Theme Issue of Surveillance & Society
edited by: Jennifer R. Whitson and Bart Simon
submission deadline: September 15th 2013 for publication March 2014.
The games we play on our computers, iPads, and video game consoles are watching us. They track our every online move and send data on who we are, how we play, and whom we play with back to game and virtual world publishers such as Sony and Microsoft. Two
events in the summer of 2011 exemplify the need to study surveillance in games: a hacker attack against Sony's Playstation Network compromised over 77 million user accounts including credit card numbers, while iPhone users discovered hidden code in their
devices that tracked their movements and secretly sent this data back to Apple. This form of consumer surveillance that targets players has eluded critical appraisal in both the games studies and surveillance literature. The games we play are not only watching
us, but are leveraging surveillance to mold us into better students, workers, and consumers, as evidenced by the growth of gamification applications that combine playful design and feedback mechanisms from games with users' social profiles (e.g. Facebook,
twitter, and LinkedIn) in non-game applications explicitly geared to drive behavioural change. Accordingly, traditional surveillance activities are transformed through their combination with playful frames of reference and game-like elements.
Yet, as argued by Anders Albrechtslund and Lynsey Dubbeld in Volume 3(2/3) of
Surveillance & Society, surveillance is fun. It is an essential component of many games and virtual worlds. It enables family to find each other and play together online, such as when adult children who live thousands of miles away challenge their parents
to a Words with Friends scrabble match over Facebook. Surveillance allows game companies to match strangers with similar skill sets and play-styles together in multiplayer games, thus increasing the flow of the game and players' mutual enjoyment.
Surveillance facilitates coordinated teamwork and sophisticated game economies, exemplified by informational tools such as the damage mods and kill-point monitors created by players for massively-multiplayer online games. Surveillance also makes online games
and virtual worlds safe for children and young adults, restricting both the use of inappropriate language and content, as well as prohibiting the entry of potentially dangerous adults. Moreover, surveillance is pleasurable. As game company Valve found when
they forayed into biometrics (i.e. measuring galvanic skin response and arousal levels), players are more engaged when they can see how they affect their opponents' own physiological responses. We, as players, like to watch our opponents, anticipating what
they will do next. We also use surveillance to improve our prowess and extend our moments of victory by using recording software and game replay functions
This theme issue is dedicated to balancing two very different sides of surveillance: surveillance as a technology of corporate governance and surveillance as a technology of pleasure and play.
Possible research areas might include (but are not limited to):
- The role of surveillance in enabling play and games
- The role of play and games in normalizing surveillance
- Surveillance as gameplay or surveillance as a game mechanic
- Playful surveillance applications
- Playful representations of surveillance
- Playful resistance to surveillance
- Issues of identity, anonymity and pseudonymity in online games and virtual worlds
- Online visibilities and the relationship between game publishers and user populations
- The implications of using data gathered in-game for non-game applications
- The use of surveillance and the representation of surveillance in online games, virtual worlds, and/or gamified applications, including topics such as:
- Games that educate users about privacy and surveillance
- End-User Licensing Agreements, Terms of Service, and awareness of surveillance
- Applications of social networking services, locational data, and GPS devices in games and play
- Uses of data gathering services, screen-capture tools, and recorded gameplay sessions
- The surveillance of children and youth in virtual worlds and games
- State and police use of in-game data for surveillance, tracking, behavioral profiling etc.
- Surveillance and the competitive, professional e-sports gaming industry
- Data mining, game metrics, and targeted advertising in the game industry
This is not intended to be an exclusive listing of possibilities for this edition. Other possibilities are welcomed and encouraged and can be discussed in advance with the guest-editors:
We welcome full academic papers, opinion pieces, review pieces, poetry, artistic, and audio-visual submissions. Submissions will undergo a peer-review and revision process prior to publication. Submissions should be original work, neither previously published
nor under consideration for publication elsewhere. All references to previous work by contributors should be masked in the text (e.g., “Author, 2009”).
All papers must be submitted through the online submission system no later than
September 15th 2013, for publication in March 2014.
Please submit the papers in a MSWord-compatible format. For further submission guidelines, please see:
For all inquiries regarding the issue, please contact
Jennifer R. Whitson