Routledge Encyclopedia of Citizen Media: Abstracts [V]

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Video Games

Tonguc Ibrahim Sezen, Teesside University, UK

Digdem Sezen, Teesside University, UK

While video game programming has been a popular practice amongst computer hobbyists since the 1970s, the emergence of widely distributed citizen video games may be traced back to the mid 1990s. The introduction of interactive media production tools such as Flash and the launch of free browser game websites have allowed individuals and small teams to develop and distribute video games easily and quickly. Mostly short and simple, these games paved the way both to online casual gaming and indie game development. In a similar fashion and for the most part due to the same technological advances, modding also began to rise in the mid 1990s and allowed fans of popular titles to change, enhance and re-appropriate their favourite games with both audio-visual and procedural changes.

While most non-commercial game development and modding may be considered as entertainment-oriented hobbyist activities, over the years they have also become a way of self-expression for socially and politically motivated individuals and groups. The Post 9/11 peace movement during the Bush administration produced games criticizing the War on Terror and proposing alternative solutions. Clashes between Hamas and the Israeli military forces have inspired games looking at the conflict from both sides. Fans of the Sims series created the so-called ‘poverty challenge’ to explore the experience of homelessness. Civilization series has been modded to both criticize and appraise policies, as can be seen in recent mods inspired by both Obama and Trump administrations. Over the years several concepts such as ‘political games’ (Lerner 2014, Sicart 2014), ‘activist games’ (Flanagan 2009) and ‘current event games’ (Bogost et al. 2010) have been suggested by game scholars to discuss such games designed and developed by individuals and non-governmental and non-corporate entities to explore, criticize and even provoke social, economic, or political subjects.

This entry focuses on the practices and theories of politically and socially motivated citizen video game design and development, both in the form of original titles and video game mods. It first surveys the key scholarly work in game studies and new media studies on the expressive potential of video games and their use for political and social purposes. It then offers an overview of factors which had allowed and shaped the development of video games, and especially politically and socially motivated video games, by ordinary citizens in a historical context, before focusing on contemporary citizen video game examples and the discussions they have given rise to in a global context. The entry concludes with a discussion of the position and role of video games in contemporary citizen media ecology.


Bogost, I, S. Ferrari and B. Schweizer (2010) Newsgames: Journalism at Play, Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Flanagan, M. (2009) Critical Play: Radical Game Design, Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Frasca, G. (2004) ‘Videogames of the Oppresses: Critical Thinking, Education, Tolerance, and Other Trivial Issues’, in N. Wardrip-Fruin and P. Harrigan (eds) First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 85-94.

Koenitz, H. (2014) ‘Reflecting Civic Protest – the Occupy Istanbul Game’, Proceedings of the Foundations of Digital Games 2014 Conference. Available online: (last accessed 10 September 2015).

Lerner, J. (2014) Making Democracy Fun, Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Sicart, M. (2014) Play Matters, Cambridge: The MIT Press.