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Call for papers n° 4: Game Worlds

Deadline for abstract submissions: DECEMBER 20, 2012

Special issue edited by Vincent Berry (EXPERICE – Université Paris XIII) and Manouk Borzakian (ENAC – École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne).

Along the more or less critical lines of Johan Huizinga (1951 [1938]), few authors have been able to demonstrate the legitimacy of a study of play and gaming by the Social Sciences. Such is the case with Roger Caillois – outside of the notably empirical limits of his approach to the game object - with its appeal to a "sociology based on play and games" (1967 [1956]: 126-147), or Clifford Geertz (1983), with the hypothesis of play as a significant cultural trait, and therefore a key element in the construction of collective identities. Sports and leisure physical activities, which are more visible and in fact progressively invested in by sociologists, confirm the validity of these founding intuitions, showing in particular how the evolution of games constitutes a gateway to identifying changes in Western societies (Elias & Dunning, 1994). Play and games reveal a lot about the societies in which they are found: moment of socialization of the child (Piaget, 1978), an artefact of a "leisure society" (Dumazedier, 1962) or simply a driving force of sociability (Simmel, 1991).

Over the past two decades, studies of games have been considerably rejuvenated by the emergence of computer and later Internet games. The intrusion of communication technologies in everyday life, from arcade machines in public places to family room consoles, has allowed for the rediscovery of an object that, between the few precursors mentioned above and the 1990s, actually remained quite marginal in the Social Sciences, with a few notable exceptions (Calvet 1976; Henriot 1969, 1989; Brougère, 2005). In the Anglo-Saxon world, the Game Studies discipline that emerged, however, carries their name rather poorly: far from being interested in the game and in play in general, they have limited themselves from the start to only one particular form of game, born with these technologies, the video games.

Not only are "traditional" games, in existence before video games, barely considered, but they are also absent from video game histories, which detaches video games from game culture to associate it only to its technical and political contexts of emergence: that of electronics, computers, the first network technologies, and the Cold War (Kline et al., 2003). However, a comparative analysis with other game objects can take video game practices out of an exclusively technical and contemporary view. An "archaeology of arcade gaming" (Huhtamo, 2005) actually highlights the continuity of the relation with the game culture that precedes it: spinning tops or teetotums of antiquity, hoops, tetherballs, or yoyos of the Middle Ages, "slot machines" of the nineteenth century, fortune-tellers, tests of strength, fair midway automated shooting or punching ball games, etc. It emphasises, moreover, the long evolution of play forms during the twentieth century, just like, for example, the invention of pinball, an adaptation of the game of bagatelle. Equally important is the relation between video games and the world of toys and board games (Berry, 2011), especially if we think of the prominent role of toy manufacturers such as Mattel or Nintendo, as much through the advertising of video games, through its distribution methods as in its contents. Video games, far from being a purely "technological" object, are part of a history of games, objects, equipment, and game culture, much older than computers or electronics. This game culture gets recycled into new objects, new spaces, new media, including the Internet.

The economic weight and media power of some video games therefore masks the recycling of this game culture on the Internet, to the benefit of some artefacts which appear as radical novelties. Most Social Science studies are therefore focused on the analysis of formal systems of rules, and tend to ignore the players and their practices. Where among them, then, do we find these chess players who can be found in cyber clubs receiving tens of thousands of members who can follow and comment live on major international competitions, those poker players who discover a new game, new strategies or different possibilities of co-presence gaming, or players of role playing games that dissolve their dice and figurines?

This issue of the journal RESET therefore offers to reverse the currently dominant scientific perspective, to study traditional game forms, their audiences, their content, their methods, in the Internet age. The challenge of this issue is to analyze online gaming in its social, historical and cultural dimensions, refusing to consider it, as is often done in the field of Game Studies, as a decontextualized, ahistorical object devoid of background.

Without abandoning the most "famous" games, special attention will be given to games that could be described as "marginal", not in terms of audiences, but in terms of scientific publications devoted to them. Many 'traditional' games, often ignored by studies, indeed are given a second life on the Internet. We can thus think of adaptations of board games (chess, checkers, go, etc.) or card games (belote, poker, bridge) that many sites offer online. On discussion forums, role-playing game sessions are organized. Board games, such as diplomacy, are practiced via e-mail. The types of online games are many, heterogeneous and pose a number of questions. Emphasis will be placed on the diversity of players and the many ways of appropriating playing styles, rather than the range of games.

Areas of Research

The articles in this issue could fit into one of the following areas, which are not exhaustive.

