About


Hello there! I’m Dr Mark R Johnson. I’m a Senior Lecturer in Digital Cultures in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney, where I'm the co-founder and co-director of the Sydney Games and Play Lab. I study the intersections of play and money, especially in live streaming and Twitch.tv, esports and competitive gaming, gamification, gamblification, and game production & consumption. I've published a very large amount in these areas, especially on Twitch streaming, where I'm a leading authority. I also publish from time to time on other game-related concerns including game design, game history, and procedural content generation. My latest book, Twitch, is out now from Polity Press, and my first book, The Unpredictability of Gameplay, can be purchased from Bloomsbury Academic. I’m also an independent game developer and creator of the roguelike game Ultima Ratio Regum, which aims to be the first game to ever procedurally generate cryptic riddles and puzzles (think Myst, Riven, Tunic, Fez, La-Mulana, Animal Well, Noita, etc), and I'm the co-host of the (currently on indefinite hiatus!) Roguelike Radio podcast.

If you want to follow me, I tweet regularly, post all my papers on my Academia and ResearchGate accounts, and can be found on LinkedIn.

Academic

My research is focused on the relationships between video games, money, new forms of employment and labour, and interactive technologies. I have published extensively on these topics - especially via exploring Twitch and game live streaming - in Q1 media studies and communication studies journals including "New Media and Society", "Information, Communication and Society", "Media, Culture and Society", "Television and New Media", "Games and Culture", and "Convergence", as well as publishing numerous book chapters, all of which can be found on my publications page. I've given over a hundred presentations at academic and game development conferences including GDC, DiGRA, ICA, FDG, AOIR, the International Conference on Computational Creativity, the Canadian Game Studies Association, AISB AI & Games, Nucl.AI, and many others.

At the University of Sydney I teach a number of subjects, primarily the units ARIN3640 "Games and Play" - which offers a foundational course in game studies and game design research - and ARIN6905 "Digital Audiences and Creators" - which examines trends like platformisation, content creation, influencers, and so on. I also supervise a large number of PhD students and Honours students who are currently (as of 2024) conducting work on gaming podcasts, digital in-game objects, capitalism and worldbuilding, Twitch and other platform-based humour, gaming and gambling, otome games, speedrunning, esports competitions, gender dynamics on Twitch, and many other topics. I'm always looking to recruit new PhD candidates for games-related research, so if you're interested, give me a shout!

Public Engagement

I am always keen to discuss my research in non-academic contexts, and I encourage anyone reading to contact me if they're interested in any of my areas of study. I’ve given invited talks at a large range of public gaming and related events such as the Rio Esports Forum, ProcJam, the National Videogame Arcade, Norwich Gaming Festival, the European Esports Conference, Insight Marketing Conference, and GambleAware, and at Universities including New York University, Toronto, Lincoln, Waterloo, Hong Kong Polytechnic, Macau, and many others. If you're interested in a talk about Twitch, esports, or roguelikes - give me a shout!

I've also been interviewed for diverse television channels, radio broadcasts, newspapers and magazines in various countries. I’ve also written articles for a number of gaming magazines, websites, and academic blogs, including Rock Paper Shotgun, Vice Gaming/Waypoint, Kill Screen, Paste Magazine, Discover Society, The Sociological Imagination, and more. You can find out more on my press page. Unfortunately, due to being in a high-risk category for serious illness from Covid-19, my travels and public speaking engagements have become somewhat curtailed in recent years, but I'm still doing what can be done remotely from the comfort of my flat in Sydney.

Game Development

I design / program / develop a game called Ultima Ratio Regum, a “classic” roguelike game written in Python. The core design goal of the game is to procedurally generate cryptic riddles of the sort found in many other games, but which - by their nature - can only be solved once. Through procedural content generation, however, and the other aspects of roguelike design, I aim to overcome this limitation by creating a piece of software which yields an endless number of worlds full of secrets, mysteries, riddles, puzzles, misdirections, and the like. It has been in development almost non-stop since 2011 - with a brief hiatus around 2018-2019, due to the joint demands of a high postdoc workload and trying to secure permanent academic employment - and is currently approaching version 0.11, which will for the the first time contain at least one fully-developed riddle thread, generated anew in each world, for the player to follow. The game is also known for its extensive generation of in-game item graphics, to a level that is (I believe) more comprehensive than in any other work. Many clues, of course, might be hidden within those same graphics.

If you want to follow along, I post a triweekly update blog here on this website, and Ultima Ratio Regum can be found on Facebook. It has also been reported on in a number of gaming (and mainstream) news outlets, such as Rock Paper Shotgun, PC Gamer, Game Developer, The Guardian, Der Standard, and others.