BCM215 Game Media (Industries) Week One

Week one of a new subject in the Digital and Social Media major in the Bachelor of Communication and Media at the University of Wollongong.

SUBJECT DESCRIPTION:

This subject investigates the emergence of digital game cultures as a key element of the global creative economy. We analyse games from the perspectives of both players and industries, situating them within a continuum of human play activities and examining the trajectory of the commercial games industry from early forms of console gaming to contemporary forms, such as apps, eSports, board games and live streaming. In addition to covering topical issues such as violence in video games and game censorship, students will acquire practical skills in game media production by collaborating on a digital artefact specific to the game industries.

Playing Lotus (2016)

This post is the first autoethnographic account in a research project for a future article to be titled ‘Cardboard Asia’.

Background
The lotus flower is a common element in Asian themed games where it is used to denote orientalism and mysticism. The flower, while often used to represent Chinese themes, also has a long history as the ‘sacred lotus’ in the Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. The lotus is, therefore, a polyvalent symbol and generic orientalist signifier. The lotus is featured in the German Der weiße Lotus (2000) that depicted territorial control in the middle ages and Flower of the Lotus (1996), which was republished under the title China Moon (1998). The German-only language version of Lotus (1998) is an award winning piece-stacking racing game with some strategical elements, which featured a red snake-like dragon on a grid layout that somewhat resembled a flowering lotus plant, a very stereotypical representation of Chineseness.

Lotus (2016) by Jordan and Mandy Goddard (Renegade Game Studios)

Lotus (2016)
The most recent Lotus boardgame first signals its ‘asianness’ representationally with the box cover that depicts a digital watercolour painting of a woman in traditional straight collar purple cheongsam with coiled buttons and green and gold embroidery, who appears to be levitating a glowing lotus flower. On the cover, the title ‘Lotus’ has a calligraphy-styled font, and the game’s designers are simply listed as ‘Jordan & Mandy’, while the back of the box has images of the game’s components. The back of the box signals the game’s Chineseness with a single hànzì character appearing next to the component list, which Google translates suggests is ‘lotus’. The game is illustrated by Anita Osburn and Chris Ostrowski, and made in China, but Lotus is published by Renegade Games studies, which is listed as a Californian company, who also publish two other popular Asian themed games Lanterns: The Harvest Festival and Honshu.

First encounter
As with most ‘boxed’ board games, the first game involves several commons experiences including the removal of shrink wrap, the ‘popping’ of cardboard tiles from the factory punched card stock and the learning of the rules. Our first game was a four player experience, with Harriet, my ten-year-old daughter, my partner Lucy, and our friend Jodie, who began reading the rule book while I search for a ‘how-to-play video on YouTube. The first game we played was an introduction to the game’s aesthetic experience that I described as ‘beautiful meanness’. Playing the game involves placing the individual flower cards on the table and completing the flower ‘sets’ of the flowers placed by others by adding the right number of cards/petals. Each of the flowers – Iris (3 petals), Primrose (4 petals), Cherry Blossom (5 petals), Lily (6 petals) and the Lotus (7 petals) – is a typical Chinese flower type. The font on the Guardian cards and points coins replicate the calligraphy style of the box cover, but the cards lack other overt symbols of ‘Chineseness’.

Each player gets two insect tokens – Yellow (Butterfly), Red (Ladybug), Blue (Dragonfly) and Green (Caterpillar), which evokes the connections to Japanese games media where bug collecting (Pokemon and Yokai Watch) is considered an honourable and worthwhile pursuit. In Lotus, the insects are ‘Guardians’, and when placed on the flower cards, they count as that player’s territory. To take a flower, the player must complete it, but to get the bonus points or special power tokens, the player with the most Guardians wins. This helped to offset the ‘meanness’ I felt in completing the flowers that other player’s put down. By building up the flowers, we emotionally invest in them, and it can feel mean when other players complete your carefully assembled Lilly or ambitiously planned Lotus. The beautiful meanness of the game became even more profound to me during our second game. In the first game, my strategy of completing flowers rather than investing Guardian tokens into them meant I won with a huge lead and prompted an immediate second game where I became the one to beat. Instead of focussing on taking the flowers in the second game I invested in achieving all the special powers, which gave me fewer points but it felt like I was experiencing more of the game than simply winning.

Final thoughts
Lotus is a game designed in the United States and made in China. It is a global product, one that is clear in its Asianness but also offering a contemporary feel to the concept. Lotus has a degree of ‘ludonarratological dissonance’ in which the gorgeous aesthetic, underlying spiritual and botanical motifs, contrasts sharply to the competitive element of traditional ‘trick-taking’ in Western card games like Bridge or 500. Board games, in general, suffer from this problem, and in the future, I’ll put together a blog post on those that work to overcome it (I’m thinking specifically of Netrunner).

Lotus is a game designed in the United States and made in China. It is a global product, one that is clear in its Asianness but also offering a contemporary feel to the concept. Lotus has a degree of ‘ludonarratological dissonance’ in which the gorgeous aesthetic, underlying spiritual and botanical motifs, contrasts sharply to the competitive element of traditional ‘trick-taking’ in Western card games like Bridge or 500. Board games, in general, suffer from this problem, and in the future, I’ll put together a blog post on those that work to overcome it (I’m thinking specifically of Netrunner).

“…interaction design is the highest form of creative expression…”

Checkout this wonderful TED talk by Museum of Modern Art senior curator of architecture and design, Paola Antonelli.

Antonelli complicates the ‘video games are not art’ debate with a new collection of 14 video games at MoMA that celebrate ‘interaction design’ as the “highest form of creative expression”.

The appeal of the collection, according to Antonelli, is the distance and shock between art and design when on display in a gallery setting that enables visitors to appreciate the implications of video games and their contribution to the wider importance and meaning of design and celebrates these objects as having a crucial cultural value and roles within our everyday lives.

I’d love to play them all, at MoMA.

E-sports and gamer persona

At one point StarCraft 2 player ‘Idra’ held one of the most lucrative sponsorship contracts in E-sports and a notoriety for trash talking and disdain for other players. His dismissal from the competitive SC2 team ‘Evil Geniuses’ sends an important message to high profile players about attention to their public persona, acceptable competitive behaviour and the messages they communicate to fan communities.

Serres, time travel and the Gothic in science fiction

Three new postgraduate students to co-supervise this year. The first I’ve caught up with so far is a Creative Arts students writing a science fiction novel. The exegesis for the thesis will focus on the Gothic in science fiction and to kick the process off, we will be working on an analysis of the Gothic in the Mass Effect series. The aim is to prepare an article for a games studies or the science fiction studies journal, and to contribute to the formation of an emerging research group on technology and science fiction studies at Deakin. In doing some fresh research I came across a great article by Laura Salisbury on Michel Serres, time travel and gothic SF. It’s a cracking read and coincides with the material I’m working on using Serres concept of quasi-objects to analyse the use of screenshots in participatory gamer cultures (to adopt Joost Raessen’s term).