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Di GRA 2018

These are my notes on DiGRA 2018. As always they have all sorts of typos and misunderstandings. Forgive me and tell me if you think I need to correct something.

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018

I arrived after a lovely walk through the old city in time for the some of the welcome words.

Matteo Bittanti presented on the meanings of the title for the conference, "The Game is the Message." He gave a fascinating tour through media history a part of his variants on the game is the message. Riccardo Fassone reminded us of the social media policy. Previous presenters have been harassed on line.

Martin Gibbs discussed the review process and introduced the programme.

I was surprised that all the people giving introductory speeches and sitting up front were white men. Hmmmmm ... maybe I missed someone arriving late. That said, the first keynote was Anne Dippel.

Anne Dippel: On Games in Times of Automated Reproduction

Dippel has a background looking at work practices as an anthropologist. She looked at control rooms and notices the play with language. Lots of toys and plafulness like the CERN animal shelter for computer mice. She found a whole ludic infrastructure at CERN.

She sees games as a medium, architecture, mode of experience, bureaucracy, objects and works of art. She shifted to Benjamin. She is asking again, "How can we situate games and play in historical, social and economic conditions?"

To answer this she looked at the beginning of Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Benjamin saw Marx trying to help us with a way to think about the future. She wants to keep the prognostic value. We see the proletariat and middle class disappearing, but capitalism could still be abolished.

As for reproduction - there has always been reproduction by craft. What is reproduced in games? The playing? The moves? What changed is the automation of reproduction. The time and place of a work is lost in automation. Technique detaches the work from the domain of tradition. Do games have traditions. She points out that new media have new traditions.

Then she talks about Toys and Play: Marginal Notes on a Monumental Work. She quotes Benjamin that kids when they play work with cultural ideas from older generations - we absorb traditions through playing. There is no Lockean tabula rasa. Toys are site of conflict, cult implements that a child can reimagine. Benjamin goes on to say that the simplicity of toys (balls, hoops) is a message of production.

Benjamin goes on to talk about a law of repetition that is the soul of play. Children get pleasure out of doing it again. That makes a child. By playing a child masters the frightening fundamental experiences. A child deals with events by replaying them (to get it right.)

The transformation of experience into habit through repetition is the essence of play. This is why gamification, playlabour, workification and so on are so important.

She then shifted back to simplicity and how a good game should be simple to play (though many today are rather baroque.) Simple play lets you abstract - develop a view or ideology.

She then talked about Martinetti and the Futurist Manifesto and play and war. Benajamin sees the increase in technology, in speed and unnatural utilization found in war. Imperialistic war is a rebellion of technology. This reminds me of Heidegger.

She ended by talking about ludopian visions. She talked about Little Brothers - a Korean game. MolleIndustria is another. We need utopian games that can imagine an alternative to the capitalism of today.

In response to a question she suggested that the language of games (of levelling up and competing) are feeding the language of identity politics of this Trumpian age.

20 Years of Game Art: Reflections, Transformations, and New Directions

I then attended a panel organized by Eddo Stern. He began by disambiguating the terms. In the industry "game art" is different from "game art" in art world or "art games." He talked about the curse of media art where everyone moves on to the next thing. For Stern game art is art that uses games as cultural artifacts to reflect on the artifacts critically and through remediation and recontextualization.

What is the relationship between fan art and game art?

Some categories:

  • Machinima
  • Game mods and hacks
  • Performance inside games
  • Painting/drawing/photography of game elements
  • Physical sculptures
  • Early experimental games

It is not about the craft or practice of games.

Two books, Video Games and Art and Gamescenes.

Then Domenico Quaranta spoke. He talked about the history of game art and how artists in the 1990s began to take advantage of the popular culture like videogames. He suggested that game art didn't disappear, but has been subsumed by other forms. He then gave us a tour of his work including an article explicitly on Game Art in Flash Art.

Sarah Brin then talked about "20 Years of Game Art: Reflections, Transformations, and New Directors. She does all sorts of cool curation. She tackled the challenge of literacy of games in art spaces. She talked about social practice art. Some social practice art include a playfulness in the art experience. Videogames are not necessarily art in a formal sense but experientially and they can bring in new audiences. Game artists can engage a broader audience.

She traced three big differences between game art then and now:

  • We don't have the same cultural imperative now - we don't need to justify games as art
  • The infrastructures for circulating games (itch.io) and developing games are
  • We have more vocabulary to talk about game art.

Indie game culture has occupied all sorts of spaces without having to be "Art". We have two new pressing concerns:

  • art institutions are in crisis regarding budgets - we need to make not only the art historical argument but also a fiscal
  • games don't need museums to thrive

As we see a turn to the right we can see arts institutions become involved, but they can also be influential.

