What did this little blue hamster do to inspire my wrath? Well, I’ll show you. For starters, he makes poor choices and then doesn’t accept responsibility for them.
Then he complains about my humble, sleepy little hamlet but never plants or waters flowers or contributes money to public works projects.
He is justifiably insecure, but places the burden of raising his self-worth on those around him.
I’ve had enough and my villagers have had enough. Eventually, they started to see through his gormless smile and are recognizing him for the snarky, selfish, lazy furball he is. Robin has been particularly vocal on the matter.
Okay, so Robin can be a bit crass and judgey. That’s probably not the best way to go about helping someone overcome their problems, but instead of coming to Isabelle or me about Robin’s town-crying, how does Rodney respond?
By convincing the other villagers that they are the problem!
The final straw was on my birthday. A loyal, respectable villager rushed up to greet me as I left my house, asking me to follow her.
As it turns out, Sally, friend to all Chanate, had planned a surprise party for me. Villagers attended, ate cake, danced and gave me presents.
But who wasn’t in the room? Rodney. Where was he? He was in town, probably boozin’ it up with ol’ Digby.
Well, after that there was only one thing left to do. One way to end Rodney’s anti-social behaviour once and for all.
So if you ever find yourself wondering what it is I do on evenings I’m not working, now you know. I’m spending months carefully weaving a narrative through my villager’s catchphrases and greetings in AC:NL to show the darker side of small-town living. Because its perverse… and funny. Mostly funny.
Following last week’s post of my Introduction to Game Studies module, I’m posting the module guide for my third year class. It is probably worth mentioning that this is an award winning module. Students voted it exceptionally well designed, so I suppose that counts for something.
It is also probably worth mentioning that Tanya Kryzwinska orginally designed and ran the module. I feel satisfied that I have sufficiently made it my own enough to not infringe on her intellectual copyright, but if she feels otherwise, let me know and I’ll take it down. 🙂
And just to quickly reiterate- I am posting this publicly to share what I have done, widen participation in higher education, and (of course) strengthen my own teaching. If you have constructive feedback, please let me know.
Game Studies 3: Socio-Cultural Contexts
Introduction, aims, background
To place games within a larger socio-cultural context through reading multi-/inter-disciplinary research.
To evaluate the relationships and contexts within which games are made and consumed.
To examine demographics of those who play games as well as representation of gender, sexuality, race, age and ability in games.
To think about what socio-cultural topics mean within a larger, developer context.
Methods of Teaching
Weekly assigned readings provide foundational knowledge to stimulate discussion and thought.
An interactive seminar of three hours which includes a blend of short lectures and student participation via activities.
Activities provide students with the opportunity to discuss in small groups ideas raised through reading, lectures and personal experience.
Seminars provide student with formative, individual feedback on their progress and work. Summative feedback is provided from two assessed essays- one on demographics and representation and one question response based on course themes.
Introduction to module and topic
This introductory lecture will go over the course aims, goals, assessments and expectations. It is an important opportunity to discuss the aim and scope of the class and to situate it within larger contexts of not only the degree programme, but also games and society.
Fine, G. A., 1983. Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds. London: University of Chicago Press. Chapter 2, particularly pages 62-71.
Corneliussen, H. 2008. ‘World of Warcraft as a Playground for Feminism’. In Corneliussen, H. and Walker Rettberg, J. (eds.) Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader. MIT Press: Massachusetts. pp.63-86.
Gareth R. Schott and Kirsty R. Horrell ’Girl Gamers and their Relationship with the Gaming Culture’. Convergence. Vol 13 no.4 Winter. 2000.
Taylor, TL. 2012. Raising the Stakes: E-sports and the Professionalisation of Computer Gaming. MIT Press: Cambridge. Chapter 3. (good commentary on masculinities)
Haraway, D. 1985, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. Routledge: New York.
In the introduction to the chapter, Taylor states that the stereotypical image of a gamer is a boy or man. Do you agree that this is a stereotype? Why or why not? Do you think the image of the gamer is changing?
How does Taylor counter assertions that women play games primarily because of ‘wanting to talk’ or ‘identity exploration’ (p.95)? What did her participants report?
What does Taylor mean by the term ‘bracket’ (p.110)?
What are ‘pink games’? What’s wrong with them?
How do advertisements of games make them seem exclusively for men?
Sex in Games
Western cultures generally accept that sex is a part of life, and that sex can lead to powerful narratives in film and literature, but what about sex in games? This week we will look at the relationship between games, play, and sex and think critically about whether or not gaming is an ‘adult’ enough media to handle a topic as complex as sexuality.
Brown, Ashley ML. 2015. Sexuality in Role-Playing Games. Routledge: London, Chapter 2 + part of 3. Pages 11-38.
Mia Consalvo ‘Hot Dates and Fairy Tale Romances: Studying Sexuality in Video Games’ in Wolf and Perron (eds.) (2003) The VideoGame Theory Reader. Routledge.
Gallagher, R. 2012. ‘No Sex Please, We are Finite State Machines: On the melancholy sexlessness of the video game’. Games and Culture, 7(6). pp.399-418.
Harviainen, J. T. 2012, ‘Sadomasochist Role-Playing as LiveAction Role-Playing: A trait descriptive analysis’. International Journal of Role-Playing. 1(2). pp.59-70.
Brown, A. 2012. ‘‘No One-Handed Typing’: An exploration of cheats and spoilsports in an erotic role play community in World of Warcraft’. Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds, 4(3).
Sundén, J. 2012. ‘Desires at Play: On closeness and epistemological uncertainty’. Games and Culture: A Journal of Interactive Media, 7(2). pp.164-184.
Why does the chapter begin by talking about Spin the Bottle?
Which 3 rule types are listed? Why are they important?
