Call for Papers: Serious Play

Proposal for a Special Issue of the Popular Culture Studies Journal

October 2021

Issue title: “Serious Play: Legitimizing Live Streaming as Pop Culture”

Background and concept:

The Digital Cultures Collaboratory in the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a research group comprising graduate students, library staff, and faculty. Since 2017 this group has operated Serious Play, a channel on the Twitch live streaming network devoted to gameplay and reflective commentary. In April 2021, the Collaboratory will organize a Live Streaming Symposium that challenges participants to make live presentations using Twitch or a similar platform, involving simultaneous gameplay and reflective, critical, or instructional commentary.

We initially began live streaming to augment game literacy and critical practices. As our Twitch activities evolved, the Collaboratory has come to anchor shared intellectual life and a frequent reference point for traditional studies. As academics come under intensifying pressure to reinvent practices like lecture, face-to-face discussion, and scholarly conferences, experiments like ours should arguably have interest beyond game, media, and cultural studies. This work should speak to anyone involved in the reform and re-making of colleges and universities. Even more broadly, as we all face a global pandemic that prohibits us from sharing physical space, virtual environments and digital live communication have kept communities connected. As we shift into increasingly online or distant labor and communication, live streaming has become a hub for sharing, generating, and sustaining popular culture.

Therefore, we are proposing a special issue of the Popular Culture Studies Journal (PCSJ) titled “Serious Play: Legitimizing Live Streaming as Pop Culture.” This issue will explore the live digital streaming of gameplay (analog or digital) as well as other forms of active performance. In defining “popular culture,” we turn to Ray B. Browne’s pioneering essay “Popular Culture: Notes Toward a Definition.” Here, Browne concludes that popular culture “embraces all levels of our society and culture other than the Elite” (11). This definition thus encompasses, as Browne observes, popular, mass, and folk arts such as film, television, comic books, video games, and more. As a platform, live streaming serves as a convergence of various types of popular, mass, and folk culture, providing an accessible space for people to both consume and generate popular media. The articles and texts will consider the topics of live streaming, pedagogy and performance, virtual environments, and related subjects, and they will all read live streaming as a legitimate vehicle for popular culture. The issue will also showcase recorded video of some or all of the five to seven presentations from the Collaboratory’s digital symposium (to be held in October 2021) alongside articles by members of the Collaboratory that place this work in context of changes in the infrastructure and social organization of higher education. The issue would also include reviews of relevant media pieces, streams, performances, and books.

We are interested in examples from leading streaming platforms like Twitch, and we interpret live streaming broadly and do not exclude other possibilities that consider live streaming as a legitimate avenue of popular culture. Possible subjects might include:

  • Ethnographies of live streaming
  • Live streaming and “the future of broadcasting” (as T.L. Taylor writes in Watch Me Play)
  • Forms of streaming practice
  • Intersections of other pop culture media and live streaming
  • Live streaming in response to global crises
  • Discussions of how live streaming can build, maintain, or hinder communities
  • Live streaming in education as pop culture and pedagogy
  • Reflections on streaming and online communities
  • Live streaming and the archive
  • Political economy of streaming platforms
  • Live streaming and e-sports
  • Let’s plays, YouTube, and popular culture
  • Interactions of social media and play

While not required, we encourage submissions that include video or hybridize print with other media. This could be a supplementary video essay, live stream, game, image, podcast, or mod. We suggest that authors may want to consider something like the creative multimodal elements found in Metagaming by Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux. Articles should be scholarly, drawing on research and theory, but must also be accessible to the broadly educated, non-specialist audience of PCSJ.


Abstracts Due:

  • October 31st, 2020
  • Abstracts should be 250 to 500 words and present the intention of the research, the research’s original contribution, and how it relates livestreaming to popular culture.
  • Please send abstracts to with “Serious Play special issue” in the subject line.

Acceptances: November 2020

First Drafts: February 28, 2021

Peer Review: March-April 2021

Final Drafts: July 15, 2021

Published: October 2021

Submission Guidelines:

We will ask authors interested in contributing to the special issue to submit to the editorial team a short (around 500 words) abstract explaining the proposed article or text. This abstract should include the article’s title and the author’s full name and contact information. In addition, we ask all potential authors to include a short bio to be included upon acceptance and publication.

Essays should range between 15-25 pages of double-spaced text in 12-pt. Times New Roman font, including all images, endnotes, and Works Cited pages. Please note that the 15-page minimum should be 15 pages of written article material. Less than 15 pages of written material will be rejected, and the author asked to develop the article further.

In accordance with the PCSJ style guide, essays should also be written in clear US English in the active voice and third person, in a style accessible to the broadest possible audience. Authors should be sensitive to the social implications of language and choose wording free of discriminatory overtones.

For documentation, the PCSJ follows the Modern Language Association style, which calls for a Works Cited list, with parenthetical author/page references in the text. This approach reduces the number of notes, which provide further references or explanation.

For punctuation, capitalization, hyphenation, and other matters of style, follow the MLA Handbook and the MLA Style Manual, supplemented as necessary by The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). The most current edition of the guide will be the requested edition for use.

Authors must check, correct, and bring manuscripts up to date before final submission. They should therefore verify facts, names of people, places, and dates, and double-check all direct quotations and entries in the Works Cited list. Manuscripts not in MLA style will be returned without review.

Before final submission, the author will be responsible for obtaining letters of permission for illustrations and for quotations that go beyond “fair use,” as defined by current copyright law.

Editorial team and participants:

Lead Print Editor: Janelle Malagon, PhD student in English, UWM

Lead Multimedia Editor: Erik Kersting, PhD student in English, UWM

Managing Editor: Christopher J. Olson, PhD student in English, UWM

Editorial Collective: Laya Liebeseller (PhD candidate in Anthropology, UWM), Ryan House (PhD student in English, UWM), Kelly Brajevich (PhD student  in English, UWM), David Kocik (PhD student in English, UWM)

Faculty Advisors: Thomas Malaby, Anthropology and Stuart Moulthrop, English