Friedrich Kirschner is a game artist. He makes mods to games with which to make movies. He gives out sourcecode for free for others to try. One can see his works on Vimeo. He has done an interesting project where you can see the puppeteer and the puppet (on the screen.)

- he then lets kids play his systems - they treat them as toys - He talked of a theatre work that creates the space for others to make art

The next speaker was Matteo Bittanti who talked about talked how the game is the message. Mcluhan's chapter about games ends up talking a lot about art. Games, like art, can model reality. Mc Luhan? also says high art and games are different.

  • Art is prophetic
  • Players are into self expression
  • Games are popular culture

Bittanti sees game art as a high art that can reach broad audience.

He talked about a project with various self-playing bowling games and some other neat projects like:

  • Brent Watanabe - San Andreas Deer Cam
  • GTA elegy USA gun homicides
  • Ian Chang - Emissaries

These are all self playing games. Machinima has never been healthier.

He then talked about cross media. Game photography is taking off. Another trend is the close reading of game spaces. Hugo Arcier deconstructs game buildings. VR is the latest thing like Wolfson's violent VR art at biennale.

We need to consider the difference between curation vs festivals.

Someone talked about context - how a game can be perceived differently in different contexts. Nam Jun Pak is seen as the father of video walls - things are fluid - others could get the credit.

There was a discussion about questions of hierarchy - how games are considered "low" culture in a hierarchy. Who establishes these hierarchies? How are they maintained?

Meaning-making: The medium [of in-game photography] is the message

This was a panel.

Matteo Bittanti started by showing a number of GTA re-enactments in photography. He was part of a group who created a book on Boring Postcards Italy.

He recommended Heterotooias; a magazine that analyzes video game spaces. There is a collection called the The Continuous City that travels through cities, both virtual and real.

He talked about co-optation; how things like machinema gets co-opted. How N Vidia? has ads about capturing high rez images. Designers add modes and are adding filters to mimic Instagram.

emma Fantacci,talked on "Going beyond video games surface: puncture and in game photography." In in game photography have two forms of production that are in tension. She applies Barthes' analysis of photography to game photos - studium and punctum.

Punctum in game photography suggests that the artist stops playing the game - creating a new relationship to the game. Some examples of GTA photography she talked about:

  • Casey Brooks - You Only Live Forever - a GTA photo essay.
  • Thibault brunet - Vice City.
  • Benoit Paille - Crossroads of Reality

She ended with a quote:

Photography is an art of observation - Elliot Erwitt

Marco de Mutiis talked about the idea of The Player as Photographer as Worker. Cindy Poremba has an essay on "Point and Shoot Remediating Photography in Gamespace" where she argues that photography has always had an element of play. Two forms of photography as play

  • Simulation of photography - photography games that take place in the game
  • Screenshot photography - people play the game differently in order to take interesting photos

Gran turismo 4 Photo Travel and Photo Drive (2004) is one of the first in game photography games. Last of Us Remastered (2014) created a photo mode where you suspend the game and get to pose a photo. It is within the game.

NVIDIA starts promoting the ability to take screenshots. PS 3? made it hard to take photos, while PS 4? made it easy with the share button.

Photo modes replace the screen capture practices with in game modes that make it easy to take and share. The modes have filters that make images look more cinematic - more romantic. Photo modes encourage ways of circulation that feed into communicative capitalism (Jodi Dean). Play Station? always talks about "sharing" a picture, not taking one.

Players/photographers can be seen as functionaries of the camera program (Flusser 1987). Now there are NPC player A Is? that take pictures for you. All you need to decide is to share or not.

Sebastian Möring then talked about how in game photography is just getting attention. People take in game photos much like tourists. All sorts of standard photographic tropes show up correspondingly in in game photography. Moring then focused on glitch photography. Robert Overweg has a photo "Glitch-hug" that shows strange scenes. Möring believes that such photos show the materiality of the games. The subject is the evidence of something in a game. It is "was here; saw this."

One can talk about games that lend themselves to in game photography. Galloway talks about how gameplay gets stripped from most game art. This is not true of glitch photography as the genre shows the mediated effect. It draws attention to the software. Breakdown (glitch) draws attention to tool as present at hand. Glitch photography is an art whose message is not the landscapes, but the game as a medium itself.

Video Games and Post-Humanism

Then I went to a panel on post-humanism with Sonia Fizek, Paolo Ruffino, Seth Giddings, Sebastian Moering and Justyna Janik.

Seth Giddings started with a discussion of research he did into playable robots. Our idea of post humanity is generated in all sorts of ways, including by hands-on engagements with robotic toys.

Paolo Ruffino Video Games for Earthly survival 2: Inhuman(e) Gaming and Posthuman Imaginaries. We are seeing more and more robots and games that are independent of us. These incremental games model life without us.