Audiences and gaming practices

What is played on the Internet? Who are the online players? How old are they? How long do they spend playing? Are there differences between online players and ‘real life’ players? To date, the actual online play practices in France are relatively unknown. Much work on online games, when not based on data from North American countries, actually consider the social identity of players as secondary in the analysis of practices. Only the usage and dialogues such as they appear on the screen are described and analyzed. We know nothing or almost nothing of the players behind the screen, not their age, their gender, their social activity, or cultural practices outside of the game. The technical device appears as the main explanatory frame of the observed practices and behaviours. Do the players play "outside" of the network? Or on the contrary, is online practice both a consequence and a driving force for "live" practices (Donnat, 2009)? Is there a transformation of practices? Of content? Of rules? What are the ways of playing, at work, at school, in the context of leisure? Simple, and naive in some respects, these questions are paradoxically seldom asked in the Francophone literature. By notably including case studies, the intention in this issue is to bring forth some answers to these questions.

Play sociability

Likewise, the question of social interactions associated with games on the Internet should be asked. Whether we go to the opera, the theatre, a museum, the cinema, watch a television program, or play a game on the internet at home, whether alone or with friends, under the watchful eye of a parent or not, the practice is often linked to social networks: we talk about it, we exchange ideas, we discuss, we get angry, we share elements related to the practice (Pasquier, 1999). It is primarily what "audiences" do. By considering these practices as opportunities seized by various sociabilities, it is a matter of understanding the nature of the ties between players as well as the roles and the place that online practices occupy in both constrained networks such as the family, school or the professional world, and in chosen groups: "real life friends", network game rooms, cybercafés, but also virtual communities and "friends on the Internet". In a similar manner to what other studies have noted in the field of the toy (Brougère, 2003) or television (Pasquier, 2005), practices on the Internet are part of the establishment and maintaining of groups of peers. Particular attention should be paid to children’s practices (October et al., 2010).

Experiences and informal learning

Next, practices should be examined with respect to the experiences and informal learning that they generate. Far from being self-evident, the role of the game in learning is a complex process (Brougère, 2005), and video games have been the subject of numerous studies, showing that it can allow preteens to learn and experiment with gender roles (Green &d Willet, 2002), or even to become familiar with scientific reasoning (Steinkuehler & Duncan, 2008). How does one learn to play a game on a computer? And how can playful learning be transferred from one game to another? What kind of collective intelligence can online games bring forth? More generally, the question of the evolution of individual gaming practices, situated in a gaming career, shows how much these processes take place in a social space that is changing (for example, professional reconversion from on game to another, from Starcraft to online poker, then to live poker)

The spatial and social organization of digital game worlds

Moreover, if one considers the geographical area/space as a determinant of game practices of comparable importance to that of sociological variables (Borzakian, 2010), the internet provides the opportunity for both a better understanding and a radical transformation of this link. By rendering territorial constraints - i.e. equipment – irrelevant, in favour of new relations with distance in reticular hybrid spaces, both tangibly and intangibly (Beaude, 2012), the internet cannot fail to generate new "traditional" game practices, based on new forms of interaction and simply on new accessibilities.

The value of this issue is also based on the indirect effects of the Internet on game worlds. Though many game practices, but also sporting practices, are not practiced online, the global network has become a forum for discussion, for exchanges, distribution, dissemination, creation: the case of role playing games is an interesting example in this sense. Authors publish their creations online. Older games that are no longer published are scanned and made available by the players. In the case of video games, when not referring to "free" games, many of them that are no longer distributed see their dissemination continued by the players themselves. At the same time, enthusiasts develop creations around a game, or sporting, universe or directly modify existing game products. In addition to being a place of development and dissemination of game content, the Internet can also be a place to institutionalize a practice, by ranking players, or to gather "niche" practices (“live action role-playing” games (LARP), for example), thus giving some game forms greater visibility.

Game Institutions

The very concept of institutionalization, central in the evolution of many games such as chess and bridge in France or go and shogi in Japan, should be reconsidered in light of the internet. The internet promotes two phenomena. On the one hand, it allows the emergence of practices outside of official organisations, like the enthusiasm for certain physical practices in public and semi-public spaces in the 1980s and 1990s (Augustin, 2002), but borrowing from them many features no longer requiring the intervention of multiple "bodies of experts" (Bourdieu, 1982) - ranking, organisation of tournaments, etc. On the other hand, the organisations are themselves faced with the challenge of the internet, a unique tool for raising awareness, recruiting new members and, where applicable, rethinking their governance and internal communication.

Gatherings on the global network, dedicated to games and entertainment have changed the "yield" in the field of game practices as well as the relationships between producers, distributors and users. This attention given to the process of appropriation by users raises other questions that go beyond those of the game: questions dealing with the nature of the work carried out by communities of "fans." The boundaries between professional and amateur move and one can legitimately wonder about the effects of the global network on the field of game and toy production. Can these be considered volunteers? In which ways do the communities of players take ownership of the game worlds? What are the organisational aspects? How should we view the relation between market and nonmarket segments? What does the free nature that prevails with internet games signify?

