Third issue of Esoteric Gaming CFP is out!

CFP Third Issue 2018!

Gaming. What is it good for?

Absolutely nothing!


In the wake of gg transforming into the alt-right, of Bannon moving from gold farming to fake news to a place in the White House and finally back to fake news in some shadow illuminati, of Brexit, the cheeto in chief, Cambridge Analytica, and Facebook, of Google employee scandals, Google government contract scandals, Google privacy scandals, and basically all of us continuing to sign over our lives to Google, of the academy embattled, of capitalist pig dogs winning, of growing inequality, of too-late-to-do-anything-about-it climate change… in the wake of everything… what is gaming good for?

Yet at every step, we’ve resisted. With Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, Brenda Romero, Kara Stone, Adrienne Shaw, Shira Chess, Tanya DePass, Elizabeth LaPensée, Kishonna Gray, and many others (including some guys, too, I suppose), we’ve resisted. With Feminist Frequency, Crash Override, EarthGames, Games4Change, Games for Health, Filament, GLS, DML, and CLS, with Meaningful Play, CGSA, NASAGA, and many other official or semi-official organizations, we’ve resisted. We recognize that games are more than games. Fighting for their place and our place in them is a reflection of who we are and who we want to be… collectively.

Gaming is diverse. Gaming is the future. Gaming is speculative fiction. Gaming is imagination. Gaming is resistance, subversion, and persistence. Gaming makes us think about our human condition and our responsibilities and relationships to others… to each other.

Gaming. What is it good for?




For some but not all.

We are not all privy to a well-played game. (RIP Bernie DeKoven. We miss you.)

How can we fix that rather than throwing it all away?

This is your official CFP for the third issue of Esoteric Gaming, an online journal about shit crazy gaming practice and what makes gaming great.

A word of caution, though. This is not your typical academic journal. (Fuck academia! Fuck paywalls!) It’s not even in the same vein as the amazing Unwinnable and First Person ScholarEsoteric Gaming is scrappier, less formal, and more focused on nuanced game play. Also, NOTHING about Esoteric Gaming means anything for your careers. There’s no line for your CV. There’s no respect from your tenure review committee. There’s no ranking systems and no journal impact. There’s nothing here.

Except… there’s everything.

We’re looking for short, informal pieces that are heavy on detailed description. (I suppose, you could perhaps call them “thick.”) We don’t need a ton of analysis, no methods sections, no lit reviews. Just good writing about intricate, nuanced play and how they collectively tell a story about human (and nonhuman) diversity and inclusion. This is your chance to escape the normal crap you have to deal with in traditional academic publishing. This is for grad students wanting to just talk about games and gaming away from the drudgery. This is for tenured profs… wanting to just talk about games and gaming away from the drudgery, too. Hell, this is also for people who aren’t academics and just want to engage in thoughtful writing!

That said, we’re also basically open to anything related to gaming practice. If you do have a longer article that you want to get published or if you have a thought piece that you want to air out, well shit, why not?

Your article will be lightly edited, given massive suggestions to find images, videos, or other media to include, as well as a healthy look at how we could take advantage of the POWER OF THE WEB™ to make it an ergodic article where appropriate.

Deadline for first drafts is loosely end of summer, like, around September 15. We’ll work with authors over the following months to have the issue come out by the winter holidays. Ideas for submissions (or even first drafts!) can be emailed, shared via a google doc, or submitted through the online web form. We can work with you on your idea before formal draft submission!

Also! If anyone is interested in helping edit or providing feedback to authors, please contact us! Esoteric Gamingwas originally meant to be an anarchist collective. That didn’t work, but we still like to pretend and can accommodate any willing participants.

And in case it’s useful, here’s the about page for Esoteric Gaming and the intro to the second issue.

¡Viva la revolución!

Mark Chen along with Nat Poor and Kristin Bezio

Co-editors, Esoteric Gaming

A VERY brief timeline of games scholarship [needs edits!]

Comments and suggested edits welcome. This is super rough.

General Timeline

1940s/1950s Homo Ludens
1950s/1960s war games post-WW2/Korean War
1970s New Games Movement and The Games Preserve, alongside rise of hippies and Woodstock culture
1980s “Me” generation kills NGM while their kids play video games and newfangled RPGs
1990s Gen X and later video gamers start going to college
2000s rise of game studies, DiGRA, GLS, G4C, new games journalism, rise of designer board games
2010s collapse of academia, convergence (and diversification) of games scholar fields, gamergate, inclusion and representation in games, gamification and its backlash

Continue reading A VERY brief timeline of games scholarship [needs edits!]

