New Book, New Look

I am very excited to announce that my new book, Sexuality in Role-Playing Games, has launched! Although, for some reason, Amazon won’t be shipping it until April. Hmm…

Publishing a book is a really interesting experience. When I think back to how many people were involved in its creation… from the participants who made data collection possible to the many eyes which read over multiple drafts to my editing team at Routledge… it makes my head spin.

This is quite a big milestone for me, so to celebrate, I’ve revamped the website. I commissioned new avatars and backgrounds from the wonderful Patricia Leonardo Cavalieri. The beautiful unicorn you see as the page’s header is all her creation as is the blue-haired portrait in the previous blog post. I think she captured my likeness and whimsy quite well. ūüôā

Also this week, I ran an Alternate Reality Game (ARG) as part of a lecture on RPGs, MMOs, and social play. Over the weekend (maybe), I hope to publish a post mortem on how using ARGs in the classroom works (or doesn’t). I also have a few design reflections which are worth mentioning. Making an ARG for <20 people is actually quite difficult. Particularly within the material constraints of a university classroom.

I’d like to write more, but I have articles and book chapters waiting for my attention. Well, until next time,

Ashley

New art and updated look

Just a quick post to show off the website’s flashy new coat of paint. Since my hair didn’t match the banner image anymore, I had to commission new art and change things up a bit.

SicilianValkyrie, aka Patricia Leonardo Cavalieri, is the amazingly talented woman behind the drawings. If you ever need artwork, I highly recommend her. She is professional, courteous, has a great eye for colour and composition, and¬†(obvious) talent. She’s currently working on another commission for me at the moment and I cannot wait to see it!!

Until next time,

Ashley

This is my jam!

This was the first year I was able to take part in a Global Game Jam, and by take part I mean bounce around and look at what  students were doing. Next year I might actually get around to making stuff, but I felt that even my limited experience this year was blog-worthy.

Namely, I was really impressed at just how creative our Game Design students are. My classroom interactions with students usually involve creativity, in that I ask them to apply readings and theories to real-world problems, but the creativity I saw in the jam was of a different sort. Students, of all years, worked together to create a game from scratch in 48 hours. I felt privileged for the opportunity to watch as sketches became assets, storyboards became narrative, and rats became time travelers.

Rather than blather on about how awesome and cool the jam was, I guess I should just let you all see for yourselves. Have a click here and scroll through the games. Maybe even play a few? It will be worth your time, promise.

Until next time,

Ashley

Characters I love

Continuing along with the theme of nostalgia and¬†self-indulgent blog posts, this week I’m going to do a run down of characters I love. Partially this is to celebrate the launch of the Game Love anthology (in which I have a chapter!), and partially this is because I want to talk about VtM: Bloodlines some more. But first, the anthology, yay!

Photo courtesy of Esther MacCallum-Stewart.
Photo courtesy of Esther MacCallum-Stewart.

You can buy¬†it¬†on Amazon, but beware, it is sandwiched between a few other salacious titles which you might find distracting. I, for one, had to look up what BWWM meant and then I had to stare¬†at the cover of that one book¬†trying to figure out why a leg would be protruding from this gentleman’s head. Why a high heel on a football? So many questions…

gamelove2

But enough of judging books by their cover. Game Love, which many people worked on for a very long time and deserve recognition for their hard work, is finally out and its time to celebrate. So here’s a list of game characters I love.

1. Malkavians in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines

Not precisely a character, but a possible choice for player-characters. To bring my three readers up to speed, in Vampire the Masquerade (VtM) lore, Malkavians are a bit mad. Of course there are variety of ways this can play out in tabletop settings, but in a digital game? VtM: Bloodlines handled this really well with excellent story writing and environment and NPC interactions.

Take the above scene as an example. On my first playthrough as a Gangrel, I remember running through this flat, turning the TV on and being impressed that the news reporter was talking about current events relevant to the story arc. On a third playthrough with a Malkavian character, I learned that you get something completely different. The TV talks directly to you, and you can talk back!

Similarly, you can get in an argument with a stop sign.

2. The Pyro in Team Fortress 2

What dreams of chronic and sustained cruelty lie behind that mask?

The Pyro is complex, and not just in terms of her apparent instabilities. She is perhaps one of the easiest characters to pick up and play, but she can also be one of the most difficult to play well. Spy-checking, pyro-blasting folks of cliffs, accuracy with the flare gun, knowing when to employ the axetinguisher… These are all skills which take both time and practice. I like that the Pyro class has that type of replay value. Easy to pick up, hard to master. For me, that’s part of what makes TF2 still fun after many years playing.

3. Zevran in Dragon Age: Origins

Oh Zevran… Who doesn’t love you, you saucy minx? From his swoon-worthy stories about being an assassin to his witty repartee, he is perhaps one of the most memorable characters I’ve come across in an RPG. The fact that he is open about his sexuality doesn’t hurt either. Zevran never makes any apologies for who he is, or what he wants, whilst still managing to be caring and sweet.¬†I’d love to see more characters like that.

