PhD Defence: Stephanie de Smale – Utrecht University

Stephanie de Smale | Ludic Memory Networks: Following Translations and Circulations of War Memory in Digital Popular Culture | PhD supervisor(s); Prof. J.F.F. Raessens, Prof. J.T. Jeuring, Prof. J. Demmers

On 27 September Stephanie de Smale defended her PhD thesis Ludic Memory Networks: Following Translations and Circulations of War Memory in Digital Popular Culture in the University Hall.

In a globalized world, popular culture plays an important role in conveying images and stories about war – also known as cultural war memory. Games are one of the most popular contemporary media in which we play with the past. An example is the game This War of Mine (11 bit studios, 2014), a game inspired by the Yugoslav war and the occupation of Sarajevo. The engagement around games with historical references displays this type of memory practice. Yet scientific research into the role of game culture in the management of cultural war memory is marginal.

Cultural war memory

In her dissertation De Smale investigates the role of digital game culture in translating cultural war memories by investigating the culture of This War of Mine. History, iconic images and stories are a source of inspiration for historical war games. These forms of cultural memory are translated into a gaming experience. However, these translations are subject to the actions and intentions of individual players. Moreover, sharing game content is a central part of this digital culture. This raises the question how cultural war memory is translated and distributed. Cultural war memories are spread worldwide, but content and meaning change as a result of their circulation on different digital platforms. De Smale describes how globalized representations in This War of Mine relate to national remembrance cultures about the Yugoslav war. For example, how war memory in game culture plays a role in the image and identification of post-war stakeholders, for whom the past is a controversial topic to this day.


Cultural war memory in popular digital culture is subject to the dynamics of translation and circulation. Game developers and players both shape the historical war games in their own way. The first translation can be seen when cultural war memories are translated into a game environment, where working conditions and personal backgrounds influence the end product. National perspectives on Yugoslav war remembrance are subject to exchange, because the game must be for a global audience. The second translation takes place when players subordinate the historical content of the game to self-presentation and creating entertaining content for the YouTube audience. Although cultural references remain in the content, they are not picked up by the players. A final translation takes place when the game is played by Bosnian youth. Here, post-war youths relate the global historical references in the game and the war experiences of game characters, stripped of explicit national references, to their own background and knowledge of the war.


In addition, the circulation of cultural war memories in game culture is stimulated by the principle of connectedness. This stimulates social interactions between users and creates players who share their gaming experiences on digital media platforms – around these experiences collectives arise that form spontaneous, informal memory groups. A second consequence of the connection between digital media platforms is that the distance between developers and players is reduced. The dynamics of translations and circulation in ludic remembrance networks is what makes the Yugoslav war a shared memory. Digital platforms become informal memory sites. In other words: networks in which we play with the past.