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‘Open Literacy’ Digital Games, Social Responsibility and Social Innovation Conference

An international Research Symposium co-sponsored by

Tencent Holdings (China) and

Curtin University’s Centre for Culture & Technology and Internet Studies.

Monday 30 September and Tuesday 1 October 2019

View video presentations here

Social media and videogames are often blamed for individual behavioural delinquency, but rarely praised for cultural creativity, social innovation or helping us to form new social groups or work through new ideas. Videogames are now a political football, both in the US (where they’re blamed for gun crime) and in China (where they’re blamed for childhood myopia).

Every new media form has grown up surrounded by those wanting to control it. Popular literacy has never been free and open. Popular novels and the press; cinema and TV; and more recently digital and social media, have all attracted the wrath of incumbent commercial, government or social interests. But in the era of open access, open science, open knowledge, what about open literacy? Can it be extended to whole populations, across demographic borders, at global scale, for purposeless but nevertheless pedagogic play, and for social innovation, instead of being a mere instrument for profit, power and mass persuasion?

Open Literacy refers to the cultural uses of digital and media literacy:

  • to create new groups and meanings, extending knowledge by means of informal entertainment and narrative, dramatic or game formats;
  • to experiment with new technologies, extending both play (informal, anthropological, purposeless) and games (elaborate, competitive, high-skill) as part of the innovation system for digital culture;
  • to advance knowledge and communication by digital means, and to link future-facing digital culture with traditional archives and forms;
  • to encourage user-led social innovation in times of uncertainty and change, across demographic borders, at global scale.

Open literacy is user-centred and system-wide, ‘bottom-up’ rather than ‘top down’, producing unforeseen network effects that in turn change the rules of the game.

Navigating ‘newness’ (not just novelty but transformational change) raises new questions:

  • How does Open Literacy intersect with other ‘open’ initiatives: open source; open access; open science; open campus?
  • Given that Open Literacy is cultural and informal, not institutional and disciplinary, what should policymakers, educators, arts/literature agencies, sport/exercise bodies and commercial entertainment/ leisure providers do to nurture it?

The ‘Open Literacy’ Research Symposium brings international and local experts together to report on cutting edge research, linking games, social innovation and social responsibility. The event will consider a counter-narrative to the rhetoric of behavioural harm and social danger, looking at digital media and games as affordances for community-building and the emancipation of knowledge.


Image of Henry Jenkins
Henry Jenkins

An international Research Symposium at

Curtin University, Western Australia



We cannot stress highly enough the importance of greater public
understanding of digital information
—its use, scale, importance and influence …

Digital literacy should be a fourth pillar of education,
alongside reading, writing and maths.” [1]



Curtin University’s Centre for Culture & Technology (CCAT) and Tencent are proud to launch the Curtin-Tencent Research Centre at this international research symposium, focusing on digital media and the creative economy, with a special emphasis on digital online games.

The event also marks the 20th anniversary of Internet Studies at Curtin University. We invite you to join our researchers, including John Hartley, Katie Ellis, Tama Leaver, Crystal Abidin and others, and share your work with visitors from China and the world. Alternatively, save the date and simply attend the event to participate on the day.

International Keynote Speakers:

  • Henry Jenkins (University of Southern California);
  • Tencent games executive/developer VP (tba);
  • Mathew Allen (Deakin University)––Matt launched Internet Studies at Curtin in 1999.

Date: September 30-October 1, 2019, prior to the Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR). We are offering this event as a ‘satellite conference’ of AoIR. Scholars will be able to break their journey in Perth before heading to Brisbane in time for AoIR’s pre-conference day.

With Tencent’s support, we can offer a limited number of bursaries to international and Australian doctoral students and early career researchers. Selected applicants will be offered $500 towards the PER-BNE leg of their travel costs, and we will waive our Registration fee for presenters.

We invite proposals for papers and presentations on what we are calling ‘Open Literacy’. ‘Open’ literacy links the domain of digital popular culture and entertainment, including video and online games, with that of formal knowledge.

