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The Velvet Light Trap Issue #81: Power, Freedom, and Control in Gaming

deadline for submissions:
January 15, 2017

full name / name of organization:
The Velvet Light Trap

contact email:

The Velvet Light Trap Issue #81: Power, Freedom, and Control in Gaming

Game studies is no longer an ‘emerging’ field and video games can no longer be considered a ‘new’ or niche medium. The commercial video game industry is now over 40 years old and games are an increasingly intrinsic part of the symbolic terrain of culture. The continued economic growth of the global video game industry is well documented and staggering, and this is reflected in the growing body of academic work that engages with the multifaceted ways that games are designed, created, received, and played. In recent years, scholars have productively moved away from the hotly contested theoretical divisions between ludology and narratology that defined early game studies. Yet, at the same time, games scholarship continues to privilege digital gaming, in the process often sidelining or excluding from academic discussions the vibrant range of game design paradigms and player practices in non-digital gaming, such as board games, card games, and role-playing games. This issue of The Velvet Light Trap considers the place of gaming within media studies and the potential value of utilizing a cultural studies framework for understanding issues of power, freedom, and control in game studies.

As the game industry has matured alongside information and communications technologies, methods of production and industry lore have become normalized as the scope and diversity of games being produced becomes ever more richly nuanced. Triple-A franchises, such as Grand Theft Auto, Fallout, and Madden NFL, are gaming blockbusters, with production teams of hundreds, production budgets of millions, and revenue in the billions. The success of the mainstream industry combined with digital distribution has also opened up niches for thriving independent and underground game scenes, where titles as varied as Undertale, Depression Quest, The Stanley Parable, and Papers, Please, have interrogated the act of play itself while expanding conceptions of what forms and functions games can take.

The increasing complexity of the globally networked gaming industry demands scholarly engagement from a variety of perspectives. The scholarly turn to games and gaming is producing a groundswell of work that parses the disparate yet often interrelated patterns of more micro-level historicity and phenomena, such as game aesthetics and narrative engagement; player identity and communities; emergent cultures and practices the circumscribed agency of designers; and issues of local production, histories, and archives. Scholarship on analog formats like role-playing games and board games have foregrounded the importance of looking beyond the digital, highlighting the economic and cultural contexts of a broader range of gaming and play practices.

This issue of The Velvet Light Trap seeks to build upon this body of research and further consider how games reproduce popular ideas about identity, including issues of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, ability, etc., through characters, gaming worlds, play, design, and performance. Which voices, perspectives, and sensibilities are privileged in gaming culture, and how can the gaming industry become more inclusive and self-reflective about the practices it engages in and choices it makes? How are communities traditionally marginalized in the gaming economy asserting greater agency? How are issues of power, freedom, and play negotiated, challenged, or reinscribed in the various games and gaming practices marking today’s increasingly expansive media and cultural landscape?

Other possible areas of inquiry in digital and analog gaming include but are not limited to:

● Theories of play
● Gaming pedagogy
● Archive/Collection
● Game design (development & production); designer agency
● Labor, locality, and the global commercial market
● Global gaming (Non-U.S. products or cultures)
● Marketing and distribution
● Games as ancillary merchandise
● Games as parts of transmedia franchises
● Metagaming and paratextual engagement
● Adaptation (game to film/TV; film/TV to game)
● Gamer culture and identity
● Gender and #Gamergate
● Celebrity
● Digital access and class privilege
● Ludic cartographies
● Mobile apps
● Virtual Reality
● Mods & Freeware

Submission Guidelines
Submissions should be between 8,000 and 10,000 words, formatted in Chicago Style. Please submit an electronic copy of the paper, along with a separate one-page abstract, both saved as a Microsoft Word file. Remove any identifying information so that the submission is suitable for anonymous review. Quotations not in English should be accompanied by translations. Send electronic manuscripts and/or any questions to by January 15th, 2017.

About the Journal
TVLT is a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal of film, television, and new media. The journal draws on a variety of theoretical and historiographic approaches from the humanities and social sciences and welcomes any effort that will help foster the ongoing processes of evaluation and negotiation in media history and criticism. While TVLT maintains its traditional commitment to the study of American film, it also expands its scope to television and other media, to adjacent institutions, and to other nations’ media. The journal encourages both approaches and objects of study that have been neglected or excluded in past scholarship.

Graduate students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Texas at Austin coordinate issues in alternation, and each issue is devoted to a particular theme. VLT’s Editorial Advisory Board includes such notable scholars as Charles Acland, Richard Allen, Ben Aslinger, Caetlin Benson-Allott, Mark Betz, Corey Creekmur, Michael Curtin, Kay Dickinson, Bambi Haggins, Scott Higgins, Mary Celeste Kearney, Jon Kraszewski, Lucas Hilderbrand Roberta Pearson, Nicholas Sammond, Jacob Smith, Jonathan Sterne, Cristina Venegas. VLT’s graduate student editors are assisted by their local faculty advisors: Mary Beltrán, Ben Brewster, Jonathan Gray, Michele Hilmes, Lea Jacobs, Derek Johnson, Vance Kepley, Shanti Kumar, Charles Ramírez Berg, Thomas Schatz, and Janet Staiger.