DiGRA 2005: Changing Views: Worlds in Play, 2005 International Conference

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Canadian Content in Video Games

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-06-01
Abstract: 

THEME: Internationalism: Worlds at Play Topics: Internationalism, Identity in Gaming and Learning to Play Abstract: How does Canada fit into the global cultural context of video games? This paper investigates the culture being reflected in video games being produced in Canada as Canada is one of the world's leading producers of video games. It examines the how Canadian culture is represented in current new media artistic output against the culture, or lack of culture, being represented in video games currently being produced. With the shift of television viewers away from culture-regulated television and onto "culture neutral" video games, is our culture being eroded or expanding to fill a new culture shared with others across borders in virtual space? Canada is one of the most active in internet use, do virtual online gaming cultures form based on physical locale and shared real-world culture? Should we attempt to find our "national identity" in video games, or does culture travel differently through interactive media? Can we measure the impact of the transmission of culture through video games in Canada? In short, an in-depth examination of the impact of the transmission and direction of our national culture through the video games we produce and consume as cultural product. This paper expands and continues to explore issues raises in a paper previously given at the 2004 New Forms Festival with new interviews with leading Canadian video game designers, an in-depth examination of Canadian online gaming communities and an investigation into “serious games” which Canada is producing which portray Canada's unique cultural identity. Canada is one of the world's top producers and consumers of video games. The Canadian video game market (which includes hardware, software and peripherals), generated revenues of $746 million (all dollar figures in CAD) in 2003 a growth of 13% over 2002. Canada is home to the largest and most successful video game studios in Burnaby, BC at over 900 employees, which is set to double its size in the near future. The number one title purchased by Canadians for the first quarter of 2004 was the Canadian produced Electronic Arts NHL 2004 for the PS2, closely followed by another Canadian title: EA's Need for Speed Underground for the PS2 in third place. Other top Canadian video game players include UbiSoft Montréal, known its Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time game which swept the 2004 Academy of Arts and Science Awards (the video game equivalent of cinema's Academy Awards), winning 9 awards in total. BioWare's Edmonton studio produced Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for the Xbox which currently ranks at number 19 in the best games of all-time by GameRankings.com and became the fastest selling Xbox game in history. For online play, Canada is also well-prepared as one of the most internet-savvy countries in the world, ranking second in the world behind the US by the Conference Board of Canada. It is well prepared for the rapidly growing online console gaming market with 80% of Canadian Xbox owners having broadband access and Canada representing 25% of the total online PS2 market. But what are we producing and consuming as Canadians when take a step back and view our video games as a cultural product? How does our prominence as video game producers reflect who we are to the rest of the world? Do our roles as interactive cultural producers have a distinct “Canadian” feel in a culturally deregulated industry, or are we culturally lost in a post-modern hyper-connected world consciousness? Canada is one of the world's leading nations in the production and consumption of video game product and culture and shows no sign of slowing in the near future. Video games themselves are just surfacing as an art form worthy of academic critique. Many universities, colleges and private institutions are now offering courses in video game studies and development, increasing the future talent pool for local video game studios. Additionally, the rise of academia in video games also holds promise for self-referential “high art” games, which can further highlight the role of Canada's culture in video games.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Baldur’s Gate and History: Race and Alignment in Digital Role-Playing Games

Date created: 
2005-04-16
Abstract: 

This paper, part of a wider study of the connections between romance, fantasy and political rhetoric in the twenty-first century, seeks to historicise some of the defining features of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D)-based role playing games, using as examples the Bioware games, Baldur’s Gate I and II and Neverwinter Nights. The starting point of the paper is that technical, procedural and aesthetic innovations in gaming arise from contexts given by history, and by social and cultural processes. While D&D may appear to be nothing more than escapist fantasy, at the heart of the genre lie questions profoundly related to history: issues to do with temporality, race, class, gender and morality. The paper argues that there are pressing reasons why digital culture’s reinvention of romance (and its representations of Empire-making and management in the case of strategy games like Civilisations, and the Total War series) must be understood not just formally, or structurally, or narratologically or post-structurally, but politically, in the context of the disturbing signs of our times. In return, such analysis promises to illuminate far more than its immediate objects of study. The genealogy of the D&D concept is, in one sense, relatively clear: tabletop wargames focussing on medieval battles were individualised to allow for character advancement and more sophisticated plots, and infused with elements from fantasy (derived from Vance, Moorcock and, unavoidably, Tolkien). D&D was then translated successfully into digital format, with the Bioware games representing a high point of digital versions of the genre. In another, more theoretical sense, there is nothing clear about this process. Why does the medieval period continue to have such a hold over intelligent, commercially-focussed forms of cultural production? If the Bioware games are viewed as representing a refined point of conjunction between technology and romantic nostalgia, then is it not a paradox deserving of lengthy reflection that every last technical resource of the most advanced commonly available machines of the digital age have been made to strain towards the re-creation of the pre-industrial, the medieval, the magical? Ever since the events of September 11th, 2001, it has been clear that, as medieval scholar Geraldine Heng puts it, "history and the Middle Ages have returned with a vengeance" (12). The most dramatic and important expression of this shift is the blurring of politics and religion currently taking place in the United States. For an emblem of the process one has to look no further than the cross of twisted steel rising as if naturally out the devastated remains of the north tower of the World Trade Centre in New York. The multiple significations of this space – ‘Ground Zero’ - are now compacted into the most loaded sign of the religious/imperial ideology of ‘crusade’. The recurrence of this very term in the language of Bush, Rumsfeld and Powell serves to confirm the point. Critical discourse is far from understanding the nature of the link between historical crusades, their contemporary incarnations (Afghanistan, Iraq, but also as ‘jihad’) and the choices game designers make, and by contrast squabbles between narratologists and luddologists should seem somewhat trivial. A focus on ‘the politics of re-enchantment’ (McClure) provides the necessary context for this investigation. To understand the nature of digital romance we need to understand the historical reasons behind the rise of romance, and those moments and movements by which it has been revived. According to Heng, the example of Geoffrey of Monmouth shows how romance developed "as a form of cultural rescue in the aftermath of the First Crusade, a transnational militant pilgrimage during which Latin Christian crusaders did the unthinkable – committing acts of cannibalism on infidel Turkish cadavers in Syria, in 1098" (2). Heng’s analysis makes clear that cultural fantasy, at one of its most important points of origin, is linked to issues of race, to transnational militancy, and to the need to deal with cultural trauma. These three aspects of medieval romance’s genesis provide a useful starting point for a properly historicised understanding of what lies behind fantasy’s open embrace of escapism. A second context that provides telling evidence of fantasy’s debt to history concerns that genre of Victorian adventure tales now identified by critics as ‘imperial romance’. By means of a contrast between the characters of Gagool in King Solomon’s Mines, and Ayesha in She, it is possible to show how the example of Sir Henry Rider Haggard illuminates D&D’s crucial insistence on race as determinant of character. At the founding moment of this strand of fantasy questions of race, intimately related to the experience of colonialism in South Africa, surface as problems – perhaps traumas – from which fantasy proposes cultural rescue. From Haggard to Edgar Rice Burroughs to Tolkien and on to the Bioware games, race, like setting, is represented as innocently escapist, harmlessly entertaining. But properly historicised, elves, dark elves, gnolls, dwarves, halflings, gnomes and so on can be seen to depend for their fictional existences on cultural conditions of possibility enabled by colonial encounters with otherness. The transference of race from the realm of the real to that of the imaginary is part of the "apparatus" of romance identified by Heng, causing to surface in mediated and consoling ways difficult questions about race and history, to say nothing of ongoing oppression and inequality. There is another aspect of the D&D games that intersects yet more dramatically with history, one that is particularly relevant at the present moment. Characters in D&D must choose an alignment: good, neutral, or evil. This principle works well within the games, and serves as a basis for considerable narrative complexity. But what kind of a world view does it reflect and support? My answer is one very similar to that of George W. Bush, who, on September 12th, 2001 expressed his understanding of the geopolitical consequences of the bombing as follows: "This will be a monumental struggle of good versus evil. But good will prevail". It would be naïve to claim that, like the adventure stories of an earlier Empire, computer games prepare the youth of the West to go out and conquer, rule and reproduce the cultural values of the Imperium. It is unlikely that many players of games of this level of complexity actively uphold such morally simplistic world views. However, it takes a naivety of a different kind to assume that no link exists between these varied contexts. The task for criticism is to elaborate the nature of such discursive continuities, thereby granting us a better understanding of the relationships between economic and political power and the digital tools we use to console ourselves and to escape our tortured present.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Playing with non-humans: digital games as technocultural form

