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CfH Lectures


Contemporary computer games are increasingly used not only to entertain people, but also to educate, train, and inform them. Refugee games belong to these so-called ‘serious games’: they are serious games that frame refugee issues by letting the player taste life as a refugee. Refugee games not only have the potential to convince players of the veracity of a certain point of view or the necessity of a behavioural change; they also help non-profit organisations such as the United Nations, and commercial enterprises such as Reebok and the music channel MTV, to reinvent activism for the internet generation. In the last few years, serious games have addressed all kinds of political problems, such as refugee issues, global and local conflicts, famine, the genocide in Darfur, vaccination and HIV/AIDS. In this lecture Joost Raessens discusses how serious games frame refugee issues in ways that are medium specific. My analysis is primarily theoretical: it aims at a conceptual clarification of the relationship between (playing) these kinds of games and persuasive rhetoric. The starting point of my investigation is the conceptual framework of cognitive scientist and linguist George Lakoff, who theorises the cognitive dimensions of politics. Though he provides a productive framework for understanding political rhetoric, he exclusively focuses on non-computerised and non-playful media. Referring to the concept of the gaming dispositif and three different modes of participation (reconstruction, deconstruction and construction), Raessens further develops Lakoff‘s framework in order to turn it into an analytical toolkit in the domain of computer game studies.

This lecture was given within the framework of the 2011 School of Critical Theory organized by the Centre for the Humanities in Utrecht. The programme was titled ‘G-local Cosmopolitanism: The Social Responsibility of the Artists, the Academics, and the Media’, and offered trans-national and interdisciplinary approaches drawn from the humanities, social sciences, law, philosophy and international relations. Its focus on the development of cross-national European perspectives in these areas, allows for the innovative use of key notions of cosmopolitanism across different national, cultural and disciplinary traditions. The school consisted of three clusters, which focused on Cosmopolitanism and the social responsibility of the Artists, Cosmopolitanism and the social responsibility of the Academics, and Cosmopolitanism and the social responsibility of the Media.