He talked about "incremental games" where you do simple actions and after a while they play themselves. Candy Box (2013) is an example. Cookie Clicker (2013) is another. The more cookies you get the more advanced clickers you can get to accumulate more cookies. Ad Venture? Capitalist (2014) is a more recent one that makes explicit the way capital begets capital.

The Quantified Self is a form of this. You just track yourself. Incremental games are creepy - they just play themselves. They are inhuman and inhumane. We don't need to understand them.

Incremental games are defamiliarization.

Sonia Fizek talked about The Death of the Player: Towards a Post-Human Games Theory. She asked if a game needs a human player? Maybe only the act of play is needed, not the player. Idle games like Dreeps (2016) have NP Cs? in the magic circle - they enter and replace us. Ian Bogost 2017 has The Video game That Claims Everything Is Connected. Emissaries is not an animate, but live algorithms. It has been exhibited. Maybe we are rethinking intentionality and media. The game ceases to be a tool and becomes a player - interpassivity? Posthuman theory might help us (the players) escape our instrumentalization and networks of control. Paradoxically the idle game may be an escape for the human.

Sebastian Möring revived the player for a few moments. How does a computer game see us. He quoted Gadamer that all playing is being played. The real subject of the game is not the player, but the game itself. Does the game have consciousness? Following Bogost he asks what it is like to be a game? To understand what it is like to be an object we need to resort to analogy, especially when communicating our ideas.

A game like Tetris is dependent on being nourished by being played. Maybe Tertris experiences the player as food - a series of buttons being pushed that keep it alive. Nourishment isn't the only interpretation.

Justyna Janik talked about Video Game Resistant (Bio)Object. She started with Latour and how objectivity does not refer to fairness but objects as resistance. She sees games as resistant objects following Kantor. Kantor talks about a poor object when it loses functionalities that were imposed by humans. When an object like a urinal becomes art it loses functionality. The tension between humans and bio-objects (props) produces new meanings.

Unfortunately no one was chairing this session so the microphone seemed to circulate around in the center of the room.

Remembering Bernie De Koven?: An Evening of Reflective Play

The last session was organized by Celia Pearce and John Sharp with guest panelist, Eric Zimmerman. DeKoven wrote The Well Played Game. It is book of philosophy about playing and playing well. John Sharp celebrated De Koven and his zen of playing. They then played a video about him and people playing his new games. He was a founder of the New Games movement which was a response to competitive games. The panelists talked fondly about Bernie and his influence.

Thursday, July 26th

Anne-Marie Schleiner: Games for Change

Schleiner gave us a survey of different types of activist games. She started with Do Good Works Games

We need to critique these games and learn how the rhetoric work. She talked about September 12 (20030 by Frasca and Macdonald's Game (2006) by Molleindustry. The problem is that the critique often doesn't get through. Students can get skilled at the game and take it seriously.

She quoted Gadamer to the effect that players give themselves over to play, freed from burden of taking initiative. Players flow with the game. To make sure players step outside and think about the game you need to sabotage the game to force a break. Beautiful toys don't work to provoke thought.

To convey a message you need to:

  • Create a simulation of a harmful situation
  • Eject the player from the fun

Harrowing Missions: Another approach to activist games is to creating "harrowing missions". Examples are Under Ash (2002), Darfur is Dying (2006), Meltdown (2013), This War of Mind (2014), Akira thomson - And Maybe They Wont Kill You (2015). These try to simulate a real world situation to help people understand what is at stake.

Multi-player Online Agoras: these approaches are like the Velvet Strike initiative, the World of Warcraft Naked Warrior Gnome March, and the One Billion Rising Feb 14, 2013 in Second Life.

Gamification model is an approach that propose the games for change that gamify your own behaviour. An example is the Mcgonigal World Without Oil. That said we have to be critical of these games as these games model the player through California self-help approach to al problems. Is this approach really applicable. Gamification can end up benefit corporate interests.

She talked about Frasca's MA thesis, Videogames of the Oppressed (2001), that proposes a different way of thinking about activist games that is closer to Friere and Boal. This draws on more robust theory about how to do activism.

Schleiner gave us a sneak preview of her newer book, Transnational Play: Pirate Localizers, Shanty Playgrounds, and Mobile Games. This tries to shift our sense of international games. She looks at different platforms for ludoliteracy.

She concluded by reflecting that there are limits to what we can do with game rhetoric. She is developing a game called Shadow River that is meant to be conversation starter on water shortage and the Anthropocene.

Riccardo Fassone: Notes on a pre-history of Italian video games

This is part of a larger project looking at the history of the Italian industry. He argues that one can't do the history without looking at the longer history of electro-mechanical devices (pinball etc). Most of his informants saw arcade games as part of arcade cultural in general. He is interested in the production history which means that his methodology can't be ethnographical as he can't visit sites that have disappeared. He talked about the micro-historical (as opposed to grand history) and "anarchaeological" (Zielinski.)

