screenshots as digital tools and media objects

Now that I’ve had a chance to properly experiment with the open source social network overview and exploration tool, NodeXL, I’m finally finding some traction. I’d  tinkered with the plugin in the past and more recently managed to spend some time acquitting myself with a little graph theory and social network analysis methodology. Together with an updated version of the software and the Hansen, Schneiderman, and Smith’s (2011) Analyzing Social Modeia Networks with NodeXL, I was ready to explore the use of screenshots in social media.

The approach in my postdoctoral study of ‘indie’ and independent cultures of games production in Australia has, until now, featured a purely ethnographic methodology; interviews, participation, observations and combinations of the three. It was quickly made obvious by the research participants, however, that one of the long term effects of the global financial crisis on the games industry is the intensification of the role of social media in games development at three distinct levels: as means for communicating with a diverse audience populations (an evolution of the more traditional marketing/broadcast model modified for social media); as tools for facilitating actual game development remotely (using Skype, Google Docs, Facebook,Twitter, etc); and as processes and practices for the knitting together of a global games community of developers, artists, players, etc that spans the mainstream, that provides indie and independent with a powerful (but not equal) means for gaining attention to their games. It is this last feature of social media technologies and their uses that contributes to changing conversation about play and games, and has even produced a few global celebrities, like Minecraft developer Notch.

The well established ties to the global console ports, movie tie-ins, mobile- and web-based games markets were already jeopardised prior to the GFC with the rising Australian dollar which made local development more costly. A series of major studio closures from 2010 meant the turn to the iOS and Android platforms for Australian developers was inevitable. In part as a reaction to the convergence of web and mobile markets through smartphone and tablet devices and also in part a reaction to the new digital and social tools available to developers. The new generation of young graduates from specialised games development courses have emerged to start competing with much more established studios and major IOS Australia studio success like Halfbrick and the Voxel Agents.

Although it’s only speculation at this point there are signs that the rise of the indie developer and the growth of the small independent studio developers means an overdue shift in the industry’s entrenched problem of diversification, with women being underrepresented in the Australian industry. One of the data sets I intend to look as part of this research is the recent use of Twitter hastag #1reasonwhy that has been increasing attention to the conditions women face working in the industry (if they can get hired in the first place). It is clear through observing the highly profitable and expanding market in games paratexts (including websites and merchandise, YouTube channels, blogs and podcasts) that we already seeing a significant change with many more women’s opinions, perspective and thoughts on games and games culture being seen and heard, and not just from so-called ‘gamer girls’ or Booth Babes at the latest convention.

As social media takes hold at all levels of games culture the digital literacies involved for the humanities researcher attempting to understand these changes takes on higher stakes at the level of cultural production of media objects, such as screenshots. Learning to use NodeXL means having to correct a number of deficiencies in my repertoire, including a lack of knowledge and expertise in using Excel, and coming to terms with the discourses and terminology of social network analysis and graph theory. By no means have I achieved an expert status, but I feel confident graduating from padawan, especially as I begin to dig into the analysis of the use of screenshots in social media. This research intersects with a personal hobby and helps me expand on the analysis of the digital objects (like virtual hats and game screenshots) that are used as a means for building a mediated online persona. By persona I don’t mean avatars or individual profiles, but a collective and identifiable online presence, one that is often text based – blogs, profiles,Steam and Xbox Live – with important visual components and aesthetics captured on PCs, mobile phones, laptops and tablets and shared via sites like Flickr and Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and YouTube.

I’ve put together a Flickr set for the purpose of demonstrating NodeXL here and will be updating the blog with results and discussion as I progress further.  Below is a graph of my core Flickr user network, grouped by relevant cluster, you can see my two accounts Crypticommonicon (for game screenshots) and Moorenet (the family photo album) and you can see the links to close friends and family in the boxes on the left then move across to contacts I have added to my follow list but who have not added me in return.

