Accepted Paper:

Haunting images: social memories of terrorism and oppression among video game fans  
Stephanie Betz (Australian National University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how fantastical imagery mediates social memories of terrorism and oppression among fans of the video game Dragon Age 2. I argue that fans' divergent responses to the game surfaced radically different political agendas that were mediated but not resolved through shared imagery.

Paper long abstract:

Interdisciplinary image studies scholar WJT Mitchell (2005: 94) argues that "the value and life of images become most interesting… when they appear as the centre of a social crisis." In this paper, I explore the way in which fantastical imagery can emerge as the centre of a social crisis by evoking divergent social memories of terrorism and oppression among a transnational community of videogame fans. I take as my focus divergent player responses to the explosive destruction of a church in the videogame Dragon Age 2. For some players, the act symbolized striking a blow against the oppression that marginalised groups have historically experienced at the hands of religious institutions. For others, it was haunted by the destruction of the World Trade Centre and similar terrorist acts. Based upon 14 months of participant observation among the game's fans on Tumblr, I suggest that, although the shared imagery of the games served to mediate between fans' divergent social memories, it rarely resulted in genuine dialogue. I argue that this is partly due to the nature of images themselves, which appear to self-evidently address different viewers in profoundly different ways, rendering invisible the complexities of personal biography that shape social memory-making processes.

Panel P18
Bringing the past to life: narratives, practices and spaces of memory-making