Presenting at Keywords for Video Game Studies Colloquium run by the Critical Gaming Project!

A really, really short talk:

The Mangle of Gaming to Socially Create Meaningful Experiences

I’ll fill in the details later today tomorrow (which at the time of this edit is today). 🙂

My talk started a session on gamification during the Keywords for Video Game Studies year-end colloquium.

That turned out to be good, since I got a chance to start with a super quick definition of gamification before moving into what worries me about it. Here’s the bullet list of what I talked about (with more detail added here than what I could cover in 5 minutes):

  • Gamification is basically a way of providing incentives for people to engage in some sort of designed activity.
    • Most ways of gamifying something does so by giving people rewards, achievements, badges, etc. for particular events in that activity.
    • This provides a quantifiable way of rating progress with that activity.
  • Big question I have is: Are these rewards meaningful? How are they meaningful or not?
  • My general view of a play space (or activity space) — as in a space where meaning making occurs — is that it’s a mangle.
    • By using the word “mangle” I’m invoking Andrew Pickering’s Mangle of Practice and Constance Steinkuehler’s “Mangle of Play.”
    • ie. the actual activity occurs in an arena with multiple contentious motives from different parties or actors.
    • Their tension, work-arounds, pushes, pulls, and constant renegotiation of positions, roles, and responsibilities make the landscape of activity dynamic, sometimes unpredictable, emergent, and messy. Latour (actor-network theory) would probably call it a constant motion of destabilization and restabilization.
  • Case in point: playing World of Warcraft is a matter of socialization into a particular culture or community.
    • Becoming a good player means being able to navigate and participate in this contentious landscape — being able to assemble and arrange various resources, both social (ie other people) and material (ie add-ons, websites, etc.).
    • Could think of New Literacy Studies and/or Lave & Wenger’s “community of practice” stuff here pretty easily.
  • These game spaces (cultures) hold/build/replicate certain values, including values about legitimate ways of being.
    • By participating in these communities, people are building up social capital and cultural capital.
    • These forms of capital are emergent from the mangle.
    • Not always quantifiable… not predictable.
  • By quantifying achievements, game designers normalize (think of gear score, eg) how cultural capital (gaming capital) is accrued, possibly marginalizing other forms of play.

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