Science Fiction Film & Television

Fictional games and utopia

The case of Azad

Science Fiction Film & Television (2021), 14, (2), 187–207.


This interdisciplinary article discusses fictional games, focusing on those appearing in works of sf. ‘Fictional games’ are playful activities and ludic artefacts that were conceptualised to be part of fictional worlds. These games cannot - or at least were not originally meant to - be actually played. The article’s objective is to explore how fictional games can function as utopian devices. Drawing on game studies, utopian studies and sf studies, the first half of the article introduces the notion of fictional games and provides an initial articu­lation of their utopian potential. The second half focuses, instead, on the analysis of one (science-)fictional game in particular: the game of Azad, described in Iain M. Banks’s 1988 sf novel The Player of Games. This analysis is instrumental in clarifying the utopian qualities that are inherent in the activity of play such as its being uncertain and contingent. By presenting relationships of power through a game (and, finally, as a game), utopian fictional games such as Azad serve as a reminder that every socio-political situation - even the most dystopian ones - is ultimately indeterminate and retains the possibility of change.

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Author details

Gualeni, Stefano