Why is the Hot Coffee mod interesting?
What is the difference between Adults Only and Mature ESRB ratings? Why does the ESRB rating matter?
(From the beginning of chapter 3) According to the text, what is the stereotype of an erotic role player? What is the actuality?
What is the motivation to erotic role play?
Race and Games
From real-life racial representations to who plays to fantastical depictions of elves and orcs, race is a key cultural and social artefact to be studied when researching games. This week looks not only at the racial composition of players, but also discusses the representation of race in games.
Monson, M. 2012. ‘Race-based Fantasy Realm: Essentialism in the World of Warcraft’. Games and Culture. 7(1), pp.48-71.
Packer, J. 2012. ‘What Makes an Orc? Racial cosmos and emergent narrative in World of Warcraft.’ Games and Culture, 9(2), pp.83-101.
Poor, N. 2012. ‘Digital Elves as a Racial Other in Video Games: Acknowledgement and avoidance’. Games and Culture, 7(5), pp. 375-396.
Shaw, A. 2012. ‘Do You Identify as a Gamer? Gender, race, sexuality and gamer identity’. New Media and Society, 14(1), pp.28-44.
Burgess, M., Dill, K., Stermer, S., Burgess, S., and Brown, B., 2011. ‘Playing with Prejudice: The prevalence and consequences of racial stereotypes in video games.’ Media Psychology, 14, pp.289-311.
Kafai, Y., Cook, M., Fields, D. 2010. ‘”Blacks Deserve Bodies Too!”: Design and discussion about diversity and race in a tween virtual world’, Games and Culture, 5(1), pp.43-63.
According to the article, is race (biologically) real?
How do race-based societies cultivate and perpetuate racism? (Hint: p. 50)
How is race used to demonstrate ‘authenticity’?
How do fantasy and science fiction reinforce the ideology of race-based societies?
How does World of Warcraft reinforce folk-biological views?
Age and Games
This week will be spent talking about the age of players and the age of characters in videogames.
Pearce, C. 2008, ‘The Truth About Baby Boomer Gamers: A study of over-forty computer game players’. Games and Culture, 3(2), pp. 142-174.
De Schutter, B. 2011, ‘Never Too Old to Play: The appeal of digital games to an older audience’. Games and Culture, 6(2), pp. 155-170.
Williams, D., Yee, N., and Caplan, S. 2008, ‘Who Plays, How Much, and Why? Debunking the stereotypical gamer profile’. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(4), pp. 993-1018.
Ghuman, D. and Griffiths, M. 2012, ‘A Cross-Genre Study of Online Gaming: Player demographics, motivation for play, and social interactions among players’. International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning, 2(1), pp.1-17.
Which company took a radical departure from standard practice and made efforts to cater to aging populations? Where is this company based? What are their population statistics like?
What do the statistics on page 144 seem to suggest about gamer demographics in 2005?
What genre of game was the most popular amongst Pearce’s participants?
Did any of this study’s findings surprise you? Did this change your perception of baby boomer gamers?
This article is written from a US context. Do you think this has an effect on the outcomes of the research?
Ability and Games
The final class on topics relating to demographics and representation, this week we will discuss the representation of the body and ability in games. We will also discuss the real-world abilities of players and the challenges to the body gaming presents.
Ledder, S. (in press 2015) “Evolve today!”: Human Enhancement Technologies in the BioShock universe. In L. Cuddy (ed.) BioShock and Philosophy, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Gibbons, S. (2013) ‘Playing for Transcendence: Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Disability’. In First Person Scholar, October 2013.
Allan, K. (2013.) Introduction: Reading Disability in Science Fiction. In K. Allan (Ed.), Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure (pp 1-18) New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Davis, L. J. (1995) Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body. London: Verso.
Thomson, R.G. (1997) Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia University Press.
Thomson, R.G (1996) Freakery; Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body New York: New York University Press.
Williams, L. (1999) ‘Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess’. In L Braudy and M. Cohen (Eds) Film Theory and Criticism (pp. 701-715). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
According to the literature cited in the article, what are three film genres associated with the body? Why are these of low cultural status?
What type of method does Carr employ in her study?
In the analysis, what do Necromorphs represent? What does Isaac’s suit represent? The clinic?
What concluding messages does Dead Space contain about the body and anxieties around the body?
Gamers and Gaming Communities
This week will look at gamers and gaming communities from socio-cultural perspectives. Namely, we will consider whether or not gamers might be considered a sub-culture, fan community, or something else entirely.
Shaw, A. 2010. ‘What Is Video Game Culture? Cultural Studies and Game Studies’. Games and Culture, 5(4), pp.403-424.
Jenkins, H. 2006. Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Essays on Participatory Culture. New York University Press, Chapter 2.
On page 406, how does Shaw describe the difference in how video game scholars and video game journalists write about game culture?
According to Shaw, how has gamer identity been defined as male?
According to the article, is video game culture truly distinct from popular/mass culture?
Games Rating and Review Boards
This week will be spent looking at the regulation of games, both in terms of legislation and government action and in terms of consumer watchdog groups.
Felini, D. 2015. ‘Beyond Today’s Video Game Rating Systems: A critical approach to PEGI and ESRB, and proposed improvements’, Games and Culture, 10(1), pp. 106-122.
Tocci, J. 2008. ‘Seeking Truth in Video Game Ratings: Content considerations for media regulations’, International Journal of Communication, 2, pp. 561-586.
Walsh, D. and Gentile, D. 2001. ‘A Validity Test of Movie, Television, and Video-Game Ratings’. Pediatrics, 107(6), pp.1302-1308.
Yousafzai, S., Hussain, Z. and Griffiths, M. 2014. ‘Social Responsibility in Online Videogaming: What should the videogame industry do?’. Addiction Research and Theory 22(3), pp. 181-5.
