CFP – PLAYPAUSE SYMPOSIUM 2019: Immersion|Dissonance

PLAYPAUSE are excited to announce our second symposium, Immersion|Dissonance which will be taking place at the University of Birmingham on Wednesday 22nd May 2019. See below for information about the conference and this year’s call for papers.

PLAYPAUSE 2019 SYMPOSIUM – Wednesday 22nd May 2019, University of Birmingham, B15 2TT.


‘The Ocean is an environment in which we cannot breathe; to survive immersion, we must take oxygen from the surface, stay in touch with reality…’

— Marie Laure-Ryan Narrative as Virtual Reality (2001). 

A glowing review of Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2for the Guardiandescribes the ‘aggregate effect’ of its details as ‘nothing less than total immersion, the sensation of a lived experience’ (McDonald). Immersion as a buzzword in gaming culture and industry has a long history. As Janet Murray has written, ‘immersion is a metaphorical term derived from the physical experience of being submerged in water […] the sensation of being surrounded by a completely other reality, as different as water is from air, that takes over all of our attention, our whole perceptual apparatus’ (p. 99). Marie Laurie Ryan traces the roots of immersion from the ‘strictly visual’ in Baroque churches—where distinctions are blurred between physical and pictorial space—to the sense of a transparent medium via the aesthetics of illusion in eighteenth-century fiction (p. 5). The array of language used to describe the sensations of being immersed illustrate its complexities as a valid mode of understanding our relationships to new media technologies. Whether we are ‘flooded’, ‘blinded’, ‘plunging’, ‘submerged’ or ‘drenched’, to be immersed is to experience a reification of the affective potentials of new media objects.

In the theorisation and critical enquiry into digital mediums, immersion is oftentimes considered both desirable and dangerous. Its ‘taking over’ of our attention and sensory apparatus leads Jay Bolter to describe immersion as ‘the impairment of critical consciousness’ and suggest that it resists theorisation: ‘what can be said about immersion in a textual world except that it takes place?’ (pp. 10-11). Ken Hillis notes that immersion can lead to a ‘bodily conforming of human abilities to the capabilities of the machine’ (p. 131). Connecting a critique of immersion to longstanding criticisms of realism across the arts, many scholars follow a poststructuralist focus on moments of breakdown, glitch, or ‘ludonarrative dissonance’, considering the potential of such aporiasfor breaking immersion’s affective spell.

For our second annual symposium, PLAY/PAUSE is looking for papers that interrogate the continuum between immersion and dissonance within videogames and virtual reality. We therefore welcome papers from any disciplinary background that relate to (but are not limited to) the following topics:

  • New immersive media (Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality)
  • Embodiment and virtual environments
  • Glitches and breaking immersion
  • Flow and gaming expertise
  • Identification and social gaming
  • Constructed authenticity
  • Queerness and the player body
  • Detail, labour and the ‘crunch’
  • Boredom and negative affects

Abstracts of no more than 250 words, along with a bibliography and short bio, should be sent to by Friday 15th March 2019. We particularly welcome proposals from PGRs and early career researchers.

PLAY/PAUSE is part of the Centre for Digital Cultures at Birmingham, fuelling academic discussion of Videogames and Virtual Reality.


Stay tuned for our keynote announcement, coming next week!

Works cited:

Bolter, J., Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print (London: Routledge, 2001).

Hillis, K, Digital Sensations: Space, Identity, And Embodiment in Virtual Reality (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).

Laure-Ryan, M. (2001). Narrative as Virtual Reality (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2003).

McDonald, K. (2018). ‘Red Dead Redemption 2 review – gripping western is a near miracle’. Guardian. 25 October. Available at: Accessed 12 October 2018.

Murray, J., Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (Cambridge, MS: MIT Press, 1998).


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