Our delegation in Seville for DiGRA 2023

by Yannick Rochat, Larissa Wild, Pierre-Yves Hurel, Sophie Bémelmans and Eugen Pfister

A project like Confoederatio Ludens requires that we regularly attend conferences in order to present our results, gather constructive feedback, and keep an eye on what our international colleagues are discovering. This year, the annual conference of the Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) – the main research community in game studies – happened in Seville, Spain, on the site of the universal exposition of 1992. We sent 6 delegates to the conference: Sophie Bémelmans (UNIL), Pierre-Yves Hurel (UNIL), Mela Kocher (ZHdK), Eugen Pfister (HKB), Yannick Rochat (UNIL) and Larissa Wild (ZHdK). Here is an overview of their week.

PhD Consortium

The PhD Consortium took place on the first day of the conference. Its goal was to get feedback about PhD projects by peers and experts alike. It comprised short 5-minute presentations of each PhD project, followed by 20 minutes of peer and expert reviews. Reviewers would then ask questions, provide additional information, and suggest other literature and methodologies.

Larissa Wild – A Diachronic Look at the Swiss Game Developers Community:

«In my 5-minute presentation, I summarized my PhD project, where I aim to research and preserve the heritage of how early Swiss developers made games in Switzerland. I outlined the relevance of the project as well as my approach and methodologies. I also went into detail about which areas of research were especially interesting for me; such as different development scenes in the different speaking parts of Switzerland, the developer network and the developers tools, and workflows and methods in creating games. I received a lot of useful feedback from my reviewers which I hope to be able to incorporate into my further studies.»

Larissa Wild

Sophie Bémelmans – Smaky Story: a Comprehensive Approach of the Practical, Technical, and Social Dimensions of Computing in French-Speaking Switzerland:

«My doctoral thesis looks at the history of the Smaky – microcomputers manufactured in French-speaking Switzerland between the 1970s and 1990s. My work aims to understand computing practices and the experience of those involved with the Smaky. My presentation outlined the methodology I use, inspired by media archaeology, platform studies, oral history and local history. I explained how I apply the grounded theory method of B. Glaser and A. Strauss to study a historical object through the analysis of written and oral materials. I’ve received some pretty enthusiastic feedback. As Smaky microcomputers are little-known, I think I’ve prompted a desire to find out more about them. However, I still need to work on streamlining my work, because it’s still very ambitious at the moment.»

Sophie Bémelmans

Workshop «Local History of Games, Play and Game Design»

We also organised a workshop on the first day of the conference in order to gather scholars from different regional contexts and discuss our respective goals, methods and results with colleagues from around the globe. Each participant gave a short talk, then discussions took place in small groups about the methods required, the challenges faced, and the latent question and deconstruction of «national identities», before we would wrap up everything all together. All attendees are planning to get in touch again in a few months. Participants were coming from Austria, Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Québec, Slovakia, and Switzerland.

Our workshop after three hours work

Two conference papers in the main program

Two conference papers written by members of the Confoederatio Ludens project got accepted through the conference peer reviewing process. Note that Pierre-Yves Hurel’s paper is dedicated to local computer heritage in Belgium, a topic strongly related to our owns.

Sophie Bémelmans, Pierre-Yves Hurel and Yannick Rochat – Leisure Electronics as a Cultural Context for the Emergence of the Swiss Video Game:

«In this talk, we presented one of the research being conducted by the Lausanne team, in which «we […] investigate the emergence of video game creation in the local area of French-speaking Switzerland [and] we intend to study the transition between the 1960s and 1980s in terms of digital practices as entertainment, from a playful approach of electronics (robotics, ham radio, rail transport modelling, etc.) towards a playful approach of computing.» We could present our work in the context of the Regional and National Contexts session. All the preparatory work for this talk led us to realise that a lot of documents on leisure electronics were produced at the time (even starting much earlier in the Century), and that it will be an massive task to map them and extract relevant data from them since they are not all digitised.»

Yannick Rochat and Sophie Bémelmans

Pierre-Yves Hurel – Commercial, Hobbyist and In-between: Understanding the DAI Personal Computer Associative Game Library:

«This paper aimed to understand how the ecosystem of video games published in the 1980s on the Belgian machine “DAI Personal Computer” should be understood, through the examination of the general history of the machine, how it was supported mainly by clubs, and the content of enthusiast magazines. By analyzing significant cases of video games, I suggested the notion of “associative video game”.»

Pierre-Yves Hurel

Isla Mágica et Agua Mágica

After the end of the 1992 exposition, a theme park was built around its «Lake of Spain», offering many attractions as well as a water park. As game studies scholar, we HAD to go there, and we didn’t regret at all!

Before field work
After field work

Pirate historians (i.e. EP) present took the opportunity to give an unsolicited account of the importance of Seville in the history of the American trade. Below we see the historian’s enthusiasm for the authentic historical depiction. (A critical deconstruction of colonialist imaginaries would still have to be made up for.)

More field work

Sevilla 1992

The conference took place in what was the US Pavillon at the time. Nowadays, it hosts the Faculty of Communication of the University of Seville. The interiors have probably nothing in common with their original state since they are now classrooms (equipped with seats which have the amazing property that not a single one of them doesn’t make a loud noise when you sit down… Don’t be late!).

Sadly, the cable car and the monorail, which allowed some of the 42 million guests to reach the site from the city centre (during 6 months) have been dismantled.

miss u, cable car
miss u 2, monorail

Many buildings have been destroyed or reallocated, but some remain. They deploy a fascinating aura for those who have played too many post-apocalyptic games.

To the stars
This was a river, the “Discovery Canal”. Behind it, you see the Pavilion of the Future.
The tower Banesto, which would bring you at the height of 65m. Nowadays, the tower is out of order and the cabin remains stuck at 4m.
A map (in French) of the whole exposition. Click on the image to see the details.

«Suiza no existe»

Were you aware that the Swiss pavillon in Sevilla 1992 sparked a controversy within Switzerland? As is often the case with incidents in the country’s history, the controversy revolved around national identity. This is particularly intriguing for us because we are still pondering the concept of a «Swiss game». If you’re interested in learning further details:


Attending the first DiGRA conference happening during this project has been a great experience for all of us. This was a perfect occasion to experience the intellectual and social intensity of a large academic gathering. We received a lot of promising feedback, tons of good insights, and reunited for a week with those colleagues you only see in such occasions.

But it’s not holidays yet. Next week (3-4 July 2023), six months into the project, our group is meeting at the Swiss Museum of Games in La Tour-de-Peilz for a two-day workshop. A beautiful occasion to discuss interview methodology and database managing, as well as strengthen the links between us!

See you soon!

Recommended citation: Yannick Rochat, Larissa Wild, Pierre-Yves Hurel, Sophie Bémelmans and Eugen Pfister, “Our delegation in Seville for DiGRA 2023”, in: Confoederatio Ludens, https://chludens.hypotheses.org/366, 26.06.2023

Cite this blog post
Yannick Rochat (2023, June 26). Our delegation in Seville for DiGRA 2023. Confoederatio Ludens. Retrieved June 14, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/mr8u

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