Burns, R. C. and Lau, T. Y. ‘Censorship, Government and the Computer Game Industry. In Zotto, C.D. 2005. Growth and Dynamics of Maturing New Media Companies. Jönköping International Business School.
According to the reading, what are the two most popular/used rating/classification boards for video games? How are they funded?
How many classification categories does PEGI have? What about the ESRB?
According to the article, who does PEGI/ESRB target?
What is the promoted image of childhood? Is it accurate?
Are the current classification systems successful in protecting children? What problems are there? How might we improve classification systems?
Games and Economics
This week will consider the business of making games. We know that games are big business, but what about the economies of virtual worlds? The lecture and seminar this week looks at virtual and real economies and how they overlap. A discussion will centre on how virtual economies develop cultures of scarcity in and out of games.
Kerr, A. The Business and Culture of Digital Games: Gamework/Gameplay. Sage: London, chapter 3.
Castronova, E. 2006, Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. Chicago: Chicago University Press, chapter 8.
Nakamura, L. 2009, ‘Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: The racialization of labour in World of Warcraft’, Critical Studies in Media Communication, 26(2), pp.128-144.
Alvisi, A. 2006, ‘The Economics of Digital Games’ in Understanding Digital Games. London: Sage.
Kerr, A. 2006, ‘The business of making digital games’ in Understanding Digital Games London: Sage.
Debeauvais, T., Nardi, B., Schiano, D., Ducheneaut, N., Yee, N. 2011, ‘If You Build It They Might Stay: Retention mechanisms in World of Warcraft’, Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Foundations of Digital Games, pp. 180-187. Accessed from: http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2159390
Lehdonvirta, V. and Virtanen, P. 2012, ‘A New Frontier in Digital Content Policy: Case studies in the regulation of virtual goods and artificial scarcity’, Policy and Internet, 2(3), pp. 7-29.
What is political economy? How does it differ from orthodox economic theory?
Why are companies interested in reaching the widest possible audience?
What is horizontal integration? What is vertical integration?
Look at table 3.2 on page 56. Did anything about the software production process there surprise you?
What are the three types of development companies?
What is an ‘economy of scope’?
The final content session will look at games which specifically invoke or engage with real-world social issues. As the key reading hints at, we will think particularly about how games might convey a particular type of rhetoric when it comes to serious issues.
Bogost, I. Persuasive Games. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA. Chapter 1: Procedural Rhetoric.
Rilla Khaled, Pippin Barr, James Noble, Ronald Fischer, and Robert Biddle. 2007. Fine tuning the persuasion in persuasive games. In Proceedings of the 2nd international conference on Persuasive technology (PERSUASIVE’07), Yvonne De Kort, Wijnand IJsselsteijn, Cees Midden, Berry Eggen, and B. J. Fogg (Eds.). Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, 36-47.
I recently discovered that my module guides remain my intellectual property- meaning I can freely share them. So, I am putting here my week-by-weeks with suggested readings for Game Studies 1: Introduction to Game Studies (1st year Game Design BA module for our degree programme here at Brunel). This module has been designed to introduce first year university students from a variety of backgrounds and interests to Game Studies as part of their overall Game Design undergraduate degree.
This is nearly a copy-paste from this year’s guides, but I have tried to provide context where possible. A quick glance will show that the reading list consists of nearly 100% texts which can be classified as Game Studies, but the lectures themselves draw on other theories and readings from interdisciplinary sources to give a more well-rounded approach to the field.
Please feel free to use as much or as little of these guides as you want. Likewise, I am open to feedback. If any of you reading this teach a similar class, I’d love to have a cup of coffee (or virtual coffee) and a chat to see what has worked for you and what hasn’t. Next week I’ll post Game Studies 3: Socio-Cultural Contexts (3rd year Game Design BA module).
Game Studies 1: Introduction to Game Studies
Introduction, aims, background
Introduce students to foundational concepts, themes and theories from within the field of Games Studies.
Study games and play using three perspectives: philosophy; media and cultural studies; and socio-cultural studies.
Develop understanding of foundational theories relating to the study of games and develop critical and analytical skills in the application of these theories to specific examples of games.
Methods of Teaching
The module will follow the pattern of an interactive seminar (3 hours) which will include short lectures combined with exercises and activities aimed at generating discussion through critical thinking.
Students will be required to work in small groups during class time to discuss and critique academic studies of games and apply knowledge learned in class and through reading to specific examples.
Formative assessment will take the form of oral feedback given during seminars. Summative assessment will take the form of a presentation and an essay.
Introduction to module and topic
This introductory lecture will go over the module aims, goals, assessments and expectations. It is an important opportunity to discuss the aim and scope of the class and to situate it within larger contexts of not only the degree programme, but also the importance of studying games as a serious academic endeavour. This class will also cover essential skills needed to do well in the module, such as how to breakdown and read dense academic texts.
Mäyrä, F. 2008. An Introduction to Game Studies. Sage: London. Chapter 1: Introduction: What is game studies? Pages 1-12.
The seminar this week will be a chance for us to get to know each other better.
What is a game?
This week begins the core content of the class by looking at precisely what a game is. Although it may seem self-evident, this class will use academic research to breakdown the basic components of what a game is, how it is different than play, and why such definitions matter.
Juul, J. 2005. Half-Real: Video Games between Real Rules and Fictional Worlds. MIT Press: Cambridge. Chapter 2.
Salen, K. and Zimmerman, E. 2006. Rules of Play. MIT Press: Cambridge. Unit One 28-116.
Suits, B. 1990. The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia. Godine/Nonpariel Books. Chapter 3.
Atkins, B. 2003. More than a Game. Manchester University Press: Manchester. Chapter 1.