Okay, so perhaps the sexy-time cutscreens are a bit over-the-top, and DA:O had that whole weird faces thing going on, but still. Zevran. ‚̧

4. Yoshi in Super Smash Brothers

I think we all know why I like Yoshi…

I like to turn people into eggs and drop them off the edge of the platform. Its just so satisfyingly… gross.

5. Frida in Bust-A-Groove

Since I derailed part of my last post on games I love to talk about characters I love in those games, I have tried really hard to avoid repeats. I didn’t mention Michelle Chang, for example, despite the fact she is totally awesome. Well, until now. But this small mention doesn’t really count. Does it?

I have to repeat Frida though.

Not only does she have the coolest hair colour ever, but she is also a graffiti artist. I guess. I mean, that was her¬†special ability to knockback other dancers during combos. I also liked how she’d create a tropical storm¬†just by dancing. Upon reflection, I might have liked her because Storm was my favourite X-Men character.

Thoughts

I’ve realised a couple things from these last few posts on nostalgia. Namely, that there are many ways we interact with and love games. Some games we love for their characters, some for their mechanics, some for the setting, some for the lore… This realisation is partially what the Game Love anthology is about. People interact with, and love, games in sometimes unexpected ways. Occasionally this is in ways the developers couldn’t possibly have imagined as they were creating the game. I guess that’s a testament to the larger impact games have on our culture overall. We consume, we discuss, we find pixels utterly endearing.

Thinking about all these beloved characters has not only given me the warm and fuzzies, but also made me really want to play some games. So on that note, I’m signing off.

But before I go, for those of you about to jam, I salute you! GL;HF

Until next time,

Ashley

Games and Nostalgia

Happy new year!

Hope everyone had a fun and creative Christmas break. Hopefully y’all got to play some games! Between writing the index for my latest book and a few journal articles I managed to play a few, but funnily enough, I didn’t play anything new.

Over break I revisited some classics and favourites from my gaming past. They got me thinking a lot about how nostalgia works to not only sell games (as I discussed in my last blog post) but also how a sizable chunk of my best memories in life are playing games. I guess that sounds kinda sad when I type it out, as I would assume other people have great memories of their family or pets or something, but mine are with pixels, polygons, cards and dice… and… wait a minute…family!¬†Most of my best memories are when we all played together, actually. I never realised that until now. Hmm…

Well, anyway, since the Game Love book is coming out soon (preview my chapter¬†here!) I thought I might make a couple posts celebrating my own love of games… and what better time to be self-indulgent than when you’ve got the January blues?

For the purposes of this post, I’ve tried to pick games which stand out the most in my memory, and I’ve tried to place them in chronological order. Other than that, there’s no real methodology to this list. I had originally tried to limit myself to 10 games, but in the style of Buzzfeed, the list seemed to grow willynilly. Well, why shouldn’t it? This is probably my least academic-y post, but that’s okay. Its nice to take a post to remember why I study games- because I love them!

Let’s get started.

12. Hi Ho Cherry-O– Board game- 1960

hihocherryo

I really liked this game when I was in preschool because I really liked cherries. Whilst I don’t actually remember playing it, I do remember trying to eat the red plastic tokens because I thought they would taste like maraschino¬†cherries. They didn’t. ūüė¶

11. Totally Rad- NES- 1991

Totally_Rad_cover_NES

Although I had other gaming consoles, the NES was probably the first that I really remember playing. And this game? Yeah, it was as good as it sounds.

I never actually managed to clear the first screen because I think I lacked the requisite manual dexterity, but damn if I didn’t repeatedly try. I would get my mum in to help and watch her play for hours. I was completely fascinated by this Totally Rad world, which seemed to be an odd mix of magic and tech. Also, it really got down with the language of the youth, as evidenced in this gamefaq screenshot.

gamefaqsstotrad

10. Balloon Fight- NES- 1986

balloonfight

Simple and fun. Good memories of PvP with family.

nes

Here’s an old photo of my uncle and I playing the game. If you look closely (and ignore the pink shag carpet and new romantic drapes) you can see I have my tongue stuck out in concentration. Kind of adorable if I do say so myself. I like this picture a lot, not only because I remember being really excited to play games with my visiting uncle, but also because most of the family bonded around the game. I mean, it was an important enough feature of Christmas ’91 for grandma to snap a photo. That’s pretty cool.

9. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening- Gameboy- 1993

250px-Links_Awakening_box

One of the best Christmas gifts ever. Good call, dad.

8. Bubsy- Sega Genesis/ Megadrive- 1993

bubsy

One entire summer vacation was spent playing this game with my grandmother. A simple platformer mostly relying on jump mechanics to collect balls of yarn and defeat aliens hell-bent on ridding the world of knits, this game was frustrating and fun. Suffering from a similar problem as the Lion King game (also for the Sega Megadrive/Genesis), certain jumps required absolute precision. If your controller’s B or C button was at all sticky, you might as well turn off the console.