NodeXL Flickr User Network Map
This graph represents connections (contacts and comments) in my Flickr user network, as plotted by NodeXL, using the Harel-Koren Fast Multiscale algorithm. The layout is arranged with the group by cluster function according to the Girvan-Newman clustering algorithm. Duplicate edges are merged,  Edge Width and Visibility are mapped to Edge Weight. NodeXL Version 1.0.1.229

fictions of science and narratives of technology in SF games

Much of my primary research is concerned with the many and varied creative cultures of production in the games industry, but I am also a long time science fiction fan and have recently begun to consider an intersection between Doctor Who and another research interest; the obsolescence of technology and the environmental and social impact of electronic waste, particularly from games. This presentation was delivered as a short paper to the first gathering of an emerging research group on Science Fiction at Deakin University, at the Waterfront Campus City Centre, on Wednesday, November 5.

The initial plan was to examine three ‘fictions’ of science across the three major games media platforms the PC, consoles and mobile devices. Ultimately the ten minute window for the presentation prohibited the ambitious scope and even as I was writing I saw the distinction between PC and consoles almost vanish completely now as Steam, XBOX Live and the Apple Game Store mean the digital distribution model and the movement between devices of the same operating system is increasingly practical, transferring across desktop, portable and mobile devices.

[The link to the ‘prezi’ presentation slides is here: ‘The Fictions of Science and Narratives of Technology in mobile, console and PC games on Prezi‘. I hope to re-record the audio for the presentation and combine the two via YouTube soon as the recording on the day didn’t come out very well.]

The earliest digital games were science fiction games for a number of suitably obvious reasons connected to the military industrial complex and the still male dominated environment of software and hardware engineering in the private and higher education sectors. Right at its origins one of the very first computer games neatly encapsulates the doubled ontology of the entire multi-subgenre spanning range of the science fiction game category.

Spacewar! created by Steve Russell and others on the PDP1 at MIT in 1962 is a game that strictly adheres to an internally consistent and purely scientific world order. The game’s code simulates gravity and involves player decision making through cybernetic interaction with logically predictable outcomes. The content of the game play is contextually framed in a world of rockets and interstellar flight, the battles of Spacewar! are not unlike the relativistic light speed navel ballet of Peter F Hamilton’s space opera and  scientifically literate and imaginative Nights Dawntrilogy.

Spacewar--the world's first computer video game.
[image by richardzx]

What is immediately noticeable about Spacewar! is the ‘science’ of the game, as the two players must navigate around the gravity pull of a star through trial and error, observation and testing, navigating and understanding the world from the perspective of curved gravity and momentum. Also immediately apparent to the player is the choice between the two ships, known as the ‘needle’ and the ‘wedge’. The controls and weapons are similar, but the look and feel are not exactly the same. Affect and difference are encoded directly into the ‘game world’ for the player to experience through the software, the code’s iterative universe.

Simultaneously the body of the player is engaged through the cybernetic interaction of the physical human machine interface, and further the player is involved in the symbolic action of play and negotiation of the representative capacities of visual and audial information, right from the very start of the video game format.

These three categories of Code, Cybernetics and Symbolism are just three of the ‘fictions of science’ in science fiction (and non-overtly SF) games, but they conveniently overlap the three orders of science fiction simulacra populated by Jean Baudrillard (1991) in his ‘Two Essays: Simulacra and Science Fiction’, the natural, the productive and the simulation. Baudrillard schema was new to me, but I found real measure in the notion that in terms of science fiction texts the ‘ordering’ structure is typically a statement about the relationship between concepts of the real and the imaginary and is governed by the principle logic of distance. The orders of simulacra immediately seemed to correspond with the three categories I’d arrived at. Like Baudrillard, I don’t consider these definitive, but illustrative of a domain of experience that is unique to the science fiction game.

The Natural Order

365:162 I found utopia (and it is a food store?)

[image by pennacook]

In the natural order, Baudrillard regards science fiction as a realm of the pure imaginary, at its most complete distance to a known ‘reality’. The natural order is a harmonious balance, the cycles of life and death and the ordering laws of the universe; the harmonics of the light spectrum in science fiction of this order are, for example, consistent with a quantifiable known existence. The natural order of simulacra is most famously represented in Sir Thomas More’s Utopia and Ursula Le Guin’s novella, The Word for World is Forest. This order of simulacra situates Utopia and the ‘natural’ are more unending if not unchanging in its cyclical patterns of nature. This order neatly maps over the structuring effects of software code, especially in computer games which are orchestral systems of feedback, databases, algorithms, inputs and pixels, and however ‘messy’ and labyrinthine the code layer becomes once in operation it is the wheels of game universe turning.