What is a game? What are the key components of a game?
What are the roles of rules in games?
How does the game industry shape what we might consider a game?
Is Second Life a game? Are The Sims a game? Why or why not?
Ludology and narratology
Most games have a narrative, but are they something more? Can games be studied like books? Or like films? Are they something else entirely? This week resurrects an old ‘debate’ within the field, but focuses on the importance of epistemology when approaching the study of games.
Atkins, B. 2003. More Than a Game. University of Manchester Press: Manchester. Chapter 1.
Aarseth, E. 1997. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Chapter 2.
Wolf, M. 2001. ‘Narrative in the videogame’ in Mark JP Wolf (ed.) The Medium of the Videogame. Texas University Press: Austin.
In your opinion, which game has the best storyline? Why?
Which game has the worst storyline and why?
Do all games tell stories?
What is the relationship between narrative and play?
Which side would you take in the narratology vs. ludology debate?
Games and art
This week’s primary reading is a short editorial piece from film critic Roger Ebert. He infamously claimed, and received much backlash for, the comment ‘video games can never be art’. Games Studies can answer his editorial with a philosophical debate about the nature of art and media. To engage with this debate, I encourage you to read one or more of the secondary readings in addition to the primary reading.
Kirkpatrick, G. 2011. Aesthetic Theory and the Video Game. Manchester University Press: Manchester.
According to Roger Ebert, why aren’t video games art?
Do you agree with his position?
What is art?
What’s an example of a video game you would consider to be art?
Games and Music
Connecting to the previous discussions of the relationship video games have to other media and the arts, this week focuses on video games and music. We will focus on how the music of games contributes to their overall design and the overall affect felt by players. The role of the industry, and of convergence with other types of popular media, will also be discussed.
What does music contribute to the design of video games?
What about sound effects?
What role does convergence play in the incorporation of popular music into video games?
How might we study music in games?
How might we explain real-world symphonies playing video game theme songs?
We will spend the full day on presentations, so be sure to attend and be sure to support your peers! The presentations are worth 40% of total mark and are described in depth at the end of this document.
Games and fandom
This class will serve as an introduction to studies of player communities by looking at the most visible groups of players- fans. Although there are many ways to define, categorise, and talk about players, looking at groups of fans and fan cultures is useful in thinking about games as a participatory culture in multiple ways.
Jenkins, H. 2006. Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Essays on Participatory Culture. New York University Press, Chapter 2.
Lamerichs, N. 2015. ‘Express Yourself: An affective analysis of game cosplayers’. Game Love: Essays on Play and Affection. MacFarland: Jefferson, North Carolina.
Burn, A. 2006. ‘Reworking the Text: Online Fandom’ in Carr, D.; Buckingham, D.; Burn, A.; Schott, G. (eds) Computer Games: Texts, Narrative, and Play. Polity Press.
1. What does it mean to be a ‘textual poacher’?
2. What fan practices does Jenkins discuss in the chapter?
3. Why should we study fans of games?
4. Have you ever been to a fan convention? Have you ever cosplayed?
Military and games
This week will be spent looking at the history of videogames and their (often close) ties to the military. From strategic war board games to the use of military technology to develop games, this week will highlight the close relationship between the military and games and raise questions about possible effects this might have on their design (and resulting controversies!).
Lukas, S. 2010. ‘Behind the Barrel’: Reading the Video Game Gun’, In Huntemann, N. and Payne, T. (eds.) Joystick Soldiers: The Politics of Play in Military Video Games. Routledge: New York. Pp. 75-103.
Martino, J. 2012. ‘Video Games and the Militarisation of Society: Towards a Theoretical and Conceptual Framework’, International Federation for Information Processing, 386. Pp.264-273.
Gagnon, F. 2010. ‘Invading Your Hearts and Minds: Call of Duty and the (Re)Writing of Militarism in US Digital Games and Popular Culture’, European Journal of American Studies, 5(3).
Cornell, TJ and Allen, TB 2002. War and Games. Boydell Press: Rochester, NY. Chapter 1.
How does Lukas compare Windows 95 Halloween party with the Columbine shooting?
According to the chapter, what do guns symbolise?
How is the culture of online competitive and team gaming like the military?
How are videogames themed and why does this matter?
How do games like America’s Army blur the line between games and reality?
Identity and avatars
A guest lecture from Dr. Kelly Boudreau.
Waggoner, Z. 2009. Videogames, Avatars, and Identity: A brief history (pp. 3-20). In My Avatar, My Self: Identity in Video Role-Playing Games. McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers.
Gee, J.P. 2003. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Palgrave: Basingstoke. Chapter 3.
Tronstad, R. (2008). Character identification in World of Warcraft: The relationship between capacity and appearance. In Hilde G. Corneliussen & Jill Walker Rettberg (Eds.), Digital culture, play, and identity: A World of Warcraft reader (pp 249-264). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
What are the different types of identity discussed in the readings?
How does freedom of avatar creation affect gameplay?
What type(s) of identity can occur in single-player games (narrative driven)?
What possible issues arise when thinking about avatars and identity in video games?
Violence and games
This is our last session with new content, but there is a review session in week 30. To round out the course, we will look at controversies about content in games- namely the violence debate. We consider both sides of the debate and think critically about the impact moral and media panics have on the industry.
Faltin, K. 2015. ‘Analysing Game Controversies: A Historical Approach to Moral Panics and Digital Games’ in Mortensen, T., Linderoth, J. and Brown, AML 2015. The Dark Side of Gameplay. Routledge: London.
Bryce, J. and Rutter, J. 2006, ‘Digital Games and the Violence Debate’ in Understanding Digital Games, London: Sage.