The main thing I remember about the game was sharing the controller with my gran. When one of us would get stuck, or keep dying, or get blisters from sweaty button-mashing, we’d pass the controller. We completed the game together even though it had single player objectives. It was a nice feeling of accomplishment.

7. The Lion King- Sega Genesis/ Megadrive- 1994

The_Lion_King_Coverart

Nope. This game was hard. Impossible.

I spent a Christmas break with my dad trying to get past the water buffalo stampede and neither of us could do it.

A couple¬†summers ago I was in a secondhand gaming shop in Manchester when I found a copy. I bought it, convinced that my manual dexterity had improved since 1994. It hadn’t. In fact, according to The Lion King, it had gotten demonstrably worse.

I got so frustrated that I actually resorted to looking up cheat codes online. (Note: I didn’t actually use the cheat codes because in the end I decided that the only thing more embarrassing than failing at a game is cheating and still failing and I didn’t want to take that risk.) By looking the game up, what I found was quite a lot of commiseration. The game’s entry on Wikipedia¬†entry even states:

Gameplayers wrote in their November 1994 issue that “even on the easy setting, the game is hard for an experienced player”

There was some controversy over whether or not the difficulty was insanely hard to increase rental revenue. That’s right, this was back in the days of renting games. The classic Friday-Sunday rental meant you had a precious 48 hours, or so, to complete the game or risk your mum not letting you rent it again.

Whilst I wouldn’t necessarily recommend you play the game, I would recommend you check out some YouTube playthroughs. The ones where the narrator gets increasingly drunk as a coping mechanism to deal with Simba’s failures are particularly entertaining.

6. Crash Bandicoot- PlayStation- 1996

Crash_Bandicoot_Cover

In the run up to Christmas 1996, my auntie bought a PlayStation. This was a big deal. This was HUGE!

After ages of whining for a next gen console, my mum had begrudgingly bought me a N64 that autumn. Unfortunately, one of the games we got with it was the first Turok. The fiddly camera controls meant that I quickly lost interest in the game, and I didn’t find renewed interest in any of the other launch titles. Frustrated that I wasn’t playing with my expensive new toy, my mum made me return it. I was heartbroken, but calculated that if I moped around long enough mum might spring for a¬†PlayStation.

She didn’t. But auntie did! Well, she bought it for herself and my cousin, but we share in this family.

The day she bought it, my grandmother and I went to her house and were totally amazed at Crash Bandicoot’s polygonal graphics, use of lighting, and super fun gameplay, but what took us by surprise was that we couldn’t save. My auntie hadn’t bought a memory card because she didn’t think she would need it. Not only had previous gaming consoles featured internal save memory, but we just binge-played. When engrossed by a game, we would spend the weekend playing through on limited lives, pausing when we needed to sleep or shower, and never shut the console off. It was impossible to do that with Crash- at least with our skill set. On the second night of restarting from the beginning each time we ran out of lives, my aunt threw on a coat and went out to the shops to buy a memory card.

We completed the game the next week.

5. Tekken 2- PlayStation- 1996

Tekken2Box

When I finally did get a PlayStation (thanks mum!), I became a tad bit obsessed with this game. I mean, I was into it. The cheesy background stories? They were totally legit to my mind. Compelling even. Also, I wanted to be Michelle Chang. She had the best upper cuts, cool hair, and a legit reason for entering the Iron Fist Tournament.

michellechang

I think, technically, my first cosplay was Michelle Chang. Well, it wasn’t so much cosplay as me dressing up like her around the house and trying desperately to get my fringe to do that spikey thing with water and hair gel. Because she was so awesome, of course.

Also, when I got my first pet, I named him Yoshimitsu after my second favourite character.

yoshimitsu

Remember how in the intro his robot hand would do that spinny thing? How rad was that? If you don’t remember, go rewatch the intro video.¬†It will be the best 1:35 of your day.

4. Bust a Groove- PlayStation- 1998

bustagroove

If you couldn’t tell by now, the PlayStation was a big one for me. See, mum? Told you I would play with it everyday!

Ahem, anyway, this is another one of those games which took over an entire summer. In between binge watching episodes of Dragon Ball Z on Toonami, my bestie and I would play hours of this dancing game. It was fun. Mechanically, it wasn’t dissimilar from any other dancing game on the market. What made it special was the music (original and actually good) and the aesthetics. Each dancing stage had a responsive environment. The better you danced, the more cool stuff would happen. Also, as an aside, the CD ROM could actually be put in your music CD player and you could listen to the soundtrack. What?! How cool is that, right?

It also had this… interesting… character and level. I never really understood why an adult baby was sexy and why the level featured¬†100 litres of milk. I mean, 100 litres isn’t that much though, is it? Like, not enough to fill a giant bottle, right?

