Sonja Gabriel

Sonja Gabriel works as a professor for media literacy at University Teacher College Vienna/Krems (Austria) where she teaches pre-service and in-service teachers. Her primary focus of research is on digital game-based learning and using serious games for teaching different subjects at school and university as well as evaluation of various projects for learning with games and game-design approaches.

The magic of serious games for learning

FROG 2021 – Talk

When talking about serious games for teaching purposes, magic can be seen in two ways. First of all, magic is quite often used as narrative, to give a background or by equipping the player’s avatar with magic items or skills. The use of magic in storytelling has always been important for humans to explain phenomena which could not be explained in another way. For children, however, magic also is of educational value – although the themes used in stories (and games) might often be unrealistic, there are fundamental elements for children’s development. Many studies which had a look into fairy tales have proven the learning possibilities of these stories. Especially, digital games aiming at children (and also those that have been designed for learning purposes) use magic to engage children and to teach them – talking animals, towns made of candy and sugar or (nice) monsters being some characteristic examples. A second connection to magic and learning games for children can be made with the magic circle. Serious games wanting to teach players facts, change in behavior or attitude need to go beyond the magic circle. In order to make a game immersive, the three identities according to Gee have to be taken into account. However, that does not mean that knowledge or skills acquired within the game, will be taken beyond the game boundaries automatically. To enable transfer beyond the boundaries of the magic circle, additional measures (like classroom teaching) have to be taken. In the first part, the contribution will have a look at some children learning games and the role magic plays, whereas the second part will summarize major findings of studies related to digital game based learning and thus stress the fact that learning from games will show best results when it is accompanied with measures outside the game.

Ivo Antunic

Ivo Antunic is a designer and publisher of the board game World Control ( He received BSc in Architecture from the Technical University of Vienna and has become a student of Game Studies at Danube University Krems in 2021. World Control was introduced to him during an exchange year in the US by his host father, Michael Lee Cregger. After sailing the carribbean seas, the name of his boat – imago – lived on for his publishing venture when he crowdfunded WorldControl on Kickstarter in 2016 during the  rise of the Trump-Phenomenon. Focusing on deeper, analog immersion, and themes that bridge over to current events with a Twitter-Bot, additional crowdfundings on StarNext took kept WorldControl a constant Work-In-Progress. The blurring of the real & the gaming world is what he calls „Playerism“.

Playerism – A broken Magic Circle, when the whole world is a game.

FROG 2021 – Talk

My entry into Game Studies stems from crowdfunding the board game “WorldControl” in 2016. It had been pieced together as a mashup of the board game classics “Risk” and “Monopoly” by Michael Lee Cregger in 1991, but remained unpublished. As an exchange student at the Cregger family in 2005 I got to know and love this forgotten game. Its story “in the future all governments have failed & a billionaire elite with corporate armies now plays for the world’s total ownership” seemed gloomy but visionary. So when a billionaire gameshow host started running for the highest office of the world’s most powerful army under a premise of “winning again”, it seemed the game of WorldControl was about to get real. The simple mixture of “Fight or Pay”, adding strategic elements to counter pure chance, gave the game a highly immersive gameplay compared to the known classics, while offering a familiar layout. But there was something about the original prototype that gave it that magic. A submerged central dice-rolling arena provided a feeling as if surrounded by James-Bond villains at Casino Royal. As a student of architecture I had always been fascinated by physical manifestations of these magic circles in the form of theaters, arenas and stadiums. It was not merely about the game, it was about making it bigger than life & immersing all of society into it. With permission to make something out of WorldControl, I poured all my love for design into carving an opulent board. Within 3 weeks a prototype and a campaign was set up without any advertisement, but since every friend called me crazy to believe that anyone would pay up to €230+ or more for a board game, I offered multiple versions. An overwhelming +75% of the backing eventually came from the design-editions. It was successfully funded on election-day 2016. The gameshow-host, trying to brake the rules of reality at every moment, became president & I was confronted with actually having to realize my modern Jumanji, with its immersive effect of braking into reality. The magic circle as a barrier seemed broken. This fusion of the real world and the simulated play world, is what I now call “Playerism”.

