Playful Mediations

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course


Serious Play (U of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, US) and Game Worlds Cluster (U of Edinburgh, Scotland) present Playful Mediation: A Virtual Symposium, a day of semi-formal, 15-minute presentations on games and media-based objects from an assembled group of scholars from the humanities and social sciences.
Register here for access to the Zoom meeting. You can also watch the proceedings on the Serious Play Twitch Channel at
Below, you'll find presentation titles, speakers, and abstracts. These will continue to be posted here as they are made available. Order of speakers is subject to change.
9:00 (CT): Game Worlds Cluster (U of Edinburgh, Scotland)
‘Concrete Ghosts: Mediating Materials and Eerie Assets in Control (2019)’
Dr Merlin Seller
This paper reads Control (Remedy Entertainment, 2019) through new materialist and cultural-historical lenses as a game concerned with mediating the ‘eerie’ (Fisher, 2016) strangeness of mineral 'things' (Brown, 2001). Textual analysis unpacks the historical-ontological resonances of sand and concrete as agentic, ambivalent materials that haunt Control’s Brutalist iconography. I offer this analysis to redress a relative lack of scholarship on Remedy's work and contribute to representational and nonhuman turn Game Studies, with emphasis on the way videogames’ visuality mediates our relationship to objects and infrastructures.
'Dopamine Subjects'
Dr. Tom Boylston, University of Edinburgh
This paper traces emerging popular theories about the neurotransmitter dopamine and its role in human desire. Dopamine-based models of motivation and reward, developed by neuroscientists and psychologists, have taken up by product designers, including videogame developers, looking to increase user engagement. Dopamine is also widely invoked in online communities of people struggling to moderate their use of videogames, pornography, or the internet in general. I will explore what kind of selfhood is entailed when we think of our desires, motivations, and addictions as dependent on a molecule that is subject to constant manipulation by cleverly designed products. The dopamine subject, I will suggest, is one who is constantly struggling to self-regulate in an environment of sensory excess.
'Composing space: immersion and interaction in a large scale virtual audiovisual installation’
Jules Rawlinson
This presentation outlines approaches to composing space through and for immersion and interaction in w[i]nd (Rawlinson, 2020), an interactive and generative audio-visual composition / installation in procedural and orchestrated space. This project aims to be a rich and playfully immersive visual and sound art experience in a large-scale first-person Virtual Environment (VE). The VE consists of a labyrinthine array of audio-visual exhibits of synthesised images and 3D models of wind instruments coupled with samples of physically modelled synthesis and processed acoustic recordings that exhibit a range of characteristics of augmentation and abstraction. The work explores mediated spatial perceptual experience, open sonic form, timbre and character in non-linear interactive experiences and contributes to research into the use of sound and sounding objects as an approach to presence and immersion, orientation, navigation, interaction and ‘ergodic musicking’ [Oliva, 2019] in VEs. Standalone applications for Mac and PC are available at
'Gaming Online but Alone: The Ethics of Indifference Among Chinese Casual Gamers'
Yaojing Wang, University of Edinburgh
This research draws on my ongoing ethnographic fieldwork among working adult gamers in Shanghai. It pays attention to the “ethics of indifference” among casual gamers in order to understand their daily experience of playing alone and lacking the community in traditional senses. The ethics of indifference is often expressed through the phrase “just casually play”. With such expressions, casual gamers attempt to present gaming as so unimportant and worthless to them that it’s just an activity of leisure that can be abandoned easily. Displaying one’s indifference to games can be understood as an unconscious strategy to alleviate the moral concern about online gaming and enables these casual gamers to play ethically. However, the ethics of indifference is not merely about performing lack care for or interest in online gaming as if it is a pretense. Rather, it has an experiential aspect and entails indifference not only to games but also to sociality in gaming. While gaming alone may be attributed to many causes, the observation of the casual gamers who engage in online games like Honor of Kings (a native player-versus-player mobile game) shows that it is the ethics of indifference that connects many elements, such as modern temporality and game mechanisms, and let them jointly facilitate the solitude during gaming time.