What does it mean to be gaming literate? Slides for invited talk at MMSEE 2017

Korea has been great! No nuclear fire yet. Great food and drink. Amazingly welcoming and excited scholars and new colleagues. 🙂

Huge thanks to Jason Lee for inviting me and to Hannah Gerber for getting him in touch with me!

Here’re my slides from my plenary/keynote talk at MMSEE 2017.

[Edit: Trying to embed google slides instead of slideshare so that you all can see the presenter notes. The slides don’t mean much without that text…]

Click on the gear icon to open up speaker notes!

History of Ed Tech for lay people

Audrey Watters recently posted a really good, concise explanation about ed tech and how it seems to keep reinforcing content-delivery systems rather than project-based learning initiatives. She wrote it as a blog post since it seemed too long for an individual email response to a question she got.

I tweeted it out yesterday, and, as it happens, my mom reads my tweets and wrote me asking what this paragraph by Audrey Watters means:

Ed-tech has always been more Thorndike than Dewey because education has been more Thorndike than Dewey. That means more instructivism than constructionism. That means more multiple choice tests than projects. That means more surveillance than justice.

As I was writing a response, it seemed like maybe I should also blog the answer in case it’s useful for other people wholly unfamiliar with what Audrey was talking about:


The field of educational technology is always treated as new in academia, but it’s actually grounded in the history of education in general. In the US in the early 20th century, there were two main philosophers whose work informed how the US could head towards national policy.

Thorndike based his theories on psychology and behaviorism, which is focused on memorizing facts and getting people to do and learn things by simple cause and effect mechanics. His model focused on a teacher standing in front of the classroom and doing a lecture, pouring knowledge into students’ minds.

Dewey, in contrast, was much more about a Montesorri style way of doing things. Have kids engage in projects, ask them to solve problems, let them explore and see the connections between phenomena.

Thorndike = instruction

Dewey = project=based learning

So, a lot of people keep saying that educational technology has great potential as a site for project-based learning, but a lot of what we see ends up being more efficient ways of delivering content. This mirrors the overall trend in education in the US to focus on content and not learning by doing.

The last part… since we are so focused on assessing whether people know things, we surveil them. We tabulate and measure. We don’t empower and let them do things and enact change. Education is about instilling shit rather than empowering.

MMSEE 2017 plenary session details

I just submitted my talk for the proceedings for MMSEE 2017.

There’s a bunch of keynotes and plenary talks. I’m set as a plenary talk. Here’s what I wrote (I’ll post slides later this summer as I finish them):

What Does It Mean to Be Gaming Literate? Meaning Making Through Games

Literacy can be defined as the ability to legitimately perform particular practices that are consequential within a community or setting (Street, 1984). In this way, gaming spans a number of literacy practices (Steinkuehler, 2007). Likewise, expertise is socially defined through performative actions that others consider as signs of “expertness” through their understanding of what that means as legitimate participants of their situated community (Collins & Evans, 2007). This emphasis on the doing of things rather than the knowing of things calls for researchers to use an analytical lens that focuses on the relationships between actors in a particular setting and how they affect each other (Pickering, 1993; Latour, 2005). The lens thereby focuses on their practice and change in practice over time and necessarily describes the narrative of a dynamic system that is ever changing and struggling in its continual rebirth (Chen, 2012). This talk will give examples of some of these gaming practices and add nuance to our understanding of how they are socially and culturally situated.

More and more, however, I’ve come to understand gaming as not just another example of new literacies but also as a particularly effective way to increase personal agency and empathy in the world at large. Through exploration and play within a game’s systems, we learn about those systems and what works and what doesn’t towards an imagined goal. We become empowered and gain agency to affect our future, projective selves (Gee, 2003/2007). We also are asked to believe… to believe that the choices matter, that the people and situations we meet in games are understandable in a way that we become empathetic to their conditions. In other words, by engaging in gaming practice, we learn how to act and be through games and we strengthen moral and valued identities. Moreover, this new sense of agency and the new feeling of empathy are evidence that players make meaning through their gaming practice. This talk will, therefore, also cover this newer line of thought and make a case for games as spaces for cultural inclusion, understanding, and deep meaning making. Gaming literacy, then, is more than expertise in how to do stuff in games but also how to make connections to others and find meaning through games.