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-06-02
Abstract: 

The relationship between the human and the technological has been a persistent concern in the dramas and images of digital games. Gameworlds are populated with mutants, cyborgs, robots and computer networks – avatars are augmented with headup displays, exoskeletons and impossible weaponry. Yet in significant ways digital games can be seen not only as representations of a putative future technoculture – as a technological imaginary of new media - but also as actual instances of a technoculture here and now. To play a digital game is to plug oneself into a cybernetic circuit. Any particular game-event is realised through feedback between computer components, human perception, imagination and motor skills, and software elements from virtual environments to intelligent agents. This cybercultural language has been regarded with some suspicion within the humanities and social sciences. For intellectual traditions founded on social constructivism any sense of technological determinism is problematic – historical and cultural agency, it is presumed, resides solely in the human and the social. This paper will argue that a full understanding of both the playing of digital games, and the wider techno-cultural context of this play, is only possible through a recognition and theorisation of technological agency. The paper will draw in particular on theoretical positions developed within the Sociology of Science and Technology and Actor-Network Theory (ANT) to explore how social constructivism might be challenged by the consideration of what Bruno Latour calls ‘the missing masses’ - the mass of non-human devices and objects that, he asserts, make up the 'dark matter' of society. These masses are unobservable using established sociological lenses, but are theoretically necessary to the existence of human relationships and activities (Latour 1991). Whilst actor-network theory is concerned with artefacts, agents and networks from transport and health systems to road furniture and allergies, this paper will argue that digital game play – given its centrality to the development and dissemination of popular computer hardware, software and cultural practices - is a privileged, paradigmatic instance of an emergent digital popular technoculture (Turkle 1984). In these terms digital game play is a vivid instantiation of Donna Haraway’s figurative cyborg: an ambiguous and monstrous intimacy between the human and organic and the technological and inorganic (Haraway 1990). Digital games aestheticise this cyborg world, but they also realise it: this is an aesthetics of control and agency (or the loss of these) through immersive, embodied pleasures and anxieties; rather than (just) of dramatic scenarios and screen-presented action (Friedman 1999, Lahti 2003). The common experience of digital game play as characterised by the loss of distinction between game, software, machine and player, resonates with the ANT critique of the ‘object hypothesis’ (that entities are bounded, and discrete from other entities and their environment) (Woolgar 1991). Of the boundaries under threat, perhaps the most significant is that between subject and object – precisely the boundary that digital game play transgresses. The playing of the GameBoy Advance game Advance Wars 2 will be analysed, identifying the diverse agencies and valencies of elements or nodes in its circuit – player, console, and software. The latter will also be analysed as itself an actor-network – of algorithms, simulation and cellular automata. The implications for established analytical terms and boundaries in the study of the consumption of popular media will be addressed. Firstly: how is the user/player ‘configured’ (Woolgar 1991). Secondly: what are the subjects and objects of this simulation-conflict between cellular automata? Digital game studies has yet to engage with a sustained debate on the implications of its fundamentally technologically based foundation – i.e. the ‘digitality’ of digital games. This paper calls for such a debate and offers some initial thoughts on issues and directions. References Friedman, Ted (1999) ‘Civilisation and its Discontents: Simulation, Subjectivity, and Space’, in Greg Smith (ed.) On a Silver Platter: CD-ROMs and the Promises of a New Technology, New York: New York University Press: 132-150. Haraway, Donna (1990) ‘A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s’, in Linda J. Nicholson (ed.) Feminism / Postmodernism, London: Routledge Kember, Sarah (2003) Cyberfeminism and Artificial Life, London: Routledge Lahti, Marti (2003) ‘As we become machines: corporealized pleasures in video games’, in Mark JP Wolf & Bernard Perron (eds) The Video Game Theory Reader, London: Routledge: 157-170 Latour, Bruno (1991) "Technology is society made durable"

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Designing Goals for Online Role-Players

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-05-30
Abstract: 