I am pretty sure my second cosplay came from this game. I loooooved Frida’s style. And that might be why I have blue hair now…but we can get into Frida, and my hair, in the next blog post.

3. Tenchu: Wrath of Heaven- PlayStation2- 2003

Tenchu_Wrath_of_Heaven

By this point I was old enough to get a job, work, save, and buy my own damn consoles and games. Being a fan of Sony at this point, I went straight for the PS2 when the next gen came around. It was a wise investment. The PS2 could play DVDs! Actually, as soon as I got it home and hooked it up to my TV, I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon before I played any games. What? I had just gotten home from work. I was tired.

Anyway, Tenchu is probably the best stealth game I have ever played. And that’s probably because I don’t play many stealth games. And I had an operation that summer so I was a captive audience and had many doctor-prescribed pain management medications which made the game extra challenging. And fun.

Also, Ayami had great hair, but again, I will save that ramble for next time.

2. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time- N64- 1998

The_Legend_of_Zelda_Ocarina_of_Time_box_art

I hear you saying, “Whoa, did you mix up the order here?” No, I didn’t. Yes, I am aware Ocarina of Time came out in ’98, but remember how my mum made me take back my N64 like 2 weeks after launch? Yeah, I missed out on most of the classic N64 titles as a result. Pity me.

Lucky I had awesome friends who dusted off and dragged over their N64 for me to play in the summer of ’03 when I was laid up in bed post-surgery. I fell in love with Hyrule all over again, and this time it was in colour!

I quickly got stuck on the Water Temple and gave up… Sigh.

1. Uno- Card Game- 1971

uno

You know how most families comment about Monopoly causing fights? This was my family’s Monopoly.

Ever since I could understand the rules, I’ve been playing this game. With my entire family as well. Arguments and all.

Awww memories.

Some thoughts…

Looking back at glimpses of my personal gaming history has made me realise just how involved my family has been. The majority of my memories involve at least one family member participating, and well, when I got older it usually involved friends. I don’t know if my family is unique in that every member has played/currently plays videogames on a regular basis, but something tells me they aren’t. I bet lots of families play together. And, obviously, friends too.

I guess this gets at the heart of why I study games. I believe they are a social activity. Obviously not all games are played socially, and not all games encourage sociability- nor should they, but I think that most do. And that’s pretty interesting to a sociologist.

Until next time,

Ashley

Some (brief) thoughts on nostalgia, WoW, and marketing

Hellooooooooooooooooo bloggy universe! It has been a while since I last posted something. Rather than give you a break down of how my autumn has been, I’d rather just jump straight into what’s on my mind.

This week I am lecturing on game economies and spending a little bit of time talking about the prevalent business models found within the gaming industry. As I was preparing my lecture slides, I got the following email:

wowThis email gave me pause, and not just because I am a recovering WoW addict.

It has been fairly well established (see Castronova 2005) that subscription-based games rely on a community base to keep their games profitable. These games often have open ‘beta tests’ aka free-trial periods designed to establish an active player base before the game launches. Once the game launches, this player base will convince lukewarm folks to play the game not only because the virtual world is already bustling with activity, but also because of peer pressure, friendship groups, etc.

The creation aspect of the subscription model seems to be well understood and well mapped out. What is less understood, at least from my perspective, is how a 10 year old game like World of Warcraft is still profitable. This email gave me my answer: kick-ass marketing.

The language of the email mentions both past and future in a coherent narrative. “The time has come to forge your future from the iron of the past”. It calls to mind the echoing clang of metal-on-metal in past dungeon runs, raid parties, and PvP skirmishes; it invites reflection on all those happy memories you made all those years ago.

Don’t you remember how much fun you had bullshiting in guildchat as you farmed Twilight Jasmine and Stormvine?

Remember that time you and your friends spent hours killing and re-killing Lord Aurius Rivendare in the hopes he’d drop Deathcharger’s Reins?

Remember Kara? (Yeah, everyone loved Karazhan.)

Well, the advert seems to say, you can relive those past memories and you can even make some new ones! All you gotta do is re-subscribe!

And I did… I was 2 years sober. ūüė¶ ūüė¶

I signed in with trepidation- I was afraid too much had changed in Azeroth since I left. I mean, what if the pandas ruined the place?

But they hadn’t. When I logged in, I saw the trusty ol’ dark portal was back from vanilla and The Burning Crusade to greet me. Ogrimmar looked the same, and.. hey! Piligrim’s Bounty holiday event is happening! I wonder what new pets and mounts have been added? I wonder how much grinding and errand-running I will need to do to get all the achievements? Oh, none. It is the same world event with the same achievements and awards since before I left. I guess I don’t need to play catchup like I thought I did. Even the holiday outfits are the same. This feels… comforting.

