse,’" a means of literally playing through depictions of global catastrophe (Bubandt qtd. in Latour, Stengers, Tsing, and Bubandt, 2018, 589). This session will not lose sight of the critical lexicons, analogical constructions, and diegetic depictions of apocalypse in video games, nor their attendant imaginaries and anxieties. However, we will take up a series of discussions that explore how video games are capable of facilitating, in the words of Rebecca Solnit, a type of "hope" that "requires clarity—seeing the troubles in this world—and imagination, seeing what might lie beyond these situations that are perhaps not inevitable and immutable" (Solnit, 2004, 20). Solnit goes on to argue for the powerful potentiality of a world, as a panacea for darkness and despair, "in which creation never ends and people participate in the power of being creators, a world whose hopefulness lies in its unfinishedness, its openness to improvisation and participation" (95). In this session, we will contend with the following questions:
  • How do the technical affordances of video games, contingent upon "improvisation and participation," as well as their larger media ecologies, hold some common stock with categories of hope that catalyze transformational change and open the door for imagining sites of resilience and redress?
  • How are video games as participatory media uniquely capable of realizing deeply experimental possibilities in moments of existential crisis?
  • How do video games align worlds, eliminate distance, and place perspectives into conversation?
  • What are the stakes of using video games to realize hope in times of hopelessness, and how might these participatory experiments shine a light on the potential implications in terms of cultural attitudes toward the current state of the world, individual prospects, and optimism/pessimism about the future?

Contributions may address all forms of video games and their larger media ecologies, including but not limited to: new game mediums and platforms; gaming culture, game specific cultures, and multicultural and cross-cultural issues; gaming narratives and diegesis; ludology; game-based learning; aesthetic, cultural and communicative aspects of video games; politics and ideologies of video games; and more.

Please send an abstract of no more than 300 words and a bio of 150 words to Kaitlin Moore ( Deadline for submission: March 15, 2023