Death, Culture & Leisure: Playing Dead

ISBN: 978-1-83909-038-7, eISBN: 978-1-83909-037-0

Publication date: 20 August 2020


(2020), "Prelims", Coward-Gibbs, M. (Ed.) Death, Culture & Leisure: Playing Dead (Emerald Studies in Death and Culture), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. i-xi.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020 Matt Coward-Gibbs

Half Title

Death, Culture & Leisure

Series Page

Emerald Studies in Death and Culture

Series Editors: Ruth Penfold-Mounce, University of York, UK; Julie Rugg, University of York, UK; Jack Denham, University of York St John, UK

Editorial Advisory Board: Jacque Lynn Foltyn, National University, USA; Lisa McCormick, University of Edinburgh, UK; Ben Poore, University of York, UK; Melissa Schrift, East Tennessee State University, USA; Kate Woodthorpe, University of Bath, UK

Emerald Studies in Death and Culture provides an outlet for cross-disciplinary exploration of aspects of mortality. The series creates a new forum for the publication of interdisciplinary research that approaches death from a cultural perspective. Published texts will be at the forefront of new ideas, new subjects, new theoretical applications and new explorations of less conventional cultural engagements with death and the dead.

Published titles

Brian Parsons, The Evolution of the British Funeral Industry in the 20th Century: From Undertaker to Funeral Director

Ruth Penfold-Mounce, Death, The Dead and Popular Culture

Matthew Spokes, Death, Memorialization and Deviant Spaces

Racheal Harris, Skin, Meaning, and Symbolism in Pet Memorials: Tattoos, Taxidermy, and Trinkets

Dina Khapaeva, Man-Eating Monsters: Anthropocentrism and Popular Culture

Title Page

Death, Culture & Leisure: Playing Dead

Edited by

Matt Coward-Gibbs

University of York, UK

United Kingdom – North America – Japan – India – Malaysia – China

Copyright Page

Emerald Publishing Limited

Howard House, Wagon Lane, Bingley BD16 1WA, UK

First edition 2020

Editorial matter and selection copyright © 2020 Matt Coward-Gibbs. Chapters copyright © their respective authors. Published under an exclusive licence by Emerald Publishing.

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No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without either the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying issued in the UK by The Copyright Licensing Agency and in the USA by The Copyright Clearance Center. Any opinions expressed in the chapters are those of the authors. Whilst Emerald makes every effort to ensure the quality and accuracy of its content, Emerald makes no representation implied or otherwise, as to the chapters’ suitability and application and disclaims any warranties, express or implied, to their use.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978-1-83909-038-7 (Print)

ISBN: 978-1-83909-037-0 (Online)

ISBN: 978-1-83909-039-4 (Epub)


Contributor Biographies vii
Ruth Penfold-Mounce
Acknowledgments xi
Introduction: Death ≠ Failure
Matt Coward-Gibbs
Part 1: Playing with Understandings
Chapter 1 Nonhuman Games: Playing in the Post-Anthropocene
Paolo Ruffino
Chapter 2 Peaceful in Death: Encountering Death in the Pokémon Universe
Ashley Darrow
Chapter 3 Staying Dead: The Corpse, Burial and Exhumation in Three Contemporary British History Plays
Benjamin Poore
Chapter 4 Death, Playfulness and Picture Books
Maggie Jackson
Part 2: Gaming Encounters in Gothic Environments
Chapter 5 Living and Dying in the City of the Damned: A Close Reading of Mordheim’s Gothic Post-Apocalypse
Jonathan D. Stubbs
Chapter 6 Prepare to Die: Reconceptualising Death, and the Role of Narrative Engagement in the Dark Souls Series (2011–2018)
Andreas Theodorou
Chapter 7 ‘He Died a Lot’: Gothic Gameplay in What Remains of Edith Finch
Ewan Kirkland
Part 3: Frolics with Monsters
Chapter 8 Dead Chatty: The Rise of the Articulate Undead in Popular Culture
Bethan Michael-Fox
Chapter 9 The Slender Man: The Internet’s Playful Creation of a Monster
Vivian Asimos
Chapter 10 Gameful Interactions: The ‘Ludification’ of Zombie Fiction
Chloé Germaine Buckley
Part 4: Performing Playful Realities
Chapter 11 The Jovial Aesthetics of the Death-Positivity Movement: Notes on the Appeal of Playfulness in Activism
Solveiga Zibaite
Chapter 12 Some Games You Just Can’t Win: Crowdfunded Memorialisation, Grief and That Dragon, Cancer
Matt Coward-Gibbs
Chapter 13 Suicide, Angst, and Popular Music
Christopher Partridge
Index 209

Contributor Biographies

Vivian Asimos graduated with her PhD from Durham University and an MSc from Edinburgh University in the Anthropology of Religion. Her research interests rest at the intersection of religion and popular culture, with a special focus on storytelling and mythology. She is the Co-editor of the Bloomsbury Reader in the Study of Myth (2019) and is the founder of the Religion and Popular Culture Podcast.

Matt Coward-Gibbs is an Associate Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of York and an occasional Lecturer in Religious Studies at York St John University. He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and regularly teaches across undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in sociology, criminology and religious studies.

Ashley Darrow received his Master’s in Gothic Studies from National University in 2017. Since, he has helped organise conferences on the intersection of Gothic studies and gaming and has presented papers internationally. He is the founder and co-host of the Horror Vanguard podcast.

Chloé Germaine Buckley is a Senior Lecturer in English at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her publications include Twenty-First Century Children’s Gothic (2017) and numerous chapters and articles on all aspects of the Gothic. She also researches with the Manchester Game Studies Network.

