My Desires Are Unconventional

BDSM scholarship as an inspiration for game studies


While the activities and pleasures offered by games form a broad and diverse spectrum, they generally expect the player to recognize their rules and restraints. To take part in a game, players need to submit to the rules. Even if they are constantly struggling with the game’s demands, they may derive pleasure from the pain of failure and humiliation. To master the game and break out of the cycle of humiliation, the players need to incorporate the game system and perform in an almost ritualistic way, forcing their bodies into movement designed by the rules. Thus, the act of playing can be perceived as producing pleasure from the experience of struggle for control within a carefully curated and consensual environment.

That deliberate experiments with pleasure and power may produce explosive combinations, in the Western culture has been confirmed by the simultaneous moral controversies and intellectual as well as artistic impact of BDSM (acronym of bondage & discipline, dominance & submission, sadism & masochism, describing sexual practices based on intense stimulation of both body and mind). Hence, we propose a workshop aimed to investigate the potential productivity and applicability of BDSM – perceived as a social and cultural phenomenon as well as food for theory – in the explorations of game-related themes.

Perhaps the most straightforward justification for approaching games from BDSM-inspired perspectives is provided by the interesting discursive, psychological, aesthetic and communal parallels concerning the relevance of role-play in games and during some BDSM activities. Such similarities can be explored with regard not only to the fulfillment of players’ fantasies through their identification with the role-played characters, but also the negotiations of power in such relationships. As players, we play a make-believe game in a specific, rule-driven environment. Its regulations are meant to give us a more tangible sense of agency as compared to our positions in the everyday life. Simultaneously, however, they leave us bound by the game system. Thus, though in most cases playing RPGs is not perceived as an erotica-focused activity, its logic seems to share some points with BDSM. Some of such bridging factors are: the exchangeable experiences of assuming control and letting go; consensual and temporary performance of a fictional identity; the use of costumes and props; and clearly specified ways of stepping into and out of the play zone.

Next to the exploration of role-playing and negotiations of agency between the game system and the playing subject, BDSM can help us think through current socio-cultural and political issues for game focused research. Games’ entanglement in both production of pleasure and imposition of power have contributed to their stereotypical conceptualizations as icons of consumerism, passivity and conformism, triggers of addiction or real-world violence, or as an inspiration for corporate motivational tools such as gamification. Therefore, the problematization of interactions between power and pleasure characteristic of BDSM-inspired reflection may also prove helpful in addressing less conspicuous, yet equally relevant roles of games in social practices.

Important Dates

Submission opens
December, 1st 2017

Final Submission Deadline:
February, 9th 2018

Acceptance Notification:
March, 1st 2018

We apologize for the delay in sending a notification about your DIGRA 2018 submission. Due to the high number of submissions, the review process is taking longer than expected but we plan to send out an official notification by next week. Other important dates such as Early Bird registration will be modified accordingly. We appreciate your patience and understanding.

DiGRA Program Chairs

Early Bird Fee Expiration:
March, 29th 2018

Final submission of revised papers and extended abstracts:
April, 15th 2018

Within the variety of established theoretical perspectives developed to understand the BDSM phenomenon, as well as broader dynamics of pleasure and power, there are: philosophical nihilism, from de Sade’s new morality and its Nietzschean readings to Bataillean concept of transgression; psychoanalytical apparatus expanding from classical Freudism to Lacanian analysis of sadism in relation to authority, to Deleuzian interpretation of masochism; (post)Foucauldian discourse of power and sexuality; feminist, queer, gender-, race- and class-oriented perspectives in contemporary BDSM studies; psychological, sociological and cultural analysis of BDSM practitioners and their communities; semiotics of BDSM’s portrayal in art and popular media.

For this workshop, we invite submissions related to four broad thematic areas: 1) BDSM as a lens for analyzing the player-game relationship, 2) BDSM-related aesthetics and activities in games, 3) parallels and exchanges between game cultures and BDSM scenes, 4) the concept of “game” and game lingo within BDSM scenes. Specifically, we encourage research on the topics including, though not limited to:

  • Gameplay as Harness: pleasure coming from restraint, the experience of being groomed by the game for submission;

  • Doms and Subs: dualistic character of the player’s relationship with the game, the dialectics of player control and contractual submission; being in a position of power and without control; dynamics of relationships between players, developers, and producers;

  • No Pain No Game: pleasure of humiliation and punishment;

  • In and Out of Character: the concept of role-play in BDSM and games; analogies between BDSM, RPG and LARP;

  • Saves, Safewords and Aftercare: finding comfort in losing the game; the player’s responsibility for the playable figure and the game’s responsibility for the player’s well-being;

  • The Foucauldian Perspective: games, the pleasure of desubjectification, and the desexualization of pleasure;

  • Bondage Aesthetics: in-game objects, situations, characters and mechanics that directly or indirectly invoke BDSM connotations, from leather armors to slave collars;

  • Nazisploitation: fascination with Nazi-inspired aesthetics and gadgetry in both games and BDSM aesthetics;

  • BDSM in Games: direct references to BDSM practices in game content, mods and players’ behaviours;

  • Games in BDSM: extensive usage of game-related terminology in BDSM community; BDSM activities perceived as a game; relation between BDSM and Dungeons and Dragons lingo;

  • “Safe, Sane and Consent” (SSC): physically safe encounters; knowing the difference between fantasies and reality; reciprocal consent, especially in live-action games;

  • Kinky Play: playing the game against its design; glitching, cheating, modding and other subversive kinds of play;

  • Dangerous Perverts or Pathetic Losers? Analogies in popular descriptions of gamer and BDSM communities;

  • Ludus in Sex Shops: the overlaps between game and sex toy industries, such as the recent Master & Slave “bondage and adventure game”.


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To present your work during the workshop, please send an anonymized, 500-word abstract with references (not to be included in the word limit) to Agata Zarzycka ( DiGRA template is not mandatory. Submissions will be reviewed and selected by the workshop organizers. Due to the exploratory nature of the workshop, we invite preliminary remarks, work in progress, as well as advanced research results.

The submission deadline is May 6th 2018.

All presenters have to be registered DiGRA 2018 participants, but it is not mandatory to be accepted as a presenter in the main conference program to participate in the workshop. The workshop sessions are open to all DiGRA 2018 participants.



Agata Zarzycka, University of Wrocław
Magdalena Cielecka, Jagiellonian University in Krakow
Justyna Janik, Jagiellonian University in Krakow
Tomasz Z. Majkowski, Jagiellonian University in Krakow
Jaroslav Švelch, University of Bergen


Submission deadline: May 6th 2018
Acceptance notifications: April 26th 2018