Todellisuutemme tulevaisuus? Nuorten filosofiatapahtuma 2017

[Talked in Finnish about the future of “real” and “virtual” in Helsinki today.] Osallistuin alustajana ja panelistina tänään Nuorten filosofiatapahtumaan. Oma esitykseni (ks. runko alla) pyrki virittelemään pohdintaa ja keskustelua siitä, mihin tulevaisuudessa voi mahdollisesti johtaa ne käynnissä olevat kehityskulut, missä “vaikuttavat mutta ei-materiaaliset” todellisuutta rakentavat kehykset ja kerrokset tulevat keskellemme, ja ohjaavat osaa ihmisistä ajattelemaan, aistimaan, tietämään ja toimimaan – mutta suuri osa väestöä toisaalta ei jaa samaa todellisuutta.

Aineettomien ideoiden vaikutus on perustava kaikkien meidän arkisessa elämässä, ja todellisuuden sosiaalinen rakentuminen muovaa jatkuvasti sitä keitä olemme ja miten ymmärrämme maailmamme. Tässä tilaisuudessa pohdinnan kohteena oli erityisesti uudenlaiset, potentiaalisesti keskenään ristiriitaiset, mutta samoihin tiloihin ja tilanteisiin levittäytyvät pelien, informaation ja sosiaalisen vuorovaikutuksen todellisuuskerrokset. Kuinka tasa-arvon, vallan, yksityisyyden, rahan/arvon, työn/vapaa-ajan ja maailman muuttamisen tai “eskapismin” kaltaiset kysymykset muotoillaan kenties uudelleen, kun nämä kehityskulut ottavat tulevina vuosina seuraavat askeleensa. Kuinka niihin on syytä varautua, millaista peli-, informaatio- ja medialukutaitoa täytyy vaalia ja kehittää että pahimmat uhkakuvat eivät toteutuisi? Kiitokset kaikille keskustelukumppaneille, paikalla oli poikkeuksellisen fiksua, kriittisesti ja laajakaarisesti ajattelevaa väkeä!

The Expanse, and renaissance of space operas

The Expanse, poster
The Expanse, poster.

There is currently clear need for some escapism, the would help to overcome the lack of vision and hope in today’s political arenas, and provide energy to keep on doing something to keep this planet of ours as humane and sustainable living environment as possible. In domain of entertainment, space operas have held one specific place for visions of future, and for hope. Star Trek television series is a good reminder of this. I started recently watching a new, streaming video series The Expanse, that I knew nothing about beforehand. Soon, I found myself spellbound, and had to spend most of Finnish Father’s Day glued to binge watching the entire first season.

Without providing too many spoilers, this is a (semi-)hard science fiction television series (based on a book series of same name) that is taking place in the future of our Solar System, where humans have colonized Moon, Mars, and several major asteroids in the “Belt”. There is a mystery, and threat of interplanetary war, that sets events into motion, but most drama is taking place at the level of single individuals, representing different factions, sets of motivations, and life stories.

The Expanse could not be possible without many “adult” science fiction series that have come before it, Babylon 5 in particular comes to mind. There is gritty, even dystopian feel of unfair and unfinished world in The Expanse, and it is made clear that children and other innocents are always suffering from the fundamental struggle for power and wealth, that is not going away at least in those 200 years that this series takes place in the future. Yet, none of the people are completely evil nor totally good, rather depicting how certain idealism and self-sacrifice is also an inalienable strain of humanity. Saying that, the end of season one was rather heavy going, bringing up memories of holocaust and military-scientific evils of the worst kind of our history. I would very much welcome the season two as soon as possible, to see how all of this is going to evolve further. Or, I just need to get my hands to some of those books. It is great to see that there is again faith in science fiction that can take also political and existential questions into agenda, yet also firmly keep true to its entertainment roots.

Call for applications: Editor-in-Chief, Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research

Apply Now for the Editor-in-Chief of Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research

The position of the editor-in-chief in Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research is now open from 1 January 2017. Currently, the journal has two editors-in-chief who will continue in their posts in 2017.