Tamer Aslan

Tamer Aslan is a creative technologist and founder of City Games Vienna. He received BSc in Electronics Engineering from Sabancı University Istanbul and MA in Interaction Design from Domus Academy Milan. After working as a creative engineer and researcher in Ars Electronics Futurelab, he moved to Vienna to realise his vision of Playful City through City Games Vienna. He has received funding from aws, Vienna Business Agency and FFG, and produced games for Austrian Ministry of Tourism, UNODC, and BOKU. City Games Vienna currently has three Monster Hunts in local market and is developing a digital version to go international.

Blurring the Borders of Magic Circle: Urban Games as a Method for Fusing Game Worlds with the Real World

FROG 2021 – Talk

Urban games are an emerging form of play that derives from street games, location-based games, theatre performances and artistic happenings. They can be defined as pervasive games that are designed for urban context. They differentiate from other games in the sense that (1.) they are built upon cultural and technological heritage that can only be found in cities and (2.) they use real-life situations and locations as their magic circle. Two aspects form the base of the methodology in the design of the urban games: The Impact and the Container. The Impact is the aimed effect to be triggered in players participating in the games. The Container is the employed form housing the urban game. Three use cases will be explained within this structure, where urban games are used to blur the borders of the magic circle so that the skills acquired during gameplay can be translated and transferred into real life. Monster Hunts: Impact: Trigger awareness about the history and culture of Vienna. Form: Hybrid Card Game Using a city map, scratch-off riddle cards and web stories, players go around Vienna and catch “Monsters” with the help of Georgina II the Monster Huntress. The Monsters are sculptures or architectural elements that can be found in the city. CATRINA: Impact: inform and empower players on civil courage Form: Phone Game Players go to a public location and call a phone number where they listen through a scenario and decide on actions using keypad entries, to prevent the world from being destroyed by aliens. The actions provide handling options, so they can learn how to approach such situations in real life. Römerland Carnuntum 2040: Impact: Increase awareness of residents about the development of the region Form: Board Game Players role play four teenagers in an adventure game that takes place in Römerland Carnuntum. Trying to help a kid from the future, they go around the region and collect items. Depending on the items selected, the game ends with a different future scenario.

Jeremiah Diephuis

Jeremiah Diephuis (US/AT) was born in 1976 and grew up in the great arcades of the American Midwest. After studies in computational linguistics and communication and knowledge media, he turned his focus to the use of games for various purposes in the public sphere. He currently works as a lecturer and researcher in the Digital Media department at the Hagenberg Campus of the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria and is a founding member of the research group “Playful Interactive Environments”.

Playerism – A broken Magic Circle, when the whole world is a game.

FROG 2021 – Talk

Andrea Aschauer

Even a brief examination of the sacred tome of game design reveals a myriad of apparent contradictions: the mechanics of a game should be easy to learn, but difficult to master; interaction should be simple and intuitive, yet simultaneously challenging and foster problem-solving skills. Yet, perhaps the most elusive of all game design mysteries is the art of emergence, the phenomenon of players interacting in ways that a game’s rule system allows, but was not really intended, or at least not as a main objective. Emergence is often perceived as some form of the Philosopher’s Stone, whose ingredients are not entirely known, but could be the secret to achieving a higher level of play. However, emergent gameplay tends to be more of an ex post facto observation than an actual design methodology, despite a growing number of publications that would suggest it can be harnessed to achieve increased player agency and engagement. Although some basic principles can be addressed in a game’s design, emergence is heavily dependent both on the involved players’ individual creativity as well as the game’s actual setting. Particularly for co-located games, i.e. games played with others in the same physical environment, both Huizinga’s concept of the Magic Circle as well as Juul’s slightly extended metaphor of the Puzzle Piece can serve as useful theoretical models to understand some of the components that can contribute to emergence. In this talk, we will address some of the more-or-less intended as well as some truly surprising emergent gameplay that became part of co-located game installations developed for the Ars Electronica’s Deep Space over a period of seven years. The presentation will examine both encouraging examples of emergent behavior as well as potentially game-breaking — or at least gameplay-inhibiting — actions that were observed in the wilds of public exhibition. The talk aims to provide both an informative analysis of potential pitfalls for co-located game installations as well as postulate a few promising ingredients for the cauldron of emergence.