These questions invite one to take on a historical perspective, and to analyse the evolution of culture and game institutions in the long term. Such an approach must necessarily raise the question of legitimacy: the role of games in culture, but also the relative positions of games whose social status evolves with their distribution. Video games, an academic practice that became popular and was eventually incorporated into middlebrow culture, have thus known a great diversity of situations, just like films, they range from independent or “art” games to blockbuster action games. How do "traditional" games fit into this picture? What reconfigurations does the Internet bring forth?

Calendar and practical information

The abstracts (700 words maximum) are due by December 20, 2012. They should be sent to the following address:

The proposal, written in either English or French, should state the research question, the methodology, and the theoretical framework used. It will focus on the scientific relevance of the proposed article in light of the existing literature and the call for papers, and may be accompanied by a short bibliography. We would like to draw the authors' attention to a special section called Revisiting the Classics, devoted to new readings of classical authors and theories in light of the Internet.

The abstracts will be reviewed anonymously by the issue coordinators and the members of the editorial board. Authors of submissions selected at this stage will be asked to e-mail their full papers by January 15th, 2013.

The journal Reset also accepts submissions to its “Varia” section, open to scholarly work in the Humanities and Social Sciences dealing with an Internet-related object or method of research.


The editorial board :



Augustin Jean-Pierre (2002). « La diversification territoriale des espaces sportifs », L’Année sociologique, 52 (2), pp. 417-435.

Beaude Boris (2012). « Les jeux vidéo comme espace de médiation ludique », in Ter Minassian Hovig, Rufat Samuel & Coavoux Samuel (eds.) Espaces et temps des jeux vidéo, Lyon, Questions théoriques, pp. 28-52.

Berry Vincent (2011). « Du jouet au jeu vidéo et réciproquement », in Charles Dorothée & Girveau Bruno (eds.) Des jouets et des hommes, Paris, Éditions de la RMN-Grand Palais, pp. 78-80.

Borzakian Manouk (2010). Géographie ludique de la France. Approche spatiale des pratiquants et des fédérations des jeux institutionnels, Thèse de doctorat de géographie, Paris, Paris-Sorbonne.

Bourdieu Pierre (1982). « Comment peut-on être sportif ? » in Bourdieu Pierre, Questions de sociologie, Paris, Minuit.

Brougère Gilles (2003). Jouets et compagnie, Paris, Stock.

Brougère Gilles (2005). Jouer/Apprendre, Paris, Economica.

Caillois Roger (1958). Les jeux et les hommes, Paris, Gallimard.

Calvet Louis-Jean (1976). Les Jeux de la société, Paris, Payot.

Donnat Olivier (2009). Les pratiques culturelles des Français à l'ère numérique. Enquête 2008, Paris, La Découverte.

Duflo Colas (1997). Jouer et philosopher, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France.

Dumazedier Joffre (1962). Vers une civilisation du loisir, Paris, Seuil.

Dunning Eric & Elias Norbert (1994). Sport et civilisation. La violence maîtrisée, Paris, Fayard.

Geertz Clifford (1983). « Jeu d’enfer. Notes sur le combat de coqs balinais », in Geertz Clifford, Bali, interprétation d’une culture, Paris, Gallimard [1973].

Henriot Jacques (1969). Le jeu, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France.

Henriot Jacques (1989). Sous couleur de jouer, Paris, José Corti.

Huizinga Johan (1951). Homo Ludens. Essai sur la fonction sociale du jeu, Paris, Gallimard.

Huhtamo Errki (2005). « Slots of fun, Slots of Trouble : An Archaeology of Arcade Gaming », in Goldstein Jeffrey & Raessens Joost (eds.) Handbook of Computer Game Studies, London, MIT Press, pp. 3-21

Kline Stephen, Dyer-Witheford Nick & de Peuter Greig (2003). Digital Play. The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing, Montréal, McGill/ Queen's University Press.

Octobre Sylvie, Détrez Christine, Berthomier Nathalie & Mercklé Pierre (2010). L’Enfance des loisirs. Trajectoires communes et parcours individuels de la fin de l’enfance à la grande adolescence, Paris, La documentation française.

Pasquier Dominique (1999). La culture des sentiments. L'expérience télévisuelle des adolescents, Paris, Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme.

Pasquier Dominique (2005). « La culture comme activité sociale », in Maigret Éric & Macé Éric (eds.) Penser les médiacultures, Paris, Armand Colin.

Piaget Jean (1978). La formation du symbole chez l'enfant, Lonay, Delachaux et Niestlé.

Simmel Georg (1991). Sociologie et Épistémologie, Paris, Presses universitaires de France.

Steinkuehler Constance & Duncan Sean (2008). « Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds », Journal of Science Education and Technology, 17 (6), pp. 530-543.

Willett Rebekah & Sefton-Green Julian (2002). « Vivre et apprendre dans un salon de discussion », Éducation & Sociétés, 10, pp. 57-77.

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