EUROFAN in Salzburg

At the end of September, I was fortunate to be invited as a keynote speaker to EUROFAN conference in Salzburg, Austria. The subtitle for EUROFAN was “New Directions for the European Fantastic After the Cold War”, which pretty much sets its focus and agenda, search for European developments in fantasy and science fiction in recent decades.

I was able to participate only to the first conference day (need to spend some time also home, a bit too much travel recently), so I cannot comment on the paper sessions of Saturday, but the program sure looked fascinating enough (you can download it from the conference web page at: www.uni-salzburg.at/eurofan ).

The keynotes provided mutually complementary views on the expansive landscape of fantastic arts in the Europe:

– Firstly, the conference chair, professor Sabine Coelsch-Foisner mentioned few words about the background of the conference, about the need for increasing European collaboration in this research area, and about some attempts to gain EU funding for a research network (not successful so far, but maybe in the future). She also shared some images from Spain, about the works of Gaudi and Dali, setting the tone of the conference.

Sabine Coelsch-Foisner (right)

– The first keynote, Roger Luckhurst, who is the Professor in Modern and Contemporary Literature in Birbeck College, University of London, had his title as “The Weird Rewired”. He talked about the history of “Weird” fiction, and how the “New Weird” actually involves certain kind of return to its origins as “Aristotelian bio-horror”, or as attempts to think about the “limits of anthropocentric thought” (as in the troubled writings of H. P. Lovecraft). He concluded his talk with a reading of “Regicide”, a new ‘noir fantasy’ novel by Nicholas Royle.

Roger Luckhurst

– The second keynote took us through bewildering journey of new, fantastic European cinema. Dr Mark Bould, Reader in Film and Literature Studies in Bristol, University of West England, and also the founding co-editor of the Science Fiction Film and Television Journal, talked with the title “Spectres Are Haunting Europe” (with an opening slide covered in Pac-Man ghosts, while the subtext leads us to Marx – a nice touch). The talk and the accompanying PowerPoint presentation were an actual fireworks of interestingly ironical (self-consciously or not), multicultural and/or borderline-problematizing works of fantastic cinema from all over the Europe, Russia and Finland included (even the forthcoming Iron Sky Sci-Fi Nazi parody was featured).

Mark Bould

– Third keynote, Professor Edward James from University College Dublin’s School of History and Archives, is a scholar of medieval history by training, but has focused on the history of science fiction and fantasy for numerous years. His talk, titled “The New Space Opera, 1991-2011: The European Contribution” was actually almost entirely about “British contribution”, as he readily confessed, and constituted an illuminating and inspiring discussion of what we should consider a ‘space opera’ to start with, and how ‘new space opera’ is subtly modifying this original “human interests in space” genre into something a bit more self-conscious, ironic, or something that handles the space opera tropes and themes with an “outsider” mindset. My favourite author, Scottish Iain M. Banks, is clearly a representative of new space opera.

Edward James

– My own attempt at a keynote was titled “The Global and Local in Fantastic New Media: The Case of Finland” and without going to details, I can only wonder if there is some kind of “outsider sensibility” that relatively marginal cultural or geographical positions may grant you, when you are producing and participating in culture. It is unclear whether there is any true “centre” any more, anywhere, or is everyone living in the margins, but still the position of a Scottish science fiction author is different from that of a New Yorker one, for example, and equally a game developer or gamer coming from Finland must adopt slightly different strategies while engaged with fantasy gaming than their Anglo-American counterparts, simply by their cultural context, history and social situation.

Once again, many thanks to Sabine, Sarah and Markus and all the other organisers for an interesting, great event!

Peliosaamisen koulutuskokonaisuus / Game studies courses

University of Tampere Game Research Lab will be offering extensive “personal development courses” in games research and design, here is the list of course modules:

M1: Introduction to the History and Theories of  Games and Play (6 op)

M2: Analysis of Games and Evaluation of Playability (6 op)

M3: Game Design Fundamentals (6 op)

M4: Game Prototyping (6 op)

M5: Project Work (6 op)

More information is available from here:

http://www.uta.fi/sis/opiskelu/taydennyskoulutus/Spirit.html

Games Are Not Dangerous Enough!

[These are the notes of my talk in the game studies “rant” session of DiGRA 2011 conference, 16 September, 2011. A word of warning to the reader: taken out of their original context, certain understanding of the ambiguous operations in the concept of ‘irony’ might be reguired here.]

