Ideologies of Scale in Procedural Content Generation

Aleena Chia, Mark Johnson, Mike Cook, Paolo Ruffino, and Charlene Putney

60-min online panel

Scale is fundamental to procedural content generation (PCG), ordering how we make and experience digital games according to hierarchical relations and linear metaphors. Imaginaries of scale guide the modularisation of game making through PCG, yet are largely unexamined by developers and researchers. In order to scale, the outputs and processes of designing, operating, and tuning PCG tools must be stabilized and standardized into modules. This modularity of digital and human assets leads Tsing to observe that “scalability of labor thus lies at the foundation of capitalism.” However, the purposes and techniques of procedural generation vary from industrial asset production to technical and artistic and computational experimentation. Yet across these divergent applications, scalability refers to the ability to expand without resetting or rethinking the basic framework. In other words, the work of making things scale entails diminishing forms of diversity that could transform a system’s premise. How does this conservatism of scalability play out in PCG across contexts of game production, design, play, and research? This panel examines tensions between conservatism and creativity, efficiency and equity in ideologies of scale across PCG’s interconnected contexts. The proposed discussion considers these tensions in the context of PCG’s management of dependencies in nested systems within game worlds and production pipelines. As procedural generation scales into large sociotechnical systems, it builds momentum that assimilates the unexpected. How can game designers, artists, and researchers work around and against such sociotechnical tendencies towards outcomes that are meaningful and equitable, instead of outputs that are serviceable and scalable? Drawing on panelists’ engagement with PCG in the fields of humanities scholarship, computer science, and game design, this discussion connects ideologies of scale across technical, industrial, institutional, and aesthetic practices of procedural generation.

The role of cultural heritage in a de-centralized gaming industry of the future.

Vered Pnueli, Renard Gluzman, Riccardo Fassone, Elina Roinioti, Kristine Jørgensen, and Lina Eklund

60-min hybrid panel, with some participants on-site and some online

The relationship between cultural heritage and the reality of a global games industry has always been unclear. Despite the rise of tools for programming and online stores that provide more opportunities for independent developers, the games that are being produced rarely engage with local heritage. Gaming companies cater to global unified themes in pursuit of a wider audience. This inclination has been historically witnessed in the commercial and in the independent games sectors. Recent phenomena led by blockchain structures and a new generation of gamers might imply a change. It has also been suggested that the 30-year era of globalization is on its deathbed and that we are entering a new world order, which will be characterized by decentralization, fragmentation, distinct opposing values, and different ways of doing things. While it is impossible to predict if and to what extent this will become a reality, this panel wishes to explore the role of cultural heritage under the idea of a decentralized gaming industry. For once, will the circumstances that encourage companies and creators to deliberately strip local specificities from their products while adhering to global trends continue to be valid under this new reality? What regional actors already urge action to promote games inspired by local culture, themes, and aesthetics? As gaming becomes a prominent branch of the hi-tech and media industries in many regions around the world, where do we expect this trend to intensify?

While digital game consumption transcends national boundaries and migrates between cultures, so far, the centers of production and publishing remain dominated by a relatively small number of corporations headquartered in North America, Japan, China, and to a lesser extent South Korea, Western Europe, and the UK. This panel aims to explore the role of cultural heritage in gaming in an alternative setting and to simulate the practical challenges, as well as the risks and opportunities which are entangled in a shift towards a decentralized gaming industry. For instance, we wish to ask what are the possibilities to use cultural heritage to reach a specific public that was never reached before? - How can we draw the attention of developers from different parts of the world towards their voice and heritage? – Can we think of particular themes in a local setting, having in mind also intangible heritage (i.e., oral traditions, customs, value systems, skills, traditional dances, diets, performances) and other unique features of a culture? Taking an opposite stance, what if heritage in general, and ‘World Heritage’ in particular, is itself a globalizing process? Can we mark future directions for understanding heritage and its ‘dialogical’ or relational qualities to make more effective connections with gaming?

Research-creation as an applied method in games studies

Stefano Gualeni, Fares Kayali, Jonathan Lessard, Renata Ntelia, and Nele Van de Mosselaer

60-min on-site panel

The participants of this panel discuss the relationship of theory and practice at the intersection of game studies and game design. All panelists pursue knowledge and communicate knowledge as people active in both fields – scholars who also actively create games and/or playful artefacts.

Renata will present her games in progress, Playing in the Remnants about the Holocaust and Playing Maltese History about cultural heritage, and discuss design and research issues concerning history and historical trauma.

Stefano will discuss some examples of his own creative engagement with philosophy which includes both interactive fictions (i.e. philosophical games) and more traditional forms of fiction (an upcoming novel).

Looking back at almost ten years of experience, Jonathan Lessard will discuss the thorny problems of generalization and knowledge contribution in game design research-creation. In other words: does academic research-creation bring any added value over experimental game making “in the wild”?

Nele will focus on how digital games can be used to ask philosophical questions about our experiences of digital games, discussing the 2021 self-referential game Doors (

Fares will discuss participatory research-creation with children in serious game contexts such as health care and education.

The four presentations and ensuing discussion will shed light on game studies topics akin to design practice such as making theory playable through games, critical making and research-creation.