Ferguson, C. 2013, ‘Violent Video Games and the Supreme Court: Lessons for the scientific community in the wake of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association’, American Psychological Association, 68(2), pp. 57-74.
Barker, M. and Petley, J. (eds.) 2001, Ill Effects: the media/violence debate, New York: Routledge.
Today I was meant to make a blog post containing my module guides for this term, but I can’t. As it turns out, I don’t deal very well with grief. And by don’t deal very well, I mean I ate half my daily recommended calorie intake worth of Pop-Tarts today.
I tend to react to things as an academic should- with cold logic. When I get bad news, I tend to take it like a kernel of knowledge and scurry away to my emotional tree-fort and think long and hard about what the appropriate reaction is. The death of a pet brought conflicting resolutions. “I feel bad” was met with “Its just an animal- you eat meat. Do you get worked up every time you eat a fajita? No, of course not, so don’t get so worked up about this”. But there’s something more going on. There’s something about my relationship with Molly the (now dead) cat that is very different to my relationship with chunks of white meat in a vacuum-sealed package.
Death might be biologically defined as the cessation of life-sustaining processes, but sociologically it is much more than that. Death is loss. It is the loss of social contact, of networks, of future plans, of identity. When a child dies, are you still a parent? When a parent dies, are you still a child? So much uncomfortable ambiguity surrounding death leaves us grasping for answers. Looking for anything to make us feel whole again, to have our rung on the social ladder make sense.
But for me, Molly the cat’s death raises more questions than “Am I still a pet-owner?” I mean, of course I’m not. And it doesn’t matter anyway. For people like me, the death of a pet represents much, much more than the loss of a mostly mute companion animal. It represents the death of a creature who was there and didn’t care. Look, I am under absolutely no pretenses that that cat gave a toss about anything other than a full food bowl and a clean litter tray. She was a cat, after all. But she was a great support to me. Having her warm fuzz-butt near me was a great comfort because she didn’t understand or care what the situation was.
People aren’t like that. People are nosy, people ask questions, people make assumptions, people judge. People want to feel righteous indignation on your behalf, or they want to cast social actors as angels or devils in a grand drama which is both inappropriate and unnecessary. Humans want to use logic and rationality to make sense of the scattered jigsaw puzzle life becomes with something bad happens. Animals lack those faculties and are happy to just physically be present. They don’t ask questions because they can’t. They don’t care because they can’t. There’s no agenda with animals.
For anyone who’s suffered mental health issues, sitting with an animal is a refuge from the barrage of everyday life. Molly never once asked me, “What do you have to be sad about? Why can’t you just be happy?” Molly never gave me unsolicited advice like, “Well, maybe if you had tried harder the relationship wouldn’t have ended” or “If you weren’t so career-obsessed maybe you’d be happier.” I never had to be on the defensive with Molly. I never had to provide justification or explanation for my sometimes erratic behaviour- which, by the way, is completely exhausting. If I could just ‘stop thinking sad thoughts’ or ‘act normal’ or any of the numerous helpful pieces of criticism which have been passed my way by family or friends then I wouldn’t have a mental illness. Which, in case people are still confused about, isn’t a choice. No one chooses to have a chemical imbalance of serotonin or dopamine (or whatever monoamines is neuropsychology’s flavour of the month because there’s still some debate over cause vs. symptom). It just happens to some people, okay? And yes, I am being safe and proactive about getting treatment. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. I don’t need worry right now, I need to vent.
You see, that’s the funny thing about depression and mental health disorders. Sometimes good intentions have a sour reception because sometimes all the depressed person wants is someone to be present. Not to comment, not to pass judgement, not to offer advice, not to be helpful. Okay, I shouldn’t generalise. I don’t mean to claim I speak for all people who experience depression, far from it. I just find it difficult to speak about myself openly- namely for the reasons above- I fear judgement and rejection. People often mistake my lack of personal engagement, my lack of ‘I’ statements as a lack of emotion or lack of personal engagement. I am a deeply emotional person, I just don’t like to show it because I am afraid. To share emotions, to share grief- especially over a stupid cat- is to open myself to judgement and ridicule which I have meticulously avoided thorough most of my life through a labyrinthine network of carefully crafted defense mechanisms. I didn’t have to place archers along my crenelations when I was with Molly, and although we lived apart because of unpleasant circumstances for the better part of a year, knowing she was with her dad and looked after was a comfort in and of itself.
That’s gone now. That simple comfort has evaporated. I feel alone now, more alone than ever before in my life. I realise as I write it that this is the grief talking through my fingers, but this grief is so palpable and the loss so stomach-turningly real that I cannot help but believe in it. I miss that stupid cat for my own stupid, nonsensical, selfish reasons. And I blogged about it. Ffffffff-
RIP Miss Molly Doombringer- You meant more to me than your feline brain ever knew, and that’s why I loved you, and that’s why I miss you so much.
Allow me to preface this post by saying if you feel healthy and you get the green light whenever you visit your GP, then keep on rockin’ with your bad self. Body-shaming sucks and that’s certainly not what this post is about. This post is a list of tips for how to get into exercise from my perspective. Every body is different and everybody will find something that works for them- this is only what worked for me.
A few years ago I fell into a trap. I was struggling with my blood sugar and I was struggling with my cholesterol levels, but I wasn’t doing anything about it. Why? Well, because that was a part of my identity. In fact, to some extent, I was a little proud of the fact that I was unhealthy. Isn’t shunning exercise and eating rubbish food part of the fun of being a gamer? I certainly thought so. I mean, in some ways, that’s what’s sold to us, isn’t it? Caffeinated sugary drinks and neon orange snacks is the gamer diet, right? Well, it was literally killing me.