The primary order is operatic, theatrical and maintains the gothic fantasy of almost arcane high machinery, like the Steam Punk sub-genre and the “grand Opera” of technology (Baudrillard, 1991) in the ‘Gaslamp’ fantasy of web comic serial, Girl Genius (2006). Games like Tetris and WipeOut embody the Utopian principles of order and balance, the system requires the human player to assist in its operation, an endless search for completion.

Games like Audiosurf use their code to translate one material world, music, to that of another, the game world; players must integrate listening as much as viewing as they steer their spaceship across a lightbridge whose spatial dimensions are encoded by the frequencies of the their music collection and their familiarity with their musical selection guides their ability to steering effectively along the courseway to gain points. Audiosurf is the encoding of the harmonic capacities of music into the material dimensions of the game world. The software ‘playing’ itself is not a game. Tetris may be the literally encoding of the Sisyphean punishment, but its emergent narrative for is the player is therefore near operatic in scale, acting almost at the subconscious level. The game’s content is abstract, but it’s narrative is what happens when the player plays.

The Productive Order

Modern plantation

[image by t_a_i_s]

Baudrillard’s framing for the second order of simulacra is the productive, it is through the productive that the dominant structures of energies, forces, politics and actions are  Promethean obsession, modernist drive, mechanical fetishism, expansionist logic and the extreme ends of the mutated desires of capital. The productive order is the centre ground for much science fiction and can be considered an intersection of the distance between both the real and the imaginary.

The productive or projective order, as described by Baudrillard, arises from the capricious indistinction of distance between the real and the imaginary, occurring from its proximity to the third order of simulation. It is the immaterial that is altered in this encounter, given structure and purpose through the processes of the productive order, but the second order is similarly infected with the exponential gearing of the non-material modes of production. The computer is key and illustrative of this doubling:

“One can, for example, clearly discern the difference between machine robot-mechanics (characteristic of the second order) and cybernetic machines like computers which derive axiomatically from the third. But one order can easily contaminate the other, and the computer can very well function like a supermachine, a super-robot, a mechanical superpower: exhibiting the productive genius of the simulacra of the second order, not following the processes of pure simulation, and still bearing witness of the reflexes of a finalised universe…including ambivalence and revolt, like Hal in 2001.” (Baudrillard, 1991.)

The second order’s operative production of energy and mechanistic organisation of power according to industrialised logic on a grand scale is iterative within a great deal of science fiction games, especially science fiction themes in First Person, Role Playing and other game genres. It can be observed clearly in the Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre with the classic SF text reborn as Dune 2 in 1992 and the decade long obsession in Korean with StarCraft, and the global hit Starcraft 2, which model the productive order of simulacra.

The projective framework of the RTS genre operates symbolically, encapsulating the second order of simulacra, in the mechanic production and micromanagement of mechanised troops, itself a simulation of the toy soldier simulacra (entering the third order in the networked era with online play) across space battlefields and alien environments in endless mimicry of imperial expansionism for territory and heroism.

The Simulation Order

Some kind of cybernetic warrior in Trona!  O_O

[image by nasw.rm]

The third order of simulacra for Baudrillard is an informational model, the simulacra of networked and cybernetic play, it’s hyperreality is always in a state flux and is as imprecise as it is chaotic. Simulation, like cybernetic interfaces, are operational, existing indeterminantly and  with a capacity for “meta-technologicality” to mangle Baudrillard’s (1991) concept. Simulation possess a textuality which corresponds with all kinds of interfaces, narratives, concepts, states of memory and imaginative worlds that are produced today within the overlapping conventions of the SF genre and computational networks. The distance between real from imaginary is at its maximum with the utopian claim to a natural order and at its most logically compatible but subjectively indeterminate in the information model. Games in the information model include the dystopian Ayn Rand dystopia of the 2K’s Bioshock and EVE online