He gave an example of Rugby (Sidam, 1979) that was a mix of pinball and videogame. He focused his history by talking about Zaccaria, a major . The three brothers Zaccaria started a cafe in Bologna with a pinball zone. Soon they were repairing and even renting machines. Between 1967 and 1970 they moved tto the country and started repurposing American machines. They then started making original pinball machines. In 1978 they produced their first electronic machines and then released their first videogame arcade called The Invaders. Quasar (1979) was their first original video arcade machine. In 1984 they filed for bankruptcy. This company is typical of the evolution of game companies in Italy. Many transitioned from electromechanical to computer games.

There are continuities to note:

  • Pinball and arcade games shared places and modes of interaction
  • They shared industrial framework (the subcontractors of cabinets, art and so on)
  • A culture of piracy
  • Local and global tensions

This was probably one of the best talks. Well articulated and clear.

Vicente Mastrocola: Playing with a Brand: the Brazilian Mc Donald?'s Paper Tray Case

Mastrocola created this game with an advertising firm. It starts with a paper tablemat that goes in the Macdonalds trays. He talked about how there is little game development in Brazil.

In the tray there is an invitation to scan a code that activates a race to end (snakes and ladders). The Facebook bot that is activated sends messages with questions that are answered. When you answer right you get to move squares and eventually someone wins and can win prizes. This game then asks all sorts of questions to get data for Macdonalds.

Mastrocola reflected on the game design process and on how to match design with needs of client. He talked about the capture of data in a ludic way and how to use it. It was a bit creepy, but enlightening to hear a designer talking about designing to gather data.

Olli Sotamaa, Kristine Jørgensen and Ulf Sandqvist: How Local Policies Shape Game Production: A Nordic Perspective

This is a long project that is in progress. The starting point is the importance of regional issues in the age of globalization. Almost all government want to encourage high-tech industry. How has the Nordic welfare state tried to influence things? There is a discussion by Syvertsen et al (2014) of the media state - how welfare states benefit from funding media and cultural activities.

What have they found? Generally all Nordic countries provide all sorts of incentives for startups. Game specific funding varies from country to country. In Norway cultural heritage is emphasized. Finland sees games more as technology projects or business opportunity. These are the extremes.

Norway has a protectionist cultural policy. There was a controversy in 2003 about games and violent content. This led to funding of development of games in Norwegian for kids to make sure they are protected. This was the only game specific funding for a while, though eventually developers learned to play the game.

Finland provided early funding to companies like Supercell that are now very successful. The company if very vocally supportive of the government and how they were supported. This has an influence.

Late 1990s Finland started funding small-scale technology projects. From 2012 - 2015 there was a game specific program called Skene - Games Refueled. Over 50 companies got funding. Since then there have been some smaller programs. The funding may now be creating an elite group of companies. There is now an expectation of government matching funding.

Why does game development deserve support? The explanation has changed over time. What is clear is that funding goes to companies with solid business plans, not to individuals and ideas.

Mahli-Ann Butt and Lars de Wildt: Beer & Pixels: Embodiment, drinking, and gaming in Australia

The authors talked about the male drinking culture in Australia. Until the 1970s women and aboriginal people were discriminated against in drinking establishments. This still continues in ads. The presenter then talked about how this drinking behaviour shows up at esports. Shoey is drinking out a shoe and is done now at esports events. The Australian game dev scene is young and male with lots of professional networking events that are really for women. Sexual harassment

Australian laws allow security of pubs to deal with issues. This means it is safer in licensed spaces. Alas for indie game devs they have to go to various drinking venues, not all of which have security.

There was a question about whether different ethnic groups were

Nicholas Taylor and Katreena Alder: Man Caves and the Fantasy of Homosocial Escape

Taylor talked about gaming spaces (man caves). Preciado has a book on Pornbotopia: An Essay on Playboy's Architecture and Biopolitics. The bachelor pad becomes a "diagram" of gendered power. It shows control of media. Alison Harvey has an article on access to gaming platofmrs. Studies on "domestication" bhy Lynn Spigel and others. Man caves are inheritors of masculinized media contexts. These spaces are for escaping care.

To study them they gathered images on Neo GAF?. They did a content analysis. They found in their coding of "cord management" was particularly interesting. The ways wires were managed becomes shorthand to configuring setups. There are three main setups:

  • The Hearth: gaming consoles become remediations of traditional hearths. Wires are hidden.
  • The Bunker: wires are visible. This is the opposite of the Hearth. Decor is post-apocalyptic and
  • Cabinet: Wires are visibly managed. Compartelization - look at all my shit. This is like a study.

