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  • Writer's picturePeter Howell

DiGRA Kyoto 2019

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

In August I attended another engaging DiGRA conference, this year held in the wonderful city of Kyoto. The conference theme was Games, Play, and the Emerging Ludo Mix, examining the emergence of a more and more diversified and varied range of games and playful activities. A multitude of papers and panels, alongside an excellent selection of keynotes, provided a rich cross-section of the current state of game studies.

It was particularly encouraging to see so many Masters and PhD students presenting work. This has always been notable in previous DiGRA conferences I have attended but this year seemed particularly rich with new faces which keeps debate fresh and lively.

Overview of Sessions

I try to attend a mixed bag of sessions (particularly when I'm the only University of Portsmouth delegate at the conference) so that I can report back on a cross-section of the work presented.

Day 1

The more extreme version (labelled here as 'perma-perma-death') was also discussed in the context of experimental products such as he access to digital games, in which the appeal of repetitive play and layered 'palimpsestic' attempts punctuated with failure was contrasted with games that utilise perma-death. The more extreme version (labelled here as 'perma-perma-death') was also discussed in the context of experimental products such as Doki Doki Literature Club! and Upsilon Circuit. An interesting session, although one drawing on numerous concepts I have seen discussed in a similar fashion in other texts and unfortunately not accompanied by a published paper in the proceedings.

This was followed by a session which drew parallels between game-playing and hand knitting, examining how both activities can involve substantial episodes of failure and frustration but how both are still engaged with. This session framed player engagement with games as a form of labour (in the same way as someone engaged with knitting garments) but one that is autotelic in nature. Appropriately using the game Unravel to further this discussion, the speaker argued that both activities provide a compulsion to continue, to try and undo mistakes, and to improve on previous attempts.

Moving over to the 'philosophy and critique' track, the next session (Doyle-Myerscough, 2019) examined how The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild creates a sensation of intimacy between the player and the game world. The speaker outlined a framework of intimacy, not as existing between individuals or specific entities within the game world but rather, as an affect of the combination of feelings of vulnerability, loss of control, and of being overwhelmed. This is not only interesting game critique but has practical design implications too. A sense of intimacy need not stem from typically 'intimate' contexts or actions.

The final session of Day 1 was a panel discussion of games preservation, curation, and exhibition - something which we have a history with at UoP via previous work on things such as the KEEP Project and something which I deliver a few sessions on in my Games Research class too. The primary outcome of this was working towards a white paper outlining legal frameworks for exhibiting historic game artefacts.

Day 2

Back to the 'philosophy and critique' track at the start of Day 2 with a series of sessions exploring aspects of game narrative. This was of particular relevance not only to one of our current PhD student's own work but more broadly, applicable to one of the key themes running through much of the practice-based work that we do within the Advanced Games Research Group at UoP.

The first speaker explored the concept of a 'narrative puzzle' as being a unique form of puzzle in the context of video games (Wei & Durango, 2019). This was reasonably early definitional work from what I could tell and by the speaker's own admission, a little limited currently to examples from the adventure game genre.

The Unreliable Narrator in Games

Next, an analysis of the narrative technique of the 'unreliable narrator' and how its application differs in games that do not contain an obvious, omniscient narrator (Roe & Mitchell, 2019). Drawing on Doki Doki Literature Club! (again!) and Tales from the Borderlands in contrast to examples containing omniscient narrators such as The Stanley Parable and Dear Esther, the speakers outline an argument for how unreliability of player actions is communicated via the multimodality of game audio, visuals, and interactivity.

Following a well-earned coffee-break (in which only iced coffee was consumed to prevent further melting), it seemed like a good idea to go to a session about pornographic Skyrim mods.

There are, as the speaker identified, a wide range of pornographic modifications for Skyrim ranging from simplistic mods that add prostitutes to the game, through to complete overhauls of the entire game experience to add in eroticism and pornography throughout, supported by hundreds of custom assets. The speakers discussed the fact that while there was a lot of content, much of it is under-researched due to how difficult (read, unpleasant) engaging with the community is due to its misogynistic tendencies and mods "built upon rape fantasies and related to every kind of sexual violence imaginable, from sexual slavery to forced bestiality, cannibalism and body mutilation" (Majkowsi, 2019). The analysis is placed in the context of Riffaterre's theory of intertextual semiotics and offers an interesting perspective on the production of these mods as being aligned with the creators' ideas of what an RPG game set against early medieval Nordic aesthetics should contain.

The afternoon of Day 2 offered an opportunity to look at some of the nitty-gritty aspects of the 'doing games research' track. Specifically, looking at the prehistory of games studies (1980-1996), and multiple citation analyses looking at game citation and publication citation-based 'canons' within the field. While I deliver a session on 'historic game canon', game citation and publication canons within games research itself is not something I'd considered previously. The game citation analysis (Frome & Martin, 2019) was particularly interesting as it emphasises the variation in the games most often cited and also, the different ways in which game citations are used.

Excuse the awful quality picture from my ancient Galaxy S6 here...

The speaker here discussed the fact that while being cited frequently in games research is an indicator of a game's 'influence' on the field or on individual discussions, the nature of that influence may differ depending on how citations are utilised. They used Tetris as a key example of such, explaining that this game is rarely the core focus of an article but is frequently cited as a 'landmark game', as an 'exemplar' of abstract and/or puzzle games, as a 'test case' for something, or as an 'illustration of concept'.

Day 3

With my session in the post-coffee-break slot on Day 3, I took the morning to prepare. This was achieved primarily by way of spending an hour in the shops just down the road from the hotel. Hello Kitty was having an anniversary apparently.

All the Hello Kitty you could ever want!

The afternoon session today was, to mix things up a bit, on the 'games business' track and looking at the transnational remediation of Japanese and American IP in the Kingdom Hearts franchise. This was actually a collection of multiple discrete sessions from speakers from the University of East Anglia, discussing the subject matter from a number of different perspectives, including transmedia storytelling, 'designed identities', transnationality and meta-narrative, and marketing and cross-promotion. This was a collection of very well-presented sessions from students and staff alike. In addition to the content though, the structure - multiple speakers from one institution delivering varied sessions around a common game - was equally interesting and indeed, was commented on by the audience specifically. Certainly an approach to conference speaking that could be worth considering in future for the Advanced Games Research Group.


I managed to do some sightseeing while I was there too, including the vital pilgrimage to both old and modern Nintendo HQ buildings. I spent too much money in the Kyoto Pokemon store and am still suffering withdrawal symptoms from the food. A sandwich from the Co-Op next to the office will never make a satisfactory lunch ever again...

Here are some additional photos that I gone took.


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