I was feeling bad, really bad, and I don’t mean about how I looked in the mirror (although I am sure there was some of that too). I started exercising, not by choice, but because my GP was threatening to put me on all sorts of liver-destroying medications. And I need my liver… For drinking.
You know what though? I survived. And now I actually enjoy it- mostly.
I think I learned to enjoy it by seeing aspects of it as a game. Now, don’t get me wrong, gamification sucks. Not everything in life has to be fun, especially not exercise. Plus, not every fireworked-wrist-vibration from my Fitbit is motivating, actually most of the time it is annoying. Yet if we think of Richard Bartle’s taxonomy of MUD players, we might glean some nuggets of insight into how to motivate ourselves to be more active without loosing our geeky, gamer social capital. Or maybe it is just a way to re-think what motivates us to play games and how that can maybe apply to motivate us to exercise? I know, I know, this sounds awfully close to the televangelism of gamification experts, but cut me some slack here. I’m grasping at straws to make exercise suck less.
Socialisers- Do cool exercises with cool people.
Exercise doesn’t have to be running on a track, lifting weights, or participating in one of those shout-y boot camps that scare me a lot. Exercise can be a Water Dancing class with Game of Thrones actor Miltos Yerolemou at Nine Worlds (see photos above). If you don’t have him handy, then why not look up your local HEMA chapter?
Likewise, I forgot that sports are a lot like games- only as fun as the people playing. A game like football, which I had long ago written off as boring, actually became a hoot when played with a group of game academics at this past DiGRA.
2. Killer- Friendly competition never hurt anyone… until it did.
I have to admit that this is the least appetizing category for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love competition, but I don’t particularly enjoy the type of ego-flexing that happens in most fitness crowds. I know, I know, it is no different to me posting my Scout fishkills with taunting glee, but the hyper-competitive ‘do u even lift bro’ crowd is what made me spend most of my adult life avoiding the gym.
That being said, there are plenty of other ways to let my competitive streak out. Whether its a charity 5k fun run or a weekly challenge via Fitbit, there are opportunities big and small to let everyone know how much better you are than them. My goal for this year is to win the charity 5k fun run. And by win I mean outrun my students, heh heh.
3. Achievers- The strategy used by every fitness app ever!
Suffice it to say, I think it is now within the realms of common sense that people like feeling they have achieved something. What I first experienced as a way to doll out user feedback in digital games has now become a lazy shorthand for gamification. Congratulations! You got out of bed today!
Fitness apps are horrible for this -but- tracking metrics is fun. Once I realised the gym treadmill gives you a breakdown of your workout, I began taking photos with my phone. In the comparison shot above, the bottom screen was from June. Since then I managed to shave around 36 seconds off my pace. I am still as slow as molasses, but getting better, and I feel like I’ve achieved something. My stamina has increased by 1 point, etc.
4. Explorers- Get out and walk.
I realise that given accessibility constraints, unsafe spaces, and personal health issues walking in the real world is not always a possibility, but if it is- do it! I have passed some amazing hours walking around without a purpose. I found hidden gems next to the University, like this graveyard building with ivy growing up its side, during my daily amble. Low impact and highly entertaining- what’s not to love?
So, there are some motivations for exercise. In the end, though, I think the strongest motivation to get out and move comes from a doctor threatening you with pills. I think there is some salvation in re-thinking or re-framing medical threats as opportunities for socialisation, competition, achievement and exploration though, which might make the need to move more fun.
It has been a while since my last post. Amongst other things, like making my classes super awesome for next year, I have been preparing to give a talk at Nine Worlds 2015. If you don’t know what Nine Worlds is, and are too lazy to click the link, it is basically a festival of all things nerdy. It is looking to be a great weekend with lots of amazing panels, so if you wanna join us, click here and get yerself a ticket.
If you do manage to go next weekend, please come by and say hello. I’ll be giving a talk about the problem with ‘adult’ games. This talk is partially in dialogue with my recent Analogue Game Studies article, and partially part of my larger research on sexual content in games. As much as I’d love to make this blog post all about the fun and interesting things I have discovered through hours of reading, writing, and playing, this is really a post about cosplay. Well, a love letter to be exact. You see, when I was preparing for this con, I noticed something interesting. I noticed I was spending incredible amounts of time, energy, and money preparing my cosplay when I really should have been preparing my talk. [Note: the talk is prepared now. It is awesome and not last minute and please don’t judge me!]
Each time I would sit down to my open Powerpoint presentation, I would immediately run through a checklist in my head of whether or not all parts of last year’s LonCon faun costume survived the move. In addition to the normal and expected procrastination techniques which accompany academic work, I found myself rather obsessed.
Now, there’s no denying that the faun costume is fantastic. Chaos Costumes is both a creative genius and a master of technical execution. I own a few pieces by her now and I have to say that the goat legs are by far my favourite. But aside from the fact it is super cool and I had fun last year on the Tube telling children I was heading to Narnia to meet Mr. Tumnus, I am obsessed with cosplay because I am obsessed with costuming.
Unlike Nicolle Lamerichs’s account of cosplaying in the Game Love anthology, and it should be promptly noted that this is in no way a critique of Dr. Lamerichs’s data set, my interest seems not to be bound within the pleasure of being recognised as a character from a film, game, comic, or anime. Dr. Lamerichs does a good job in highlighting the multiple pleasures of cosplaying a character and you should definitely read her chapter in the book. To pay homage to her argument (or to bastardise it, if you like), it can be summarised thusly: to feel so drawn to a character you spend vast amounts of resources on costuming is certainly about more than media fandom. It is about finding some aspect of that character desirable enough to want to not only dress like them, but to embody some other aspect of them- be it their confidence, their wit, their humour, their mischief… I know many cosplayers and costume makers who would find resonance with the experiences of Dr. Lamerichs and her participants, but I didn’t. Well, not quite.
