Tag Archives: games studies

I’m teaching “Intro to Interactive Media -> Text-based and Adventure Games” this quarter!

And here’s a copy of the syllabus:

BIS236B Intro to Interactive Media -> Text-based and Adventure Games  (PDF)

infrastructures are what’s available, activity systems are the movement of objects in circulation

(this was my final post for a class I’m taking this quarter called Why So Serious?: Video Games as Persuasion, Politics, and Propaganda)

I’ve been reading a bit from infrastructure studies (Hunsinger, 2009) (which I didn’t know was a discipline until just last week) which posits that various cultural attitudes are normalized and made invisible by how our social world is structured. The basic idea is that we operate a certain way–customs, beliefs, values, etc.–because of how those ideas are supported by the infrastructures in place that let us do what we do. When people do some sort of activity, they operate in a complex system or network that is made up of a whole bunch of different things in relationship to each other (Latour, 2005). These things are invisible to us such that we live in a sort of hyperreality, a condition of modernity (Baudrillard, 1994) (okay, it’s a little more complicated than that, but pretend hyperreality is part of modernity for bit).

An example is driving where it isn’t just a person and a car, but also the road, the material of the road, the history of engines, the geopolitical forces that allowed certain people to make those engines, the way we’ve agreed on certain rules that constrain how we drive such as stop signs, how we know that speed limit signs might or might not really be the speed limit, *other* drivers, etc. These activity systems are supported by the material and social infrastructure of that particular setting. By being dependent on the infrastructure of the setting, people who have a say in how those infrastructures are set up have political power and can present outsiders with bridges or barriers to their infrastructures. But they aren’t political in the overt sense. Instead the term I’ve been reading is subpolitical (Hunsinger, 2009). Something is subpolitical when it is subtle and hidden and its power isn’t exercised through normal overt political or governed means.

Anyway, this subpolitics-of-infrastructures angle could be used to describe games and how each game is dependent on certain ways of working (game mechanics that make up the game play) and these ways of working, or infrastructures, are rooted in historical genres of games *and* historical societal norms for how our world works. This relates to Galloway’s allegory of control (2006), to me, in that games operate a certain way and by enacting or making the narratives progress, players are embodying those ideological infrastructures. An easy example is Bioshock where the Randian themes of power and super-individualism are highlighted by the way the game is relatively linear yet feels like it is open-ended (and major spoiler: the way in which it’s discovered at the end that the player really wasn’t in control at all).

When you look at social interaction in multiplayer games, the boundary between game and non-game gets dismantled completely. For example, argumentation by various people who play WoW about how loot should be distributed follows certain patterns of behavior that reinforce structural norms of proper behavior such that certain players just aren’t as able to successfully become expert players. Expertise for WoW is determined by certain groups of players (and the game devs) who value specific ways of playing (and arguing) over others.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, yes, all games are political, or at least subpolitical, in that they all reflect certain infrastructures that dictate how things work in those settings.

The tricky question, of course, is the one that kept coming up in class. Ok, games are political, but do they successfully convey whatever message was intended? This is kind of blown apart, though, in that many games weren’t intended to be overtly or even subtly political. Yet, the subpolitical nature of game infrastructures (of even overtly political games) means that ultimately they normalize certain ways of being or acting. Game devs operate within the bounds of their infrastructures and produce games reflecting those structures.

What does this mean, though? I mean, many of us came away from the different games having taken different messages from the games. This complicates the idea that a game has *a* message. Subjective interpretation turns the modernity associated with invisible infrastructures into post-modernity.

  • Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and simulation.
  • Galloway, A. (2006). Gaming: Essays on algorithmic culture.
  • Hunsinger, J. (2009). Introducing learning infrastructures: Invisibility, context, and governance. Learning Inquiry, 3(3), 111-114. http://www.springerlink.com/content/61uv3175wt2h6574/
  • Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social.

IR9, day 2, 9am: State of MMO game studies

State of MMO game Studies: Identities, Participatory Culture, and Structural Forces

Roger Altizer
For a Pound of Virtual Flesh: Tales of Trade in World of Warcraft


(TAP while playing)

bbc and Ge Jin’s accounts different (normal gamers v. poor laborers, etc.)