The increasing popularity of massively multi-player online role-playing and the rise of the role-playing-related pervasive gaming create a new challenge for the digital gaming industry. The role-player audience is growing in addition to the digital gamer audience. Catering to the both crowds requires re-thinking in the game design. In this paper I propose that one of the most fundamental differences is the difference in goal structures and the idea of "meaningful" play between the two gaming mindsets. Björk and Holopainen (2003) divide goals (and rules) into endogenous and exogenous goals - the goals made explicit in the rules and the goals brought to the game activity by players to give it meaning, respectively. For role-players, who pretend to be their characters and pretend to perceive the game world from the character perspective [1] the only meaningful goals are the goals set by the characters for themselves - i.e. goals not chosen by the players as players, nor goals endogenous to the game system, but goals chosen by players through the character constructs they pretend to be. The voluntary and emergent nature of these diegetic goals means that it's problematic if game design or game master tries to enforce [2] them. Creating quest hooks luring the characters voluntarily on interesting adventures is a classical challenge of pen'n'paper role-playing. In this paper I use three-layered model of role-playing (modified from Fine 1983, 185-187, with Montola 2003), where the players [3] participating a game to pursue exogenous goals form the primary layer, the gamers pursuing endogenous goals form the secondary layer, and the characters pursuing diegetic goals form the third, diegetic layer. Every role-player constructs her own diegesis [4] subjectively, and these diegeses constitute the diegetic layer. Only role-players construct diegeses in this sense. Traditional role-playing games have no endogenous goals. In the formal sense, dying is not losing and character survival is (only) a diegetic goal (compare to Costikyan 2002, 11-14) - though sometimes death may be a diegetic goal as well. Accomplishing diegetic goals is not endogenous goal either - often accomplishing them is not even the intention of the player. Maybe player wants her character to fall in tragic love with a girl, where the exogenously desirable tragedy is accomplished by consistently failing in achieving the goal. Looking formally, Salen and Zimmerman (2004, 353-355) see that meaningful gameplay arises from the relationship of actions and their outcomes, pleasure emerging from players understanding how their accumulating actions move the game forward, towards the [endogenous] [5] goals of the game. Even role-players need goals for their characters to keep the game interesting, although accomplishing them is not necessary. Goals produce conflicts, which produce emotions (see Lankoski 2004, 140-141) sought by role-players. Salen and Zimmerman's definition has to be seen from the angle where the players' pleasure emerges from the playing characters having goals and experiencing their emotions whether they succeed or fail. For a role-player the process leading to success or failure is more interesting than the accomplishment itself. Providing diegetic goals for MMORPG characters is a tricky business where endogenous goals need to be successfully translated into diegetic goals. Having played Star Wars Galaxies for less than a week, the galactic emperor gave me a mission of escorting a guest to him from a forest a couple of kilometres away from his secret retire. In ten minutes the mission was completed, and his majesty gave me half a dozen more, one by one. This kind of situation breaks the coherence of diegesis built on the expectations on the genre and logics of Star Wars fiction [6]. The contradiction of expectations [7] used in constructing role-playing diegeses and the virtual game world has lead many MMORPG role-playing associations to implement their own rules to provide meaningful consistency to the game. For instance ECRA [8] has denied one of the most critical elements of the game from it's members: ECRA members are not allowed to resurrect their characters by cloning them, as they feel that their community makes no sense if characters can't be killed permanently. They don't want to diegetically cope with the inconsistency brought to the system by cloning technology. In the point where the players create their own rules systems (another endogenous layer) counteracting the meaning-killing structures of the games, the certain thing is that there is a player group not served by the game. In the case of groups like ECRA, the players seek to use their environment to role-play despite its failings. Providing Diegetic Goals The problem with providing diegetic goals is that the players must voluntarily adopt them for their characters. In traditional role-playing games, the goals are usually implicitly or explicitly negotiated between players and game masters via the player characters and the non-player characters, making the players committed to the characters' goals. In the article I will focus on creating guidelines on how to create goals that players would adopt. Basically there are two ways for this; creating goals within the diegetic level, and creating endogenous goals to be adopted by the players. To create quests that players would really adopt as their characters' diegetic goals, they should fill criteria such as: plausibility in the world context and the diegetic genre, allowing solutions for different characters, allowing avoiding actions unfit for character, avoiding identical quests or narratives for different players, connecting the quests to earlier actions of character, rewarding social play and teamwork et cetera. In practice, generating enough meaningful quests randomly may be not possible. Hence, we may be forced to look for the diegetic goals from the more-traditional role-playing end. This means quests created by game masters, and quests created by and emerging from the social systems in the play -- both being diegetic methods. The economical methods of game master based content creation involve volunteer game master networks, and game mastering player communities instead of individuals or teams. Diegetic goal-creation methods tend to create goals that are also accepted on the diegetic level. All in all, catering to the role-players is a huge challenge for the MMORPGs. However, as the player base gets more experience and matures, the increase in role-playing can be predicted. And according to Mulligan and Patrovsky (2003, 219-220), the realistically playing role-players both encourage the others to follow the suit, and keep other players in the game longer. Referred Games Sony Online (2003): Star Wars Galaxies. An Empire Divided. References Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2003): Describing Games. An Interaction-Centric Structural Framework. www.playresearch.com/publications/2003/structuralframework.pdf (ref. 25.10.2004). Originally in Copier, M. & Raessens, J. (eds.) (2003): Level Up - CD-ROM Proceedings of Digital Games Research Conference 2003. Costikyan, G. (2002): I Have No Words & I Must Design: Toward a Critical Vocabulary for Games. In Mäyrä, F. (ed) (2002): CGDC Proceedings 9-33. Tampere, Tampere University Press. Fine, G. (1983): Shared Fantasy. Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. Heliö, S. (2004): Role-Playing: A Narrative Experience and a Mindset. In Montola, M. & Stenros, J. (eds.) (2004): Beyond Role and Play. Tools, Toys and Theory for Harnessing the Imagination. 65-74. The book for Solmukohta 2004. Vantaa, Ropecon. www.ropecon.fi/brap Lankoski, P. (2004): Character Design Fundamentals for Role-Playing Games. In Montola, M. & Stenros, J. (eds.) (2004): Beyond Role and Play. Tools, Toys and Theory for Harnessing the Imagination 139-148. The book for Solmukohta 2004. Vantaa, Ropecon. www.ropecon.fi/brap Loponen, M. & Montola, M. (2004): A Semiotic View on Diegesis Construction. In Montola, M. & Stenros, J. (eds.) (2004): Beyond Role and Play. Tools, Toys and Theory for Harnessing the Imagination 39-51. The book for Solmukohta 2004. Vantaa, Ropecon. www.ropecon.fi/brap Mackay, D. (2001): The Fantasy Role-Playing Game. A New Performing Art. London, McFarland. Montola, M. (2003): Role-Playing as Interactive Construction of Subjective Diegeses. In Gade, M., Thorup, L. & Sander, M. (eds.) (2003): As Larp Grows Up. Theory and Methods in Larp 82-89. The book for Knudepunkt 2003. www.laivforum.dk/kp03_book Mulligan, J. & Patrovsky, B. (2003): Developing Online Games. An Insider's Guide. Indianapolis, New Riders Publishing. Salen, K. & Zimmerman, E. (2004): Rules of Play. Game Design Fundamentals. Massachusetts, The MIT Press. Footnotes 1 I see role-playing as a mindset of game playing (Heliö 2004, 70-71). Theoretically any game could be role-played, but practically the three subgenres of role-playing games are pen'n'paper role-playing, larping and virtual role-playing (Montola 2003, 82-89, compare to Mackay 182-183). 2 The designer can enforce the gamers' avatars to perform actions on the endogenous level, but they have hard time forcing the players to accept these things into their diegeses. 3 Fine uses people/players/characters. I use players/gamers/characters, respectively. 4 Diegeses are constructed subjectively based on virtual (MMORPG) or physical (LARP) reality as well as arbitrated consensus of the players. See Montola 2003, Loponen & Montola 2004. 5 Salen & Zimmerman 2004, 258. 6 Mackayan "imaginary-entertainment environment" (Mackay 2001, 26-33). 7 See Montola 2003 and Loponen & Montola 2004 for more about the importance of communicating the genre of the diegeses to players. 8 Europe-Chimaera Roleplayers Association is active on Europe-Chimaera server of Star Wars Galaxies (www.mosentha.com (ref. 29.11.2004)).

