Key speakers

Jaakko Stenros: Outside wisdom and folly: Transgressions in Play

Transgressions happen against norms, and indeed are only legible in relation to norms. Yet play is neither positive nor negative, good or evil; it is not a moral category. In order to understand play fully, we need to examine its expressions regardless if they comply by norms, or transgress them. This talk will explore transgressions in the context of play, games, and scholarship, as well as the interplay between norms and transgressions.

Jaakko Stenros (PhD) is a game and play researcher at the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies at the Game Research Lab, University of Tampere. He has published seven books and over 50 articles and reports on topics such as foundations of games, play and playfulness, pervasive games, larp and role-play, social network games, and queer play. Stenros has also taught game studies for almost a decade and he has collaborated with artists and designers to create ludic experiences. He lives in Helsinki, Finland.


Kelly Boudreau: Whose Games are They Anyway? Problematic gameplay, boundary keeping, and the growing player community

Being part of a social group is something almost everyone has experienced. But being part of a group also means there are those who are excluded. Exclusion can take many forms and is determined by the group itself. Secret handshakes, slang and lingo, required skill level for participation, or a demonstration of specialized knowledge all function to maintain the norms of the group. New membership to the group typically entails enforcing a set of rules and behavioral norms that potential members must follow to prove themselves worthy of full group acceptance. This policing of behavior around rules and norms is what is often defined within Sociology as ‘boundary keeping’.

Within multiplayer online games, boundary keeping can take many forms. From the seemingly harmless act of refusing to play with others who are deemed by the group to be unskilled, to the more extreme cases where players use the game’s affordances in ways that create a negative gameplay experience for players, boundary keeping works to keep non-members on the outside. This kind of gameplay is often defended by the initiator as being done to preserve the game’s norms, design intent, or a specific cultural or social identity. Players who engage in boundary via problematic or toxic gameplay often believe that other players are not ‘real’ gamers for example, or that they are not respecting their perceived cultural purpose or context of the game.  Many players who engage in problematic boundary keeping tend to use designed elements within the game environment (for example, refusing to group with perceived inexperience players to intentionally interfering with another player’s gameplay through kill stealing or killing a quest mob) their activities are not necessarily illegal in any regulatory sense.

In a call for attention to the dimensionality of gameplay as boundary keeping, this keynote explores the interwoven themes of game play norms, game design affordances, and the larger social, cultural, and political contexts around the different types of boundary keeping through gameplay. When different social groups play in the same game, how are the social and gameplay norms created and governed? How are boundaries defined and defended between groups? How does the game’s design facilitate or inhibit different types of boundary keeping? As researchers, designers, and players, how can we, disentangle the roots, types, and nuances of transgressive, problematic, and toxic gameplay, particularly with a growing player base who ask themselves, whose games are they anyway?

Kelly Boudreau (PhD) is an assistant professor of interactive media theory and design at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. With a background in sociology, film studies, and games studies, her work focuses on digital games, players, and games user research. Her current research ranges from exploring different forms of sociality in gameplay and player/avatar hybridity developed through the networked process of play to addressing different issues around toxic and problematic behavior in digital gameplay.