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Meaningful Play 2018 at Michigan State University

Session Information

TitleMaking Absurdist Games as a Response to Our Current Reality

Mark ChenMark Chen (PhD Education, University of Washington; BA Fine Art, Reed College) is an independent games scholar and part-time professor of interaction design, qualitative research, and games studies at the University of Washington Bothell. He runs, an alternative publication outlet that celebrates gaming diversity through detailed accounts of arcane and marginal gaming practices. Mark also wrote Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft, an ethnographic account of how a new team learned to excel through the use of game mods and then died in a fiery meltdown catalyzed by the same mods. In a previous life, Mark was a webmaster and game designer for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Mark wants a die-cast 1st generation Soundwave for Christmas. You can read more about Mark on his blog at

TimeSaturday, October 13, 11:30a-12:30p
LocationMSU Union Ballroom
DescriptionFor the past year or so, I've been exploring the idea of absurdism in games, partly as my only sane response to an insane world. Absurdism from a philosophical point of view doesn't just mean nonsense or anything goes, but specifically the condition where one knows what they're doing is futile but they do it anyway. They've resolved to fight, to struggle, to persist in the face of insurmountable obstacles, as exemplified by how Albert Camus describes Sisyphus in The Myth of Sisyphus, which sort of launched absurdism as an offshoot of existentialism during WW2. The underlying question is why someone doesn't just give up. Camus argues of Sisyphus that he's actually happy because he's owning the rock by being fully aware of his condition, and is therefore saying a big FU to the universe and doing it anyway rather than giving up. Giving up in this case would be admitting defeat and is tantamount to committing suicide.

This talk will give background on absurdism and then describe how I have been exploring this idea with students, having students make absurdist games and explore the idea with me to help define what they are and could be, often as distinctly different than our normal design guidelines for good games. Ultimately, an absurdist game should allow players to discover and realize an understanding of the nonsense systems in place and then ask of them to laugh giddily as they decide to keep playing anyway.

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