EVE Online is a galactic space opera, a massive multiplayer online role playing space simulation that straddles the second and third orders of simulacra and is a perfect ‘ant colony’ example of Pierre Levy’s culture of collective intelligence in operation. Eve is a perfect vision of real time network cybernetics of the third order: there is no scripted and governing narrative to the game, the players play the role of a spaceship captains flying spaceships from small scout to mammoth capital ships, forming factions called corporations with other players, mining, bounty hunting, pirating and privateering. The productive order infects the virtual as players looking to discover their fate amass a fortune of virtual (but real) currency and players invest hundreds and thousands of hours of play, driving the emergent narrative of the persistent world through their actions. The played can customise their skills and specialities of their characters, ships and allegiances across a galaxy consisting of more than 7,500 individual star systems connected by stellar sized stargates.

Eve Online was released in North America and Europe in May 2003, ahead of the other MMORPG giant (and despite its heavy fantasy elements is a science fiction text) World of Warcraft. The many moons, asteroids, planets, space stations and deep space features like wormholes, occupy a persistent popular of 400,000 active subscribers. Hundreds of players simultaneously coordinate their various factions in colossal  fleet battles, multiple corporations align momentarily in a delicate dance of space naval warfare, each player occupying a specialist role on the battlefield from frigates and incredible massive capital and battleships, to long range and short range ships, medics and shock attack, scout and sniper. Eve’s connection to the productive  is unique in the MMORPG genre with its ‘real-time’ character advancement system  in which characters develop or ‘train’ and advance their game skills according to a 24 hour clock cycle forever anchoring the incredible expansive virtualised simulation of a galaxy and its inhabitants in the labor cycles and planetary rotational spin of Earth.

Common to all these games is another fiction of science: the narrative of technology that, for the player, promises empowerment and agency through research, innovation and scientific progress, but in most cases even within first order game worlds, it is an illusion, and worse an enslavement. Power, through scientific advancements; ‘power-ups’ are a common feature of FPS games, paths of progress for more efficient troops are standard RPS features, and common to all RPGs is the advancement of player skills of intellect, knowledge, as well as strength and dexterity. The player is at their most free at the start of any game, they can make the decision to follow the narrative but use cheats, to record machinima, to complete every mission, destroy every adversary and accomplish every achievement. As the player invest time and emotion in their characters, factions and stories their options become narrowed, by investing in particular ‘classes’, skillsets, weapons, contacts, and game information they are limiting their option, reducing their own agency. This is why the character creation screen on role playing games like Oblivion and Fallout can take hours, in public online worlds investment in the character’s look and feel extends throughout the game, some players even sacrificing power for the ‘look’ of their in game operatives.

In, Imaginary Games, Chris Bateman (2011, p.30) considers SF as a marginal experience coded through the discourses of symbolic materialism, but marginality can also be found in the first order of simulacra at the code level of the game. The first and second orders of simulacra occur at the code (especially in the production of the game) and at the content layer aligning and tuning the science fiction themes of the games content to a unique range and set of symbolic expressions of what it is to be marginalised, while the third order of simulacra arises from the network connections and broader meta-game textual elements of what Jenkins calls transmedia fiction.

Borderlands 2

Welcome to the Borderlands

It was the 2K published Borderlands that successfully serialised the narrative FPS game, by combining the ‘loot’ and fixed-path role playing elements of games like Diablo and the team-play focus of Left4Dead series, with a model of downloadable content (DLC), within a post apocalyptic Western frontier style science fiction.  The Borderlands world of Pandora, is Mad Max in  Wonderland, and like Matrix everything is at once familiar and different, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz you are thrust into the role of an adventurer, a killer, know in the Borderlands folklore as a Vault hunter.

Richard Adams (2006) says of Frank Herbet’s novel: “The world of Dune throws the alien into relief against a background of familiarity and therefore makes Otherness all the more striking.” In Dune, Herbet was constructing an elaborate simulacra of concerns about the ecologies of religious fanaticism and environmentalism, and of course the idea that superheroes were disastrous for humans. “… In societies such as ours,’ suggests Adams ‘where Otherness is often demonised, Science Fiction can pierce the constraints of ideology by circumventing the conventions of traditional fiction.” Borderlands, like Dune, is very much in the second order of simulacra, equipped with what Adams calls a ‘retro-vision’ that offers as a symbolic referent point to contain ourselves within; for example the elements of Dam Busters in Star Wars the original film to Dam Busters (Adams, 2006, p.34), the re-writing of Lawrence of Arabia in Dune and the Western reinterpreted in Star Trek, and in a typical post modern turn, remodelled again in like Firefly, and again in Borderlands.