Allow me to be clear: the aforementioned are all wonderfully fun reasons to cosplay. But these are not the reasons I do it. I don’t cosplay to demonstrate my fandom of a particular character, show, comic, book, or even genre. I don’t cosplay because I find something particularly admirable about a character or character-type. I also don’t cosplay to demonstrate the creative skill (or conspicuous wealth) required to construct amazing outfits. Maybe I don’t really cosplay at all. Maybe I do something completely different.
The reason I cosplay- if we agree to call it that- is because it looks cool and there aren’t enough opportunities to wear cool-looking stuff in public. Sure, you have LARPs, reinactments, Halloween, goth clubs, masquerade balls (which I assume is a thing, but I’ve certainly never been invited to one), and other socially-sanctioned chances to dress up, but not nearly enough opportunities to look a damn fool in a Pikachu onesie in public. So, any chance I get, I take.
This brought me to another point on the playfulness of dressing up. Of course there are many academic sources generally on this topic, but of particular interest is the idea that dress up must be sanctioned for adults. I am thinking here of the recent work by Sebastian Deterding on the alibis we make for adult play. The general idea is that for grown-ups to dress up, there must be a socially valid reason- such as the events I’ve listed above. Taken another way, as the comedian Lewis Black said to great laughter and applause:
“If you are an adult planning to wear a costume on Halloween… don’t. […] I don’t know why it was deemed to be a necessity among a group of adults who, for some reason, did not grow out of childhood. It is not an adult holiday.”
Obviously the statement above fits Mr. Black’s humour and works in the context of the stand up set. I am not about to attempt some deconstruction of a joke because I have better things to do with my time (like prep my other outfits for next weekend), but I decided to include the quote nonetheless because it encapsulates well the idea that dress up= play= childishness.
Following this train of reasoning, cosplay is kinda punk rock. Well, punk rock in the sense that it in some ways rebukes the social expectations of what is ‘adult’ and what is ‘childish’ in terms of both clothes and behaviour. Also, it can be punk rock because it looks cool. Fact.
Alright, its about time for me to wrap up this long-winded and round-about love letter by saying that cosplay- or just wearing costumes if you prefer- is awesome because it allows for a diversity of pleasures. From embodying desirable qualities to demonstrating skill, to advertising fandom, to rebuking social expectations of adulthood, to just looking really ace- cosplay is the bee’s knees. I love you, cosplay (orwhateveryou’recalled).
I’ve decided to make a list of places to publish research on games, although I am sure others have done so before me and more effectively than me. For example, see DiGRA Student’s chart of journals here. Slightly different to the DiGRA Student’s list in organisation and scope, this list aims to also include conferences, blogs, and book publishers. I have lumped outlets together based on theme/type to be a helpful resource for those looking to find a home for a particular paper- or just me. Either way, this seems more effective than a load of bookmarks.
Phew, I just got back from Finland and Germany and two amazing conferences. Whilst my body is thoroughly exhausted (thanks, sports!) my mind is more energised than ever. So, you have my apologies for the click-bait-y title, but this experience has truly been unique in that it is the first time I wasn’t physically ill from anxiety at a conference.
The entire process of conferencing is extraordinarily stressful. There’s the expense, travel, immigration, presentation-nerves, big social groups, fears of audience reaction, paper writing, possible rejection, misunderstanding, language barriers, unfamiliar cityscapes, tech failures, dead batteries, expensive mobile service, and more. Whilst there’s no way to lessen the natural anxieties which arise from travel and conferencing, I’ve found some ways of refocusing or perhaps distracting myself to be effective.
(I’m very much inspired by Nicolle Lamerich’s style of blog post here- and hopefully she takes that as a compliment 🙂 . Although probably unique to games-y type conferences, there might be wider relevance. The tips here appear in no particular order and come only from my personal experience.)
You are a games scholar. Remember why you became one? Oh yeah, because playing games is totally rad!
It seems funny that play is ingrained in our everyday lives to some degree, but when we go to conferences, we stop.
Conference schedules are jam-packed with events from morning to night and I’ve often felt an immense amount of pressure to attend every talk, read every paper, do all the things, and to do so I’ve had to sacrifice play-time. I realised that for me, play-time is me-time. A quick 5 minutes on the 3DS or a drop in play session in the arcade is like a stress-reset switch for me. It gives me a chance to switch focus from an otherwise highly stressful situation and just catch some bugs with a net in my AC:NL village. It is also a great conversation starter, I might add, and the StreetPasses are nice too.
For the last DiGRA, I never bothered to go to the Blank Arcade because I was too wrapped up in attending every talk and tweeting every session. It took me until this year, sadly, to realise I had fallen into the particular type of productivity-driven thinking which I loathe. Especially since, in this case, it can be productive for game scholars to play games! (This actually clashes against my own reading of Huizinga, but hey ho, this is a blog post, deal with it.) Conferences are not a competition- they are a venue for exploring individual interests. If you’re interested in games, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not playing.
2. Talk to Everyone
This is something I really struggle with. I am not a social person by any means- I can spend blood points to boost social stats for a fixed duration, but then I’m torpor’d (VtM players will get this reference). I find social interactions tense, tedious and exhausting. Playing my 3DS between talks or interactions helps, but doesn’t fully alleviate the stress I feel during strained, worky, networking type conference conversations.
I suppose my point here is that if you’re going to be socially awkward and struggle, then do so with everyone. Don’t try to make a powerplay by brushing past a student to talk to a professor- or if you have to- then excuse yourself and try to be polite about it. Or just be generally awkward and horrible to everyone equally. 🙂
And as an aside, if someone is awkward and horrible to you (like I probably was), it usually isn’t personal. They, like me, might just feel stressed because of myriad other factors.