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Playing Audio-only Games: A compendium of interacting with virtual, auditory Worlds

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-03-16
Abstract: 

When thinking about playing computer games, most people envision young persons addictively enjoying audiovisual games like Quake, Doom or Counter Strike. The commonality in these games is that the majority of information is provided visually. The interaction with such virtual environments is, with slight modifications, straightforwardly derived from our real world actions and own experiences. Opposed to these games, a small niche of audio-only computer games has evolved. These games are often developed by and for the visually impaired community, but can also be played by sighted users. The advantage, as well as the challenge, is that these games can only be played trough sound. Every game related information is sonified acoustically and several techniques have been developed to aid in the navigation, orientation and interaction with the virtual, auditory world. Several games can be found and a nice collection is compiled on the audiogames.net website. Our work, as well as this paper, are motivated by our current research in this area and the development of an audio-game framework. This framework not only allows the development and play of audio-only games, using several intuitive methods for sonification and interaction, but also includes an authoring environment and a simple story engine. The foundations are laid out, and we are currently working on the development of several games to exemplify the results. One of the main benefits of audio-only games is their excellent suitability for mobile gaming, as no visual information and hence, no screens are necessary. This allows to even play these games with the attention distracted to other activities. Technologically, audio-only games are relatively easy to build and, besides some additional hardware, which would allow a deeper immersion into the virtual environment, the equipment needed is simple, affordable and small in size. Another advantage is a, similar to reading books or listening to audiobooks, increased level of immersion with a much higher stimulation of the participants phantasy apposed to visual gaming. This results from the lack of information that is presented and causes the player to imagine the missing pieces and to "shape" the virtual environment through own experiences. For story based game genres, one could envision audio-only games as the unification of entertaining computer games and audiobooks. So far, several genres for playing audio-only games have been developed. The most suitable ones are strong content and story based games, like adventures and puzzle games, but the concept of audio gaming can also be applied to certain action style games. Examples include adventures like "Der Tag wird zur Nacht" and "Terraformers" and action games as "Audio Formula 1" and "Drive". One of the very interesting aspects is, that audio games, as they are not only played, but also perceived in a different manner, may offer a complete new type of game genre. Audio-only games are more focused on auditory cues and perception. By combining this with alternative techniques of interaction, suited to auditory environments, new ways of interfering with virtual worlds and stories can be explored. The convenience that no visual information is necessary for the play of these game, is on the other side also the biggest challenge. Most of our environmental information is acquired through visual perception. On the contrary, our ears often tell us where to search for it, if we move our head into the direction of the sounds origin. One of the largest drawbacks of auditory displays is their insufficiency of being able to provide a general and simple overview of a scene like a picture. Therefore, we have to employ additional techniques, that are able to deliver this extra information in a different manner. In our framework we employ several methods to compensate for this deficiency. These techniques allow for an easier navigation and orientation within these virtual, auditory worlds. In our work, we will give a complete overview of playing audio-only games, ranging from techniques for actually playing these games, to methods to author and design auditory environments. We also provide details about the diversity of audio-visual perception and discuss which genres are most suitable for playing audio-only games. The final paper will consist of mainly three sections: The first is an introduction to audio-only gaming and games and will motivate for the development, as well as for the play of such games. Here, we focus particularly on the benefits of audio games and existing work. The second section analyzes audio-only games and has a closer look on available game genres and the structure and design of audio-only games. As these games tend to be strong story dependant, this section will also include a paragraph on storytelling for audio-only games, mainly centered around auditory adventure games. The last section examines the techniques which are used to actually play such games. This covers a very brief review of 3D sound and room acoustics and is mostly centered around sonification and interaction techniques that support navigation, orientation and object interaction. In this section, we will also discuss details regarding the modelling, the design and the authoring of auditory environments and audio-only games. The paper will conclude with the presentation of a framework, that is currently developed along this project, and which can be used to create, author and play audio-only games. More information can be found on our website at isgwww.cs.uni-magdeburg.de/games/audio.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

The GameCreator: Self-Created Mobile Games on the Internet

Date created: 
2005-05-30
Abstract: 