Markus Meschik

Markus Meschik is head of Enter, an NGO dedicated to the counselling of families and institutions on the topic of digital games in education in Graz, Austria. He is a lecturer in the fields of social pedagogy, counseling and digital games at the University of Graz, where he received his doctorate on the topic of digital games in the family, and at the FH Joanneum Graz. He is a reviewer and expert for the BuPP of the Federal Chancellery.

“And for my next trick, I’ll make your wallet disappear!” Adolescents’ use and perception of “free-to-play” games in Austria

FROG 2021 – Talk

Current financing models of digital games such as the “free-to-play” model are generating unprecedented revenues in the video game industry (Wijman 2018). Many games seem to be tailored to and deliberately appeal to an adolescent target group, be it through their audiovisual design or by their easily accessible game mechanics. Other game series have been established for many years and added said financing models later. Due to structural similarities of these financing models with traditional gambling, this poses challenges for legislators as well as educators and gamers themselves. Some aspects are perceived as particularly critical. Lootboxes, for example, have been under investigation for some time and are already regulated in some European countries (Close/Lloyd 2021). However, lootboxes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to financing models. “Pay-to-win” mechanisms and simulated gambling receive much less international attention, but like lootboxes, they exploit cognitive dissonances in gamers. These dissonances are similar to infantile magical thinking as described by Piaget (1926), where it is assumed that thoughts or actions can cause events that are causally unrelated. This contribution discusses how magical thinking by gamers can lead to increased spending in certain games, which cognitive distortions come into play in this process and how certain financing models take advantage of precisely this magical thinking. The contribution is based on the results of the author’s dissertation, in which 30 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 were surveyed about their video game behavior using a qualitative approach.

Alexander K. Seewald

Dr.techn. Dipl.-Ing. Alexander K. Seewald has been active in research in the field of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and image analysis/pattern recognition for several decades. He has processed data with self-developed or modified learning algorithms, e.g. spam e-mails, handwritten numbers, biological research papers (from the BioMinT project), EEG data (from Prof. Weiss, Brain Research Institute, Vienna), binary TCP/IP data packets (from a honeypot system operated at the University of Vienna itself, image, audio and video data (various sources including stereo camera video recorded by his robot platform ToyCollect) and depth sensor data (practically all existing depth cameras)

Ten Years of Magic Mirror: I and My Avatar

FROG 2021 – Talk

Alexander Pfeiffer (Danube University Krems)

Since 2012 we have been building the augmented reality system Magic Mirror based on Kinect V1 and V2’s native API. It relies on the magic mirror metaphor, where a large screen shows a mirrored camera view with overlaid graphical elements. In our case, it shows a different face mesh over the person’s face which reliably tracks face poses in real time while leaving the eyes and mouth of the person visible for interaction and to improve immersion; replaces the background with images that may be changed, smoothly zoomed and dragged; and allows to take screenshots which are automatically printed out on photo cards with an unique QR code linking to its digital image. Control of the system is primarily via easily learned hand gestures very similar to multitouch screen gestures known from mobile phones and tablets. We have demonstrated the system to the public as well as in private (including at FROG conferences 2012, 2013 and 2014, albeit without presenting a paper) in a wide variety of settings, faces and backgrounds. Here, we explain the challenges inherent in creating high-quality face meshes and textures from 2D images, and how we solved them; describe the different versions of the system, how they differ and their limitations; and demonstrate the usefulness of our system in several applications from people counting and tracking to obtaining height measurements without storing or processing personal data.

