CfP: Transgressions in Games and Play Anthology

The idea that games are about the positive and fun is long contested. As Jesper Juul argues, games are just as much about displeasures such as failure and losing, and Richard Schechner shows that children’s play is an ambiguous activity that moves between laughter and crying in a heartbeat.

Nordic LARPs frequently feature emotionally difficult topics such as human decay, rape, and cannibalism for the purpose of creating profound experiences. Video games treat uncomfortable topics in a range of ways, from the sanitization of war in Call of Duty, to social realist accounts of war such as This War of Mine; from satire in Grand Theft Auto, to the intentionally provocative in Hatred. Sometimes the uncomfortable is emotionally touching, as in Heavy Rain, or politically provocative as in September 12. Also, what is uncomfortable for one audience may not be experienced as such for another: Some players are uncomfortable when encountering homosexuality in role-playing games, while others find the sexualization of females in many games provocative. Indeed, often the sense of discomfort is created by particular subversive practices related to social interaction, such as trolling, cheating, and dirty play, and how players experience such situations is also a highly individual endeavor.

Common for such content and practices is that they in different ways transgress the values or norms of the player, or their expectations or assumptions about what a game is supposed to be about. The goal of this anthology is to explore what transgression means in the context of games and play, and to investigate how transgressions are experienced when engaging in gameplay. Aiming for a medium-specific and experience-focused approach, the anthology seeks to explore alternative explanatory frameworks to effect research with regards to how problematic and uncomfortable game content may influence the experiences that players have with such content.

Questions to explore include: What are transgressions in the context of games and play, and how do these relate to the idea of transgressions in other forms of media and art? How does it feel to suddenly encounter uncomfortable or provocative content in a game situation? Why would players intentionally put themselves under distress, and how does such content affect the playful attitude? How does the game experience change when playfulness encounters situations that go against their values, beliefs and sentiments? How can problematic topics be included in games in a way that makes them meaningful and has impact in the game context? What challenges do designers face when including problematic topics in games that are problematic and norm-breaking, yet also intense, moving and emotionally powerful? Are there topics that by necessity are speculative to include, and if so, are these subjective, cultural, or universal?

Topics for exploration include but are not limited to:

–       The ontology and definition of the transgressive in games.

–       The design of transgressive games.

–       The experience of transgressive games and play.

–       Case studies of transgressive games and play.

–       Norm-breaking and taboo play: Bad play, dirty play, deep play, brink play, anti-play, edgeplay, parapathic play, unplaying, forbidden play, dark play.

–       Media debates and public discourses about transgressive games and play.


Abstract proposals should be submitted to no later than April 1, 2016.

Submitted abstracts should be between 500-1000 words, and represent original research.

Notice of acceptance will be given by April 18, and accepted authors will be expected to submit a short draft by August 7, 2016, which is subject for discussion at a workshop in late August 2016. Participation in the workshop will be subsidized. We aim to approach a high-ranking publisher with an anthology proposal after the workshop, and full papers will be subject to peer-review.

See for more information about the anthology. Additional questions can be directed to

About the editors:

Kristine Jørgensen, PhD, research fellow at University of Bergen
Co-editor: Faltin Karlsen, PhD, professor at Westerdals Oslo ACT

Both editors are experienced researchers with a good track of publications. Jørgensen is the Principal Investigator and Project Manager of the Games and Transgressive Aesthetics research project, funded by the Research Council of Norway. She is the author of Gameworld Interfaces (MIT Press 2013) and A Comprehensive Study of Sound in Computer Games: How Audio Affects Player Action (Mellen Press 2009). Karlsen is the author of A World of Excesses: Online Games and Excessive Playing (Ashgate 2013)


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