Friendship, Intimacy, and Play-by-Post Roleplaying

Earlier this year, Shawn Dorey (2017) wrote a piece for First Person Scholar on play-by-post roleplaying (PBPRP), which is broadly defined as a form of text-based online roleplaying. In this activity, participants take on the role of specific characters and take turns contributing to the creation of a fictional world through narrative storytelling. Sometimes the world and characters are based on existing media, but all the writing is expected to be original. In her article on Livejournal roleplaying, Sarah Wanenchak (2010) provides a detailed description of PBPRP and observes that this kind of activity “is not a ‘game’ by the most traditional definition: there is no ultimate goal and no system of points, and the focus is on the creation and development of an ongoing story” (para. 18). Since, as she states, “[g]ameplay takes the form of written narrative in the style of traditional fiction[,]” this activity is often thought of as “collaborative writing” rather than playing a game (para. 18). However, Dorey sees the socialization involved in this type of roleplaying “as a form of metagaming” and argues that navigating through the rules, plot, and social hierarchies “functioned a lot more like playing a game than simply participating in collaborative writing” (para. 3). In short, Dorey argues that PBPRP is a game and that the contributors are players. Continue Reading

Free to Be Useless

It was a huge encouragement to read Luca Morini’s wonderful article on play as the “bulwark of uselessness” on May 4th. Having a deep understanding of and appreciation for play is a crucial part of human culture and society, and as Luca notes the freedom to be playful–to enjoy things for their own sake–is often sacrificed on the altar of “usefulness”, leading not to the enhancement of human culture but to its diminishment. To echo Luca’s use of Huizinga: “The very existence of play continually confirms the supra-logical nature of the human situation…We play and know that we play, so we must be more than merely rational beings, because play is irrational.” Continue Reading

Play as Bulwark of Uselessness

Almost two years ago, halfway through my doctoral course, I found myself in Finland at the “Critical Evaluation of Game Studies Seminar,” where, above all the “big names” in the field of Game Studies who spoke there (among which were Aarseth, Deterding, Juul, and Mäyrä), one thing was indelibly imprinted in my memory: Canadian sociologist Bart Simon’s characterisation of Game Studies as a true, undeniable “bulwark of uselessness”. As a customary “tank” player in MMOs, always relishing the role of defending my teammates in our small, unnecessary virtual struggles, the image stuck strongly. Continue Reading

Design and the Broken Game:

Wayfinding and Affordance in Shelter

Shelter is a game about figuring out what the hell to do next. You play as a mother badger trying to guide her children to a new den. Gameplay consists of roving across predatory landscapes, securing food in the process, and feeding this food to your kids. This sounds fun. For me, it was not. Continue Reading

Rethinking ∆Flow

in Relation to Narrative Within The Last of Us

Flow is an immediate, task-based construction. Csikszentmihalyi argues that flow exists in a ‘flow channel’ residing between anxiety and boredom, both of which measure challenges as they relate to skill level (ch.4). He believes people experience anxiety if challenges are too great for their skill level, and boredom if their skills are too great for the challenges provided (ch.4). Within the flow channel, however, “the difficulty is just right for [their] [. . .] skills” (Csikszentmihalyi ch.4), and people can become “completely absorbed by the activity” (Csikszentmihalyi ch.3). The exact activity matters very little; all that is required to enter the flow channel is an actionable task that possesses clear goals, adequately matches a person’s skill level, demands a certain level of concentration, and gives immediate feedback (Csikszentmihalyi ch.3). Indeed, flow is simply a task loop – goal, action, feedback – immediately registered by the player, traversing upwards through the flow channel as both skills and challenges increase in tandem. Continue Reading

Heterotopia & Play

A Rapprochement Between Foucault & Huizinga

What have gardens, graveyards, brothels and videogames in common? What might sound like the beginning of a joke for one, is in fact the introduction of a theoretical approach towards videogames which uses a concept popularized by the French philosopher Michel Foucault: the heterotopia. Michel Foucault’s concept of heterotopia originated in the 1960s and was – besides a short paragraph in Les Mots et les choses and an article in Architecture, Movement only explored further in a radio report for France Culture on December 7th 1966. Nevertheless it was used extensively by academics in the fields of film, literature and culture studies and there were also some ideas to make it fruitful for Game Studies, for examples look at Keith Challis’ Games as Heterotopias or at But I want to start with the basics and show, at least in sections, that the concept of Heterotopia is related with Johan Huizinga’s notion of play. Continue Reading

Let’s Roleplay

Reading Roleplay in Skyrim 'Let's Play' Videos

While game studies has had plenty to say about roleplaying games (RPGs), and particularly about Massively Multiplayer RPGs, less attention has been paid to roleplay as a play style, whereby winning the game becomes secondary to fleshing out and performing as a coherent character. When the practice has been discussed scholars have tended to focus on roleplay as a communal activity undertaken within MMORPGs, many of which have dedicated ‘roleplay servers’ (e.g. Paul and Pitmann). As more and more gamers begin recording and streaming gameplay via sites like YouTube and, however, other forms of roleplay and modes of engaging with roleplay culture are emerging. In this essay I want to look at Youtube videos made by roleplayers of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011). An offline singleplayer RPG, Skyrim has nevertheless attracted a sizeable roleplaying community on YouTube, from comparative veterans like the UK-based SorcererDave – whose hundreds of videos have attracted over 25,000 subscribers – to newcomers whose output might garner no more than a handful of views. From a scholarly perspective their recordings represent a fascinating, ever-expanding corpus that, beyond its virtue as an archive of gameplay, serves to document the emergence of new, hybrid forms of expression, entertainment and play. In this case a single-player game is repurposed as a platform for self-representation, debate and emergent storytelling as roleplay shifts from an evanescent activity undertaken by particular (groups of) players to a mode of individual improvisational performance recorded and offered to a non-playing audience. Continue Reading