DiGRA ’22 Abstracts

Aishani Roy, PhD Scholar, CSSSC

Title: TBA, Keywords: Bangla literature, science fiction, literary analysis, popular literature, postcolonial history

When speaking of science fiction in the context of Bangla literature, an age-old debate between two warring factions serves as the key to the discourse: how much science is there in science fiction? It was first observed in the writings by the late Siddhartha Ghosh, who himself published several science fiction novels and actively contributed to the discussions around the genre by instituting Bengal’s first Ghanada Club (after the eponymous protagonist of Premendra Mitra’s popular science fiction series), as well as being an active proponent of discussions of what it means to write science fiction in Bangla. Because science fiction as the genre exists in the West – with its established discursive spaces and debates regarding  the ‘rules’ of the genre – cannot be seamlessly transposed onto the body of Bangla science fiction, since the latter has its own mode and genealogy which needs to be traced separately in order to arrive at a comprehensive view of the genre.

Bangla science fiction is often unfavourably split into two camps: bigyan-bhittik golpo (science-based narratives) and kalpabigyan golpo (fictional science narratives), with the debate mostly centered around what comprises ‘true’ science fiction narratives; to delineate what are on the other hand, clearly fantastical tales written with the intent to humor or surprise young readers. The crux of the debate seems to be that the ‘science’ in science fiction exists purely to educate readers or to disseminate scientific discourse under the guise of fiction – a notion which clearly exposes the fallacies of expecting fiction to function as discourse and then to maintain that ‘fantastical’ science has no place in ‘true’ science fiction. Now, if following Michel Foucault, the sciences are themselves seen to be ‘very specific “truth games” related to specific techniques that human beings use to understand themselves,’ then science fiction, by extension, can be envisioned as engaging in the same ‘truth games’ except for the fact that it remains at the end of the day, fiction

But fiction introduces its own set of meanings to the text and contributes to the ongoing struggle over what is deemed to be a legitimate source of knowledge about the self and the world. Therefore the fictionality of kalpabigyan, which was perceived to be mere ‘fantasy,’ can be read as ways in which science and the world engages in those ‘very specific “truth games,”’ which take off from, but are not limited to the empirical world it re-presents.

Through readings which span from Hemlal Dutta’s ‘Rahasya’ (‘The Mystery’) to Premendra Mitra’s Ghanada series, I would like to explore the ‘fictionality’ of kalpabigyan in Bangla science fiction as an alternate engagement with possibilities of the self and the world, subject and object, through the imaginative framework of the narratives. 

Angshuman Dutta, independent researcher

A cat lost in the City of Darkness: Playing Stray and its dystopic future

Keywords: cyberpunk, world design, post-human, imagined future.
One of the unexpected additions to this year’s Game of the Year contenders has been
BlueTwelve Studio’s adventure game with a stray cat as the protagonist. Titled Stray, the indie title caught the attention of gamers not just because of its central feline character, which appealed to the masses, especially through the cat shenanigans that players could engage in. What furthered Stray’s allure is its sci-fi setting and how it envisioned a dystopic future of humanity where humans themselves have not only been decentered but almost erased. In Stray, players will explore a walled city whose aesthetics are inspired by historical Kowloon Walled City, come across the anthropomorphized robot population that resides in the space, and witness the subtle social commentary evident in the visuals throughout the game. The paper aims to look at Stray’s imagined future and how it depicts a post-apocalyptic space devoid of humans, likely because of climate change, that still reflects aspects of humanity
through the world design and the robot citizens.

Stray’s cyberpunk world is based on our current reality but one that is set hundreds of years in the future. The choice of a stray cat, not a supernatural or a superhero, as a protagonist furthers the player’s immersion and experience of this walled city. The paper will focus on delineating Stray’s portrayal of authoritarian brutality, social divisions and classes, and the notion of waste in the dystopic future through its use of game elements, protagonists, and world design.

Anubhav Anand

Title: Philosophy and Video games: SOMA as an existential horror Sci-Fi, Keywords: Existentialism, Consciousness, Sci-Fi, Posthumanism, Horror.

Video games can be considered as a philosophical tool. However, this perspective often flows  under the radar and the entertainment value is prioritized, especially in case of non-serious  video games. SOMA (2015) serves as an apt example of mainstream video games with Sci-Fi setting and horror elements. The horror in this game is not inclined towards the typical jump  scare or gore-infested elements, but the horror arises from the philosophy of the real world,  like existentialism. The game, through its themes, makes one ponder over what is really means to be a human, while the player explores a bleak futuristic setting of early 22nd century. 