  • Over the recent years, I have sometimes been contacted by representatives of media, by educators and certain government representatives to comment on the various dangers of games. This mostly happens when something tragic or nasty has happened that might be connected to games, for example a school shooting incident. Particularly the alleged violent media effects are an issue in this context, and the suspicion seems to be that such effects are especially powerful forces in the connection of games. The logic goes that since there are games where one can simulate actions that look like shooting, the game must lower the threshold to do the same with real guns.
  • While preparing my comments and answers to these discussions, writing meta-reviews of research, it has become clear again and again that one can find mutually incompatible research that looks valid and scientific and that seems to support both statements like “No, games are not dangerous, they actually empower gamers in society” and “Yes, they in fact stimulate aggressive thoughts and behaviours”. Much of the results of this kind of research is already determined by the research goals and methodology, e.g. controlled laboratory experiments versus looking at the social life and cultural uses of games from more qualitative perspective.
  • You will find what you are looking for. When I try to provide information like our survey data that tells us that among the younger generations there are so many game players (e.g. 93 % active digital gamers among 10-19 year-olds in Finland) that it would actually be more of a news if a young person who commits crimes would not be a gamer, than the opposite – almost no one seems to be interested.
  • As noted elsewhere in this conference (e.g. in the Eric Zimmerman’s opening keynote), the history of academic discussion surrounding other art forms is rather different. Partly out of certain frustration, my position today is: “Are Games Dangerous? – Games Are Not Dangerous Enough!”
  • First into some comparisons from the field of the literary studies, where my old academic background was situated in. In his interesting study, The Surprising Effects of Sympathy (1988), professor David Marshall shows us how classic, eighteenth century authors (Marivaux, Diderot, Rousseau, and Mary Shelley) were focused on certain “effects” of their texts, and how the critics and the authors already of that time were aware of the ambivalence that surrounded e.g. witnessing the spectacle of someone suffering, and were dealing with it. No reason to go back to Aristotle and the theory of tragedy here.
  • The relation of simulated, or mediated violence and suffering has traditionally been one of the lasting areas in the discussions into the epistemology and aesthetics of many art forms. Yet, the dominant understanding that has mostly prevailed is that it is the responsibility of artists to try and make us experience the alternate realities that fiction and media in general make possible, and that it is (mostly) not within the proper domain of the justice system or educational institutions to limit the expressive potential of the arts, as long as the operation of art remains in its institutionalized frame (e.g. in art gallery).
  • There has been discussions of course, like the alleged copycat suicides that followed the publication of The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe (but to my knowledge, Goethe was not put to court for writing his dangerously influential novel) – more recently the Finnish visual artist Ulla Karttunen was actually convicted (but not punished) in court for setting up ambiguous commentary of child pornography in an art gallery, where she had reproduced some images that were freely available in the Internet. The taboo surrounding children was there testing the institutional protection granted by the gallery and fine art context, ending in certain kind of double condemnation/release sentence (judgement without the punishment).
  • Even while literature appears to hold potential to change the thinking, values and behaviours of individuals quite profoundly, our society seems quite capable and happy to go along and accept that mostly literature and the fine arts are allowed to operate within the relative frame of expressive freedom, much to prove the institutionally strong and established position of literature as a “fine art” and high culture.
  • The real problem is not that games have effects; any form of art has effects. The real problem with games is their current weak institutional and cultural status.
  • It is actually somewhat interesting to try and test the potential impact and value of a form of art by looking into how it has been subjected to censorship, e.g.  under totalitarian regimes that aim to control the life and thought of their population. Book banning, for example is widespread and almost every country appears to have a history of trying to limit what gets published in printed press.
  • Even the ritualistic events of book burning testify to the dangerous power that many religious groups, political organisations (like the Nazi party) have perceived in books. Also images have been often censored and banned, as well as music, or lyrics.
  • But have we yet testified enough the fires of game burnings? (As an aside, the only really symbolic thing that comes to my mind is the Atari game burial, where truckloads of unsold game cartridges were claimed to be crushed and buried at a landfill in New Mexico in 1983 – but this is an act of self-destruction by failed industry, rather than the result of acts of real aggression or outside oppression.)
