All about the first conference of video game studies in Serbia and why it is important

Tatjana Ristić,
guest author
Last year was a jubilee for the scientific delving into gaming: the first video game studies conference was held in Copenhagen exactly twenty years before it, and it served to define the field as a scientific discipline. Twenty years later Serbia also raised a hand to join the discussion: the first video game studies conference in Serbia was held on the 10th and 11th of December 2021 in Novi Sad. Its goal was to secure a platform for further scientific exploration of video games. It was a great opportunity for a special type of nerds, a group I am a part of, to speak up about gaming in a different way.

Academy of Arts in Novi Sad first won a place under the academic sun for video games in Serbia in 2017, so it is not unusual for it to be the main organizer of the first national video game studies conference with international participation. The interest in academic research of gaming has only been growing since 2017, which is the reason why now there is also the first master program (Master 4.0) devoted to video games, one-semester courses organized by the University of Arts in Belgrade, and this year the Faculty of Dramatic Arts is also launching its gaming degree.

The academic programs that currently exist in Serbia are primarily focused on video game development, an answer to the growing gaming industry in our country, which employs more than 2100 people at the moment. What is still lacking is a platform for critical and theoretical research of video games. That is exactly what the conference Video Game Studies – a New Interdisciplinary Scientific Field wanted to make up for.

It is especially important that, after the greeting speeches of the Dean of Academy of Arts Siniša Bokan and the chairman of the conference committee Manojlo Maravić, participants and guests were digitally addressed by pioneers of video game studies – Frans Mäyrä and Jesper Juul. Their lectures titled “Evolving Game Studies“ and “From Algorithms to Independence: A short History of the meaning of Video Games“ as well as the greeting speeches are available via this link

The rest of the conference comprised 40 presentations. The book of abstracts in Serbian and English can be accessed here, and the collection of papers is expected to be published by the end of January. Affiliations of participants show that it truly is an interdisciplinary field: participants came from faculties of philosophy, philology, law, medicine, agriculture, technology, politics, organizational sciences and dramatic arts as well as various other national and foreign universities and institutes.

The presentations were divided into sessions followed by discussions. If I ever had a desire to clone myself, it was during the first day of the conference when it was only possible to attend one of four simultaneous sessions. Due to my own presentation, the choice was made for me – a session named “Culture”. The presentations were inspiring and (if I dare say so for a scientific conference) fun, and they opened some of the burning questions, like the status of video games as art. I was especially glad to hear Biljana Mitrović’s presentation, “Nature in Video Games“, knowing that by doing so I am peeping into the space of Master 4.0. The most interesting thing I’ve heard from her actually came after her presentation, during the Q&A segment, when she said that, in her opinion, the best adaptation of Dune can be found in Guild Wars.

It is preferable to study (games) interdisciplinarily, but it is also of great importance that a new generation of researchers is being educated that will approach gaming as their own field of research.

In informal conversations during the breaks between sessions it was obvious how much everyone was looking forward to a chance to talk about video games like this, so in the next session, “Culture and Narratology”, the moderator had to interrupt discussions in the Q&A segment. This session introduced mainly case studies, among which were some of the famous serials in the gaming world: The Witcher, Mass Effect and Borderlands. To me, as a literature graduate, particularly interesting was Dunja Dušanić and Stefan Alidini’s presentation, „Storyplaying: Narrative Competence in Gaming“, which examined the idea of narrative competence through the RPG Disco Elysium.

The first day of the conference was closed by SGA’s program director Relja Bobić’s lecture that intended to familiarize the attendees with the Serbian video game industry’s ecosystem. It was a great link with the second day of the conference which mainly comprised of student presentations. These were primarily game design students, who therefore present a natural bond between the academic interest in this discipline and the industry.

Apart from student presentations, session reports and a panel about the future of video game studies were also a part of the second day of the conference. The panel chiefly tackled the question of the new field’s subject validity as well as its methodology. The conclusion was that due to the multimedia character of video games, it is preferable to study them interdisciplinarily, but it is also of great importance that a new generation of researchers is being educated that will approach gaming as their own field of research.

The success of this conference will surely open doors for new and similar events in Serbia. Organizers hope that the next conference will be fully international and that the gathered interest in gaming will serve as a basis for launching the first scientific gaming magazine in Serbia. The community of video game researchers’ foundation has certainly been built. Therefore – stay tuned! 🤓