The journal

Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary academic journal published by the Finnish Society of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research (Suomen science fiction- ja fantasiatutkimuksen seura ry, http://finfar.org) from 2014 onwards. The journal is published in electronic format four times a year.
Fafnir aims at serving as an international forum for scholarly exchange on science fiction and fantasy and for discussion on current issues on the field. In order to achieve this, the journal introduces and develops research focusing on science fiction and fantasy literature, audiovisual art and media, games, and fan culture by providing an interdisciplinary perspective into the research within these genres. Fafnir publishes various texts ranging from peer-reviewed research articles to short overviews, essays, interviews, opinion pieces and academic book reviews on any subject suited to the paper. The main language of the journal is English, but articles are also published in Finnish or in the Scandinavian languages.

Publication Forum for the Federation of Finnish Learned Societies has given Fafnir Level 1 Classification as an academic publication channel important in Finnish research perspective. Fafnir is indexed in MLA International Bibliography and international The Science Fiction and Fantasy Research Database (SFFRD).

Read more about the journal at journal.finfar.org.

The editor-in-chief

Fafnir now seeks an editor-in-chief who is familiar with the field of speculative fiction. Experience working with the publishing process of an academic journal and with electronic journals is desirable but not essential.

The post as an editor-in-chief of Fafnir offers an excellent vantage point to the field of speculative fiction and an opportunity for the international scholarly exchange. As an editor-in-chief, you get an opportunity to develop the journal and to promote the visibility of the science fiction and fantasy research.

The three editors-in-chief are in charge of the general academic emphasis of the journal and of the content of individual issues in co-operation with the advisory board. The editors-in-chief also usually author the editorial of each issue.

The editors-in-chief work closely with the 16-membered advisory board and the sub-editor, whose main responsibility is the visual editing of the journal and publishing it online.

The editors-in-chief are not paid any money.

The Application

Please write a short (maximum one page in length) description of yourself and your reasons for applying the post as the editor-in-chief of Fafnir.
Send your application at the latest 30 November 2016 either by email to submissions@finfar.org OR by mail to the address Finfar c/o Jyrki Korpua, Teljotie 12, 90560 Oulu, FINLAND.

The board of the Finnish Society of Science Fiction and Fantasy Researchers will choose the new editor-in-chief in 5 December 2016 and the applicants are informed of the decision by 7 December 2016.

For more information on the application process, please contact
Aino-Kaisa Koistinen, aino-kaisa.koistinen@jyu.fi
Jyrki Korpua, jyrki.korpua@oulu.fi
Hanna-Riikka Roine, hanna.roine@uta.fi

CFP: Academic Track at the 75th World Science Fiction Convention

Spreading the Call for Papers, Academic Track at the 75th World Science Fiction Convention – “100 Years of Estrangement”

9–13 August, 2017

Messukeskus, the Helsinki Expo and Convention Centre, Helsinki, Finland

Estrangement, or defamiliarization (ostranenie), has long been a crucial concept in our understanding of speculative fiction. Since its first appearance in Viktor Shklovsky’s essay “Art as Technique” (or “Art as Device”) in 1917, estrangement has made its way into the theories of prose fiction, of theatre, and of film, and it forms the core of some of the foundational works in the theory of science fiction, such as Darko Suvin’s definition of SF as cognitive estrangement.

To celebrate the centenary of Shklovsky’s essay, the Worldcon 75 Academic Track calls for proposals for scholarly presentations from any academic discipline to examine, interrogate, and expand research related to the concept of estrangement, to related terms such as cognitive estrangement, the uncanny, the unnatural, Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt or Derrida’s différance, and to their role in the analysis of speculative fiction in any medium. We hope for a broad, interdisciplinary discussion on the many ways in which estrangement  or defamiliarization relates to the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror, and on how those genres form a particularly fertile ground for extending our understanding of how the familiar is made new, or the strange comprehensible.

To examine these phenomena, we invite proposals addressing e.g. the following questions:

  • What is the status of Shklovsky’s original ostranenie in contemporary theories of speculative fiction (widely understood)?
  • How does defamiliarization or estrangement function in different fantastic (sub)genres?
  • What are the differences and similarities between the techniques or strategies of defamiliarization in different media (e.g. prose fiction, graphic narratives, theatre, films, games)? How does defamiliarization relate to inter- or transmedial storytelling?
  • What is the dynamic between defamiliarization, mental transportation and identification? How do estranging and fantastical effects impact the reader’s perception of the storyworld or sympathy towards the characters?
  • How do works of speculative fiction balance estranging or defamiliarizing techniques and the naturalizing effects inherent to its worldbuilding and characterization? How does defamiliarization relate to the realistic illusions created by speculative fiction?
  • How does estrangement help us to describe metafiction and formal self-reflection in speculative fiction?
  • Are there different scholarly traditions around estrangement in different academic fields (e.g. literary studies, aesthetics, film theory) and in different language areas (e.g. Anglo-American, Russian, German, French)?
  • Arising from Russian formalism and the avant-garde, estrangement has strongly political roots that have to do with the freedom of art within society. How does this political aspect of estrangement fare today?
  • How is defamiliarization used in fantastic genres to question or critique societal issues and/or social identity categories (e.g. gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age, social class)?
  • What can the study of defamiliarizing techniques offer to the posthumanist line of interdisciplinary research and its interest in the relations between humans and nonhumans?
  • What commercial functions does estrangement have, and how do those interact with its aesthetic and ideological functions in speculative fiction?