  • We have numerous laws in different parts of the world that either rate, or regulate the availability of games on the basis of age groups, like the European PEGI system, or ESRB system in the USA and Canada. This is good thing in many senses. Restrictions and censorship should be seen as a positive development, as anything that is forbidden, will be ever more tempting, and stimulating. Those young people who really are driven to experience what these, so called “adult games” have to offer, will find ways get them in their hands. They might be actually disappointed in some cases. Simultaneously, and for equally valid reasons, the rating systems hopefully send the right signals to the parents of small children: they need to pay real attention to the actual contents of the games, not only set time limits for gameplay, or use gameplay time as a household currency (something that we have also witnessed in our research).
  • Suppression of a cultural form is also a stimulus for all of us for making the case: why we need games, or what their real potential is.
  • Thinking for example the court processes in the US, and how much energy has been spent arguing for or against games – are games an expressive medium, protected as free speech; can games be conclusively proved to be the cause of aggression or crimes? As yet another step in these convoluted processes, in June this year, the US Supreme Court made a decision that declared that video games can be afforded the same constitutional protections as visual art, film, music and other forms of expression. But no doubt the international debates surrounding games will continue.
  • There are a couple of lessons from linguistics and cultural anthropology that may shed more light on the particular dangers games are associated with.
  • George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist, has written in his book Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things (1987) about our fundamental need to organise our experience, and about the embodied basis of our metaphors – in Aboriginal thought women, fire and “dangerous things” belong to the same category, due to how myth, thinking conventions and experiences link them in this system. In our cultural categorization adult and child are placed in different categories, and games, relating to play, relate also directly to children, thereby making anyone who promotes “dark play” as an expressive category within game culture into a person who immediately appears to threaten children.
  • Cultural anthropologist Mary Douglas has even earlier put forward the classic analysis of pollution and taboo in her book Purity and Danger (1966): phenomena that fall between our cultural, conceptual categories should be avoided, since they are dangerous – if there is cognitive dissonance (need to hold two incompatible ideas at the same time), the controversial subject is also declared as dangerous.
  • From this perspective it is promising to note that games well may have the potential to be the “dangerous things” of our culture: they inhabit the borderlines of that I have called ‘core’ (actions-based gameplay) and ‘shell’ (digital, representations-based media). The duality of “inhabited representation” and “self-driven gameplay” appears still a confusing phenomenon in our late modern society, hard to position either in the category of “things controlled by media”, or among “things controlled by active subjects”.
  • Yet, it is precisely in this confusing dualism that I believe the promising, dangerous potential of games lies. While playing, we can both interact with “pre-written scripts” and cultural symbols of various kinds (so an artist can use games as a medium) – and also focus on our own performance, the effects of our decisions and simulated consequences. In this unique combination, games have the potential to make us reflect on our actions, understand better how to effect the complex systems surrounding us, and vicariously set ourselves to the positions of others.
  • This conference has hold several examples of developments that games might be in the process of experimenting with their full, dangerous potentials. As we saw in last night’s board game panel, even the idea of making War on Terror into a game appears controversial to some – board games are categorically associated with children after all, and children should not be provided with a game that explores themes of violence and evil, right?
  • The experimental live action role games, as documented in the recent book Nordic Larp (edited by Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola) suggest some directions where games can push us, show some (aesthetical, social, political) limits they can cross.
  • The Dark Room Sex Game by Copenhagen Game Collective has clear potential for being controversial and getting banned if it would be offered for sale through mainstream video game distribution channels – it promotes exploration of sexual themes through game form, which must be particularly dangerous, right?
  • As a more extreme example, the experimental live action game “Gang Rape” has been analysed by Markus Montola (see his DiGRA Nordic 2010 paper); this is a game that could also be seen as a social psychological experiment where participants are forced to commit a simulated (non-physical) gang rape, thereby hopefully understanding the dynamics and the nature of particularly brutal form of violence better. Bad, bad game, quite obviously. I am not sure I’d like personally play such thing, nor should everybody necessarily play such games, but I think that if games as an art form should definitely go to such directions. Hopefully there will be more game burnings some day. Or, alternatively, more genuine understanding, appreciation and respect to the surprising powers of games as an interactive, expressive art form.
  • We obviously need games that will be as hated, as used, as widely censored as e.g. D.J. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, for example, before we should take games seriously (I am perhaps giving a bit of a new definition to “serious games” here…)
  • Art is provided with the institutionalized status of having non-utilitarian value in itself, in exploring the full potentials of art form, and for providing alternative perspectives and critical commentary on our various realities – hopefully we will see both game studies and game design push game culture more into such “dangerous direction” in the future.
  • – Thank you.