These spaces offer a respite of the femminized home. They are not meant for an on-site socialization. Immersion in the game space is meant to shut out the family and women (and to shut them up.) He references Sarah Sharma: Do not Enter, This is not an Exit: Sexodus and the Gig Economy?.

He speculated on how one could look at the politics of exit in the new right.

Mayara Caetano: Avatars, Gender and Sexuality for Brazilian Players on Rust

Caetano talked about gender and sexuality have been a subject of debate in English. She brings data from other region that is not center of consumption and production. She chose to focus on Rust - action-adventure MMO. You get to choose female/male avatar.

Her methodology was to gather volunteers online and divided into two groups. The volunteers did self-observation over a period. They had to play for periods and were recorded.

Differences in choice of avatars tended to be the gender of volunteers. There were racial issues in the choice of avatars (especially the red man). Participants didn't recognize gender swapping. Women recognized that one would get less harassed if one choose a male avatar.

Jen Jenson, Nicholas Taylor, Sarah Evans, Suzanne de Castell, Helen Kennedy, Sean Gouglas, Kenzie Gordon, Sarah Atkinson, Matthew Perks and Emma Westecott: Refuse, Remediate, REFI Gure?: Making Games Sustainable for Women

Nicholas Taylor and Jen Jenson started this off. REFIG asks questions around feminism and games. They are looking at timely and important issues like games and culture, informal learning, formal education, and the games industry.

Taylor talked about their methodology, feminist interventionism. The idea is to invent new conditions for gender and games. The idea is to stop documenting sexism and to start creating new situations. He then surveyed the games and culture subgroup. T.L. Taylor is doing interesting work in inerventions in esports.

Kenzie Gordon talked about Education Reloaded: Examining Postsecondary Game Education in the US and Canada. They are gathering information about post-secondary programs and interviewing selected directors. The hope is to get a sense of best practices. They found many programs don't mention videogames explicitly. They also found an explosion of game related programs in Canada.

They found that visual art and animation programs dominate in terms of fields the programs come from. There is a lack of critical game studies. Most programs have mostly men, though critical game studies are balanced. They looked at equity and diversity protocols in California and only about half had protocols they could find.

Next Suzanne De Castell talked about informal education. This is harder to study and more of an intervention area. A key deliverable is a "how to" manual for designing and delivering games-focused community programs. How to run a game jam that is accessible? She talked about how hard it is for community organizations to write such manuals and how poor academics are for writing this. Community work is rarely documented. Documentation is an academic obsession.

Matthew Perks then talked about a project to look at cultural intermediaries. The idea is to look at groups that don't necessarily develop games, but make possible the development of games, espeically indie games. They are cultural gatekeepers. Some results include how the measurement of success is sustainability. Indie developers are precarious. Artistic quality and awards doesn't make you sustainable. Another result is that funding in games is broken. Incubators and government support forces developers to pretend that they want to grow. Finally, what indie developers want is visibility. The reality of networking is that it is a boys club and nervewracking.

What's missing by indie teams is producers - being a producer involves invisible care work. Most people what the creative work. Relational labour needs to be recognized and trained.

Helen Kennedy and Sarah Atkinson talked about Transformative Practices. They talked about interventions in industry in the UK. They have developed a wealth of interventions starting with the transmedia area. There are a lot of areas around games where there are already women leaders that gaming could learn from so they interviewed these women. They mentioned the Diversity Corkboard that is a useful resource.

Then they talked about women and VR and then looking at chatbots. They are working with charisma.ai to develop chatbot for storytelling. They are talking to AI companies to come up with ways to limit bias that is written into them. They have a report with Charisma.ai (https://charisma.ai/). Finally they talked about all-women game jams. They mentioned Caroline Pelletier who has written about gender in production spaces.

Friday, July 27

Peppino (Giuseppe) Ortoleva: The Dynamics of Play: A Genetic Approach to Play

Ortoleva started with the problem of defining play and game. He talked about how Wittgenstein felt that defining game is impossible, which is why he introduces the idea of family resemblance. To Ortoleva this isn't really a concept, but a metaphor. Gregory Bateson also felt it was hard to define. Eugen Fink felt that play couldn't be defined because of its "multiple masks."

Is the difficulty of conceptualization a sign that there is something interesting to explore. Ortoleva feels that play is not something there to be defined because it is dynamic - always evolving. Which is why he calls his approach genetic. Ortoleva then talked about Jean Piaget who proposed a genetic approach to the human mind and knowledge. For Piaget there is always a building and one needs to consider all stages. All is genesis. The building has never really started and never stops. For Piaget, we may learn a game, but we never finish learning how to play. It always evolves.