In addition to these theoretical questions, we call for analyses of the effects of estrangement in specific works of speculative fiction in any medium. Beyond the specific conference theme of defamiliarization, proposals on all other topics to do with speculative fiction are also welcome.

Submission guidelines:

Papers will be allowed a maximum presentation time of 20 minutes, with 10 minutes for discussion. All presentations will be given in English.

  • For an individual paper, please submit

–  a max. 500-word abstract, outlining your argument and the grounding of your scholarly approach

–  a max. 100-word description of your academic affiliation(s) and publications (i.e. a ‘bio note’).

  • For a pre-arranged session of three or four presentations (3×20 minutes or 4×15 minutes), please submit a proposal including

–   a summary paragraph of the central purpose of the session

–   the name of the session chair

–   the individual abstracts of all speakers

–   bio notes of all speakers.

Please note that we will accept only one presentation per scholar, but you can submit both an individual abstract and a full session proposal, if you wish.

All proposals should be sent as e-mail attachments (Word or PDF) to merja.polvinen@worldcon.fi by October 31st, 2016.

We hope to announce the selections to the programme by 30th November, 2016. All selected speakers will be responsible for their own travel and accommodation. There is no separate conference fee, but all speakers in the Academic Track must join Worldcon 75 as attending members. For more information on purchasing memberships, please see the convention website at http://www.worldcon.fi/memberships/.

About the event:

Worldcon, or the World Science Fiction Convention is the annual convention of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS). The first Worldcon was held in 1939 and, after a hiatus during WWII, has been held continuously since 1946. The convention brings together thousands of science fiction and fantasy aficionados from all around the world, and the programming includes five multi-track days of panel discussions, presentations, workshops and art exhibitions, as well as the annual Hugo Awards ceremony. For more information on Worldcon75 and on the venue in Helsinki, please see http://www.worldcon.fi/.

The Academic Track is organised by Worldcon 75 in cooperation with FINFAR, The Finnish Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy Research. For more information on submissions, or any other aspect of the Academic Track, please contact merja.polvinen@worldcon.fi.

Looking forward to welcoming you to Helsinki!

Dr Merja Polvinen

Chair of the Academic Track committee
Department of Modern Languages, University of Helsinki
https://tuhat.halvi.helsinki.fi/portal/en/person/mpolvine

in cooperation with

FINFAR, The Finnish Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy Research, http://finfar.org/en/

Note on Pokémon Go: fantasy of collecting and exploring “urban nature”

Pokémon Go (logo).
Pokémon Go (the game logo).

For those of us who started doing r&d on location-based mobile games decade or two ago, the exploding popularity of Pokémon Go has been exciting, but also perhaps a bit bewildering to follow. There have been many games that have exploited the collaborative, competitive, user-created or spatially based functionalities of augmented reality play in more innovative manner than Pokémon Go, but none of them have managed to grow their player base as fast and into the scale this Niantic’s game has done. Our own research in University of Tampere included work with The Songs of North prototype which our team designed and implemented in the Mogame research project in 2003-2004. Before that, there had been e.g. Botfighters (2001) by the Swedish company It’s Alive, which was neither not yet based on GPS technology, but rather on the use of cell triangulation and SMS messages. It has been interesting to follow how the motif of “city shamans”, teamed up into competing factions and using might and magic to struggle for control of urban areas has developed, varied and re-emerged, starting from our The Songs of North (2003), followed by the Shadow Cities (2010), and then by Ingress (2013), which adopted many of the basic key elements from Shadow Cities. Pokémon Go, in turn, is based on Ingress on its location-based game mechanics.

