Critical Game Design Graduate Conference 2024

We are pleased to invite you to the first annual Critical Game Design Graduate Conference. Held in conjunction with GameFest '24, the conference will facilitate space for sharing new and emerging graduate research in the field of game studies.

This year’s theme is "epoch," or "beginnings." As the first annual conference for a recent graduate program in a new field, this gathering will be a temperature check of sorts. The talks we have schedules will cover a large gamut of interdisciplinary sources, multimodal practices, and experimental intersections.  

Please join us during GameFest in the EMPAC Center in Studio Beta.

Date: Saturday, April 27, 2024
Hours: 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Tentative Schedule:

  • 1:00 - *Opening Remarks* (Logan Davis)

  • 1:30 - The Politics of "metaplatform" (Noah Leiter)

  • 2:00 -  Enacting Multiple Subjectivities: Baldur’s Gate 3 and the Performance of the (Multi)Self (Janine Bower)

  • 2:30 - *BREAK*

  • 3:00 - Exploring the Etymology of “YouXi”: Revisiting the Concepts of Game and Play from Chinese Cultural Perspectives (Zihan Feng )

  • 3:30 - Grappling with Interactivity (Nick Maglio)

  • 4:00  - Stacked Decks: Lessons from Rule-Breaking Games (Alex Goss)

  • 4:30  - Roundtable: Possibilities in Game Studies Conferences.

    If you have any question, please reach out to Logan Davis (

Abstracts of Accepted Papers:

In March 2023, Epic Games released the Unreal Editor for Fortnite, or UEFN for short. This editor allows players to use the Unreal Engine 5 platform with Epic’s popular third-person shooter/crafter mashup game Fortnite to develop custom maps and game modes for the game. Over the last year, Epic has released various updates to the service, as well as Fortnite’s game client, to forefront this tool as the future of the Fortnite brand. They call the games made through the service Fortnite Experiences, often small bespoke user-made products but occasionally complete game experiences by major studios like Harmonix and Psyonix.1

The relationship UEFN has with Fortnite is platform to platform, but it is more specifically platform simultaneously over and under platform. Fortnite exists to platform independent Unreal Engine development, which is itself (under the UEFN banner) a platform for creating, promoting, and selling assets for Fortnite. This relationship is cooperative and co-constitutive. It marks a culmination and evolution of the “technical neutrality and progressive openness” that Gillespie points to as the underlying character of platforms in his seminal platform studies work Politics of ‘platform’ (Gillespie 360). Together, these products form a recursively supportive layer underneath and over the top of their respective products which allows them to simultaneously platform one another, thus generating a metaplatformal relationship.

When attempting to more fully “know ourselves” from the “living masks” we display (Park, 1950: 249-250), we must first recognize how deeply our sense of subjectivity is shaped from the many personae we perform for others. Our posture, our mannerisms, our vocabulary; even the pitch and quality of our voices can be altered to fit a certain audience, or to meet a particular objective within a real-life social situation. In the case of roleplay-based gaming scenarios, we enter into a similar, yet alternative kind of becoming process - one that renders explicit the permeable boundaries that exist between our (real) intentions and those of the (fictional) characters we play. Are we meant to feel a sense of loss when we begin to question who we are in these gaming experiences? Or do we instead gain a deeper sense of self as a direct result of how intertwined our multiple selves are within and beyond imaginative role-playing processes? In this presentation, I will approach the question of simultaneous subjectivity in a case study of the 2023 video game Baldur’s Gate 3, published by Larian Studios. My goal is to show how the shifting mechanics and narrative devices of this game intriguingly problematize the subjectivity of the game player, and serve to artfully showcase the psychological concept of the “multiself”, or the “multiplicity of the self” in action. 

Over the decades, game scholars have extensively defined and debated the notions of game and play. However, much of this scholarly discourse has predominantly centered around Western history and philosophies, often neglecting the interpretations from other parts of the world. Playing games is, of course, not a privilege for any certain group of human beings. Particularly, as the community of gamers and game scholars has evolved into a more inclusive global entity, it is essential to revisit these notions through the lens of other cultural perspectives. In this context, I approach this topic by investigating the etymology of the Chinese term Youxi. Youxi has been commonly recognized as a translation or an equivalent term of the English word game. However, since Chinese is a hieroglyphic language, the characters You and Xi were created as depictions of cultural practices. Through an etymological analysis of these characters, I reveal the integration of game playing within traditional Chinese culture Additionally, I also trace the occurrence of Youxi in Chinese historical documents to elaborate the Chinese cultural understanding of game further and play. Subsequently, I contrast this understanding with prevailing theories in game studies, suggesting a novel definition of games. This proposed definition sees games as a series of settings that blend simulations of the real world with imaginations beyond ordinary life. By incorporating both Eastern and Western cultural insights, this new definition offers a more comprehensive and inclusive framework for understanding game and play.

I recently exhibited my game, Grapple Fisher DX, at alt.ctrl.GDC. My intent with the game was to create an experience where a player would need to split their focus between the "virtual" world and the real world, and my game accomplished this to varying degrees of success. Pulling on A Play of Bodies by Brendan Keogh and Creative Sensemaking: Quantifying Interaction Dynamics in Co-Creation by Davis, Hsaio, Singh, Lin, and Magerko, I will discuss the successes and shortcomings of my game's design as well as cover lessons I learned from demoing the game to a wide audience. I will also discuss some of the other games that were/have been shown at alt.ctrl.GDC during the years I have attended and detail both my experience playing the games and how I think their designs were successful. This research poses questions on immersion and interactivity as well as the validity of casual/serious play in the alternative interface space. My goals with this research is to create experiences that challenge what it means to be "focused" on a game and create frameworks for designers to create games that challenge a player's mental model of the play experience.

This paper explores the pedagogic and rhetorical functions of rule-breaking in games, focusing

on how they can disrupt entrenched ideologies through absurdist allegory. By analyzing video

games that deliberately obscure and reconfigure game mechanics and aesthetics, such as

"Inscryption," "Reigns," and "Papers, Please," I propose how methods of critical game design

set up players to fail in brutally unfair scenarios critiquing and challenging neoliberal ideologies

of accumulating resources and power. Through the lens of critical and carnivalesque play, this

proposed method of gaming highlights how games serve as infrastructures of ideology that

condition players to accept certain biases and power structures while offering opportunities for

critical reflection and subversion through embrace of the absurd. By engaging with critical

theories of play and examining specific game mechanics and narrative techniques, this paper

argues that video games are potent mediums for reflecting on and challenging the socio-political

structures that shape our understanding of fairness, power, and labor.

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