Culture and Identity of Casual Online Play

I am visiting the Homo Ludens 2.0 conference in Utrech this week, organised by the Playful Identities project. Below is the text of my abstract:

“The Culture and Identity of Casual Online Play”

It is relatively easy to find examples of deep, immersive play that has effects on personal or social identity: an intensive psychodrama, live action role-play, and even some massively multiplayer online (MMO) game players report experiences that have affected the ways they perceive themselves, or human condition in general. Most of contemporary play, however, is not deep or transformative in a similar manner. This talk will focus on casual gameplay that takes place in Facebook games such as Farmville (70-80 million users in 2010), as well as through mobile phone applications such as Foursquare (a location-based game for smartphones). The aim is to discuss the significance and meaning making activities that takes place among this kind of games, and highlight their contribution to game cultures.

Casual play is typically characterised by short sessions of playful interaction with games that are not particularly challenging, complex or extensive by character. It is also possible to play this kind of ‘casual games’ in a manner that is very dedicated and immersive, but then the play style approaches that of core or hardcore gamers, rather than casual play. The non-immersive character of casual play allows participants to divide their attention to other activities and issues beside that of gameplay, making such games particularly suitable for various social uses and purposes.

Based on a series of research projects and participant observation, the expanding range of casual game experiences will be discussed, as well as the social, entertaining and cultural uses which the contemporary online casual games have been adopted for. From this perspective, casual play appears to be an enabler in different personal and social processes, sometimes momentarily moving to the centre of attention, while mostly keeping in the periphery. While the vocal parts of game cultures have mostly articulated the pleasures of strongly immersive gameplay, the players of contemporary casual games have started to put forward an alternative view on what constitutes ‘good gameplay’, based on a slightly different aesthetics of play.

– In my final paper my intention is to focus on the internal tensions and conflicts that relate to setting ‘casual’ in relation to identity, or creation of culture around such an internally ambiguous concept.

Author: frans

Professor of Information Studies and Interactive Media, esp. Digital Culture and Game Studies in the Tampere University, Finland. Occasional photographer and gardener.

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