Representations of Dragons in Games

During my PhD exchange visit at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Design, we organized the first GameAnimals seminar. On the day of the seminar, the 4th of October, the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated in Hong Kong, which includes dragon dances in several villages to bring fortune and prosperity to the people and the town. Dragons are amazing. So together with researchers Marleena Huuhka and Dr. Hanna Wirman we set-up a day of investigating and discussing the representations of ‘dragons’ in games.

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 10.00.37
Poster made by Marleena Huuhka

Photo 04-10-2017, 12 40 57

Starting off the day in Dim Sum restaurant Dragon Lake House, all 7 participants contributed presentations that discussed different dragon representations from games including Skyrim, Zelda’s Breath of the Wild, Pokémon Go, Mahjong, Bubble Bobble, That Dragon Cancer, Puzzle and Dragons, the Final Fantasy series, Magic the Gathering, Garry’s Mod, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and DOTA 2.

We focused specifically on the differences in appearances, abilities, narrative elements, and cultural aspects that constitute dragons in games. This led to interesting discussions on what actually makes a ‘dragon’ a ‘dragon’ as a fictional or mythical construct. As well as how these representations are culturally enforced, gendered, stereotyped, but also somewhat unfixed throughout games. During this part of the seminar we also noted down keywords of the discussion that we used during the second activity.

Due to a lack of a meeting room, we decided that the second part of the seminar should take place in alignment with true Hong Kong trends: a Karaoke Box. It soon turned out that the echoed microphones and (lack of) singing skills among people in the adjacent rooms added an unforeseen extra dimension to our seminar.

We started with a brainstorming exercise that involved an adaptation of the popular Cards Against Humanity game. In our version, called Dragons Against the Humanities, we used the titles of last years’ DiGRA Conference Proceedings and the keywords we created in the morning to generate new paper titles. This activity led to 7 abstract titles we wanted to explore further:

  • Design Guidelines for Personifications of Dragons
  • Exploring Draconic Identity Experiences in Videogames
  • How Effective are Anthropomorphic Dragons in Simulating the Existential Crisis of Being both a Fairy and a Dragon?
  • Towards a History of Dragons as Valuable Resources
  • The Short Term Dynamics of Meeting a Dragon
  • Something Happened: A Political and Cultural Overview of Dragon Ownership
  • Methods for the Estimation of Degrees of Dragonness

As you can imagine, these titles were quite amusing to us. However, at the same time, it sparked our imagination and gave us new ideas about dragon representations. We decided to divide the titles among participants and start writing abstracts that match those titles. To remove ownership of the work, we chose to work for 7 minutes on each abstract, and then rotate our computers 7 times among all participants. So that every one of us contributed to all abstracts. This must have been one of the most serious Karaoke Box uses ever.  

Photo 04-10-2017, 15 25 45 

Afterwards, we went to Victoria Park to enjoy some daylight and fresh air, and we presented the abstracts to each other. To conclude the fruitful and inspiring seminar day, we all played a local dragon-themed escape room, that we did not manage to solve in time. Perhaps because, as game scholars, we were highly overthinking the puzzles.

Thanks to all participants for engaging with us in a productive day of dragon-game-talk. We are currently considering our options to rewrite the abstracts into conference papers.


25% PhD Seminar: Imagining Non-Speciesism

After a bit more than 1,5 years of PhD-ing, next week it’s time for my 25% seminar. It will take place on May 2nd at Malmö University (10.15-12.00). I will present the current state of my research which includes a theoretical framing as well as some ongoing design projects that involve cats, dogs, ants, and penguins. After this talk, there will be a discussion on my work together with Prof. Maria Hellström Reimer.

In the seminar I will be drawing from my newest paper. Part of this text will be published soon in a special issue on the topic of ‘Utopias’ in a journal called Antae. Please find the abstract for my talk below. Let me know if you’re interested in receiving the full text and/or attending this seminar!

Screen Shot 2017-04-04 at 15.32.21

Title of the Talk: Imagining Non-Speciesism


We live in a world where (non-human) animals are killed and abused in numbers that are almost beyond comprehension. This killing is ubiquitous and omnipresent, and yet largely invisible to most people. Once we come to the realization that the normalization of animal oppression is something that we should oppose, envisioning futures that abandon ‘speciesism’ requires an almost unimaginable rethinking of our current society. Yet, resistance and alternative practices do exist. These forces consist of alternative opinions, attitudes, feelings, meanings, and values, which are not considered to be the norm, but can somehow still be accommodated and tolerated within dominant culture.

In this modest approach towards imagining non-speciesist futures – which invites serious ethical consideration of animals – I aim to bring those under-emphasized and hidden alternative perspectives to light in order to make them more valid and more real as practices that counter hegemony. By paying attention to existing philosophies and personal affective accounts, this project highlights alternatives and possibilities for designers/artists, in the broadest sense of the word, to imagine and shape futures that are utopian, not just for humans, but for animals as well. I conclude by arguing and exemplifying how shared encounters with animals that are open to surprises, joy, and playfulness can inspire us to re-negotiate relationships with other beings. In this set-up, we can explore alternative scenarios, practice our sensitivity, develop empathy, and try out different realities together with other animals.