2011
My tauren way back in 2011.
2014
My tauren now in 2014.

Part of me wanted to think I was above advertising and marketing (third person effect, anyone?), but I’m not. I bought into Warlords of Draenor hook, line and sinker. (And yes, I am enjoying fishing in the game, too).

I guess I have to give credit where credit is due… Blizzard’s marketing team has done well for themselves, and not just because they got me to play again, but because they have managed to induce feelings of nostalgia for a brand in less than 10 years. For some companies, that takes a lifetime. For some, it never happens at all. For me, it happened all too easily.

Until next time,

Ashley

Utrecht, GameFace, and LonCon3!

Ok, so I am back to Manchester… for a few days. Wow, what a summer! In this post I will try to give a rundown/post mortem of the past 3 events I have been to with plenty of pictures to dazzle the eye.

Utrecht Summer School Games and Play

Working back from the most recent event, the Utrecht Summer School was an amazing experience. Lucky students got to experience 2 weeks of keynotes, workshops, and game jams (which, by the way, had epic results) all related to games studies.

Chiptune + juice + crayons + a Choose Your Own Methodological Adventure book in my workshop.
Chiptune + juice + crayons + a Choose Your Own Methodological Adventure book in my workshop.

I think the key term of the summer school, as started by Frans¬†M√§yr√§,¬†was ‘interdisciplinarity’. Many epistemologies, frameworks, and perspectives were represented at the school, but rather than feel overwhelming or stifling, such diversity actually brought a special type of energy. The feeling of walking into the summer school as an outsider who arrived a week late was one of community, eagerness to learn, and a willingness to share.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/127031074@N08/
Well, to share knowledge and beer, of course.

I heard whisperings that the summer school might become a yearly gig. I really hope those whispers become something, because this was a fantastic opportunity for students around the world to connect to one another, build important friendships (which really shouldn’t be underestimated), and expose themselves to other research and other ways of researching games, players, and industry.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/127031074@N08/
Let it be established from this photo that I can indeed stand and talk at the same time.

I think the variety of topics presented, as well as the variety of presenters and their styles, made for an engaging summer school. From the side of an educator and instructor, I think the diversity of keynotes was a brilliant idea which not only illustrates the diversity of games research and methodologies (see Nicolle Lamerich’s post here), but also provides a well-rounded education for students. The specialities of the faculty, along with their unique presentation styles, also meant things rarely got dull. I, for example, jokingly encouraged students¬†to draw pictures of dragons during my presentation if they found the talk boring or too basic. I forgot just how playful game scholars are. I got so many dragon pictures tweeted to me that I began to feel like a certain Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men.

I guess students weren’t too bored though… ūüėČ

feedback

Needless to say, I very much enjoyed my time in Utrecht and would love to be a part of next year’s summer school.

GameFace

On Sunday, 24th August, I was interviewed by GameFace (Fab International Radio) station in Manchester. Whilst most of the questions centred on problematic content in games and representations of gender, we did also have a chance to talk about Superbyte and chiptune. Eventually, you will be able to listen to the interview replayed here, but it is still being uploaded.

gameface

Also, FantomenK favourited a Tweet I was mentioned in… so I guess I can retire now. I mean, that’s pretty much the peak of my career, right? The closest I’ll ever get to being a rock star, basically.

LonCon3

Between the tube, the beer, and those fuzzbutt trousers in London summer heat, I nearly died at LonCon3. Okay. So maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But seriously, the furry trousers were fun, but so warm.

faun2
This is actually the only full-body pic I have of my cosplay. ūüė¶ Does anyone else know of any?

I decided to cosplay as a Mr. Tumnus-style faun. Because why not? And also because Chaos Costumes started making these amazing fuzzybutt faun trousers and hooves. (I thoroughly recommend you check out her Etsy shop. Such talent, wow!)

Like a deer caught in the headlights.
Like a deer caught in the headlights.

It was super fun clomping around London dressed in such a costume. The best were the reactions from children on the tube. Parents were, by and large, surprisingly cool with their kids coming up and talking to me (despite Mr. Tumnus being infamous for drugging children, ahem). I did get some dirty looks from plenty of people, and there were one or two camera flashes without permission, but for the most part people were respectful. I was actually a bit taken aback at how much people outside of the Con seemed to stare and gawk. I thought cosplay, or fancy dress, or LARP-y type clothes had become almost¬†mainstream by now. Hmm… Oh well. I actually gave my talk in the cosplay, so that was fun. ūüėĬ†I don’t have pictures of me speaking in cosplay, which is a bummer, but maybe someone else does? If so, I would love to see it!

Here I am moderating a panel.
Here I am moderating a panel on queerbaiting. Photo credit to Jukka¬†S√§rkij√§rvi, who also took the ‘featured image’ at the top of this post.