Gamer Generation//Revolution documentary

Dan Burk (UCI)
Copyright and Paratext in On-Line Gaming

gaming capital (accumulating expertise, social status, etc.)
drives play but also drives cheating

[Mark]but cheating seems to attempt to bypass in-game (ludic) capital, not necessarily social capital.. actually disengaged with social capital since leveling affords the time to gain social capital (and cultural capital)[/Mark]

Developers and others should think about designs, control methods, etc. that affect what you gain by cheating… how much of total gaming capital is derived from ludic expertise? Is the expertise performative or purely appearance based?

covers a brief history of copyright and derivitive work in other media and then games and different forms of control in games

Mia Consalvo
Translating Vana’ diel: The Hybrid Culture of Japanese and Western Game Players

ffxi and japanese influence of videogames
history of western adoption of japanese art (otaku going back to impressionists)

history and lore presented in game lets those who’ve played previous games display gaming capital

hybrid place that isn’t japanese and not western but allows players to encounter the other

Cassandra Van Buren
World of Warcraft Machinima Makers

foundations: film history, emergent participatory culture but becoming commercialized

reform game space into your own narrative

study is two fold: documenting and looking at machinima as posthuman creative activity (ethnography), wants to capture the different ways its done before they become standardized or commercialized(?)

Dmitri Williams (and Tracey Kennedy and Bob Moore)
Behind the Avatar: The Patterns, Practices and Functions of Role Playing in MMOs

looking at RP in mmoRPgs

mix between quant and qual work
Dmitri did the number crunching and Tracey did the ethnography
RP high groups tend to score higher in having been diagnosed with depression, addiction, etc.

used Nick Yee’s motivations scales (immersion, achievement, social)
RPers more focused on social and immersion and not so much achievement

the people that Tracey interviewed had very specific reasons for RPing… escapism, etc.
about half of them volunteered that they were using it as an outlet for therapeutic outlet

same numbers of RPers on all servers

IR9, day 2, 9am: Game(play)

From Copenhagen, Oct 17

Nick Montfort – MIT (w. Bogost at Georgia Tech)
and the ports have names for the sea
Reimagining Games for the Atari VCS

understand platforms and their material affordances to creative works
A bunch of interesting examples from the VCS…

Shira Chess
Balancing on the Great Gender Platform

gaming platforms are rhetorical platforms

platforms are gendered
Wii and DS marketing

platforms are a site where discourse happens, thus they themselves are rhetorical in that they allow and constrain different things

From Copenhagen, Oct 17

Keith Massie
The Pla(t/y)form of L337: Difference, Differance and Differ@nce in/through L337

platform and different forms of leetspeak

Hugo Gernspeck 1911 father of sci-fi

Derrida critiques idea that thought -> speech -> writing
leetspeak reinforces Derrida
meaning is like a snow-globe, not a map. requires interability

differance -> differ and defer

Keith introduces diff@nce (differ@nce?)

Casey O’Donnell
Taking the NES’s PPU Bait: the birth and effects of the graphics processing unit

NES PPU (pixel processing unit) as example of how platforms affect collaborative practice

the ppu allowed a bunch of innovations: movable background, 8×8, 8×16 sprites, separation of screen code and game code

most games before the NES were engineer-driven games, but the separation of graphics with game code afforded the games industry to break into more specialized roles (art and programmers)

IR9, day 1, 3:30pm: Video game cultures, innovation, and user generated content

From Copenhagen, Oct 16

Hector Postigo

Fan studies/Political economy
Terranova and social factory (working for nothing)/Jenkins and participatory culture (everyone media rich)

Picking at social factory:
Are theories of post-industrial labor enough for understanding what work means to co-producers?
There is in fact agency, etc. and the actors aren’t just dupes for the cog machine.

Two examples:

  1. GI Joe mod as resistance
    idea that love of the game and creation = rights
    equate the mod with DeCSSS makes the mod no longer a game but a symbol of resistance
  2. AOL volunteering as passionate labor with intrinsic rewards
    15k people volunteering
    access to gui to create content, etc.

These larger theories can’t get at specific people’s voices nor cover what happens when work becomes not work anymore.

Olli Sotamaa
Democratizing the console environment?

Do the XNA and WiiWare actually democratize? Not really. They more just extend the oligopoly.

Modding is more democratizing.
“casual modding” includes LitteBigPlanet, etc.

MyBuzz (website or PS3? to create quiz games).

Julian Kucklich
Collusion: Mapping connections between games and users
cheating = de-lodology
Titiana Terranova

Within gamespace, some moves are possible and some impossible for specific people. This goes hand in hand with labor concept.

