CfP: Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds

Proposed Special Issue: Permadeath and Precarity

Call for Abstracts

Due: February 15, 2016
Length: 350-500 words

In the early days of coin-operated arcade games, the cost of defeat was clearly defined in monetary terms. A player inserted a coin and played until her skill, luck, or money ran out. But as arcade games waned in many markets throughout the 1990s, home console and PC game development replaced coin-op design with approaches built instead around player empowerment and narrative progress. The sense of risk was minimized. Recently, a new counter-design movement has emerged which reemphasizes the precariousness of play by making defeat, death, and failure irrevocable. Permanent death or permadeath (PD), as it has come to be known, is experiencing a renaissance with the release of games such as Heavy Rain, DayZ, Don’t Starve, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and One Chance.

Why might this be the case? What does PD teach us about the current state of game culture and its future? How does PD illuminate the history of video games? And what distinguishes the new PD from older forms of permanent player death found in coin-op games and roguelikes? How might the rise in ludic experiments with the mechanics of mortality relate to contemporary issues surrounding the Anthropocene, neoliberal economics, and even the so-called death of the monolithic “gamer” identity?

We have paired permadeath as a design principle with the conceptual nexus of risk invoked by the term “precarity” in order to suggest parallel historical and cultural trajectories. We hope that the juxtaposition of permadeath and precarity will inspire contributions that address continuing gaps in games scholarship as well as support ongoing interest in topics such as gamification, game history and narrative, gamer identity, and the nature of play. In this proposed special issue, we would like to assemble not only essays that explore what perspectives PD games open up in terms of game design, the psychology of play, and interactive narrative in single-player games, but also those that discuss why PD is less prevalent in multiplayer games (though this might be changing), and what limitations the option imposes on what is or is not likely to be a part of designing playable characters in the future.

Please note that while we are soliciting contributions that address PD specifically, we would also welcome those that approach issues of precarity, death, and the consequences of failure in video games in broader terms.

Some potential areas of interest:

  • The history and culture of PD
  • PD and narrative
  • PD and crisis culture
  • PD and avatar identification
  • PD as genre (or PD with respect to “The Berlin Interpretation”)
  • Cultural determinates of the rise of contemporary PD
  • Player preservation vs. player persistence
  • PD as a difficulty setting (hardcore mode in Minecraft, Diablo, etc., or as a player-imposed goal such as a “no death run”)
  • Player communities and PD
  • Player responses to PD
  • “Save scumming”
  • PD as an emerging genre (as opposed to PD as a feature across game genres)
  • Roguelikes and PD games
  • The concept of PD in relation to ideas/concepts such as player affect–e.g., thrill, tension, frustration, failure, risk, mastery
  • A close reading/playing of a game related to PD
  • Comparative media approaches to PD

Abstracts should be submitted to <> by February 15, 2016 or soon thereafter. Please feel free to direct any questions to that account.


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