Maggie Jackson began her career in Educational Psychology where her interest in working with bereaved children led to the publication of The Teacher’s Handbook of Death (2002) with Jim Colwell. Following her doctorate exploring death in children’s literature, she has begun to focus on death in picture books for young children.

Ewan Kirkland teaches Screen Studies at the University of Brighton focussing primarily on horror video games. He has published numerous papers and chapters on Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Forbidden Siren and Haunting Ground which have appeared in numerous journals including Games & Culture, Convergence, Gothic Studies and Camera Obscura.

Bethan Michael-Fox is a Doctoral student at the University of Winchester and an Associate Lecturer at The Open University. She has published on a range of topics that included representations of the undead in popular culture.

Christopher Partridge is Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University. He is the author of several books, including High Culture: Drugs, Mysticism, and the Pursuit of Transcendence in the Modern World (2018), Mortality and Music: Popular Music and the Awareness of Death (2015), and The Lyre of Orpheus: Popular Music, the Sacred, and the Profane (2013).

Benjamin Poore is a Senior Lecturer in Theatre at University of York. He has written widely on contemporary representations of the Victorians, literary adaptation and twentieth- and twenty-first-century playwriting. His books include Heritage, Nostalgia and Modern British Theatre: Staging the Victorians (2011) and Theatre & Empire (2016).

Paolo Ruffino is a Lecturer in Communication and Media at the University of Liverpool. His research spans video game culture, gamification, the quantified self and independent game development. He is the author of Future Gaming: Creative Interventions in Video Game Culture (2018) and editor of Rethinking Gamification (2014) and Independent Videogames: Cultures, Networks, Techniques and Politics (2020).

Jonathan D. Stubbs is a PhD student at Nazarene Theological College, University of Manchester. He is combining his lifelong love of video games, years of academic study of theology and fascination with all things ‘apocalyptic’ by researching the apocalyptic imagery in video games, focussing on Bioware’s Mass Effect trilogy (2007–2012).

Andreas Theodorou is an independent scholar who began his studies on Nineteenth Century Gothic and the study of the mind, but later shifted focus to Gothic video games and the onus on interaction and immersion in contemporary narrative modes. He is the author and artist behind Beyond the Darkness (2018–2019), and a guest editor for the journal, Alluvium.

Solveiga Zibaite is a Social Anthropologist. Her PhD project, based out of the Centre for End of Life Studies at the University of Glasgow, is an ethnography of the Death Café movement in the United Kingdom. Her research interests include existential anthropology, online memorial cultures and sociological aesthetics.


Since 2016, at the University of York, there has been a growing cluster of academics who are passionate, committed and focussed on matters of human mortality. Researching and talking about death, dying and the dead link us together and led to the formation of the Death & Culture Network (DaCNet), an interdisciplinary group of scholars and death industry professionals who wish to engage with death from a cultural perspective. As part of the DaCNet steering group, Matt Coward-Gibbs brings his wealth of experience to administrating the network ranging from his spates as an artistic director, youth theatre manager, research assistant and research centre manager. Add to this, Matt’s teaching contribution at two universities and his stellar doctoral research, he is truly one of a kind and an emerging star into the research dominion of academia. Matt’s vision and editorial work on this book only confirm this status and his value to the death studies community and beyond.

As part of DaCNet’s various activities, its first annual symposium Playing Dead was held in May 2018. Memorably, the day had a bumpy start with technology problems leading to a last minute room change and a late start. Despite this inauspicious beginning and with participants being plied with coffee and biscuits, Playing Dead was a convivial event. Papers and discussion were insightful and thought provoking through an exploration of the intersections between death, culture and play. Play, in the context of this symposium, was used to broadly speak of leisure and recreational activities and, as such, not only encapsulated the playing of (non-)digital games, but also the consumption of cinema, literature and theatre. The symposium embraced the largely underappreciated phenomenon of play across disciplines by placing it within the context of death and culture.

This symposium was the catalyst for this book and draws together research passions that are united by play and focussed on death. As such it engages with the intricacies of playing digital games that inflict death in fantasy realms or are about memorialising and expressing grief. It examines scary folkloric-horror characters such as the Slender Man alongside death in the Pokémon universe. These death representations are held up in a complimentary, but contrasting, consideration of books that introduce children to death, the role of the dead and undead in television, the controversial relationship between music and suicide and even burial and exhumation in contemporary theatre. The significance of this work lies in the unity that Matt has managed to create through the interwoven thread of play – how we play, who we play and how we are playful in the context of death and the dead.

In this volume, Matt has succeeded in breaking new ground by drawing together interdisciplinary academics at different stages of their careers as well as integrating contributions from independent scholars. He has worked to encourage authors to convey their ideas across disciplines and to showcase their work and arguments to a high standard. The result is a collection of work that represents a range of voices that when brought together unite to provide a textured and vibrant contribution to death scholarship. Together these chapters bring strength and coherence to Matt’s research interest and overarching research argument that play has intrinsic value in understanding the world around us in terms of community, labour, production and self-identity. Understanding and engaging with death through play is just one illustration of this and one that opens a wide realm to contemplate and investigate human mortality.

Ruth Penfold-Mounce,

University of York (UK)


November 2019


They say it takes a village to raise a child; the same is true for an edited volume.

In the first instance, I would like to thank Ruth Penfold-Mounce for her ongoing support, encouragement, critical insights and unending thanatological enthusiasm. There are countless others who deserve recognition for their helpful advice and discussions along the way in the generation of this project. As such, I would also like to acknowledge David Beer, Rachael Burns, Alice Collett and Jack Denham as well as the wider publication team at Emerald for their care and assistance in the construction of this volume.

This volume would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the twelve individuals who contributed to this collection. They have my sincerest thanks not only for their contribution, but for trusting this rookie editor with their work.

Finally, I would like to thank Emma and Ruby: there is no one else I’d rather play this game of life with.