Aparna Pathak, PhD Scholar, Dept. of English, JMI
Title: Ethics of Future and Worldbuilding: Locating the Anthropocene in The Simpsons: Tapped Out, Keywords: anthropocene, worldbuilding, ethics of future, science fiction video games, ecological disasters

While the concept of the Anthropocene stands for a geological epoch, which is defined as the epoch in which humanity has a lasting impact on long-term geological processes, it has also entered the field of popular imagination. Greg Garrard, Gary Handwerk, and Sabine Wilke discuss the role that humanities plays to address this concept. They write, “… the humanities, in their attention to the creation and critique of aesthetic objects, can play a significant role in heightening public environmental awareness.” (149)

The concept has also entered the field of science fiction video games which directly
engage the players in the experiences of cultural anxieties and opportunities related to anthropogenic activities. This paper will discuss how a city building game like The Simpsons: Tapped Out not only engages with the ideas of anthropocene and the resultant effects of ecological crisis but also is interspersed with self-referential comedy. Further, this paper will explore the issue of ethical worldbuilding which will help in understanding the imaginary worlds of science fiction as distinct genres to represent/simulate and problematise the relations of humans and nonhumans actors of the world. This paper will focus on both, the narratological as well as ludological aspects, to understand how the environment adapts to the player’s engagement. It will deal with the question of the role that the player plays in the multilayered narrative of ecological disaster and rebuilding of the world within the gameplay, and how it elicits the player into reassessing and undertaking a sustained reflection upon their own damaging yet habitualised methods of interaction with the environment.

Subashish Bhattacharjee (Assistant Professor, Munshi Premchand College) and Arkabrata Chaudhury (PhD Scholar, CSSSC)

Title: Esoteric (In)fusion: Oriental Cultural Appropriations in  Cyberpunk 2077

Keywords: Cyberpunk, Oriental, Transhumanism, Buddhism, Cultural Appropriation 

One of the most pronounced, successful, and continued exports from the Orient to Western media has been spirituality, spiritual systems and practices, and the vocabulary of these appropriated systems. While cultural and lifestyle affectations such as kung fu or yoga have been the staple of cultural productions to the extent that their representation is almost innocuous (as James Young proposes in his defence of appropriation of 2008), more integrated, it is in the appropriation of philosophical and theological traditions that these systems attempt a more universal validation of certain ideologies. However, as can be borrowed from Erich Matthes’s study of appropriation and essentialism, there are far more insidious methods that appropriation and its next step, essentialism might affect the product and also the appropriated cultural artefact. Although these cultural processes are far too many in modern media, but specific case studies—such as a study of the inclusion of Oriental iconography in Cyberpunk 2077—might open up further areas of theoretical engagement with the issue of cultural appropriation in gaming.

In Cyberpunk 2077 we meet characters who are influenced by Indian and Eastern spirituality such as Misty. Her interest in the Indian esoteric systems, as she runs a business called ‘Misty’s Esoterica and Chakra Harmonization’ , and that the place she is filled with Chinese and some Indian symbols and paraphernalia, provide ample scope to study not only the game’s use of Indian and Eastern cultural tropes but also its use to affect spatial representations. The game also showcases a considerable presence of Buddhist monks, which provides a striking contrast to the transhumanist zeitgeist of the Night City. A dive into the in-game lore allows a view of how the narrative deals with the encounter of Indian Buddhist philosophical notions with the practice of human body augmentation, and its import in the processes of spiritual life. This correlates to some extent with Benjamin Ross’s contention that transhumanism interprets the soteriology of Buddhism, and its claim to overcome suffering. In effect, the ludic aspirations of the game are being projected and validated via the appropriation of Buddhist philosophical mechanisms. It is in appropriations such as this that the possibilities of the fusion are multiplied, but also complicated, and potentially racially extended for critical interpretation.

Ayush Anand, EFLU

Title: TBA

Key Words: Polyphony, World-building, Psyche, Pale, Thought Cabinet
Disco Elysium(DE), a role-playing game, sets itself apart from the other games by beginning after the major event has already taken place. The protagonist being an ordinary being could have a fatal end by merely getting involved in what would seem to be a trivial setting, such as that of facing discomfort sitting on a chair. The player has the agency to not look in the mirror to have an understanding of the appearance of the protagonist, i.e., creating a mental image or abiding by the name or job given. Formulating from the theory of the Mirror Stage, the amnesiac protagonist is like a new-born child trying to make sense of the world and self who has severed his bonds with the past. Additionally, the concept of Pale in the game could be understood as an outward manifestation of his self-destructive and suicidal thoughts, Pale came into existence the moment humans came to existence and is threatening to consume all matter. The creation of this new self from the fragmented self is captured in Bakhtin’s concept of polyphony, the player is piecing together the new self, based on his inner voices and the voice of the different members of society as executed within the game. The game mechanics of Thought Cabinet captures this essence, by internalising the thoughts as they arise through a gameplay, but there is a limit to the number of thoughts which could be internalised, essentially, hinting at the limit of the human psyche to build the inner self on the basis of understanding the world by isolating thoughts which encapsulate them and create their own view of the world. The idea being that DE is about building the detective’s inner psyche, which grows in tandem with world exploration. As the mystery of the murder is unfurled and the character explores the city of Revachol, not only is his outer world constructed but his inner-self as well. So, the game at its core is a character-building exercise
where different existences are created for the protagonist in different gameplays, brilliantly captured by the dialogue “What kind of cop are you?”.