It is hard to pick a favourite panel at the Con, but mine might have been on queerbaiting (above image). This is because not only was the audience super supportive and respectful, but also because I learned so much. The panelists were extraordinarily patient and articulate in both providing examples and explaining the phenomenon which I, embarrassingly, was unfamiliar with.

The Game Love Game lives!
The Game Love Game lives!

One of the other panels I was fortunate to be a part of involved playing the Game Love Game I designed a couple years ago. It was well received and I was happy so many chose to play it. It is like… a companion game for our book. If you’re interested in playing it, get in touch.

jawas
“Utinni!”

The Con wasn’t all work though. I had plenty of time to play and goof around, as evidenced above. These Jawas¬†were super friendly despite their menacing looks. They made me cover up my Star Trek/Wars t-shirt or they wouldn’t take a photo with me, though! D:

I do not sew... my cosplay.
I do not sew… my cosplay.

And here I am trying to pull my best Eddard Stark expression on the Iron Throne with a pint of cider. I think the cider diminishes the srsns a little bit, but I didn’t have Ice handy. Cider… Ice… there’s a pun there, but I’m not going to make it.

So, I’m sharing these silly pictures for a reason. I think¬†one of the coolest parts about being an academic who studies a beloved media with a large, passionate fan culture is that we are allowed to be fans too. Well, in my opinion at least. For those who saw my talk on qualitative methodology, subjectivity is at the heart of what I do. So… yeah, have some subjectively awesome photos, if I do say so myself.

On a less theoretical note, it is also good to not take yourself too seriously. See below:

Helsinki 2017!
Helsinki 2017!

Thank you!

In closing, I just want to thank everyone involved in Utrecht Summer School Games and Play, GameFace, and LonCon3 for giving me amazing opportunities to travel around, goof around, and spread my research. After the whole experience I feel warm and fluffy, despite the exhaustion.

Until next time,

Ashley

 

DiGRA, LonCon, Utrecht, cosplay, travel, etc…

Soon I leave for the USA and DiGRA, then I’ll be off to London for WorldCon/LonCon3, then Utrecht to teach Summer School! Should you want to see me at any of these events, this post is to outline when/where I will be speaking… and also to give you a sneak peak at some of my talks. Prepare to be underwhelmed by feeble, but well-intentioned, attempts at creativity gone horribly awry (a gamebook to teach qualitative methodology-whaaa?).
Anyway, a-here we go!

DiGRA

3-6 August 2014
Snowbird, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
I present the day before my birthday... w00t!
I present the day before my birthday… w00t!

Should you happen to be headed to Snowbird, Utah for this year’s DiGRA, be sure to come on 5th August and see me talk about Georg Simmel’s ‘adventure’ and how this pause in identity development can be applied to erotic role play in games. For those of you who saw me speak in Tampere in 2012, this presentation/paper is a continuation of the ideas discussed there. I try to tie in adventure games, location, wilderness/beauty of the natural world, into discussions about aesthetics, identity, and player desire. Yeah. It gets messy. I recently re-read the paper and determined I achieved moderate success, but then I went to make the PowerPoint and this hot mess emerged…

What is... I don't even....
What is… I don’t even….
So, yeah, come along, tell your friends, bring your smartphone to keep occupied on Twitter, and prepare to witness what is sure to be the neutron star of my budding career!

LonCon3

14-18 August 2014
ExCeL, London Dockland, UK
LonCon is going to rock. So far I am set to moderate/ participate on the following panels. Locations are TBA, I think, but if you are lucky, you might get to see me cosplay (Scroll down for pics).