Some of the comments of pioneering location-based or augmented reality game developers I have read have sounded even a bit irritated that a rather simple and clearly derivative game makes such a breakthrough, supposedly solely on the basis of association with a popular IP (intellectual property). What we witness here is related to the nature of innovation processes, though. Again and again, it is necessarily not the first implementations that become the great success stories; rather, it is the “second penguin” jumping in later, who can learn from the experiences from the pioneers, and implement something that is perhaps not as ambitious, but that is designed and suitable for large-scale, mainstream adoption. The detailed analyses of Pokémon Go will no doubt start appearing soon in game studies conferences and journals, and it is interesting to see how the key elements of its popularity will be described and interpreted. Simplicity is no doubt one such element, but there is more.

The holding power of Pokémon Go is perhaps relatively easy to explain in terms of certain key player motivation theories, plus counting in certain love or nostalgia with the revived transmedial Pokémon phenomena itself – plus certainly some novelty effect from augmented reality, location-based mobile game play, which is still new experience for many people. In player motivations, there are classic achievement motivations, pleasures of accumulating advancement, repetition and variably rewarded effort (a well-known addictive mechanic), that Pokémon games tap into; there is a long series of these games, starting from the 1996 releases of Red and Green games for Game Boy in Japan, continuing through what is now considered seven generations of video games, and also a popular trading card game, plus manga, anime, films, and other related Pokémon branded products. It is often quoted how Satoshi Tajiri, the producer and main creator of the original concept, based Pokémon on his childhood hobby of insect collecting. What is perhaps not so often noted is that Satoshi has also spoken about how exploration into urban wastelands was one of the key inspirations for Pokémon games, and how urban developments according to him had driven away all these fascinating life-forms – Pokémon games were thus designed from the start to mimic exploration into “urban nature” and stimulate the joy of discovery of both common and rare creatures of all kinds, and of learning about their individual characteristics and even potentials for (insect-like) metamorphosis.

Even if the range of Pokémon creatures is large and understanding their characteristics provides plenty of room for learning and improvement, the basic game in Pokémon Go game is so simple that it can be immediately comprehended: move around, catch Pokémon, collect them, power them up, evolve them into new species, and join teams for tournament style battles for the domination of certain key spots (marked as “Gyms” in the game). Thus, Pokémon Go shows key virtues of classic “casual” games: easy to learn, difficult to complete or totally master, leading to near-infinite replay value, or even addictive potential. What remains to be seen, however, is how many of the millions of players will continue to play the game when the novelty effect wears off. The location-based games in the past have remained in the margins, and one of the key reasons is that the extra effort of going out (sometimes also when it is raining, dark, or the surroundings are otherwise not so inviting or even safe) has meant that only the most dedicated parts of “core gamers” audiences have stuck with these games in the past.

In addition to analysing what features Pokémon Go has as a game, it is also interesting to see what features it does not have. Joining teams (blue, red, or yellow) is part of the game, but coordinating or communicating with team members is not part of the game. This is something that happens naturally between people who play in same locations and meet each other, when there is a critical mass of them, and social media also plays an important role for assisting players in this kind of contemporary “pervasive game”. Thus, playing alone in isolated locations, or disconnected from popular media services would inevitably have an effect on the Pokémon Go player experiences. This is a game that is designed for populated, urban areas and there is also heavy reliance on the location data and sites recorded for the earlier Niantic game, Ingress.

The “perfect storm” of Pokémon Go is, in my quick analysis so far thus mainly a combination of two things: the successful simplification of earlier, tested location-based game design features so that they are clear and straightforward enough for mainstream adoption, and secondly, of the critical mass provided by fans of the second-best selling digital game franchise in the world (only Mario games have sold more). There is also the additional boost from its associated, widely familiar “transmedial storyworld” that millions of people who have not played Pokémon video games will also recognize. The threshold for stepping into the shoes of a Pokémon hunter and trainer is low, and pleasures of real-world exploration, rare creature hunting, collecting, points and levels accumulation, competition and collaboration mean that Pokémon Go provides highly accessible and enjoyable combination of real world and gaming fantasy.

Three movies

I had some movie tickets that were expiring in Sunday, so I went for it, watching in a row three recent movies in cinema. All of these were transmedia storytelling – two of these were movies based on digital games, one was based on a book. I have no time to write actual reviews but a couple of notes:

Angry Birds Movie: the starting point feels almost like the rumoured Tetris Movie Trilogy – not much narrative material exists in the game to start with, but what little there is, it will be liberally exploited and expanded upon. In this case, we will learn why the birds are angry. In the original games the different birds were colour coded game units that each enabled different slingshot trajectories or other abilities. The movie version does decent work in providing them with personality, and for developing (bit silly and comedy-oriented) backstory for the conflict between the birds and the pigs.