Ortoleva then spelled out some consequences:

  • Play accompanies all stages of human life
  • No study of play should overlook the play of early childhood - this stage conditions all ludic activites
  • the dynamics of play are tied to the strategic function of adaptation

He then shifted to Dewey who said that play is indistinguishable from early life. Small children play their life. Children invent/discover the world.

Caillois divided two stages, "paidea" (early childhood) is more anarchic or unregulated. This conjunction of discovery and inventing goes back to Vico. Ortoleva called Vico one of the great philosophers of play.

Ortoleva then talked about George Herbert Mead who said that play "represents an adjustment between the organism and an object which is not there". Ortoleva adds that it is adjustment of the individual to an environment that is not there.

For Ortoleva there are three stages of differentiation:

  • First, when play is differentiated from other activities and aspects of life. In other theories (Huizinga) play is separated from everyday life. For Ortoleva, this separation is a process.
  • Second, when regulated games appear. Now we differentiate different forms of play - each is its own game with its own name. Vygotskij talked about how when children go from play to games, they go from hidden rules to explicit rules.
  • Third, when play becomes just a parenthesis. A certain point as we grow up there is a rite of passage when play becomes paranthesized - it becomes minor compared to work. Play becomes circumscribed with its own space and time. This differentiation is cultural and historical. The age of industrailization has been a time of particularly rigid circumcision of play. Ortoleva thinks we are in a period of transition when play becomes less rigidly separated.

The main paradox of play is that it is useless and indespensable at the same time. It is not a tool, more like a resource. We inherit knowledge from play from ourselves.

Akinori Nakamura, Kazufumi Fukuda, Keiji Amano, Masahito Fujihara, Masakazu Furuichi and Koji Mikami: Current Situations in the Japanese Game Research and Game Development Pedagogical Practices

Masakazu Furuichi talked about serious game jams. A Di GRA? Japan SIG on serious games has set up a Serious Game Jam contest that runs yearly. They have found that game jams are good way to motivate students and bring them together.

Koji Mikami talked about game design teaching in Japan. Game design is mostly taught in vocational colleges. In universities it is hard because of government regulations. He showed the media science curriculum he has developed. He talked about how difficult it is to teach game design as opposed to technical skills. He wants to find a way to use Japanese talent. Peracon is a contest going since 2014 (?) where famous game designers judge 1 page concepts. It will be held at CEDEC, a conference for game design industry. You can see what he is doing on his Mikami lab site.

Nakamura talked about case studies of Nintendo and Atari. He takes a platform studies approach. In 1985 it looked like the industry would die. Nintendo had a better approach to handling 3rd party developers. Atari couldn't lead other developers while Nintendo could. Nakamura used a lot of materials from the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester. He talked about how Atari let 3rd party games get out of control. This ended up hurting their brand.

What Nintendo did was to force 3rd parties to get permission using a security chip. They brought Japanese game development companies with them to the USA. He talked about how Nintendo started a merchandising company that managed the promotion and sellng of games, including those of others.

Keiji Amano then talked about our research on Pachinko from Multifaceted Viewpoints. We have been looking at pachinko from different perspectives. He explained why pachinko is important. It is a 189 billion USD business.

He then talked about the relationship with video game industry. Pachinko is declining. It is no more recession proof industry. Pachinko companies are trying to get audience by connecting to content from other areas like video games. The pachinko industry has invested in games.

He then talked about pachinko video games and the evolution of AV effects. Pachinko has become a showcase for content. He gave examples like Street Fighter.

Masahito Fujihara talked about Game Developers Research in Japan. This is research/surveys of the situation in game development work. CEDEC does a survey since 2013. As CEDEC is large they get a lot of developers (producers, artists etc.) 85% of respondents were male. The largest cohort were 30 to 34 years old. 42% were University graduates with about about 18% with advanced degrees. 62% were single. In 2017 about half worked on smartphone apps and the other half working on household games. Many change jobs which is unusual in Japan. Average salary is about 50,000. They work from 40 hours a week up to 50 hours in crunch.

He talked about the need for diversity and for better work/life division. He talked about expected changes in the industry.

Kazufumi Fukuda then talked about preserving games and specifically metadata. He talked about how few Japanese games are catalogued. He talked about what they are doing in Ritsumeikan. They started in 1998 (see http://www.gamearchive.jp )They have about 10,000 items in their archive. They are cataloguing these items. They are developing databases that are available, including part of a government media arts database.

They have their own database RCGS OPAC. He showed their model which is quite rich. They will provide RDF metadata and a SPARQL endpoint. The idea is to support research questions from game studies.