Sarah Lynne Bowman

Sarah Lynne Bowman, Ph.D. is a scholar, game designer, and event organizer. She is a Senior Lecturer for the Department of Game Design at Uppsala University Campus Gotland and the Coordinator for Peace & Conflict Studies at Austin Community College. McFarland Press published her dissertation as The Functions of Role-playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems, and Explore Identity (2010). Bowman has edited for The Wyrd Con Companion Book (2012-2015), the International Journal of Role-playing (2016-), and (2015-). She helped organize the Living Games Conference (2014, 2016, 2018) and Role-playing and Simulation in Education Conference (2016, 2018).

Liminal Intimacy: Role-playing Games as Catalysts for Interpersonal Growth and Relating

FROG 2021 – Talk

Kjell Hedgard Hugaas (Department of Game Design, Uppsala University)
Josephine Baird (Department of Game Design, Uppsala University)

One of the most powerful aspects of role-playing games is the ability to slip out of established social frames (Goffman 1986; Fine 1983) and explore identity, whether digital (Bessière, Seay, and Kiesler, 2007; Bowman and Shrier 2018) or analog (Pohjola 2004; Bowman 2010). When a role-playing group supports meaningful self-discovery, it can become a space for magic: a transformational container within which players feel safe to explore new aspects of their consciousness within a liminal space (Bowman and Hugaas 2021). If the group is supportive off-game, that player can feel validated in portraying a new social identity in daily life (Stets and Serpe, 2013), as well as shaping a more empowering narrative of their life story (McAdams, 2011). Furthermore, role-playing games open up new relationship frames related to these identities and the fictions surrounding them. Previous work has addressed the ways in which players may experience such dynamics as erotic (Brown and Stenros 2018), confusing (Waern 2010), or potentially detrimental to existing relationships as a result of bleed (Bowman 2013; Harder 2018). Role-playing is an inherently co-creative activity, where new modes of reality and, thus, relating are experienced, even if these dynamics are fictional. However, we posit that within those fictional dynamics, players can experience sometimes unprecedented intimacy, vulnerability, and connection, which can fundamentally shake not only their self-concepts, but also their understanding of relationships. Integrating principles from transactional analysis (Berne 1996), attachment theory (Levin and Heller, 2011), and other psychotherapeutic concepts, as well as practices in relationship design (Michaels andJohnson, 2015) and authentic relating games (see Authentic Revolution, 2021; Games for Humanity, 2021), this article will explore intimacy within these environments. Role-playing games can hold space for players to catalyze new relationships, practice interpersonal skills such as flirting and sharing, and experience the magic of limerence and integration through connection (Siegel 2010). Furthermore, these containers can help players transform their understanding of intimacy in daily life, whether with specific people or with their own sexual and/or romantic identities. To best harness this potency, this article will conclude with recommendations for exploring intimacy with an emphasis on safety, consent, calibration, transparency, and trust.

Angshuman Dutta

Angshuman Dutta is currently a postgraduate student in his first year at Jadavpur University pursuing MA in English. He has published short stories in a couple of anthology compilations and in journals. He has a deep interest in the cultural impact of video games and his recent paper, titled “Playing in Space: Outer Wilds and sound”, was presented at Affecting Game Space: Theory and Practice organised by Game Worlds Cluster, Centre for Data, Culture and Society, the University of Edinburgh 2021.