Achintya Debnath, CSSSC

Abstract: In this research paper I will try to write a brief theological history of playing focused on the theory of Sakhya rasa. Also I will show that the genre of rasa 1 theory can provide an inner meaning in order to explain the religious-cultural underpinnings of playing games. To some extent Huizinga (1938) has shown the cultural significance of play, and recent scholars like Souvik Mukherjee have contributed a wide gamut of knowledge both in and outside the field. However, none of them engage with rasa theory to understand the theological paradigm of playing. Hence, my intention is to engage those recent cutting edge studies and follow their footsteps for a proper history of game study focusing on the facets of bhakti rasa theology.
Nevertheless, theologically Vaishnavism represents playing as an ultimate way to get salvation. It has defined the world as a play ground for the Supreme Being and everything that is revolving around him is Lila or God’s play. Hence, this research paper will throw an etymological light on the Ludic nature of certain theological aspect of bhakti 2 rasa of Vaishnavism and its spiritual epistemology of attaining salvation through playing games which actually imply the lilakhela (God’s play) with the supreme being. This paper plots some initial coordinates of the domain,locating some of its (Vaishnavism) major praxis, and ethics a framework for evaluating the uses of rasa theory in games. The concepts, ethos and ideas of rasas have never been developed specifically for the analysis of videogames within what has become known as Game Studies.
Hence, the foundation on which this analysis rests is an amalgam of theological practices of sakhya rasa in games.In his Bhaktir-rasamrta-sindhu-bindu, Vishwanath Chakrabarty explained that Sakhya/friendship is of two kinds: (1) that which is based on faith (vicvasa) and (2) that which is based on an attitude of friendship (maitri). The former one is based on faith while the later one is out of a sense of affection i.e. disposition. (Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu Bindhu, 48). Bhaktir-rasamrta-sindhu described that the sixty four limbs of bhakti could be practice by anusilana i.e. practicing. Vaishanavas in general consider that there are two general types of bhakti. The first is an external, ritual activity based on the injunctions of the shastra (vidhi) and is called vaidhi bhakti. The second is internal passionate relationship of the released jiva to Krishna and is called raganuga bhakti. Vaidhi bhakti is for that very great majority of persons who are neither by nature in direct relationship to Krishna not yet released from maya by completion of the disciplines. Those who do not possess raga worship according to the injunctions of the sastras. This is called vaidhi bhakti, and is propounded in all the sastras. S.K De (1942) observes that because vaidhi bhakti is based on the injunctions of the sastras it is conditional, being based upon fear of transgression; and as fear enters as an element of guiding devotional practices, this method must be regarded as somewhat formal and mechanical. As a preliminary stage, however, it is indispensable for some individuals before they can pass on to higher and more spontaneous raganuga bhakti. The two vaidhi and raganuga may thus be considered as a kind of sequence. Raganuga bhakti differs among the
vaktas to their forms that can be sakhya, dasya, batsalya, madhura.

Daoud Md Khan; Sumaiyah Naaz

Playing Your Own Science-Fictions: Study of Science-Fiction in Video Games from

Keywords: Science-fiction, video games, post-phenomenology, regional game studies,

Throughout history, science fiction has played an important role in developing thought-provoking ideas about the future, particularly through depictions of cyborgs, robots, and human/non-human hybrids. As a genre, sci-fi has developed at the contextual intersections of society and its infrastructures, which has informed both the utopian and dystopian vision of sci-fi narratives. Its ability to capture and overwhelm the popular imagination, which the western film studios have so very well capitalised on, has often challenged and experimented with the semantic and syntactic boundaries of the conventional. Indian science fiction for a good part of its history has been at the margins of both pop-culture and academic discourse. Mainstream popular culture in India is heavily dominated by western science fiction narratives. Recent studies by Indian scholars have made a valuable contribution towards revival of the Indian sci-fi scene. This turn is also visible in the videogames, which in recent years have garnered widespread popularity among Indian youth.
Apart from the foreign game titles, Indian game developers and studios have also delved into the genre of sci-fi to engage with history and contemporary socio-cultural discourse. Drawing upon theories of cyborg, posthumanism, post-phenomenology, and cultural studies the paper critically examines the sci-fi depictions in video games from India. The paper aims to highlight the different approaches towards designing a sci-fiction world which engages with the future while simultaneously being rooted to the situatedness of past/present events. Study will also focus on the role of the gamer’s body and the interface to elaborate on the interoperability between different objects in projection of sci-if reality.