Phillip Penix-Tadsen, Maria B. Garda, Jaakko Suominen and Souvik Mukherjee: Non-English-Language Game Histories: Methodological Considerations

Phillip Penix-Tadsen started this panel by asking:

  • What is gained when we study from non-English perspectives?
  • What is lost when we only study in English?
  • What specific challenges do mjultilingual game studies face? What affordances allow their research to be impactful?
  • How can non-English sources contribute to the formalization of the methodology for regional/local scholarship

Games are culture so we need to study them in their cultures. Site specificity is important. Penix-Tadsen is developing a book on games in Latin America, titled Cultural Code. There is little scholarship on the global south in game studies.

Some other sources include Gaming Globally, Mobile Gaming in Asia, Videogames Around the World, Videogames and Postcolonialism, Game Rythms, Gaming Cultures and Place in Asia-Pacific. There is a Game Studies article on Regional Game Studies. He talked about how most scholarship is about the wealthy areas of production and consumption like North America, Europe, Japan and Korea.

He is worried that regional game studies will be treated as separate from the central work - this would dismiss it. He talked about the canonical histories. In other regions the histories are woven into other histories. He showed interesting platforms from countries like Argentina like the Telejogo console, Brazil, 1977. These consoles were often adapted from other platforms. He showed a list of regional consoles that was impressive.

He talked about an increasing interest in national game development to protect national culture. We who work across cultures should also do more to show how

Jaakko Suominen then talked about Two Waves of Local Game History. He showed a photo from Finland with a children's playground with an Angry Birds theme. Suominen works on Finland. He has written on different styles of writing about game history:

  • Enthusiast - a heroic approach
  • Emancipatory - focus on neglected issues whether local, regional, or gender
  • Genealogical - tries to develop topologies of games
  • Pathological - platform studies (why are platform studies pathological?)

There is both academic and popular discourses. Game history as popular discourse.

He then talked about four waves of game history in Finland:

  • Explanation of game revolution (since 1980s)
  • Historicizing Finnish events
  • Personal histories and nostalgia
  • Building of national game history narratives

He talked about early 1990s scholarship that was then in Finnish. They felt no need to publish in English. He then raised a very interesting issue about publishing in different languages. On the one hand he wants to keep Finnish academic discourse, on the other hand to publish in Finnish could be seen as reinforcing reactionary ideologies.

Maria B. Garda reinforced this in the context of Poland where publishing in Polish can be seen as nationalist.

Souvik Mukherjee talked about the Indian situation, (Un)Playing the Digital Divide. He found it hard to work on videogames in an Indian institution. In 2000 there was little penetration, unlike now.

He started by talking about videogame studies in the context of digital humanities. In India they think data is big and world is flat. The government wants to solve all problems with technology. Nishant Shah has been critical of biometric data. Marc Andreessen commented that anti-colonialism was over, but no one paid attention.

Now people are talking about Jugaad - a form of frugal hacking.

He talked about the idea of a flat world, or flat playing field. Friedman's case study is Rajesh Rao a Bangalore game designer. Adrienne Shaw has an artice about "How do you say gamer in Hindi?" In India playing games was seen as cool and part of a priviledged class, not nerdy. The digital in India is mediated by English, but that doesn't mean the world is flat. He gave wonderful examples of how India is represented in games.

Studo Oleomingus's Somewhere is a game about being silent. He talked about Padmini Ray Murray, "Your DH is not my DH."

He showed some Indian games, a Hanuman game for the PS 2? and other Hindu-based games. They didn't do well. Unrest is a RPG about a mythical city in India. He showed another game that tries to establish an India style. There there is Raji and is being funded by kickstarter. There is a game, Missing, which is about sex trafficing.

A question being discussed is why the game industry is not flourishing like bolywood (film industry.) Perhaps games are perceived negatively in India.

He ended by reflecting on his trajectory. He entered the field (game studies) partly to be part of a global discourse and now finds himself returning to doing Indian game studies.

Melissa Kagen: Archival Adventuring

Kagen started by talking about a game The House of Eternal Return (Meow Wolf Collective). It takes place both in a real house and online. She sees this as a form of walking simulator, archival adventure. Jenkins talked about "Game Design as Narrative Architecture." In these games you can't change a lot. You uncover stuff. She is looking at the game as a way of examining the archive and using archival theory to understand it. The player's exploration i these games is a queer re-enfleshment of heteronormative space. You rediscover the space in a queer way.

Archives, remains and ephemerality. Performance becomes itself through disappearance. If it can archived then it isn't a performance. What is archived is what is left over. The difference is a masculine (archive) / feminine (performance) difference. The archival adventure lets us femminize spaces through re-performance.

She mentions "orientation". You start exploring with one orientation and get re-oriented. Orientation is acquired by repeating (playing) actions.

Gone Home, and What Remains of Edith Finch (Giant Sparrow, 2017) is another game where the house stands in for the disappeared family.