Mobile gaming in general is gaining popularity among youth. This year, world wide sales exceeded the one billion dollar limit. Currently, mobile games are either designed by professional game firms like Elkware, Davilex, and Gameloft, or by highly skilled java programmers, often organized in sponsored developers communities such as Forum Nokia Pro, and Siemens Developers Village. In contrast, in this paper we introduce the GameCreator (see Figure 1), an Internet portal that enables consumers to create and download their own mobile java games on the Internet without any programming skills totally from scratch or by adjusting a preconfigured ready made top game. The GameCreator provides users with the opportunity to customize and develop game components via a graphical user interface, which requires no programming expertise. Every consumer gets its personal game according to its individual needs. Hence, not only playing but also the construction of characters and storylines even new game logics may be a rewarding experience. As shown in innovation research, even if consumers are motivated and know what they want, often, they are not capable to express their ideas and requirements for their individual product (e.g. von Hippel 1998). What is missing is a toolkit that allows consumers to transfer their knowledge into real products in an easy and fast way. According to von Hippel and Katz (2002), such a toolkit must allow user friendly operation, offer module libraries, provide "trial and error" functionality, and define a possible solution space. The introduced GameCreator concept adopted the toolkit approach in the field of mobile phone games. The basic principles and functionalities of toolkits were translated into a technical software concept that facilitates the creation of mobile games on the Internet. In line with the open source concept (e.g. Butler et al. 2002; Lerner and Tirole 2000; von Krogh 2003), but as an extending feature to the toolkit approach, the GameCreator is embedded in an own online community. Thus, contributions by innovative gamers can be stored in a library leading to a continuously growing pool of available components. Games and components can be passed on easily between users, facilitating the adoption of other users’ contributions as well as collaborative development between users, organized in clans. The community feature of the toolkit does not only provide the common toolset of online communities allowing for user-to-user communication, e.g. chats and bulletin boards, or text based contributions, e.g. recommendations, product evaluations and voting tools, but it also enables users to exchange and jointly develop actual product prototypes. The phenomenon that consumers are motivated to create and proud of their own products can be observed in several areas of youth culture. For example, teenagers customize their shoes or paint their bags. They modify their skateboards or bikes. In addition, computer games like "The Sims" are successful because they offer heavy customization tools and allow users to share their created components with others (Jeppesen and Molin 2003; Koivisto 2003; Prügl et al. 2004; Sicart 2003). In this paper we show that self-created mobile games add value to gamers through the creation experience it-self (e.g. fun of creation, build up and dive in a fantasy world, being in control, challenge), the game tailored to individual needs (personalization, being different, pride of authorship), and the interaction with other peer-group-members (e.g. recognition, publicity, game sharing , intensive collaboration and interaction). According to the flow concept (Csikszentmihalyi 2002; Csikszentmihalyi 1997; Ghani and Desphande 1994), a compelling experience may be neither too easy nor too difficult, but must exactly correspond to the skills of the participants. As the GameCreator addresses different user groups with different levels of skills and expectations, it is impossible to design one single toolkit that fits all. For one group it may be too complex - leading to confusion and frustration, while too easy for the other – leading to boredom and apathy. To satisfy the needs of the heterogeneous user structure, the GameCreator offers three different modes – easy, advanced, and master mode. The definition of these modes results from a first user test run at the Klagenfurt university, Austria. The easy mode is tailored to mobile-internet-crossover (M-I-X) users, which so far did not download mobile games. These users may occasionally play pre-configured games like snake, are open-minded towards new technologies, curious about new offerings and looking for entertainment. M-I-X users want their game within 5 clicks, and are not willing to spend time on learning how to navigate the GameCreator. Nevertheless, they are interested in customized games, using them as personal gift or message. The advanced mode addresses regular mobile gamers (e.g. approximately 15-19% of the 10 million teenagers in Germany(BWCS 2002).) They identify themselves with mobile gaming and possess the newest handhelds and games. For them, creating their own game means being different but at the same time belonging to a strong community. They derive fun from determining the game logic (e.g. shoot-’em-up, jump and run, or puzzle), choosing and designing different characters (e.g. race cars, heroes, villains or fantasy creatures, integrating a digital-photo of themselves or their friends), and adjusting the number of lives, difficulty and screens according to the individual gusto. These gamers are enabled to create their own games without any programming expertise. The master mode intends to attract real freaks. They possess java-programming skills and are interested in game design. For them, the GameCreator offers an easy-to-learn and easy-to-use scripting language, so freaks encounter challenging tasks and can demonstrate their know-how, without being a real java-expert. This by far smallest group of enthusiasts is able to contribute top games. Similar to open-source projects, such freaks have the possibility to become famous within their community, and receive recognition and admiration for their creations. In this paper we introduce the GameCreator concept, shed light on the motivational aspects of self-creation, and discuss the challenge of toolkit design for heterogeneous consumer groups. As first user-acceptance-tests confirmed the market appeal of self-created mobile games, we discuss some possible business models. Critical issues that might come up when running GameCreator are: how to deal with property rights, as well as with copyright and protection of minor for user generated games (Chung and Grimes 2005). Self-created games are very special and an expression of oneself, therefore, they will be sent and shown to friends and relatives, and may be used as personal gift, invitation, or personal message. Hence, an extended group of mobile phone users may become attracted to gaming. Maybe, a new genre of games - "Game Messaging" - will arise (cf. Smedstad et al. 2003). By the time of the conference we will be able to present the results of a large friendly-user test, providing more information about who will use the GameCreator platform and why. Proposed Track: Under Development References Butler, Brian, Lee Sproull, and Sara Kiesler (2002), "Community Effort in Online Groups: Who Does The Work and Why?," in Forthcomming in: Leadership at a Distance, S. Weisband and L. Atwater, Eds. Chung, Grace and Sara M. Grimes (2005), "Cool Hunting the Kids' Digital Playground: Datamining and the Privacy Debates in Children's Online Entertainment Sites," in Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, HICSS-38. Big Island, Hawaii: IEEE. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2002), Creativity: flow and the psychology of discovery and invention (1 ed.). New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1997), Finding flow: the psychology of engagement with everyday life (1 ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books. Ghani, Jawaid and Sathish Desphande (1994), "Task characteristics and the experience of optimal flow in human-computer interaction," Journal of Psychology, 128 (4), 381-91. Jeppesen, Lars Bo and Mans J. Molin (2003), "Consumers as Co-developers: Learning and Innovation Outside the Firm," Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 15 (3), 363-83. Koivisto, Elina M. I. (2003), "Supporting communities in massively mulitplayer online role-playing games by game deisgn," in Digital Games Research Conference, Marinka Copier and Joost Faessens (Eds.): Utrecht University. Lerner, Josh and Jean Tirole (2000), "The Simple Economics of Open Source," NBER Working Paper. Prügl, R., P. Harrer, and Nikolaus Franke (2004), "Die "Sims": eine Fallstudie zum gemeinsamen Einsatz von "Toolkits for User Innovation" und virtuellen Commnities," in Produktentwicklung mit virtuellen Communities, Kundenwünsche erfahren und Innovationen realisieren, C. Herstatt and J. Sander, Eds. Wiesbaden: Gabler. Sicart, Miguel (2003), "Family values: ideology, computer games & The Sims," in Digital Games Research Conference, Marinka Copier and Joost Faessens (Eds.): Utrecht University. Smedstad, Solveig, Lise Sunnana, Espen Aarseth, and Jane McGongal (2003), "A typology of mobile games," in Digital Games Research Conference, Marinka Copier and Joost Faessens (Eds.): Utrecht University. von Hippel, E. (1998), "Economics of product development by users: The impact of "sticky" local information," Management Science, 44 (5), 629-44. von Hippel, E. and Ralph Katz (2002), "Shifting Innovation to Users via Toolkits," Management Science, 48 (7), 821-33. von Krogh, Georg (2003), "Open-Source Software Development," MIT Sloan Management Review, Spring, 14-18.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Authentic Learning Experiences Through Play: Games, Simulations and the Construction of Knowledge

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-05-29
Abstract: 