Designing Space: Outer Wilds and its non-linear immersion

FROG 2021 – Talk

Open-world games are tending to become more and more massive as time goes on. The map is seemingly endless and teeming with myriad sets of objectives, collectables, interactives and NPCs. Players are given directives and hand-held through the mechanics as they traverse from one level to another. Mobius Digital’s Outer Wilds lies in contradiction to this trend. The game echoes on the surface the extreme fascination humanity has towards exploring space. Each planet, it feels, has its own essence, and audio cue, and the protagonist, finally becoming an astronaut, is to explore them all. Rather than putting an immense-almost-infinite world at the fingertips of the player, Outer Wilds puts them in a contained solar system stuck in a 22-minute time loop ending in the sun going supernova. The game is designed in such a way that interaction with it is not forced. Players can choose their own way to play each loop. They can visit wherever they want to and nothing other than the endgame actually requires a prior key to be collected or latch to be pulled. The immersion of the game resides in the uniqueness of the different planets, the accompanying music pieces, and the existentialist question of life and the self in a space that is dying. The game takes on a heuristic approach rather than helping the player with clear cut clues. The game is not meant to be or designed to be played in any one linear way. This paper wishes to examine how the design of the world in the game helps in the immersion of the players in its gamespace, while not binding the players to any certain way of playing.

Mario Donick

Dr. Mario Donick has studied German language & literature and history at the University of Rostock. He has a PhD in Communication Studies. He works as independent author and researcher. Books and articles on human computer interaction & society, as well as computer games. CV and publications.

Doing Magic for a Living: About the “Mages Guild” in The Elder Scrolls as Professional Organization

FROG 2021 – Talk

Many fantasy games present mages, wizards and witches as a fairly common part of the game world and its society. Magic exists objectively and even common people know about it. Still, magic is often regulated by special organizations. In the „Elder Scrolls“ series of games, many mages are organized in the Mages Guild. In my talk, I start by explaining the guild‘s purpose, both in term of gameplay and narrative – the guild not only structures the quest-based gameplay of the series, but also builds, strengthens and confirms the player’s assumed identity as mage, witch or wizard. It is therefore a tool helping the player to suspend disbelief. However, by doing so, the actually fantastic endeavour of casting spells or doing magic research becomes surprisingly mundane – magic quests are presented as jobs with payments and deadlines to meet. Members are organized in ranks, have to follow rules, and guilds are managed, just like every other company in our normal world. At first this seems to be a contradiction to the fantastic setting of the game world. However, I will show that elements of every-day bureaucracy actually increase the credibility of the fictional guild and further strenghten the player’s impression of really being a mage, witch or wizard.

Katarzyna Marak

Katarzyna Marak, Ph. D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Cultural Studies at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland; she is the author of Japanese and American Horror: A Comparative Study of Film, Fiction, Graphic Novels and Video Games and the co-author of the monograph Gameplay, Emotions and Narrative: Independent Games Experienced, as well as a number of texts discussing independent games, game mechanics, player experience, and storytelling aspects of games. Her research interests concern game studies, with particular emphasis on independent game texts, horror fiction, testimonies of reception, and elements of American and Japanese popular culture.

Magic as Mechanics and Narrative in Independent Horror Games

FROG 2021 – Talk

This paper will attempt to outline and examine the medium-specific ways in which magic is portrayed and used in independent digital horror games. The two most important factors taken into consideration will be the practical employment of magic, discussed in terms of mechanics, and the fantastical employment of magic, discussed in terms of the narrative. Both these components are particularly significant in horror fiction in general, where magic is primarily depicted as a source of harm and peril, and only occasionally as the means to defend oneself—depending on the culture-related politics of magic. Such portrayal of magic does conform to the medium of digital games, but also breaks with the strict long-established convention of typical literary and film horror narratives by empowering and strengthening the protagonist. Using a number of selected examples, the paper will examine a number of varied representations of magic in game texts, with particular emphasis placed on the relationship between magic and immersion, as well as magic and agency. By placing games in a broader context of other horror texts, the paper will demonstrate how through a complex interplay of mechanics, narrative, and gameplay experience independent digital horror games allow the players to obtain and use the power to make impossible things occur in and impact on the game world.