Queerbaiting (Mod)
Thursday 19:00 – 20:00
Fanlore, the wiki of “The Organization for Tranformative Works”, describes queerbaiting as “the perceived attempt by canon creators (typically of television shows) to woo queer fans by introducing a character whose sexuality seems, early on, to be coded as something other than one hundred percent heterosexual.” Coding queer characters and relationships has¬†an ancient¬†history in literature and art of all forms and has often been a positive and necessary means of representing queer people when censorship and conservative moral norms would deem it (practically) impossible. Today, genre shows such as¬†Lost Girl,¬†Penny Dreadful,Orphan Black,¬†Game of Thrones¬†and¬†Defiance¬†prove that same sex relationships do not have a negative impact on genre television viewership and are readily accepted, and invariably welcomed, by the audience. With this in mind, we question the practice of hinting at characters being queer and developing queer relationships. We ask exactly where the boundary lies between¬†fan service, ship-teasing and queerbaiting and whether queerbaiting is¬†homophobic.
Love in Games (Mod)
Thursday 21:00 – 22:00
How do we design love in games, and what does this mean? Creating meaningful relationships in games is becoming something of a holy grail, and there are many ways of representing love in, for and around games. From the heart symbol that empties as Zelda dies, to giving Morrigan presents in Dragon Age, love is a difficult thing to understand, let alone simulate it within games themselves. Yet we ‘love’ games – sometimes too much, and this is key to our relationship with them. Here, we look at the importance of representing and expressing such a complex concept within games.
The Love Games Game
Friday 16:30 – 18:00
We’ve written a book about love in games! But during the course of it, we evolved a game about love, which talks about our love for games. What would a zombie reincarnation of the Zelda franchise be like? How about Super Streefighter II with cupcakes? Come along and play this silly mash up game where we invent some lovely games from the games we love.
Being a Fan of Problematic Things
Saturday 13:30 – 15:00
“I know the writer is a sexist, homophobic bigot but I really love this show and I can’t stop watching.” Statements like this are common refrains but it, and others like it, cause very strong reactions. It causes many fans to feel insulted that their idol or favourite television shows are being accused of some pretty harsh things, yet others feel offended that the fan is still watching despite these things. In this session we ask how it is possible to still enjoy television programmes, movies, books and the works of controversial creators when we as individuals or community groups consider the subject matter or means of representation problematic. We also ask why some fans react so badly to this criticism and if there is a way to make the bitter pill easier to swallow.
Playing with Diversity: Games and Speculative Fiction
Saturday 16:30 – 18:00
Three academics each give a 15 minute presentation followed by a joint 30 minute discussion with the audience.
  • Mika Loponen and Markus Montola, “Speculative Games: A Ludological Analysis of Fictional Games”
  • Jaakko Stenros & Tanja Sihvonen, “Out of the Dungeons, onto the Meadows: Queer Representations in Role-Playing Source Books”
  • Ashley Brown,¬†Elves are from Venus, Dwarves are from Mars: Diverse (sexual) relationships in speculative fictional worlds
  • Diane Carr, “Weird Spheres, Bursting Bodies and Peculiar Tools: Disability, Masculinity and the Monstrous in the Dead Space Series”
Lizard Wizards in Space! Bethesda vs Bioware
Sunday 11:00 – 12:00
Panel examining the impact of Bioware and Bethesda videogames on recent gaming experiences. Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect, Dragon Age and Skyrim have all advanced player experiences in games, providing us with rich worlds, exciting possibilties and diverse characters to play. Both companies pride themselves on allowing the player to choose their own pathway through the game, and to experience each world on their own terms. This panel investigates the strengths and weakness of these games, and looks at the ways they are influencing play.

Okay, so I plan to do a huge cosplay faux pas and re-use my DragonCon Night’s Watch outfit from last year for at least one of the days, but I promise my outfit for the Masquerade (viewing-not participating) will be so lavish you won’t even notice.
viking
I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children, have no fun, etc, etc.

Utrecht Summer School

16-31 August 2014 (I will be there from 25-27 August)
Utrecht
I am very excited to be giving a lecture about my passion- qualitative methodology. Better yet, I get to host a 3 hour workshop on the topic. Woo hoo!
I promise I'll make epistemology fun!
I promise I’ll make epistemology fun!

Unfortunately, my workshop is limited to only 15 students. That’s because I’ve made my own Choose Your Own (Methodology) Adventure gamebook. That’s right. A CYOA gamebook for qualitative methodology. By the end of the course, my goal is for students of all levels to have a working research design with solid justifications for their choice of methods. If you’re new to qualitative researching, consider this a crash course. If you have already done your fieldwork, come along for the section on the relationship between theory and analysis. Just about to hand in your thesis? No worries, come along for a last-minute tune up and make sure you have the vocabulary you need for your defence.

I hope it is as informative as it is accessible and fun. Also, dragons.

A sneak peak! Can't wait to get these printed. :>
A sneak peak! Can’t wait to get these printed. :>

There will be time during the workshop for Q&A as well as a discussion of preference, controversy, and ethics. I’m super excited for this!


I hope to see you all very soon,

Ashley

Tampere, Sk√∂vde, and Liverpool oh my!

(Apologies for the inconsistency of font regarding umlauts.)

In my last post I promised you a more in-depth account of the Critical Evaluation of Games Studies conference. Then I went to Sweden to give a guest lecture, so… Yeah. Things got a little busy.

presentation
There is always time to coordinate your outfit with your co-author, however.

So since I can’t offer you a full run-down of the Tampere conference,¬†I can recommend some clever people who have! I thoroughly recommend that you check out Jonne Arjoranta‘s blog post which not only gives a action-by-action replay of the event, but also uses the Twitter feed to illustrate the types of discussions which happened. Here is the only Twitter screenshot I was able to find about my presentation:

twitterpopularity

Anyway, Frans Mäyrä has pulled together an overview about the bigger picture of the seminar and the current state of games studies as a field over on his blog. Both blogs are fantastic accounts and do the conference a justice I simply cannot. 

