I’m currently in the painful process of transitioning back to the normal world after 3 days of discussing videogames in Mansfield College, Oxford. “Video Game Cultures & the Future of Interactive Entertainment” (or VG6) was the 6th Global Conference of Inter-Disciplinary.net’s team of videogames. Although I’ve been to international conferences previously, this was the first where the British delegates were in the minority – which was nice (although apparently my cockney is impenetrable to Italian ears, and yeah, I still feel massively guilty for only knowing one language when surrounded by non-native English speakers. I was also forced to reflect on how my meager bursary would never had covered a plane ticket if I had to travel the same distances as some of these other folks (maybe why DiGRA events outside of the UK have few UK attendees, but that’s another story).
Given the title’s inclusion of “culture” (the trickiest
“c word” we have in English; cf Raymond Williams) I felt there was actually quite a good spread of papers on players and on games themselves. I’m not going to do a massive run-down of every single paper, because all of the original papers are available on the website for the time being. The three areas that caught my interest were as follows;
Several papers tackled innovations in game design. Louis Martin Guay gave the only paper focused on the production of traditional AAA-style videogames, suggesting that the days of a linear development process beginning with a design document and working toward a pre-determined “game as object” are over. In addition, we saw reflections on the design processes for three serious games; Tommy Nilsson on an children’s AR museum-exploration game; Misha Myers on developing an educational boardgame for youth in India; and Brian Quinn on creating an AR game to train Australian volunteer firefighters.
Another notable area of interest seemed to be the way that specific player communities adapt elements of play for their own pleasure. Alexander Adamus discussed the appropriation of America’s Army Operations in Poland, and how Polish players take on some of the connotations of pro-military chivalry without changing critical stances on America’s real current wars. Lucia Siu explained the uptake and use of Google’s AR mobile game Ingress in Hong Kong. Giuseppina Zisa talked about Italian players of World of Warcraft, and their resistance to the Italian translation imposed by Blizzard relatively recently. Ignasi Meda discussed the national specifics of videogame adoption on 1980s Spain. Joshua Jarrett used an exploit in DOTA2 (the “fountain hook”) to illustrate how players, developers and other stakeholders negotiate player creativity and notions of fairness in online competitive games.
One theme that emerged from several papers was a reflection on narrative as it specifically relates to the action of playing. Rather than the old narratology/ludology debate, we saw discussions of how narrative functions in games, and the special affordances games have in terms of telling stories. (a more mechanical understanding of game narratives, perhaps, than had been associated with ye olde narratology?) Dawn Stobbart used Spec Ops: The Line as an example of a game which reflexively questions the nature of violent military shooters by repeatedly thwarting audience expectations. Lindsey Joyce talked about how dialogue tree implementation and explicit morality systems “do the player’s thinking for them” and thus reduce their agency. Piotr Kubiński used Call of Juarez to discuss how narrative devices like the unreliable narrator can create “emersion” (the opposite of immersion) which can be powerful when used well. Adam Flamma talked about how Beyond: Two Souls sort of fails as both a game and a film, with elements of one medium harming the immersive qualities of the other (something he shows using a piece of research where some gamers played the game while others only watched it).
(sorry to the other delegates if I missed anyone out, I’m just trying to group together these pieces in my head and see how they fit together in terms of understanding the medium.)