DGfA Workshop. Play, Narrative, and American Modernities

Stefan Schubert
Sebastian M. Herrmann

Play, Narrative, and American Modernities

As a cultural practice, narrative is often considered uniquely suited to textualize the experiences of modernity. This workshop aims to complement such an interest in the narratives of modernity by turning to a category that, to some of its proponents, is emphatically non-narrative: play. Indeed, discussions in game studies, not least in the context of the ludology-narratology debate, have accentuated ‘the ludic’ as an aesthetic, symbolic, or conceptual category in its own right. Thus understood, a ludic quality—an emphasis on interaction, a focus on winning, a suspension of the ‘serious,’ or a loosening of constraints of meaning—can be found in many different ‘texts’ and in a wide array of cultural sites: in literary texts, in political rhetoric, in (pop-)cultural performances, in games and sports, or in the gamification of education. In how it subverts, counters, or disrupts the more ‘orderly,’ linear qualities of narrative, playfulness is a socially symbolic dimension particularly well-suited to expressing, negotiating, and cushioning the social disruptions that mark processes of modernization, and modernities as such. In this sense, play emerges as a key idiom facilitating the kinds of self-reflexivity that mark modern societies, and American modernities in particular.

Our workshop therefore aims to explore the productivity of play and playfulness as categories for discussing the distinct qualities of (American) modernities. We are interested in case studies of texts, (video) games, or performative social interactions whose relationship to modernity becomes more legible or more meaningful when engaged with an interest in their ludic qualities. Topics we envision could include:

  • actual games, such as board and parlor games, that, beginning in the 19th century, made chief contributions to negotiating modernity and experiences of modernization;

  • video games, understood as a decidedly post-cinematic form of interactive storytelling or as a form of simulation;

  • texts emulating individual ludic dynamics, such as reality TV shows, twist films, or choose-your-own-adventure stories;

  • the playfulness of metafictional narration;

  • the play of signifiers in the performance of cultural identities, e.g. drag or race or class passing;

  • memes, boasting, tall tales, or bullshitting (Harry G. Frankfurt) as forms of speech that suspend seriousness in an imagined contest of outbidding the ‘opponent.’

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