The game is at its most vibrant when in multiplayer mode, with up to four team members, the game increases its difficulty and dynamics. Action is brutal and sporadic , numbers fly out of the attacking robots, aliens, monsters, mutants and freaks as the code layer is symbolised in a intricate dance between dealing damage and receiving it. Otherness is encoded everywhere in borderlands, it is the carnivale written large across a planet of immense danger and reward. Alterity and otherness, like the damage code, are symbolically realised as with Dune in concerns of the environment, religion, sexuality and heroism.

Conclusion

To discuss ‘science fiction’ games is somewhat incongruous, as all digital games are virtualised according to one or more of the order of simulacra of science fiction. The science of games (used in game theory) appeals to the ‘natural’ order of code, but is compelled by the productive order and slaved to symbolic logic and consistency as a recognisable text, but it is in the play of networks and the creativity and investment of individuals in communities of practice and cultures of production that new kinds of science fictions texts may be produced (see Antichamber).

Darko Suvin (1979) defined Science Fiction as the establishment of a narrative hegemony of a fictional ‘novum’ validated by its own internal cognitive logic. The novum contains within it a symbolic function to inform us to the changed nature of reality, reforming the distance and relationship between the real and imaginary. The novum of science fiction in Borderlands is an attempt at confronting the intertwining of science fiction with scientific advancement, military superiority and corporate structures of dominance and control, and of course a clear subversion of male and female heteronormativity, through hyperreality, pastiche and parody, humour and comedic violence. Although the visual aesthetic of the game may appear to be caricature, it is through such extensions and ridicule of such simulacra that the limits of the science fiction and first person shooter genres are revitalised, if not quite transcended, with meaningful engagement and comprehension of the marginality of otherness.

References

Adams, R. (2006) Science Fiction, New York: Routledge.

Bateman, C. (2011) Imaginary Games, Zero Books.

Baudrillard, J. (1991) ‘Two Essays, Simulacra and Science Fiction’, Science Fiction Studies, vol 18, no. 55.

Suvin, D 1979 Metamorphoses of Science Fiction,  Yale University Press.

Screenshots and the digital humanities

The deadline extension for the first Australasian Association for Digital Humanities meant I had time to work on a collaborative panel pitch and get my own abstract together at the last minute. I thought I might post the abstract here as I’m keen to follow up on the ideas regardless of the submission outcome for the conference in Canberra next March.

The screenshot as virtual photography, digital tool and media object

The ‘screenshot’ is a form of virtual photography, a digital image capturing a computer’s visual display in a singular instance of its operation. The ability to record the mobile or desktop screen, where the display acts as both frame and lens for the video or static rendering, has become an important component of online communication. A simple tool with an almost ubiquitous presence as a media object on the web, the screenshot is a convergence of hardware and software technologies; a digital media object produced via an arrangements of human and machine operations, graphical standards, hardware permissions, software rights, and digital formats.

Screenshot images serve multiple purposes, including documentary evidence and archival or instructional material , but it is the virtual tourist’ ‘snapshot’ of online game worlds and the recording of in-game events that has popularised the screenshot as a remediated form of photography. Websites, like Flickr and Imgur, are host to millions of images generated by gamers communicating their experiences and producing their online identities through the visual medium of the image. From the digital vistas of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games to the frantic action shots of First Person Shooter (FPS) games, game screenshots function as crucial components in the production and management of the online gamer ‘persona’.