I find it funny that Julian really wants to do a roundtable chat but he is following the lecture format. He says that he doesn’t want to do slideshows and he keeps saying “we’re talking about…” but yet he still just lectures. Too much stuff to cover in too little time. 🙁

Gaming capital (not cultural capital): capitalizing play, bending the structure, commodifying gamespace

distribution of risk from center of games to periphery

the logic of play is infused by the logic of gain and more and more logic of risk

Aphra Kerr – NUI Maynooth, Sociology
Outsourcing risk

Discourse: Rise of open innovation, etc.
Reality: Distributed productions and offshoring, Accumulation by disposession

Not much stuff going on in Irish gaming market. Middleware, underbidding licensed stuff, or distributed original production.

Three trends: disintermediation (online distribution), distributed production, ownership and policing of IP

IR9, day 1, 11am: Multiplayer gaming

On the 15th I went to the In the Game workshop and then dinner party afterwards. I’ll skip that and go straight to the conference which started on the 16th, but here’s a photo of my breakfast spread. 🙂

From Copenhagen, Oct 15

Celia Pearce
Identity as place: Trans-ludic identities in mediated play communities-The case of the Uru diaspora


  • fictive ethnicity attached to virtual place
  • diasporic discourses of displacement
  • imaginary community v. imagined community

method includes:

  • feminist eth, etc. but also
  • ethnography as game (Denzen)

Refugees of Uru would evaluate different VWs and games as possible places to migrate to.
They used the same identities from place to place incl. clothing/avatar appearance.
They also recreated architectural artifacts (like the fountain, the common hub for the game Uru) to keep cultural artifacts and continuity in space/place.

It was the loss of Uru that led to the creation the identity/community.

Celia mentioned briefly a conference happening at Georgia Tech.

More info on Celia and her research can be found at http://cpandfriends.com/

Emily Hannan
Virtual worlds: Forming relationships online and offline within gaming communities

Unfortunately, Emily was a no show.

Luca Rossi
MMORPG guilds as online communities: Power, space, and time in virtual worlds

Not in so many words, but essentially, I think Luca is saying that shared goals are sometimes in conflict with individual goals, which is something I’ve been thinking a lot about as I write my expertise and socialization paper.

Luca claims that guilds are not fluid and getting in and out is difficult.

I don’t think that is true for all guilds… not true for many guilds in fact, or maybe just on my server?
Also, he conflates guilds with raiding! Why do people still do this? Did I have a completely abnormal server?
In my experience, people might have to go through some sort of application process but to leave a guild (breaking up friendships, aside) is actually quite easy.


Luca then the use of tools to manage time and to lower downtime such as calendars, etc.

How conflicts are resolved: Hirschman voice/exit concept -> when conflict happens you talk and then /gkick as last resort.

gkick is a form of power

He didn’t cover conflict management in detail but just 3 ways to leave guilds.
It would be more interesting to talk about the tension between personal and group goals. Then also talk about specific motivations for leaving or staying. What is compelling about staying that people put up with drama? Do some players recognize that management and work is needed for the labor of fun?

Also, he didn’t show us anything from outside of the game. Isn’t there a whole social economy that affects power dynamics and reputations?

I thought what he covered is basically was very superficial, but maybe it’s a language barrier…

Mia Consalvo
Where’s my montage? The performance of hard work and its reward in film, tv, and MMOGs
Mia and her students were in a seminar that did an exploration of what a Unit Operation is (from Bogost).
A “unit” is a building block, and each medium uses a different procedural rhetoric to express them.

I see units as genre conventions that have certain qualities and attributes that can be expressed across media.

They used the “hard work is rewarded” unit and tried to see how it is expressed differently in different media.

montage in films = (bypassing) grinding in games, etc.
montage is done by cutting/pasting in films, cheating in games

Rettberg’s corporate ideology (Yee says this too)
puritan work ethic, myth of american dream

Roger (who was sitting next to me) makes a good point in that there’s a performative act while playing games that is different than in other media. Does that make comparing texts harder to do even if a common unit can be found? In other words, the expression depends on the actions of the player, not just the author… and different players might do different things such that the unit is fungy.

Also, what operations are happening between units that are making unique or maybe not unique meanings to players? I thought Ian’s emphasis was not the unit but the various combinations and connections and networks they created and related to each other.

For a static text, units operate with each other and create a narrative meaning. For games, it seems like it is much more emergent and that specific units might not surface for all players.

Most of the questions about Mia’s talk came from niggling about the the content of the unit (grinding and montage) and not the concept of the unit. Ah well…

Total aside, wouldn’t it be great if Blizzard announced to everyone that we’d all be moving to a different, better game without all this crap grind?