Young people born in 1980’s and 1990’s China are the focus of a great deal of scholarly attention as they are the country’s first generation of only children. They are also the first generation to come of age with the Internet, and, for many, playing Internet games forms an integral part of the youth experience. This presentation will explore the affective dimensions of digital games from the perspective of urban Chinese youth. What is the significance of an e-sports event that attracts tens of thousands of twenty-somethings, many of whom experience it as a teary-eyed “farewell to their youth”? Or a viral video created by World of Warcraft gamers that urges millions of viewers to “raise their fists in solidarity” to show support for their “spiritual homeland”? What should we make of these phenomena that demonstrate, ever more clearly, the ways in which games are intertwined with people’s spiritual and emotional lives? Are games the imagined utopia they are made out to be in these nostalgic accounts or might these affective attachments prove to be a form of what Lauren Berlant (2011) has called “cruel optimism,” a relationship in which the very thing that is desired becomes an obstacle to flourishing?
Marcella Szablewicz is a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Comparative Media Studies at MIT. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of Communication and Media at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and an M.A. in East Asian Studies from Duke University. Her research focuses on youth and digital media in urban China. She is currently working on a book based on her dissertation, provisionally entitled From Addicts to Athletes: Youth Mobilities and the Politics of Digital Gaming in Urban China. Based on ethnographic fieldwork supported by the Fulbright and National Science Foundations, the book will examine the precarious socio-economic futures of urban Chinese youth through the lens of digital gaming culture, while also considering how dominant discourse about digital leisure practice is shaped by larger cultural debates about patriotism and productivity, class and the crafting of the “ideal citizen”. Her work can also be found in the Routledge volume Online Society in China and in the Chinese Journal of Communication.
Co-sponsored by the Cool Japan Project.