Modern Games: Institutions and the Colonization of Indeterminacy

The Department of Music, Art and Culture Studies and the Department of History and Ethnology at the University of Jyväskylä present

A lecture by Thomas Malaby (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)

Friday 12 April 2019, 11:00 am – 12:15 pm

University of Jyväskylä, Musica, Building M, Boombox, Seminaarinkatu 15, Finland 40014

Taking inspiration from Weber’s recognition of the relationship between fortune and meaning, in this talk I sketch the path of games under modernity, tracing how this cultural form has transformed from something quite unruly for modern institutions into something they have begun to domesticate. At the same time, I contemplate modernity itself as characterized by the rise of game-like systems, by the contrived and legitimate indeterminacy that characterizes games. On this view, the increased prominence and use of games, especially those that are digitally mediated, is consonant, I suggest, with a particular thread of classical liberal thought as well as raising ethical questions of governance. If any game is in important respects understandable as a domain of contrived contingency that, if done well, is compelling, then the creators and sponsors of games today are in a quite powerful position to architect contingent experiences for us that can generate meanings and subjectivities, and those in accordance with the interest of certain projects. In both familiar and new ways, then, digital games and game-like processes raise questions about ethics and public policy.

A picture of Thomas Malaby.

Thomas Malaby is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His research interest is in the ever-changing relationships among institutions, unpredictability, and technology, especially as they are realized through games and game-like processes. He has published numerous and widely cited works on the status of games in human experience. Dr. Malaby’s work suggests that the increasing use of digital games by institutions marks a fundamental transition in modern governance. His most recent book, Making Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life (2009, Cornell University Press), is an ethnographic examination of a San Francisco high tech firm.

The lecture will be followed by a seminar on “Ritual, Bureaucracy, and Games” with Dr. Malaby and researchers from the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies at 1 pm. Contact Dr. Aleena Chia at for details.

This is a free event and open to all – no registration required. Please feel free to share this with anyone who may be interested in attending.

The recorded lecture can be viewed online.