The BFG (Big Friendly Giant): this is probably the strongest of three, when evaluated in terms of its overall cinematic qualities. The combination of Roald Dahl’s innovative children’s book and Steven Spielberg’s skills in high production value adventure movies provides a balanced mixture of humour, sense of wonder and a touch of some darker themes. The most memorable element is the friendly, 24 feet (over 7 meter) giant himself, played by Mark Rylance, and translated into detailed digital version by advanced motion capture technologies and computer generated imagery. The eyes of this friedly figure are particularly lively, deep and expressive.

Warcraft: The Beginning: like the title says, this movie is set to the early stages in the history of Azeroth, the main world of Warcraft game series. Gul’dan, an orc warlock, uses fel magic (evil, vampiric style of magic) to open a portal from Draenor, homeworld of orcs (now destroyed by fel magic) to Azeroth, inhabited by humans, elves and dwarves, and a dramatic conflict ensues. The challenge in Warcraft movie appears to be the exact opposite from the Angry Birds one: here, an abundance of characters, plotlines, wars, races, mythical places etc. has to be reduced into something that resembles more or less coherent, classical movie storyline. The reviews have generally been negative, but I actually rather liked the movie – perhaps due to having spent considerable time in Ironforge, Stormwind etc. myself, as a player of Warcraft RTS and World of Warcraft games in the past. The movie does not get very far in itself: there is perhaps ten or more significant characters, some of them are killed, some plots unravelled and others set into motion, and in the end everything just stops, after this prologue having provided hints at important future developments. But landscapes are impressive, some characters relatable, and there is constant “epic tone” in all of it (that might feel ridiculous or appropriate, depending what one’s tastes in genre fantasy are).

All in all, this day of movies just pointed out how central fantasy as an element, impulse and setting has become for popular culture, and how various storyworld elements cross media boundaries with ever-increasing ease.

Angry-Birds-Movie
Angry Birds Movie © Columbia Pictures and Rovio.
BFG
The BFG © Disney.
Warcraft: The Beginning © NBCUniversal
Warcraft: The Beginning © NBCUniversal

Fafnir 4/2016 CFP

(Please spread the word) Call for Papers:

FAFNIR 4/2016: SPECULATIVE FICTION IN COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS

Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research invites authors to submit papers for the upcoming edition 4/2016. Theme for the edition is “Speculative Fiction in Comics and Graphic Novels”. We invite papers that focus on speculative fiction in, for example, genres of comics, graphic novels and graphic narratives, cartoons, animations, anime or manga.

Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research is a peer-reviewed academic journal which is published in electronic format four times a year. Fafnir is published by FINFAR Society (The Finnish Society for Science Fiction and Fantasy Research) from 2013 onwards.Fafnir publishes various texts ranging from peer-reviewed research articles to short overviews and book reviews in the field of science fiction and fantasy research.

The submissions for the edition 4/2016 must be original work, and written in English, Finnish or in Scandinavian languages. Manuscripts of research articles should be between 20,000 and 40,000 characters in length. The journal uses the most recent edition of the MLA Style Manual. The manuscripts of research articles will be peer-reviewed.

Please note that as Fafnir is designed to be of interest to readers with varying backgrounds, essays and other texts should beas accessibly written as possible. Also, if you are writing in English, and English is not your first language, please have your article reviewed or edited by an English language editor.

In addition to research articles, Fafnir constantly welcomes text proposals such as essays, interviews, overviews and book reviews on any subject suited for the journal.

The deadline for research articles is August 15, 2016and for other submissions November 15, 2016.

Please send your electronic submission (saved as RTF-file) to the following address: submissions(at)finfar.org. For further information, please contact the editors: jyrki.korpua(at)oulu.fi, hanna.roine(at)uta.fi and aino-kaisa.koistinen(at)jyu.fi.

More detailed information about Fafnir and the submission guidelines is available at our webpage journal.finfar.org.

This edition is scheduled for December 2016.

Best regards,
Aino-Kaisa Koistinen, Jyrki Korpua and Hanna-Riikka Roine
Editors, Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research