This paper considers two dimensions of virtual photography, examining the screenshot, first as a digital research tool and second as a media object, as they are positioned within the broader methodological and interdisciplinary scope of the Digital Humanities. It draws attention to the screenshot as a tool for the dissemination of information and a means for collecting, curating and analysing digital visual images produced from screens. Further, it explores how the screenshot is enmeshed in other valuable research tools. To exemplify this regard, the second aim of the paper is to present a case study analysis of the construction of an online gamer ‘persona’ via screenshots. Examining this use of screenshots, as they move across multiple social media platforms, the paper maps the image based practices and networks managed by the gamer in the production of their online identity.

November issue of Convergence

Very happy to be a part of the awesome November special edition of Convergence (the International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies). Saw the announcement from Jason_a_w this morning (shame it is behind the the usual academic journal paywall):

” The edition was edited by Chris Chesher (UNSW), Larissa Hjorth (RMIT), Ingrid Richardson (Murdoch) and Jason Wilson (Canberra). Lots of Australian media, communications, cultural studies and new media academics published in here, as well.

Contents

Jason Wilson, Chris Chesher, Larissa Hjorth, and Ingrid Richardson –
Distractedly engaged: Mobile gaming and convergent mobile media

Larissa Hjorth – Mobile game cultures: The place of urban mobile gaming

Christopher Moore – The magic circle and the mobility of play

Christian McCrea – We play in public: The nature and context of
portable gaming systems

Alison Gazzard – Location, location, location: Collecting space and
place in mobile media

Ingrid Richardson – The hybrid ontology of mobile gaming

Celia Lam – Portable media affected spectatorship

Jason Wilson – Playing with politics: Political fans and Twitter
faking in post-broadcast democracy

Digital Humanities

I have been watching some of the HUMlab seminars and reading about the Digital Humanities and the work of Dr Patrik Svensson. From what I have read so far, Dr Svensson (2010) contributes to the conceptual mapping of the Digital Humanities (especially the shift of the Computing Humanities). He recognises Professor McPherson’s (2008,) typology of the Digital Humanities where the Computing Humanities (and its focus on building tools, infrastructure, standards and collections) is separated from the Blogging Humanities who – it is said – are more concerned with the production of networked media and peer-to-peer writing. McPherson (2008) also outlines a third a sphere of digital humanities, a multimodal domain for scholarly  tools, databases, networked writing and peer-to-peer commentary, while also leveraging the potential of the visual and aural media arts that are part of contemporary life.

Presner et al (2010) dates the first wave of Digital Humanities between the 1990s until the mid 2000s, noting a focus on the quantitative, automating, digitizing, and projects of infrastructure. The second wave expanded the field with a qualitative focus that involved critical and interpretive interaction in digital contexts to produce  new convergent fields, as well as hybrid methodologies of old and new models of analysis, curation, research and publication. Berry (2011) suggests a third wave of digital humanities, concentrated around the underlying computationality of the forms held within a computational medium, such as Software Studies and Ian Bogost’s Platforms Studies. The study I want to present at HUMlab, (I hope) will follow in these lines. The culture of players, of gamers, is well established, as is the academic field of games studies, but the analysis of the culture of video game production is less well attended. Bogost’s Platform Studies draws attention to the role of hardware alongside that of software, in the history of video games, but the network is not complete without the actors with access to the means of production, the programmers, developers, engineers. I’m not so interested in the political economy of the industry, or at least that isn’t my primary interest but a necessary part of the picture.

What I am interested in is the cultures of production, and what those who make video games think about their work, and how that translates in the use of social media. Berry (2011) considers the way digital technologies are already part of everyday research practices, influencing and being shaped by that use. Students access to mobile and highly convergent technologies, that have changed the nature of study, attending university and doing their own research. Similarly, in the culture of video game production at a very local level, digital games technologies are transformed by the use of social media, from Facebook, to Skype,  Forums, Twitter, even Wikipedia, Podcasts, etc. Hardware also had its role in the reshaping of the industry, especially with the success of the iPhone and iPad as mobile games devices. Understanding the intersections of play and production, means better understanding the relationships between those involved in the production of the digital and physical objects of games and the conditions of their play.

 

Berry, David, 2011. ‘The Computational Turn: Thinking about the Digital Humanities’, Culture Machine, Vol 12.

