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Emma Joy Reay

Videogame Researcher

Videogames provide us with new languages to describe complex facets of human experience. I'm interested in how these playful possibility spaces encourage us to imagine alternate futures.

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The Child in Videogames

Palgrave Macmillan 2023

My new book is available to purchase here.

Videogames are key arenas in which definitions of childhood are being created and contested. While child-players of videogames are lightning rods for academic research, child-characters in videogames are mostly ignored. This book expands the spotlight of scholarly attention beyond the child-in-front-of- the-screen to encompass the child-on-the-screen. Using tools from Children’s Literature Studies, this book catalogues and critiques how children are depicted across a large corpus of contemporary videogames. This book’s aim is to redirect conversations away from questions of whether videogames are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for child-players and towards questions of how coded kids in virtual worlds produce childhood as a set of rules, behaviours, and symbols.

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Praise for
'The Child in Videogames'

"The Child in Videogames is remarkable. Its ground-breaking approach to scholarship on videogames and, more broadly, textual representations of children stands to transform how both are studied. Its brilliant analysis of the childly and childness across videogames designed for both younger and mature players will shape thinking—both academic and industry, I believe— for years to come.”

—Professor Gretchen Papazian, Central Michigan University, USA

“Reay has effortlessly pulled together a large-scale survey, sophisticated textual analyses, and novel auto-ethnographic approaches to both expose and address a critical blind spot of both game studies and children’s literature studies. Equal parts insightful, provocative, and humorous, The Child in Videogames is a masterclass of how to conduct interdisciplinary work, and a true intervention in debates around games and representation. This is a book that will be of great value to anyone interested in taking the critical and cultural implications of videogames seriously.”

—Dr. Brendan Keogh, Queensland University

“Reay’s definitive and delightful book bursts with creative approaches for understanding and reframing classic concepts in game studies—agency, morality, heroism, nostalgia—by focusing on the way videogames construct “the child.” Through her analysis of hundreds of games, she identifies 7 archetypical tropes, which the subsequent chapters illuminate with wide- ranging reference to relevant interdisciplinary theory. A brilliant and thought- provoking book.”

—Dr. Melissa Kagen, Worcestor Polytechnic Institute



I am a researcher, educator, consultant, and writer. My work draws across games studies, game design, childhood studies, and literature studies, and I believe strongly in an open dialogue between industry, academia, and players. I advocate for lifelong play, intergenerational solidarity, cooperative play, accessible design, and joy as form of resistance. 

I'm a Clinical Trustee on the board of Safe in Our World, a charity that connects gaming and mental wellbeing. I'm a collaborator for The Good Death project, which explores how digital games might enrich conversations about death, dying, and bereavement. I'm an advisor to Taralumen Games, a development studio creating an open world adventure game to support young people with anxiety. I'm a board member of REIYL (Researchers Exploring Inclusive Youth Literature), an evolving collective that connects networks of scholars, librarians, creators, and young people who are interested in inclusion, equity, and justice. 

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If you can't access any of my work because it is behind a paywall, please don't hesitate to reach out to me and I will gladly share a copy with you.


  • The Child in Videogames (2024) Palgrave Macmillan


  • ‘Skins in the Game: Fashion Brands and Videogames’ (2022) chapter in edited anthology Reinventing Fashion Retailing, Springer

  • ‘Immateriality and Immortality: Digital Toys in Games’, (2022) chapter in edited anthology Playful Materialities, Bielefeld

  • ‘The Silent Child in Little Nightmares and INSIDE’ (2021) chapter in edited anthology Silence and Silencing in Children’s Literature, Makadam


  • 'Changing the Narrative: Why Representation in Video Games Matters', (2023) Geena Davis Institute Report

  • 'Typologies and Features of Play in Mobile Games for Mental Wellbeing', (2023) Simulation and Gaming

  • 'The Kid-in-the-Fridge: Sacrificial Children and Vengeful Masculinities in Contemporary Videogames' (2023), Journal of Games Criticism,

  • 'Grief in Mobile Games' (2023), DiGRA Conference Proceedings

  • 'Videogames as an Unheroic Medium: The Child Hero's Journey' (2022), Games and Culture, doi/10.1177/15554120221115395

  • 'Cute, Cuddly, and Completely Crushable: Plushies as Avatars in Videogames' (2022), Journal of Games and Virtual Worlds,

  • 'The Child in Games: Representations of Children in Contemporary Videogames', Game Studies, 

  • 'Empathy Puzzles: Solving Intergenerational Conflict in Young Adult Videogames', International Journal of Young Adult Literature,

  • 'Secrets, Stealth, and Survival: The Silent Child in Videogames', Barnboken,

  • 'Hands Up! Close Reading of the Book and Interview with Author Breanna J. McDaniel', BookBird,

  • 'Kideogames: Reimagining the Fringe of Literary Studies as the Forefront', Games and Culture, doi/10.1177/1555412019841476

  • 'Appraising the Poetic Power of Children's Videogames', International Research in Children's Literature, doi/10.3366/ircl.2018.0251


2022 - Present

Senior Lecturer in Emerging Media

University of Southampton

Winchester Campus, UK.

2020 - Present

Game Design Consultant

Ninja Theory, TableFlip Games, Treehouse Digital, Industrial Re:Evolution, Unquiet Skull, Sustainable Futures Academy

2021 - 2022

Research Fellow

Falmouth University

Cornwall, UK.

2020 - 2021

Lecturer in Digital Media Studies

Anglia Ruskin University

Cambridge, UK.



2018 - 2021 PhD in Games Studies

University of Cambridge

Thesis available here.

2016 - 2017 MA in Children's Literature Studies

University of Cambridge

Appraising the Poetic Power of Children's Videogames (Distinction)

2009 - 2012 BA Hons in English Literature

University of Oxford




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