Games and simulations have become the learning resource du jour in e-learning circles, suggested as the solution to a wide range of learning objectives. However, the results of previous endeavours in this arena have been mixed, causing many educators to approach games with some trepidation. Coupled with the overly-hyped and only marginally effective ‘edutainment’ market in the 1990s, many educators and trainers have been left with a sceptical view of what is popularly regarded as another attempt to merge learning and fun. Yet there is an important consideration that is often overlooked as we lump learning games and simulations into one general category of learning resource, though we may refer to them by a wide range of monikers. Games and simulations are only as effective as the pedagogical approach that is employed. Furthermore, their effectiveness must be measured against the learning objectives and methods selected vis a vis the needs of the resource’s learners. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Many learning games from both the ‘edutainment’ era and today offer only traditional didactic methods in disguise, a practice described by game designer and writer Brenda Laurel as serving ‘chocolate-covered broccoli’ (Laurel, 2001). In these cases, the content and teaching method are entirely unchanged from their non-game origins, so only the presentation style differs. Linear content is repurposed into an open-ended game context, a bit like shoving a square peg into a round hole. But this is not to say that these sorts of learning games have no place. They can often provide the motivation to learn in cases where the learners have no motivation to engage with the materials. Wrapping "boring" content in a trivia or shoot-em-up game format might make material that just needs to memorised a bit easier to "swallow". Repeated engagement with interactive drill-and-practice environments provides the repetition that may be needed for learners to memorise and retain the content. However to truly leverage the potential of games and simulations, one must look at what they do best, and at what they can do better than any other type of learning resource. In the past, we have tended to focus primarily on games’ ability to motivate and engage. While certainly an important component of the learning experience, to say that games simply motivate does them a tremendous disservice. So while part of the motivation may stem from novelty effects or competitive enjoyment, the best types of engagement stem from the learner’s enjoyment of a more effective learning experience, one that puts them in control and encourages active participation, exploration, reflection and the individual construction of meaning. It might be fun, or it might be the phenomenon that Seymour Papert refers to as ‘hard fun’ (Papert, 2002), enjoyment derived from a challenging but meaningful learning experience. This idea of a more effective learning experience is in no way new. Many theorists and educators have come to believe that we learn most readily from experience. From Dewey to Bruner, Rogers and beyond, great learning theorists have maintained that human beings learn from a process involving the personal construction of knowledge via the experience of ‘authentic’ situations that build on current or past knowledge. Over the decade, this perspective has been refined as constructivist learning. Interestingly, constructivist principles are particularly applicable to adult learners. Andragogical principles stipulate that adult learners learn best in environments where they control the learning experience and can understand its context, relevancy and applicability. Constructivist approaches appeal to the adult learner because they place the learner firmly at the centre of their experience and assume an active role in the construction of knowledge. Games and simulations can be incredibly effective when employed using constructivist principles. In this regard, they are especially good for: · Allowing learners to practise skills in a safe, private environment. · Offering a unique opportunity to engage learners who have may have struggled in traditional education/training environments, i.e. lower literacy or kinaesthetically-oriented students. · Allowing learners to access and repeat learning on their own terms and at their own pace, as many times as they need to. This is not a process of memorisation, however, so much as internalising systems, steps or processes. · Facilitating social learning by fostering ongoing collaboration and relationships between learners. · Providing for a customised environment that takes a learner's skills and context into account. · Supporting active participation through group play, reinforcing important practical skills like group communication, project management, conflict resolution, and group brainstorming. · Accessing the higher order skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy (evaluation, synthesis, analysis, application). · Practicing decision-making, leadership and other performance skills that are achieved through experience. · Shifting perspectives by allowing learners to experience situations from varying points-of-view. · Allowing learners to access experiences that are difficult or impossible in the real world. · Allowing formative assessment to be built-in to the experience, benefiting both learner and instructor. Drawing upon the ideas of Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger, Lev Vygotsky, Clark Aldrich, Marc Prensky, Roger Schank and others, this paper considers various learning theories and case studies that lend support to the idea that virtual environments can provide an authentic constructivist learning experience, when designed with that specific pedagogical approach in mind. The paper will also provide a framework and principles to assist designers in understanding whether the game or simulation they are creating for educational purposes meets its full potential by adhering to constructivist principles. Finally, a selection of educational games and simulations will be presented and evaluated according to their respective pedagogical approaches and demonstrated learning effectiveness. Keywords:, learning, interactive, interaction, games, simulations, collaboration, constructivist, construction, education, learning theory, training, knowledge. (note: also open to short paper or other format)

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Towards an Ontological Language for Game Analysis

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-05-30
Abstract: 