Jing Sun: From Silent NPC to Active Consumer : Representing Female in Chinese Video Game Culture

Sun started by talking about misunderstandings about China and Chinese games. She introduced us to three ways gender is represented in games in China.

1. There is a tradition of Chinese RPG games like the The Legend of Sword and Fairy (1995) and Dragon Oath series. Female characters are represented as sexy girls and visual pleasure. There were more male players and these representations were for them. 2. Then there were prosumer BL (Boy's Life) culture for girls. This is consumed by mostly women. Orange Light Games. The reason was the rise of ACG culture. 3. Technological consumers - dating simulators. She gave two examples, Love and Producer and Tabikaeru. These are consumed like otome games. You pay to be happy. These types of games have healing power in China. It gives girls some agency and self-control over dating.

There is now a strong economy in China that has led to lots of popular culture and fan culture which is now creating a demand for games for women.

Tomasz Majkowski and Agata Zarzycka: Bio Ware?, Eroticism and Modernity (abstract)

They talked about Mass Effect and Dragon Age and romances in a historical perspective. They want to conceptualize love and romance in the West. They see four practices that are important to modern erotica:

  • Secularized moral self-monitoring - sexuality becomes a field to be revealed and researched
  • Sex as the Other - confession
  • Privatization of love - the public should be without passion. Love become the domestic and private
  • Love as a moral obligation

In Bioware self-monitoring becomes important. He talked about how you get knowledge about romantic preferences and use that knowledge.

In Dragon Age there is a pre-modern moment in romance when a NPC becomes king and it matters politically. There is also a homoerotic romance in Mass Effect, but it is private.

Sarah Stang: Body Horror as Body Shaming: Fatness and Monstrosity in Video Games

Stang is examining monsters in games. Monsters and anything other than male is framed as the other. In particular she wants to deconstruct how fatness is shown in games. The monster's body is a cultural body. We are simultaneously repelled and attracted to monsters.

Why fatness? Fatness studies is new field of studies. Fat representation is often missing in games, but when it is there it is associated with the freak. Fatness is seen as a transgression - personal choice and laziness. It is the grotesque. Fatness is the abject - disgusting body. The grotesque is the body not the spiritual.

She then discussed some examples. Broodmother in Dragon Age: Origins. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has the Brewess. God of War II has Clotho.

Female reproduction is associated with the abject. The Broodmother is fat, she reproduces and so on.

Clotho of God of War is traditionally a beautiful fate. In God of War she shows up fat and corpulent. Like the Broodmother she is like a mother goddess.

Many marginalized groups find they can associate with monsters. Monstrosity can provide a space for groups. Perhaps that will happen with fatness.

Hans-Joachim Backe: ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It.’ The Countercultural AAA Aesthetics of Wolfenstein: The New Colossus

Backe gave a paper about Wolfenstein: TNC that emphasized how a AAA game deploys the grotesque.

Marc Bonner: On Striated Wilderness and Prospect Pacing: Rural Open World Games as Liminal Spaces of the Man-Nature Dichotomy

His core theses are that:

  • striated wildness regulate and mediate the experience of the world
  • digital media calls for striated wilderness

Wilderness: nature is always fenced in or out. It is an artefact. It is romanticized with the colonization of America and Australia. 1963 US Wilderness Act defined wilderness. Wilderness is defined by prospects and horizons. It is an away from civilization that we want as catharsis from civilization. Our relationship to wilderness has changed from an issue of survival to a family vacation. In videogames that provide open wilderness they have prospect pacing where you go from prospect to prospect. The experience of the landscape becomes important.

Horizon Zero Dawn and Witcher III are examples. Exploring the landscape is part of these games.

Striated Wilderness: Deleuze and Guattari talk about smooth and striated wilderness. The open world is organized though it tries to look as if it is smooth and open. You get forking paths that guide you through choices.

Rhythm and patterns can be used to analyzed striated wilderness. You get cyclical repetition that provide a rhythm. In Horizon Zero Dawn you need to craft things by gathering plants. The wilderness is good compared to the technological. Wilderness is understood as the healthy alternative to modernism and technology.

BBC's Planet Earth set the aesthetic for wilderness. Wilderness becomes decor and/or entertainment.

Miguel Cesar: Meaning Through Performance: Transgressing Boundaries in Shadow of the Colossus

In 711 Kojiki: The Ancient Chronicles (in Japan) talks about boundaries between life and death. Characters move from world of living to that of death or vice versa. This theme has reappeared over time. It reappears in 2000-2010 (the lost decade). Team Ico produced the Shadow of the Colossus dealing with this issue.

He talked about futile interactivity where player is led to think he can succeed when he can't. He also talked about subtractive ethics (Sicart, 2009) where you are in a situation that you can reflect on, but can't affect.

The End

And that was the end of the conference for me.

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