McPherson, Tara 2008. ‘Dynamic Vernaculars: Emergent Digital Forms in Contemporary Scholarship’,  Lecture presented to HUMLab Seminar, Umeå University, 4 March 2008. http://stream.humlab.umu.se/index.php?streamName=dynamicVernaculars.

Svenson, Patrik,  2010. ‘The Landscape of Digital Humanities’, Digital humanities quarterly, Summer, vol. 4, no. 1. http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/4/1/000080/000080.html

Presner, Todd, et al. 2010. “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0”. UCLA Mellon Seminar in Digital Humanities. http://www.humanitiesblast.com/manifesto/Manifesto_V2.pdf.

Presner, Todd, 2010. Digital Humanities 2.0: A Report on Knowledge.  Connexions, June  8, 2010. http://cnx.org/content/m34246/1.6/

Sweden is real

Sweden is suddenly very real and I’ve been invited to give a seminar at the HUMlab at Umeå University on the 28th of September, following the two day Social Media Cultures Workshop.

‘Indie’ and Independent Games and Culture in the Australian Video Game Industry
The global financial crisis has brought the Australian video games industry to the end of an era. The survivors emerging from the independent sectors are now competing directly with the older studio system whose ongoing survival is reliant on an industrial work-for-hire production and distribution model. New independent studios, partnerships, and collectives have responded to the opportunities of online and mobile games, and their successes have reaffirmed the relationship between the cultural production of games in Australia and their globalized mainstream audiences. This seminar examines these changes and considers their effect on the synonymous relationship between the terms, ‘indie’ and independent. It argues that if ‘indie’ culture is to maintain its ideological relevance and critical creativity it must be active in the overlapping spheres of operation between itself, the independents and ‘big gaming’ culture in order to better address issues of identity, gender, sexuality and intellectual property in the content and context of making games.

Deciding on the pitch for the abstract was difficult. I could be talking about machinima, affect, mobile play and first person shooter games. I am going to be talking about persona and social media, but as I am hoping to conduct research interviews while in Sweden to find out more about the industry there, I felt I ought to tell people about the industry and the culture of making games in Australia.

Ever since #Freeplay11, I have been preoccupied with the tension in the usually synonymous treatment of the terms “indie” and independent. The post GFC changes to the local games industry serves as a microcosm for the larger global patterns, and the independent games festival functioned as a lense for the study of the actors of the small but significant network of games Australian development.

The biggest thing to come out of the independent games festival publicly was the explosion of blog commentary, twittering and blog activity following the unexpected tension over gender issues that bubbled over in the panel – the words we use

The issue of gender is central, but also take note of the diferent media spheres the discussion has crossed, from the live conference panel, to twitter, facebook, podcasts, blogs.

Ben Abraham   at  Gamasutra

BRKeogh

Searing Scarlet here and here

Topy Twitter coverage of the festival

The blog coverage represents what is left of the overlap between indie and indepdendent. Can we call academics independent, or journalists and critics unbiased, similarly is it possible to make games outside the dominant systems for their production?

I was already aware of the great disparity between the number of men and women working in the industry: only one in the 15 respondents so far have been female and only two considered the lack of women working in the industry to be a problem. Instead, at Freeplay11 I saw the resistance, a challenge that I understood to represent the qualities of ‘indie’ culture.

The ‘indie’ position, is one from which to criticise dominant operations of the mainstream, it is an oppositional culture. Indie cinema, says Newman (2009, 20) shares a common principle with other kinds of ‘indie’ culture, in that the attempt to appeal to a mass audience on its own terms entails an unacceptable compromise.  I don’t think that is necessarily true or possibly in game design.

In the seminar I will be asking if the success of independent studios post GFC, in Australia is an environment capable of sustaining the oppositional perspectives and frameworks from outside the mainstream, particular on issues of gender, race, sexuality and age that are central to the operations of indie cultures in other entertainment mediums. I intend to  map out where I think the independent and the indie have spilt, and how that split has a lot to do with social media, and the importance of the digital persona in games culture and developer culture.

Newman, M. 2009. Indie Culture: In Pursuit of te Authentic Autonomous Alternative. Cinema Journal, vol. 48, no. 3., 16-34.

Edit: Apologies to  SearingScarlet for posting the wrong link to her blog.