Game designers have called for a design language (Costikyan 1994; Church 1999; Kreimeier 2002; Kreimeier 2003), noting that designers currently lack a unified vocabulary for describing the design of existing games and thinking through the design of new games. Many of the proposed approaches focus on offering aid to the designer, either in the form of design patterns (Kreimeier 2002; Bjork et al. 2003), which name and describe design elements, or in the closely-related notion of design rules, which offer advice and guidelines for specific design situations. (Fabricatore et al. 2002; Falstein 2004) Other analyses draw methods and terminology from various humanistic disciplines. For example, games have been analyzed in terms of their use of space (Jenkins 2003), as semiotic sign systems (Kücklich 2003), as a narrative form (Murray 1997; Carlquist 2002), in terms of the temporal relationships between actions and events (Eskelinen 2001), or in terms of sets of features in a taxonomic space, using clusters in this space to identify genres. (Aarseth et al. 2003) Our approach is to develop a game ontology, identifying the important structural elements of games and relationships between these elements. Our use of the term ontology is borrowed from computer science, and refers to the identification and (oftentimes formal) description of entities within a domain. Our ontology hierarchically organizes structural elements. The top level consists of five elements: interface, rules, goals, entities, and entity manipulation (described in more detail below). Often, the elements derive from common game terminology (e.g. level and boss), which we refine by organizing them into more abstract concepts or by breaking them into finer, more precise concepts. An ontology is different than a game taxonomy in that, rather than organizing games by their elements, it is the elements themselves that are organized. Our work is distinct from design rule and design pattern approaches in that we don’t offer imperative advice to designers. We don’t intend to describe rules for creating good games, but rather to identify the abstract commonalities and differences in design elements across a wide range of concrete examples, clarifying common terms such as "level", "game world", etc. Our approach is distinct from genre analyses and from related attempts to answer the question "what is a game." Rather than developing definitions that allow us to distinguish between games/non-games or between different types of games, we’re focusing on an analysis of design elements that cut across a wide range of games. Our goal is not to classify games according to their characteristics and/or mechanics (Lundgren and Bjork 2003), but to describe the design space of games. Our ontology purposefully abstracts the representational details of games. Issues of setting (e.g. medieval castle, spaceship), genre (e.g. horror, sci-fi), and the leveraging of representations from other media (e.g. player’s knowledge of the Star Wars universe) are all bracketed by our analysis. Because our goal is to characterize the game design space, such bracketing is necessary in order to achieve broad coverage without having to abstractly characterize notions of setting and genre. Thus, we avoid the Sisyphean task of building an abstract model of the whole of human culture. A deep reading of any one particular game will, of course, require an analysis of its representational conventions, allusions and connotations. Our ontology would help position the more formal or structural elements of the game within the game design space, while other methods and techniques would be required to unpack representational issues. The top level of the ontology consists of five elements: interface, rules, goals, entities, and entity manipulation. The interface is where the player and game meet, the mapping between the embodied reactions of the player and the manipulation of game entities. It refers to both how the player interacts with the game and how the game communicates to the player. The rules of a game define and constrain what can or can’t be done in a game; they lay down the framework, or model, within which the game shall take place. Rules regulate the development of the game and determine the basic interactions that can take place within it. Goals are the objectives or conditions that define success in the game. Entities are the objects within the game that the player manages, modifies or interacts with at some level. This definition is broader than "game tokens" (Costikyan 1994) since it also includes objects that are not controlled by the player. Finally, entity manipulation encompasses the alteration of the game made either by the player or by in-game entities. Entity manipulation thus refers to the actions or verbs that can be performed by the player and by in-game entities. Each ontology entry consists of a title or name, a few paragraphs of text describing the element, a number of strong and weak examples of games that embody the element, a parent element, potentially one or more child elements, and potentially one or more part elements (elements related by the part-of relation). The examples describe how the element is concretely reified in specific games. Because many of the elements capture family-resemblance concepts (Wittgenstein 1963), we include both strong and weak examples; the weak examples describe border cases of games that partially reify the element. The parent/child relationship captures the notion of subtype (subset); child elements are more specific or specialized concepts than the parent element. Finally, the part-of relation captures the notion of compound elements that are constructed out of other elements (parts). In summary, we present an ontology in which we identify abstract elements that each capture a range of concrete designs. Our ontology allows for generalizations across this range of concrete design choices as embodied in specific games. For example, when thinking about the concept of a "level" in a game it is possible to recognize and describe the commonalities and differences that a "level" has with regards to a "bonus level", "boss level", "wave", "mission" or "world". We hope our ontology, which currently consists of more than 150 elements, will be used as a tool to inform and guide the analysis of games as well as provide a framework for the discussion and exploration of the design space of games. References Aarseth, E., S. Smedstad and L. Sunnanå (2003). A multi-dimensional typology of games. Level Up: Digital Games Research Conference 2003, Utrecht, The Netherlands. Bjork, S., S. Lundgren and J. Holopainen (2003). Game Design Patterns. Level-Up: Digital Games Research Conference, Utrecht, The Netherlands. Carlquist, J. (2002). "Playing the Story: Computer Games as a Narrative Genre." Human IT 6(3): 7-53. Church, D. (1999). Formal Abstract Design Tools. Game Developer. Costikyan, G. (1994). I have no words & I must design. Interactive Fantasy. Eskelinen, M. (2001). "Towards Computer Game Studies." Proceedings of SIGGRAPH 2001, Art Gallery, Art and Culture Papers: 83-87. Fabricatore, C., M. Nussbaum and R. Rosas (2002). "Playability in Action Videogames: A Qualitative Design Model." Human Computer Interaction 17(4): 311-368. Falstein, N. (2004). "The 400 Project." 2004(Oct 29).http://www.theinspiracy.com/400_project.htm Jenkins, H. (2003). Game Design as Narrative Architecture. First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game. N. Wardrip-Fruin and P. Harrigan. Cambridge MA, The MIT Press. Kreimeier, B. (2002). "The Case for Game Design Patterns." (Oct 29, 2004).http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20020313/kreimeier_01.htm Kreimeier, B. (2003). "Game Design Methods: A 2003 Survey." (Oct 29, 2004).http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20030303/kreimeier_01.shtml Kücklich, J. (2003). "Perspectives of Computer Game Philology." Games Studies: The International Journal fo Computer Games Research 3(1). Lundgren, S. and S. Bjork (2003). Describing Computer-Augmented Games in Terms of Interaction. Technologies for Interactive Digital Storytelling and Entertainment (TIDSE), Darmstadt, Germany. Murray, J. H. (1997). Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York, The Free Press. Salen, K. and E. Zimmerman (2004). Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Cambridge, Massachusetts, The MIT Press. Wittgenstein, L. (1963). Philosophical Investigations. New York, The Macmillan Company.

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Sex in Games: Representing and Desiring the Virtual

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-04-16
Abstract: 

No sooner is a visual medium invented than it is used for pornographic representation - videogames are no exception. This paper will chronicle the presence of pornographic imagery and depictions of sexual intercourse within videogames whilst attempting to examine the motivations for its inclusion and use. Unlike historical accounts of the stimulating effects of other art forms, such as mens’ arousal at the realism of Sansorino’s nude Venus, or Pliny’s account of a man’s infatuation with the sculpture of Aphrodite of Caridos, ‘graphic sex’ in videogames exist within a cyber-culture where a broad range of explicit and specialized pornographic materials are freely available on the world wide web. The existence of sex in videogames in a modern networked culture is therefore interpreted as an example of the increasing authenticity of digitally mediated experiences – or assemblages of the social and technological. It is argued that videogame aesthetics are contributing to a broader trend in the alteration of gender categories that allow for wider patterns of variation in erotic cultures. Although this paper will draw on representations that remain focused upon, and constructed around phallocentric fantasies and desires, it is the substance and nature of the object that fascinates as it shifts in significance and function. The paper chronicles how the articulation and presentation of sexual themes in videogames has altered with technological progress. This issue has relevance today with gamers’ now having the opportunity to experience interactive photo-realistic bodies performing sexual acts in videogames like Singles (Eidos) or Great Oyaji: The Acrobatics of Sex (Studio Kinky). Prior to videogames being rendered with increasing sophistication, sexual-conquest games like Leisure Suit Larry (Sierra Quest) and Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode (Vic Tokai) relied more on suggestion and humor, using sexual degradation and humiliation rather than physical representation. The inability to achieve photorealistic representation at the beginning of videogame history also produced ‘adult/erotic games’ that simply served as a conduit for presenting photographical pornographic material. Videogames designed for the Commodore 64 such as Cover Girl Strip Poker (Emotional Pictures), Curse of Ra (Trans X), Harry der Fensterputzer (Brilliant Software), Erotica (Cybertech) and Girltris (Reliance), use gameplay as a means of revealing static soft-porn imagery recycled from the sex industry itself. This technique has surprisingly survived the test of time in the 3-D adult-oriented virtual environment of Red Light World that simulates Amsterdam’s infamous district. A significant contribution to the increasing inclusion of adult themed content in videogames can be traced to the participatory cultures of gaming and the modding community who have pushed the demand for adult-oriented content with ‘nude patches’ for games like The Sims, extending its representational and experiential boundaries. By infiltrating gaming culture, the patch has contributed to the formation of new configurations of game characters, game spaces and game play (Schleiner, 1998). Nude patches used for Tomb Raider, Quake and Morrowind also illustrate gamers’ desire to de-robe virtual heroines and characters, raising the status of the act to something comparable to the tabloid exposure of celebrities. The validity of the ‘cyber-celebrity’ appears to be tied to increasing levels of digital and physical manipulation of the human body for presentation in male-culture publications, soft-core and hard-core pornography. ‘Fakers’ that superimpose celebrity heads on naked bodies, advertisers that use composites of several models and the general high levels of digital retouching in the media consistently erode the line between reality and artifice, contributing to the cyborgian nature of desires. Digital fabrication has contributed to the rise of, and infatuation with, virtual models (e.g. Webbie Tookey) and actresses (e.g. S1mOne) as well as game characters. In some of the cases, the interactive nature of the virtual often overshadows the real, as in the case of a patched Julie (Heavy Metal) who was originally based upon ‘Penthouse Pet’ Julie Strain and Lara Croft who has always existed as both virtual (Tomb Raider) and real forms (Natalie Cook, Rhona Mitra). Yet, it was the polygon pin-up version of Lara that made the front cover of Playboy Magazine and beat ‘real’ glamour models to top a poll for the woman men would most like to date (Game Stars Live)! With adult oriented games drawing heavily on the visual codes of pornography and sex industry economy (e.g. Playboy: The Mansion) the paper asks whether there is a cultural distinction to be made between sex in games and pornography in terms of cultural consumption? Is game sex aiming to elicit a physical response akin to pornography? Like advertising and propaganda, pornography is often characterized by a single intention to "move us in the direction of action" (Marcus, 1966) and gratification. Eidos the makers of Singles: flirt up your life, a reality simulation of single life that contains full-fontal nudity and sexual intercourse, argue that this is not the case: "I don’t really think someone is going to get the same feeling of attraction in seeing full frontal digital game character as they would from seeing that in an actor or actress". These comments fail to explain the rise in the number of games where game characters are not just presented as sexual objects, but are now sexually active and fully interactive. Playskins, a recent online anime noir role-playing game focused game-play around flirtation and foreplay with the object of achieving game-sex. However, games such as SomaVision and 3-D Slut Virtual Sex go even further as they are designed simply to fulfill a players’ desire to undress, fondle and have intercourse with 3-D rendered women. Thus, are ‘bodies without flesh’ achieving a representational or aesthetic status capable of evoking bodily intensities comparable to real-world encounters? Are 3-D pixel bodies able to directly hack into the central nervous system to actualize their virtual affects for erotic pleasure?