Now onto Sk√∂vde.¬†Last week on the 14th May I was fortunate enough to be invited to give a lecture to students and a presentation to staff at the University of Sk√∂vde. I was amazed at how well the students responded to the lecture, how happy they were to approach me and their thorough engagement and curiosity. They were very keen to deepen their understanding of how sexuality might be implemented in game design and what this might mean for society/culture overall. They were also kind enough to leave me Twitter feedback. ūüôā

studentevalskovde

And to wrap up this recap, an interview I did with Rami Sihvo about my research is now up and available to read in both Finnish and English over on the perliraati.fi blog. I am very humbled at being published (sorta) in a language other than English. It is really special for me to get my research out to a larger audience and I am very grateful for the opportunity to do that.

perliraati
I’m super enamoured with reading myself in Finnish… even if I can’t speak it… or read it. Ahem. Thanks, Rami for your translation work!

And now I am off to prepare for an impending trip to Liverpool to give a talk about erotic play and spatiality/location. Phew, this summer is a busy one.

Until next time,

Ashley

Images from Finland

A quick note: I was able to snap lots of photos over the past week¬†I spent in Tampere and Helsinki¬†which I am keen to share along with some musings over language, food, airlines. Although I was there for a conference, and thus didn’t have too much time to have a look around, I had enough time to snap a few things to think about. I will be back soon with a more ‘official’ account of the conference. In the meantime, languages fascinate me!


I was very fortunate to spend this past week in Finland- even if the last day was a bit of a surprise. This trip was a very special one. In addition to seeing a diverse group of friends I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with (because of geographical issues), I also was able to reflect on several issues- both personal and professional. There really is nothing quite like a language barrier to create a smothering feeling of difference which calls to the mind the politics of language on a very basic level.

aiport
Language is present on the front of the pack, but culture is also present.

These jelly beans are a small example. The purchaser is informed in four languages that these pink beans are Hello Kitty’s favourite flavours. Not to go full-Saussure on ya, but there is something symbolic in a fictional character having favourite flavours. Particularly when we consider the fictional Japanese character is being used to sell sweets in the United Kingdom which were manufactured in the United States by German immigrants. Furthermore, that a friend requested I¬†bring these because she cannot source them in Finland¬†(and Finnish is not one of the languages on the pack) brings forth several points about culture, values, capitalism/globalisation, and taste which I cannot get into here. Suffice to say, some things are lost in translation. Like reindeer sandwiches.

reindeer
My attempts to buy a tomato and mozzarella sandwich were thwarted by smoked reindeer. PS- It was delicious.

Unlike the Swedish subtitles beneath this particular sandwich, the Finnish name is incomprehensible to those only familiar with English. Sure renk√∂tt doesn’t look much like reindeer, but there is at least a resemblance in letters- a likely leftover relic from Middle English. Fascinating to trace the history of language through sandwiches. Om nom nom…

 

donkey
What is… I don’t even know…

More so than language, this little gem represents an odd way to sell sweets. I don’t quite understand why the donkey is blonde with breasts, or indeed why the sweets¬†are the same colour as the aforementioned breasts, but hey ho. I very much doubt the package for these sweets has anything to do with Finnish culture and everything to do with a …’creative’… marketing director somewhere, but I could be wrong. Feel free to correct me in the comments. ūüôā

cybershop
A nightclub called Fat Lady, along with Cybershop which, as far as I could tell, was a bit like Cyberdog. I prefer to think instead that they sell cybersex.

The problem with not being able to read the language of the country you’re in are multi-fold. Particularly as when you do find words in your language, they seem to stand out ten times more. In fact, I bet the only word native English-speaking readers will remember from the donkey sweets pack is the word ‘Lady’ because it was the only word in English.

Anyway, I laugh at the Fat Lady nightclub every time I walk down¬†H√§meenkatu. Although I have never been, a review calls Fat Lady ‘classy and sophisticated’. Huh. As much as I hate to admit it, the interior is well designed and they have a Spotify link to their playlists- shockingly cool for such a crude name.

weinercoffee
Heh… wiener coffee…

Likewise, when you see something which is slightly rude in English, but used in a totally innocent way, it is also giggle-inducing. (I know it means Viennese coffee, but I can’t help it!)

From the set of Star Trek: TOS.
From the set of Star Trek: TOS.

As I mentioned before, a airline error meant I had to spend an extra night in Helsinki. The airline put me up in a rather modest hotel which featured the ugliest chair I have ever seen and this lift which looks like it was built in the 1960s and left to rot in its avocado glory. I have to admit, it has an aesthetic appeal, which is why I’m including it in a blog post mostly about language.

The ugliest chair ever.
The ugliest-chair-ever-and-airline-pyjamas-selfie.

I had to take a selfie with it in my airline-issued-pyjama glory. Yeah, they also lost my luggage. But no matter! Totally worth it to spend the night with early 90s chairs.

gross
Because claustrophobia of lifts is better when combined with the claustrophobia of a plane.

The interior of the lifts were a cool idea, but unfortunately freaked me out a little. Anyway, enough pictures for now. Expect a proper conference run-down soon.

Until then,

Ashley