#Freeplay11

Freeplay, the independent games festival at the State Library of Victoria over the weekend was excellent. The conference presentations and panels were lively and informative, the workshops were varied and interesting and the Twitter coverage was on fire and on the giant twitter wall in the Experimedia section of the festival which also housed the the awesome Winnitron AU indie arcade cabinet and a range of hands-on examples of games in development by local and indie talent. The event couldn’t have come at a better time and it helped me get a closer look at the relationship between ‘indie’ and ‘independent’ in the local games industry, and the wider operation of an Australian game culture that is not centered purely in the act of playing or producing , but an intersection of the two.

GAME conference

October 27-29 2011 at Macquarie University, Sydney*

A collaboration between Macquarie University’s Interactive Media Institute
and the Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre, *GAME* is a public debate,
mini-conference and gaming festival celebrating this exciting new area of
research and collaboration at Macquarie University. The event will be hosted
at Macquarie University, Sydney, from October 27-29th, 2011.

*Keynote Speakers***

Keynote speakers and internationally-esteemed game studies scholars Associate
Professor Ian Bogost (Georgia Institute of Technology) and Professor Espen
Aarseth (Centre for Computer Games Research, IT University of
Copenhagen) will be joined by leading Australian gaming and media academics.
Representatives from government, gaming and social policy groups will also
present.

*Schedule of Events***

*27th October***

*The Politics of Play – Public Debate***

Videogames have been a political issue since they first went on sale in the
1970s and continue to elicit intense debate today. Recently, the violent and
sexual content of games has been a topic of legal debate both in the United
States and Australia. Both countries have effectively confirmed the status
of videogames as art forms deserving of the same recognition and regulation
that other forms of media enjoy or endure. This public roundtable will draw
out the contentious and complex issues surrounding the content,
classification and effect of gaming on our society.

Speakers at this roundtable include: Paul Hunt (former OFLC member),
Associate Professor Jeffery Brand (Bond University), and Dr. John Martino
(Victoria University) with more speakers to be confirmed. The debate is free
and open to all members of the public.

*28th October***

*Theorycraft – Conference Presentations***

The academic study of videogames is a relatively recent endeavour. With
origins in arts and humanities, computer science and social science, the
inter-disciplinary nature of gaming has led to famous cross-departmental
debates. More recently, diverse and collaborative approaches to videogames
as texts, technologies, game systems and social practices have emerged.
Theorycraft is a one-day conference featuring keynotes by Associate
Professor Ian Bogost (Georgia Institute of Technology) and Professor Espen
Aarseth (Centre for Computer Games Research, IT University of Copenhagen) and
showcases the latest cutting-edge research into videogames and gaming
culture. The day will conclude with a panel discussion of leading academics
who will examine and engage with the inter- disciplinary nature of game
studies and its future as an object of study in the academy.

*29th October***

*Game On! – Family Festival Day***

The third and final day of GAME will be a festival of innovative gaming
experiences led by MacICT’s primary and secondary student school projects.
This festival will include demonstrations of student-made projects and games
across multiple platforms including Microsoft Kodu and Kinect and an outdoor
ARG built using ARIS. Parents and families are encouraged to attend for a
fun and informative look at online education and safety in videogames.

For more information visit: *http://imi.mq.edu.au/game/index.html*
<http://imi.mq.edu.au/game/index.html>
Dr. Holly Randell-Moon
Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies
Faculty of Arts
Macquarie University, NSW 2109
Australia

Independent game design in the Australian industry

Freeplay is an Independent Games Festival this weekend in Melbourne. The festival includes a free arcade and expo in the Experimedia room of the State Library of Victoria. The conference program over the weekend at the Library’s conference centre has two stream of speakers, from whom I am hoping to find out more about the lifecycle of the local games industry and what it means to be ‘indie’ and ‘independent’ to video games developer in Australia.
I think the winnitron AU will be popular, and going to treat the event like a practice run for the research trip to Sweden. I am only going to have couple of days I have in Stockholm and Umea and I am going to have to cram as much into them as possible. Freeplay will provide a very timely chance to observe the local industry and its public reception. The festival first ran in 2004, and seems pretty well known in Melbourne.