DiGRA Nordic 2012 Call for Papers

Spread the word: the CFP for the next year’s DiGRA Nordic conference is out:

http://digra-nordic2012.org/

This one will take place in June 6-8 2012, at Tampere, Finland – exactly ten years after the CGDC 2002 that kick-started our Game Research Lab activities over here. Welcome all to visit us and celebrate the anniversary!

Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirja 2011

[The Finnish Yearbook of Game Studies 2011 is out]

Tietokonepeliä käytettiin 1980-luvulla poliittisena lyömäaseena

Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirja 2011 on ilmestynyt sähköisenä osoitteessa:

http://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja-2011

Vuosikirjassa tarkastellaan jälleen niin digitaalisen pelaamisen historiaa, nykytilannetta kuin tulevaisuuttakin.

Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirja on vertaisarvioitu, avoin tiedejulkaisu.

Pelitutkimus on sekä monitieteinen tutkimusala että nuori akateeminen oppiaine, jonka parissa toimivien tutkijoiden huomion keskiössä on digitaalisten pelien erityisluonne. Nyt julkaistussa, järjestyksessään kolmannessa vuosikirjassa, käsitellään muun muassa Raid over Moscow -pelin (1984) aiheuttamaa mediakohua, digitaalisten pelituotteiden keräilyä ja blogikirjoitusten leikkimieltä. Vuosikirjassa on julkaistu artikkelien lisäksi lyhyempiä katsauksia, jotka pureutuvat esimerkiksi tuotelisensseihin, pohjoismaiseen roolipelitutkimukseen ja peliääniin sekä musiikkiin.

Vuosikirjan yksi mielenkiintoisimmista teksteistä on Tero Pasasen artikkeli, joka luotaa Suomen ensimmäistä poliittisesti latautunutta tietokonepelikohua. Se syttyi helmikuussa vuonna 1985 MikroBitti-lehdessä julkaistusta Raid over Moscow -pelin arvostelusta.

Peliä ja sen arvostelua käytettiin sekä ulko- että sisäpoliittisena lyömäaseena. Arvostelua seurannut julkinen kritiikki laukaisi tapahtumaketjun, joka kärjistyi eduskuntakyselyn kautta Neuvostoliiton epäviralliseen vetoomukseen pelin markkinoinnin ja myynnin estämiseksi ja lopulta diplomaattiseen protestiin neuvostovastaisesta aineistosta Suomen tiedotusvälineissä. Artikkeli perustuu sarjaan Suomen ulkoasiainministeriön muistioita, jotka käsittelevät Neuvostoliiton vetoomusta ja sitä seurannutta protestia. Muistioiden 25 vuoden salassapitoaika umpeutui julkisuuslain perusteella vuonna 2010.

Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirjan päätoimittaja on professori Jaakko Suominen Turun yliopistosta. Toimituskuntaan kuuluvat lisäksi professorit Raine Koskimaa (Jyväskylän yliopisto) sekä Frans Mäyrä sekä tutkijatohtori Olli Sotamaa (Tampereen yliopisto) ja yliopisto-opettaja Riikka Turtiainen (Turun yliopisto).

Lisätietoja Jaakko Suominen, jaakko.suominen@utu.fi

Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirjan 2011 sisällys

Kansi, julkaisutiedot, sisällysluettelo <http://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja2011/ptvk2011-000.pdf>.

Toimituskunta: Johdanto

<http://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja2011/ptvk2011-00.pdf>. i-ii.

Artikkelit

1. Tero Pasanen: “Hyökkäys Moskovaan!” — Tapaus Raid over Moscow

Suomen ja Neuvostoliiton välisessä ulkopolitiikassa 1980-luvulla

<http://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja2011/ptvk2011-01.pdf>. 1-11.

2. Saara Toivonen & Olli Sotamaa : Digitaaliset pelit kodin esineinä

<http://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja2011/ptvk2011-02.pdf>. 12-21.

3. Sari Östman: Peli- ja leikkimieli Internetin elämäjulkaisuissa

<http://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja2011/ptvk2011-03.pdf>. 22-36.

Katsaukset

1. Anu Tukeva: Musiikin funktioita videopeleissä

<http://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja2011/ptvk2011-04.pdf>. 37-45.

2. Kati Heljakka: “License to thrill” — Lisenssit:

lautapelisuunnittelun lyhyt oppimäärä

<http://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja2011/ptvk2011-05.pdf>. 46-54.

3. Juho Karvinen: Evolutionaarinen näkökulma peliteollisuuteen

<http://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja2011/ptvk2011-06.pdf>. 55-61.

4. Jaakko Stenros & J. Tuomas Harviainen: Katsaus pohjoismaiseen

roolipelitutkimukseen

<http://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja2011/ptvk2011-07.pdf>. 62-72.

5. Jaakko Suominen: Retropelaamista tutkimassa — välitilinpäätös

<http://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja2011/ptvk2011-08.pdf>. 73-81.

6. Leila Stenfors: Hapuilevia havaintoja, oivalluksia ja tarkkoja

huomioita — Digitaalisen kulttuurin opiskelijat

InsomniaGame-tutkimuksen havainnointiaineistoa tuottamassa

<http://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja2011/ptvk2011-09.pdf>. 82-90.

Kirja-arvio

1. Saara Ala-Luopa: Jaakko Stenros & Markus Montola (2010): Nordic

Larp. Stockholm: Fëa Livia

<http://www.pelitutkimus.fi/vuosikirja2011/ptvk2011-10.pdf>. 91-93.

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