At a time when there is increasing tension between large-scale, global connectivity on the one hand, and a population marked by division, difference and asymmetries of access on the other, it is more urgent than ever to extend participation in knowledge and social responsibility––science and civics––beyond exclusive institutions and restricted professions.

Recent developments in ‘open access’ scholarship, ‘open science’ initiatives and ‘open source’ software offer new ways to update Karl Popper’s vision of ‘the open society’ for the connected age.

Focusing on the extension of digital capabilities among a broad global population via smart devices, apps and digital entertainment to smart users, groups and enterprises, we want to explore how opening digital knowledge systems to popular participation may boost innovation and social inclusion and responsibility.

Many media scholars are sceptical of the ‘mass media effects’ tradition of research, inherited from anxiety about earlier forms of popular media, from print to broadcasting. At the same time they are mindful that public debate about this topic still depends on outmoded industrial and individualist theories.

We want to go beyond that paradigm, to understand the challenges of digital, online media and the possibilities for renewing knowledge systems and social groups in times of technological change and geopolitical uncertainty. In short, what do entertainment systems and knowledge systems––and their users––have in common?

In this context, ‘Open Literacy’ refers to the dynamic combination of (i) individual skills, capabilities and creative imagination (developed through ‘purposeless’ play-practice) with (ii) the social networks, teamwork, conflict management and difference needed in public/media environments, to (iii) build new social groups––‘knowledge clubs’ and ‘knowledge commons’––for social innovation under uncertainty. Open literacy is user-centred and system-wide, producing unforeseen network effects that in turn change the rules of the game. Navigating newness raises new questions:

  • Of what does ‘open literacy’ comprise in the global-digital-connected era?
  • How do citizens in different contexts, places and opportunity-spaces practice it?
  • Open knowledge, open science, open access: what should policymakers, educators, arts/literature agencies, sport/exercise bodies and commercial entertainment/ leisure providers do about it?

To reflect on these developments and to report on cutting edge research linking games, social innovation and social responsibility, the ‘Open Literacy’ Research Symposium will be held over two days. Papers and presentations––including work by postgraduate and early-career researchers––may address (but is not confined to) the following themes.

In the context of pervasive computational and communicational literacy in the digital age, presenters will think through the relationships among games, social innovation and social responsibility:

  • ‘Games’ include digital games and analogue play;
    * main focus is on video games, internet and online games;
    * but also branded play (Lego/Barbie);
    * competitive games (sport/health);
    * childhood games (indoor/outdoor play).
  • Responsibility includes corporate and individual.
    * Corporate: what are the social responsibilities of games developers and publishers? What are they doing right or wrong, according to whose criteria?
    * Individual: rights and duties of players and gamers themselves; how parents and young people achieve and maintain social responsibility through play.
  • Responsibility and control:
    * how games work in the production of what Michele Willson calls “the ideal child” (Media Culture Society, 2018);
    * how can games and other online changes be historicised meaningfully;
    * political, moral, religious, authoritarian crackdowns on games/popular media.

The event will also consider a counter-narrative to the rhetoric of responsibility and social innovation through games.

  • ‘Serious Games’ in medical, health, teaching/learning and development contexts.
  • Games and innovation:
    * Expansion of the creative economy
    * Games as a mass spectacle (e.g. Korea).
  • What does gaming teach the next generation?
    * Lessons from China.

The event will include presentations from global thought-leaders, scholars and practitioners from the USA, Australia, China and elsewhere. Selected postgraduate students will be eligible for financial assistance (bursaries) for travel and for the preparation of their papers and presentations. The intention is to produce a published report from the proceedings of the day, including selected keynote, specialist and early-career (HDR+ECR) contributions.

Potential presenters, please send your abstract, of between 250-500 words, to Dr Huan WU, by Friday, 5 July 2019 (, for a report, paper, presentation or (PhD students only) a short paper (1000-3000 words).

For those with institutional support for their research outreach, there will be a registration fee to cover venue costs and catering. If you wish to attend without presenting a paper, just let Huan know.

“See you in September!”


[1] Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (14 February 2019) Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Final Report.
UK: House of Commons, pp. 85; 87 (