3. Embarrass Yourself
Embarrassment is a fun topic, right Sebastian? I suppose embarrassment is a sliding scale and different for each person, but I feel like the more you can intentionally embarrass yourself in socially allowed ways, the better.
Most conference days end with a chance to experience embarrassment first-hand. Whether it be karaoke, danceoke (see below), a football match in which you injure your knees so bad you can’t walk properly for three days (also see below), or a group night out, these events not only help blow off steam, but also help the social lubrication of the conference.
Compared to the stress of letting your team down, embarrassing yourself with an injury or by being over-competitive, conference presentations seem like a walk in the park. I think this is for two reasons. First, it brings down risks to self-identity. A whole group of people are re-assuring you that it is okay to not be the rigid-professional at this given moment in time- it is in fact socially unacceptable to do so. Secondly, being silly or embarrassing or playful together is a bonding experience. Hard to be nervous in front of an audience that you’ve played with.
4. Eat Whatever
Seriously. Just enjoy not having to cook for once.
No rules apply. You want a breakfast beer? Do it. You want dinner at 15:00? Go for it. Most people will be so jetlagged that they won’t notice or care and will probably assume you are also jetlagged.
I recommend a humorous approach to life in general, but particularly at conferences. If you can get your audience to chuckle at least once during a conference presentation, you’re probably doing something right… or you have a funny topic. Obviously humour isn’t always appropriate, but I am sure you can figure that one out on your own.
A good sense of humour travels well. Take time to look around and notice your surroundings. Also take time to laugh at the little things. Like this toilet roll holder:
I’m unsure how many DiGRA attendees bothered to take a look during their walk in to uni, but in someone’s front yard was a big red box (see below).
Covered in graffiti, I assumed this was a disused cigarette dispenser, but a closer look told me no.
Yep. Just out in someone’s front garden. Although, it was close to the university and could have been a part of student halls, or maybe even a student prank as I believe these are normally found in toilets. I didn’t actually check to see if I could buy a TravelPussy, a mistake I gravely regret now. Anyway, I got a pretty good chuckle out of it.
Piggybacking onto humour is my advice to explore the local area. If you can, try to squeeze in a day before or after the conference to go walking around. If your schedule is too tight, take a midday break, grab a sandwich, and have a picnic.
I honestly don’t think brains (well, at least my brain) is equipped to deal with 8 straight days of (net)working from 7:30-23:00. Sometimes you just gotta chill in the woods for a bit… with something you bought from a vending machine in someone’s front garden… ;D
Just a quick post to note my upcoming speaking engagements- if you are the one person who reads this blog who is also interested in hearing me talk- and a charity event I am helping organise.
First up, Adult Play Seminar in Tampere. I’ll be giving a keynote at 10:00 on 12th May in which I’ll shamelessly promote my book, Sexuality in Role-Playing Games, and maybe talk about some other sexy things. I might talk about my new research projects, or I may just talk about how sexy play fun times makes the world go ’round. Haven’t decided yet.
After Adult Play, I’m off to Germany for the Digital Games Research Association annual conference where I’ll talk about the horror genre and Animal Crossing- aka the paper which shouldn’t have been but was. I’m looking forward to making the Powerpoint, actually. I have so many screenshots from that game and most of them are useful in some capacity.
Last but not least, I’m helping to organise a Really Big Board Game Day on campus benefiting the NSPCC. All Brunel students and staff are welcome to join us for an afternoon of playing a vast collection of board games, both old and new. You can bring an old favourite along or try out something new. The important thing is to have fun and raise money for children in need. A suggested donation of 5 GBP goes straight to the NSPCC’s play therapy programme which uses play to help abused kids learn to trust grown ups again.
If you can’t make the event, why not use this as an excuse to have some friends ’round and host a board game evening at home? You can still donate some spare change to the NSPCC through my JustGiving page. 🙂
Well, that just about wraps up this blog post. Oh, wait, one more thing…
Foreword: Most of this blog post will be open, unabashed bragging about how talented and cool my students are. Read at your own risk. 😉
To celebrate the launch of my first research monograph, Sexuality in Role-Playing Games, we hosted a Games Design research evening. This allowed for not only the eating of pizza, drinking of soda, and making of merry, but also a chance for our students to show off what they do here. As it would turn out, not only do they make super rad games (as evidenced by the Global Game Jam results), but they can also write some pretty darn good papers.
The night featured six presentations done in a modified pecha kucha style- meaning we each had 16 slides set on a timer of 20 seconds per slide with automatic animations for a total of five minutes. Five minutes each to explain our research! Eek! How nerve wracking!
First up, me! To kick off the event I talked about my past research on sex and role-playing games and my future research on sexy board games.
Next up was the ever patient Kelly who very politely agreed to participate in the event despite being short of time working on her own book proposal. She spoke about her work on hybrid-identity and made puns about EverQuest which everyone laughed at. The puns, I mean. Not her work, obviously!
Speaking about his recent DiGRA paper, third year student Christopher Winn impressed the crowd with his amazing knowledge of Powerpoint animations… and the narrative structure of MOBAs, of course!
Rounding out the end of the evening, MA student Daniel Thompson told us all about his past work creating games with Block Stop which blur boundaries between play and performance. He then spoke about how this developed his research interests.
Ending the presentation segment of the evening, MA student Rosa Carbó-Mascarell told us about her travels and viewing cities through the eyes of a psychogeographer. She also discussed how psychogeography influences her game design and research.
Overall, the event was well attended and those who came got a lot out of it. It was a wonderful experience to learn from students, watch students learn from other students, and (generally) to celebrate the cool things we spend so much of our lives doing.
A special thank you to everyone at Brunel University London who made the event possible. Photo credits go to the wonderfully talented and generous Chris Cox.