Document type: 
Conference presentation

Her Own Boss: Gender and the Pursuit of Incompetent Play

Author: 
Date created: 
2005-04-13
Abstract: 

This paper examines gender and computer game playing, in particular questions of identity, access and playful engagement with these technologies. Because computer-based media are not only central tools for learning and work, and because games are increasingly being recruited as educational and instructional genres, it is likewise exceedingly important, from an educational equity standpoint to examine the ways in which rapidly evolving computer game-based learning initiatives threaten to compound and intensify girls’ computer disadvantage, a cumulative dis-entitlement from computer-based educational and occupational opportunities. The video game industry, as so many have noted, is one of the largest entertainment industries in the world, last year (2003) making more money than the Hollywood film industry, $7 billion USD (http://theesa.com/pressroom.html). In the field of education, that video games have the capacity to capture and hold the attention of players of many different ages, and to "teach" new players the functions and controls of a new game with far greater alacrity, and to greater functional effect than schools teach comparably, and even far less complex, skills and knowledge, has not gone un-noticed. Working as we both do in faculties of education, our own studies of gender and computer game playing, examine questions of identity, access, and playful engagement with these technologies from the following premises: (1) As Henry Jenkins and others have argued for some time, far more boys than girls play computer/video games, and boys’ early and sustained exposure to and experience with gaming places them at an advantage with respect to computer competence and confidence when they enter and as they continue their schooling. (2) There is a tendency in the literature on girls/women and computer game playing to construct their gaming choices and play styles as distinctly, and essentially "female," characterizing those who choose to play as "liking collaboration," "non-violent" and "easy" computer games. Its worth noticing that the stranglehold these kinds of stereotypical and essentializing identifications and characterizations have had and continue to have on received wisdom, both popular and academic about gender and play interests, styles and preferences by no means originates with video game playing, but is indigenous to the culture of computing more generally, and that this gendered computer culture always already mediates girls’ interactions with those technologies, among which game playing is only the most recent subject of attention. Because computer-based media are now central tools for learning and work, and because games and simulations are increasingly being recruited as educational and instructional genres, it is likewise exceedingly important, from an educational equity standpoint to examine the ways in which rapidly evolving computer game-based learning initiatives threaten to compound and intensify girls’ computer disadvantage, a cumulative disentitlement from computer-based educational and occupational opportunities. In educational settings, the tendency has been to presume that technologies are "neutral" tools deployed by educators for ameliorative ends. Video and computer games, however, are far from neutral and we have seen little evidence of new educational gaming work being informed by attention to girls’ perspectives on gaming, their participation in and exclusion from game cultures, and an absence of theoretically adequate and empirically grounded studies of the kinds of games, characters, and overall approaches to ‘play’ that might better engage and involve girls. A case in point is Jim Gee’s recent book on learning in video games, in which he summarily dismisses "gender" from his own consideration of video games and learning. This dismissal is typically justified by reference to the recent proliferation of data from large-scale quantative research "studies" reporting that women are playing and buying at least as many computer and video games as men are, and in some cases, reporting that they play more often, not less. A recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, for instance reported that 57 percent of female U.S. teenagers play on line, while another study on college gaming finds that "Surprising, slightly more women than men reported playing computer and online games (approximately 60% women compared to 40% men), with about the same number of men and women playing video games". This study goes on to explain that, "Part of the reason more women than men play computer games may be that video games are generally focused on action and adventure (often violent in nature), while computer games are typically traditional games (e.g. solitaire, board games)." In both of these studies, and indeed in all of the studies we’ve examined thus far, statistics like these are used to dismiss the question of gender and computer game playing from the outset (it is no longer a "problem" since so many more women are indicating that they are playing). Once gender has been excised as statistically in-significant, there is typically no further gender-based dis-aggregation of data, even when it might seem that statistically relevant distinctions should be made with respect to game preferences and time on the game (c.f. http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/resources/research_documents/studi...), silencing in turn any follow-up research questions about whether and what women/girls are actually playing, and whether or how their engagement with game play is actually playful at all. In the initial empirical work that we will discuss in this paper, a study of girls and boys after-school video game playing clubs, we find no reason to believe, and in fact, many reasons to disbelieve the ways in which these large studies are reporting on game play, and good reasons for concern about what of significance is being actively obscured by them.

Document type: 
Conference presentation