Finally, this talk will end with a call for gaming and play at large. Learning a game and learning to play it well requires critical examination of its systems. Play encourages participation and communicative acts, and play can act as subversive moves to make the world a better place (Zimmerman, ). As educators who want to empower our learners, we have an obligation to cultivate play and play communities that struggle for fairness, inclusion, and equality (DeKoven, 1978/2013).


Chen, M. (2012). Leet noobs: The life and death of an expert player group in World of Warcraft. Peter Lang.

Collins, H., & Evans, R. (2007). Rethinking expertise. University of Chicago Press.

DeKoven, B. (1978/2013). The well-played game: A player’s philosophy. The MIT Press.

Gee, J. (2003/2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. Palgrave Macmillan.

Latour, B. (2005).  Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network theory. Oxford University Press.

Pickering, A. (1993). The mangle of practice: Agency and emergence in the sociology of science. American Journal of Sociology, 99(3), 559–589.

Steinkuehler, C. (2007). Massively multiplayer online gaming as a constellation of literacy practices. E-Learning and Digital Media, 4(3), 297-318.

Street, B. (1984). Literacy in theory and practice. Cambridge University Press.

Zimmerman, E. (2013). Manifesto: The 21st Century will be defined by games. Kotaku (September 9, 2013).

I’m doing a keynote for MMSEE in Korea, September 15-17!


I’ve been invited to do a keynote for a conference on, among other things, using media for teaching and learning English in South Korea! I’ll be focusing my talk on gaming literacy and what that means for education. Here’s the details:

What Does It Mean to Be Gaming Literate? The Development of Agency and Empathy

As we know, gaming spans a number of literacy practices. This talk will give examples of some of these practices and add nuance to our understanding of how they are socially and culturally situated. More and more, however, I’ve come to understand gaming as not just another example of new literacies but also as a particularly good way to increase personal agency and empathy in the world at large, as we learn processes for how to act and be through games. This talk will, therefore, also cover this newer line of thought and make a case for games as spaces for cultural inclusion, understanding, and deep meaning making. Gaming literacy, then, is more than expertise in how to do stuff in games but also how to make connections to others and find meaning through games.


More details about the conference can be found at


Slides from my talk the Societal Benefits of Gaming at the Pacific Science Center

Due to a death in the family, we moved the talk from Dec 20 to Dec 27 (last night). I think it was well attended, but I really have no idea. I was told it had the most pre-sale tickets of all the lectures, but maybe right after xmas was tough to get a huuuge crowd. I think there were about 30 people.

But, whoa, those people! We had an excellent QA session after the presentation. Some very smart people in the audience. Anyway, here’re the slides I used for the event:

Two awesome things with the Pacific Science Center!

Pacific Science Center is hosting a month-long theme around play, featuring numerous events around play and learning including the current Sherlock Holmes exhibit! I’m involved with two things:

First, students from one of the courses I’m teaching this quarter at UW Bothell will be showcasing their games about mystery, exploration, and play at the Pacific Science Center TODAY!

Game Design Lab

Second, PacSci hosts a lecture series Science in the City, and I’m giving one about the benefits of gaming on Dec 20!

Societal Benefits of Gaming lecture



Migrating blog today…

so site might be down for a spell. Though then you wouldn’t be able to see this post… :p

Keynoting at SHACS FutureTech 2016!

I’m giving my first keynote talk at the Sam Houston Association of Computer Scientists FutureTech conference at Sam Houston State University in a couple of weeks! Here’s the abstract:

Transportation Games and Intentional Constraints

Games are about deliberately imposing obstacles on a task to make the task fun, challenging, engaging, rewarding. Yet this hasn’t been especially true with games about transportation. Instead, most transportation games, where players are building transportation infrastructure or managing the operations of a fleet of vehicles, attempt to simulate real-world logistics problems and often force players to manage them while still working under some sort of budget or using a limited resource. These simulations occupy enough of players’ cognition to satisfy their desire for challenge and reward. Simulations, by necessity, however, are only semi-real; they are incomplete systems, and finding solutions to their problems can sometimes blind us to other issues that aren’t included in the systems they portray. How can we be intentional about the constraints we design into games such that they are more inclusive? This keynote will cover the above (i.e., introduce the audience to games about transportation, examine systems in transportation games through a science and technology studies lens, and make an argument about inclusive design practices) while also describing the work Mark has been doing with the Gameful Design Lab at Pepperdine University and others. The audience might also be asked to play a game. 😉

sporadic ramblings of a gamer in academia

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