Playing With Boundaries : Empirical Studies of Transgressions and Gaming Culture
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This dissertation explores concepts of transgression in relation to games and gaming culture. It is an empirical study, grounded in game studies, and applying qualitative and ethnographic methods in its approach to a nuanced understanding of the complexities of play, games and gaming culture. Core to the dissertation is the concept of transgression, and several perspectives and theories of transgression and the transgressive are presented. Transgression involves crossing or breaking boundaries consisting of societal and cultural norms, or, in some cases, individual and legal boundaries and limits. Bakhtin’s notion of the carnivalesque and Bataille’s interpretation of that which involves how transgression can be a source of pleasure and indulgence, and also seeing how transgressing a boundary can lead to reaffirming and strengthening that boundary. In this dissertation, we can see how transgression and transgressive behaviour in gaming culture is a form of boundary keeping. This dissertation draws on a wide range of scholarly fields, primarily on game studies, folkloristics, ethnography, media studies and even extremism studies. The main objective is to explore how players deal with issues that raise provocation, discomfort, or can be considered sensitive in games and gaming cultures. What role does transgression play in games and gaming culture? The dissertation provides answers through four independent articles, three of which have been published, and a fourth has been conditionally accepted and awaiting revisions. The first article of this dissertation is an autoethnographic account of This War of Mine, exploring how the anti-war game creates discomfort and a sense of complicity in tragedy. The paper shows that the game creates a transgressive play experience that enhances the sense of realism of the game. The second article builds on the experience of transgressive realism and related concepts such as positive-negative experiences and out-of-play seriousness, in the design of a live action roleplaying game (larp). The Asylum Seekers is a larp that tries to create a positive-negative play experience, through the use of design intended to create a sense of discomfort with the situation. The effect of which is investigated in interviews during post-game debrief sessions. The third article investigates how White Nationalists appropriate the world of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim through interpretation and playing. The appropriation of Skyrim is a transgression against the assumed intent of the game developers, as well as social norms opposed to White Nationalism. The fourth article explores how feminazi, a sexist pejorative, is used to draw up the boundaries of gaming culture. Analysis shows that the majority usage of the slur is sarcastic and as counter to the meaning of the word. This article provides evidence of both boundary keeping through transgressive speech, and the nuances and complexities of gaming culture, as well as internet culture. This dissertation concludes that transgression or transgressive games and play provide players with a point of departure to explore and discuss difficult “real world” issues, and it can provide an impetus for personal reflection, and an enhanced sense of realism. The dissertation also reveals several examples of play that rely on breaking boundaries to establish boundaries. It is grounded in extensive field work in online forums, autoethnography, interviews and larp design. It can serve as a future reference point for continued discussions on games and gaming culture in relation to transgression, furthermore it can provide inspiration for methodological development for empirical studies of games and gaming culture.
Has partsPaper I: Bjørkelo, Kristian A. (2019): “"It feels real to me": Transgressive realism in This War of Mine”, in: Jørgensen, Kristine and Karlsen, Faltin (eds.): Transgressions in Games and Play. Cambridge; The MIT Press. The article is available at: https://hdl.handle.net/1956/20976
Paper II: Bjørkelo, Kristian A. and Jørgensen, Kristine (2018): “The Asylum Seekers Larp: The Positive Discomfort of Transgressive Realism”. In: Proceedings of Nordic DiGRA 2018. The article is available in the thesis.
Paper III: Bjørkelo, Kristian A. (2020): ““Elves are Jews with Pointy Ears and Gay Magic”: White Nationalist Readings of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” in: Game Studies, volume 20 issue 3. The article is available at: https://hdl.handle.net/11250/2761053
Paper IV: Bjørkelo, Kristian A.: “Feminazis playing games: Understanding the nuances of a gendered slur in gaming culture”. Not available in BORA.