11:00(CT): Serious Play (U of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, US)
'Resonances Between and Through Objects in Remedy Entertainment’s Control (2019)'
David Kocik, PhD student in English: Media, Cinema, & Digital Studies
This presentation interrogates the central metaphor of resonance in the video game Control through Norah Campbell, Stephen Dunne, and Paul Ennis’ social theoretical concept of posthuman relationism. As Campbell et al. argue, “objects come into the social world as expressions of value” that is “negotiated, perceptual, political and agentic,” contrasting other work on new materialisms and object-oriented ontology (134). Using posthuman relationism, I argue Control’s resonances - The Hiss, Polaris, and Objects of Power - construct objects as inherently social amalgamations of human perception and physical material, reflecting what Campbell et al. term “the co-constitution of the social and extra-social” (130). Through this textual analysis, I posit how game scholars can consider the relationships between in-game objects, controllers, and human bodies as co-constitutive resonances, providing further insight into how games mediate our understandings of the relationship between human and object.
‘The Mortal Coil: respawning as access to duration in FPS multiplayer contest.’
Matthew Keracher, PhD student in Anthropology
Studies of new media objects within the digital humanities often favour textual analysis, but what alternative approaches can social anthropology offer in thinking through new media use? To this question, this presentation will make three points. Firstly, to decenter meaning in favour of the ‘practical’ (Schieffelin 1985). Secondly, such a reorientation means to attend to questions of ‘duration’, (Hodges 2008) and ‘fateful action’ (Goffman 2006). Thirdly, practical approaches to new media ‘habits’ (Chun 2016) may reveal how our ongoing participation is accomplished through the novel construction and experience of durations. These points will be explored through the process of dying and respawning in the FPS multiplayer contest Halo: Reach (2010).
‘Circuits of Diegesis, Flows of Agency, and Waves of Return: (re)Mediated Authorship in The Stanley Parable & The Beginner's Guide'
Ryan House, PhD candidate in English: Media, Cinema, & Digital Studies
This presentation considers the effect of (re)mediation (Bolter & Grusin 1999) on the figure and function of the author/game designer. The “indie game designer” figure has achieved something akin to the status of the film auteur, but how compatible are notions about the author of past media with those of the computational, participatory medium of videogames? Just how much credit does the videogame player deserve as “co-creator?” To begin to answer these questions, I offer a comparative reading of two games written by Davey Wreden, The Stanley Parable (2013, 2022) and The Beginner’s Guide (2015), that each illustrate how the presentation of a textual author – what I call the “author interface” – elicits specific and distinct aesthetic experiences from its player. Furthermore, I discuss the implications of “the author interface” in terms of C Thi Nguyen’s (2020) claim that games are a “way of writing down forms of agency, of inscribing them in an artifact” (18).
'Unstable Ground Substrate Use as a Rehabilitation Tool: Impacts on Chimpanzee Positional Behavior in a Sanctuary Setting'
Joseph Michael Lara, MA student in Anthropology
Chimpanzees living in captivity can show signs of poor welfare, particularly when in environments that differ drastically from their natural habitats. Mobility and positional behavior variety are important metrics for inferring primate wellbeing and have been found to be in agreement with other indicators of welfare. In typical chimpanzee development, mobility and locomotor skills are gained through the practice of play. Locomotor play involves self-handicapping of sensory and motor functions, followed by recovering to more controlled postures. These actions are performed on a variety of substrates, and arboreal locomotor skills are especially honed through the use of compliant substrates like thin flexible tree branches. Zoos and sanctuaries have reported successful increases to mobility and general welfare from enacting physical therapy regiments for captive chimpanzees. The benefits of physical therapy may be similar between humans and other apes. Physical therapies in humans can involve the use of compliant objects and substrates, which are thought to engage and strengthen muscle groups that permit better balance and transitions between positional behaviors. I plan to create an unstable, compliant ground substrate that will be introduced to a habitat at the Chimp Haven federal sanctuary with the intention of increasing mobility and overall wellbeing in the resident chimpanzees. Data will be recorded on chimpanzee positional behavior, substrate preferences, and balance disequilibrium. If the goals of this study are achieved, it could inform future designs for chimpanzee enclosures to produce greater individual mobility, welfare and species-typical locomotion.
Period19 May 2022
Event typeSymposium
LocationMilwuakee, United States, WisconsinShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational