Critiques of Purity – Two Studies on Player Agency & Game Studies’ Politics

[This is cross-posted from the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies’ website]

Two recent studies of Professor Frans Mäyrä, both published in the open access journal GAME, deal with a key research theme of CoE-GameCult – the cultural agency in games. The first article is titled “The Player as a Hybrid – Agency in Digital Game Cultures” and it outlines how the power relations informing the agency of players have evolved into increasingly complex and hybrid directions. The second article is titled “Game Culture Studies and the Politics of Scholarship: The Opposites and the Dialectic”. This study deals with the socio-cultural character and agency of game studies more generally, in an intellectual and disciplinary historical context, providing also a historical framing for the agenda behind the Centre of Excellence. Both articles have in common that they deal and emphasise the role of cultural and historical understanding, focusing on dialogue and interplay between elements that are often perceived as discrete or even oppositional.

Articles:

Image of the two articles by professor Frans Mäyrä

The separation of player and the game is not as clear and unambiguous as everyday thought might tell us. German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer theorized already in Truth and Method, his major work published in 1960, how an individual must surrender certain freedom of agency and start following the rules outside of their volition while playing games: in a sense, the game plays the player – or, as he writes, “All playing is a being-played” (Gadamer 2004, 106). The article connects this fundamental realisation about the complexity and intertwining of game and player in game cultural agency with several other orientations in game studies; firstly, with the work of David Sudnow (1983) and Brendan Keogh (2018) analysing the micro-level power dynamics of embodied-bodily relationships of games, players and game controllers.

Secondly, in the ambiguous positionality of players’ mental and physical relation to player characters in games: like Bob Rehak (2003) has analysed, players are simultaneously “using” the cursor-like character as a tool (external to their selves, yet as extensions of their agency) while also facing ambiguous potentials for identification and imaginative immersion with the in-game characters. The situation of playing and the constitution of game cultural agency emerges as a complex and tensioned phenomenon when all these analyses are brought together. The player agency is simultaneously human and non-human, connected both with the liberating and empowering potentiality of games being used for developing players’ skills while playing subjects become engrossed in the challenge and in-game fiction – while simultaneously also being defined and delimited by both the technologies, game rules and other in-game elements that largely determine the nature of this evolving complex of agency.

This mixed and tensioned agency is theorized further in the first article within the framework of cultural-technological hybridization: connected with Haraway’s cyborg theory (1988), anti-essentialist theories of extended selves and work in Platform Studies, “The Player as a Hybrid” article concludes by connecting a cultural history of technology perspective with contemporary concerns with physical-digital playful technologies and the growing awareness of multi-layered structural power relationships that saturate the contexts where game cultural agency is constructed and critiqued today. Thus, the “Cartesian dualism” of clearly separated mind and matter, physical and virtual dimensions of players and games do not provide functional foundations for studying game cultural agency without nuanced analyses into the related anti-essentialist and hybrid dimensions of agency.

The second recently published study, “Game Culture Studies and the Politics of Scholarship” continues on this realisation that a better understanding of power analyses is needed, in order to position the project and contributions of the cultural game studies. Set within the context of special issue of GAME on “Taboos of Game Studies”, the article turns an eye towards “culture wars”, “theory wars”, “ludology-narratology debates” and asks where this confrontational dynamic is coming from, and how it is related to the cultural study of games.

Adopting a long-range intellectual history perspective, the article discusses how even in the Antiquity there were fundamental disagreements between Idealist (later “Rationalist”) and Empiricist thinkers. There are good reasons for seeing “real knowledge” both as something that is based on humans’ internal, cognitive and cultural categories of thought, as well as for finding knowledge in the opposite direction, in the external reality. As knowledge is also power, there is a long history of power struggles underlining certain key fundamental positions that have informed science, scholarship and also the emergence of contemporary game studies. The article discusses in detail the postmodern (or post-structuralist) awakening in 1960s and 1970s, dealing with the (often rather slippery) capacity of language and conceptual thought to “produce” the reality it aims to represent or unravel. The conflict between two philosophers, Jacques Derrida (1988) and John R. Searle (1997), is highlighted in order to show that there are strategically different ways “To Do Things with Words” (rephrasing here John L. Austin and his work on “speech act theory”). In the end, the article argues that both philosophers are “doing violence” against the complexity of their topic, in their drive to make their theoretical position clear (that is, non-hybrid or “pure”). Theoretical priorities and political strategies appear as inextricably intertwined in the analysis.

The clear, pure and theoretically uncompromising positions are discussed also in the context of analysing game studies’ roots in literary studies’ theorization. The “New Criticism”, a formalist movement in the first part of the 20th century is discussed in the article for clarifying how formalism in art and cultural studies emerges with strategic motivations for separating the “pure” text or work of art from experiential, historical and bodily realities of human beings – as the classic “Intentional Fallacy” and “Affective Fallacy” papers (Wimsatt & Beardsley 1946; 1949) showcase. The early game studies’ emphasis on developing formalist tools for games as the isolated subject of study appears as a logical continuation of this project. The political consequences of this became soon apparent, as some early “ludologist” positions declared irrelevance of all representational and storytelling related dimensions of games, thereby willingly ignoring the obvious displays of sexism, stereotypes and political toxicity in games and game culture more generally. While upholding “pure” and uncompromising formalist position, this phase of early game studies was revealed to be unable for providing game scholars with solid foundation, at the latest when there was an urgent need for responding to #GamerGate attacks (as initiated in 2014).

The article concludes with some self-critique and re-reading of An Introduction to Game Studies: Games in Culture textbook (Mäyrä 2008), from the politics of scholarship perspective. While having its limitations, the main emphasis of this book is on emphasising the contextual character of meaning-making, and that at least still appears as valid and valuable: we cannot erase the player, nor the power structures and conditions surrounding both the development and uses of games, while making sense of games. The focus of game studies should be on the operation of these rich interactions, including structural, representational as well as dynamic, process and performance related dimensions, discussing also critically the effects of cultural, particular and systemic contexts for the agency, meaning making and research itself. The ensuing dialectical and inclusive research agenda is then discussed with the concrete example of The Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies, established as a multidimensional and multi-voiced site for doing cultural game studies – and one that can hopefully help to move the scholarly attention from dramatic oppositions and war-derived metaphors into the long-standing tradition of dialogue and dialectic in game studies.

References:

Derrida, J. (1988). Limited Inc. (G. Graff, Ed.; J. Mehlman & S. Weber, Trans.). Evanston (IL): Northwestern University Press.

Gadamer, H.-G. (2004). Truth and Method. London & New York: Continuum International.

Haraway, D. (1988). Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, 14(3), 575–599.

Keogh, B. (2018). A Play of Bodies: How We Perceive Videogames. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Mäyrä, F. (2008). An Introduction to Game Studies: Games in Culture. London & New York: Sage Publications.

Rehak, B. (2003). Playing at Being. In Mark J. P Wolf & Bernard Perron (Eds.), The Video Game Theory Reader (pp. 103–27). New York: Routledge.

Searle, J. R. (1997). The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Free Press.

Sudnow, D. (1983). Pilgrim in the Microworld. New York: Warner Books.

Wimsatt, W. K., & Beardsley, M. C. (1946). The intentional fallacy. The Sewanee Review, 54(3), 468–488. Retrieved from JSTOR.

Wimsatt, W. K., & Beardsley, M. C. (1949). The affective fallacy. The Sewanee Review, 57(1), 31–55. Retrieved from JSTOR.

Talking in A MAZE summit, Berlin

I will be speaking in April 26th about the “Potentials of multidisciplinary collaboration in the study of future game and play forms” in A MAZE, Clash of Realities collaborative seminar: Academic and Artistic Research on Digital Games summit. For the full program, see this link.

Workshop in Singapore

I will spend the next week visiting Singapore, where Vivian Chen, from Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information in Nanyang Technological University has put together an interesting international seminar focused on games and play, particularly from the perspective of eSports phenomena. Together with several esteemed colleagues, I also will give a talk there; mine is titled “Evolution and Tensions in Gaming Communities”.

Since I have not found the full program online, I will share the most recent draft that I have, below Continue reading “Workshop in Singapore”

Game researcher positions: CoE GameCult

There are several games researcher positions open right now: the Academy of Finland has granted funding for the new Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies (CoE GameCult: 2018-2025 CoE Program), and there are currently 5 Postdoc or University Researcher (a senior researcher) positions available for application in the University of Tampere Game Research Lab (in UTA/COMS/TRIM). The total number of new researcher positions is larger, as there will be additional calls opening within the same CoE in the University of Jyväskylä and Turku/Pori Unit. There is general text of the call here:
https://coe-gamecult.org/
and link to the UTA recruitment system here:
https://uta.rekrytointi.com/paikat/?o=A_RJ&jgid=1&jid=1062.

DiGRA 2018 CFP: The Game is the Message

The Game is the Message
http://digra2018.com

July 25-28, 2018

Campus Luigi Einaudi, Università di Torino, Turin, Italy
Lungo Dora Siena, 100 A, 10153 Turin, Italy

Conference chairs: Riccardo Fassone and Matteo Bittanti

Games have long since moved out of the toy drawer, but our understanding of them can still benefit from seeing them in a wider context of mediated meaning-making. DiGRA 2018 follows Marshall McLuhan, and sees games as extensions of ourselves. They recalibrate our senses and redefine our social relationships. The environments they create are more conspicuous than their content. They are revealing, both of our own desires and of the society within which we live. Their message is their effect. Games change us.

To explore this change, we invite scholars, artists and industry to engage in discussions over the following tracks:

– Platforms
Game platforms invite new textualities, new technologies and new networks of power relations. Game structures, their integration with and use of the technology, as well as the affordances and restrictions offered by the platforms on which they live, influence our experience of them.

– Users
Games invite new relations between their users, and players strive for and achieve new modes of perception. This reconfigures our attention, and establishes new patterns and forms of engagement.

– Meaning-making
The connection between a game and its content is often interchangeable – a game is clearly recognizable even if the surface fiction is changed. But games still produce meanings and convey messages. We ask, what are the modes of signification and the aesthetic devices used in games? In this context we particularly invite authors to look at games that claim to be about serious topics or deal with political and social issues.

– Meta-play
The playing of the game has become content, and we invite authors to explore spectatorship, streaming, allied practices and hybrid media surrounding play and the players. How can we describe and examine the complex interweaving of practices found in these environments?

– Context
Games are subject to material, economic and cultural constraints. This track invites reflection on how these contingencies as well as production tools, industry and business demands and player interventions contribute to the process of signification.

– Poetics
Games are created within constraints, affordances, rules and permissions which give us a frame in which games generate meaning. Games have voice, a language, and they do speak. This is the poetics of games, and we invite our fellows to explore and uncover it.

– General
Games tend to break out of the formats given them, and so for this track we invite the outstanding abstracts, papers and panels on alternative topics to the pre-determined tracks.

We invite full papers, 5000 – 7000 words plus references using the DiGRA 2018 submission template (http://www.digra.org/?attachment_id=148233), extended abstracts (from 500 words, maximum 1000, excluding references), and panel submissions (1000 words excluding references, with a 100 word biography of each participant). Full papers will be subject to a double-blind peer review. Extended abstracts will be blinded and peer reviewed by committees organised by the track chairs. Panels will be reviewed by the track chairs and the program chairs. General inquiries should be addressed to Riccardo Fassone – riccardo.fassone AT unito.it. Artist contributions, industry contributions, performances or non-standard presentations should be addressed to Matteo Bittanti – matteo.bittanti AT iulm.it .

Submission will be opened December 1st, 2017, and the final deadline for submission is January 31st 2018. The URL for submissions is https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=digra2018 .

Program chairs are
Martin Gibbs, martin.gibbs AT unimelb.edu.au, University of Melbourne, Australia
Torill Elvira Mortensen, toel AT itu.dk, IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Important dates:
Submission opens: December 1st, 2017
Final submission deadline: January 31st, 2018
Results from reviews: March 1st, 2018
Early registration deadline: March 15th, 2018
Reviewed and rewritten full papers final deadline: April 15th, 2018

CFP: Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries 2018

Digital Humanities in the Nordic Countries calls for submissions for its 2018 conference in Helsinki, Finland, 7–9 March 2018.
http://heldig.fi/dhn-2018/

Keynote speakers
Kathryn Eccles, University of Oxford, https://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/people/kathryn-eccles/
– Academic Programme Manager for Digital Humanities and Research Fellow at Oxford Internet Institute with interest in the impact of new technologies on Humanities scholarship, and the re-organisation of cultural heritage and higher education in the digital world.

Alan Liu, University of California, Santa Barbara, http://liu.english.ucsb.edu
– Distinguished Professor in the English Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an affiliated faculty member of UCSB’s Media Arts & Technology graduate program.

Frans Mäyrä, University of Tampere, http://www.unet.fi
– Professor of Information Studies and Interactive Media (specifically digital culture and game studies)

In 2018, the conference seeks to extend the scope of digital humanities research covered, both into new areas, as well as beyond the Nordic and Baltic countries. In pursuit of this, in addition to the abstracts familiar from humanities traditions, we also adopt a call for publication ready texts as is the tradition in computer science conferences. Therefore, we accept the following types of submissions:
1. Publication ready texts of length appropriate to the topic. Accepted papers will be submitted to the CEUR-WS proceedings series for publication in a citable form.
a. Long paper: 8-12 pages, presented in 20 min plus 10 min for Q&A
b. Short paper: 4-8 pages, presented in 10 min plus 5 min for Q&A
c. Poster/demo: 2-4 pages, presented as an A1 academic poster in a poster session.
2. Abstracts of a maximum of 2000 words. Proposals are expected to indicate a preference between a) long, b) short, or c) poster/demo format for presentation. Approved abstracts will be published in a book of abstracts on the conference website.

Submissions to the conference are now open at ConfTool: https://www.conftool.net/dhn2018/

Important dates
The call for proposals opened on 28 August 2017, and the deadline for submitting proposals is 25 October 2017. Presenters will be notified of acceptance by 8 January 2018. For papers accepted into the citable proceedings, there is an additional deadline of 5 February 2018 for producing a final version of your paper that takes into account the comments made by the reviewers.

This year, the conference welcomes in particular work related to the following themes:

History
While the number of researchers describing themselves as digital historians is increasing, computational approaches to history have rarely captured the attention of those without innate interest in digital humanities. To address this, we particularly invite presentations of historical research whose use of digital methods advances the overall methodological basis of the field.

Cultural Heritage
Libraries, galleries, archives and museums are making vast amounts of cultural heritage openly digitally available. However, tapping into these resources for research requires cultivating co-operation and trust between scholars and heritage institutions, due to the cultural, institutional, legal and technical boundaries crossed. We invite proposals describing such co-operation – examples of great resources for cultural heritage scholarship, of problems solved using such data, as well as e.g. intellectual property rights issues.

Games
Humanities perspectives on games are an established part of the game studies community. Yet their relationship with digital humanities remains undefined. Digitality and games, digital methods and games, games as digital methods, and so on are all areas available for research. We invite proposals that address high-level game concepts like “fun”, “immersion”, “design”, “interactivity”, etc positioned as points of contact with the digital.

Future
We also invite proposals in the broad category of ”Future”. Accepted proposals will still fit in the overall context of the conference and highlight new perspectives to the digital humanities. Submissions may range from applications of data science to humanities research to work on human-machine interaction and ecological digital humanities. We also welcome reflections on the future of the digital humanities, as well as the societal impact of the humanities.

Finally, the overarching theme this year is Open Science. This pragmatic concept emphasises the role of transparent and reproducible research practices, open dissemination of results, and new forms of collaboration, all greatly facilitated by digitalisation. All proposals are invited to reflect on the benefits, challenges, and prospects of open science for their own research.

Call for workshops/panels and tutorials
In addition to individual papers, the conference calls for interested parties to submit proposals for workshops/panels and tutorial sessions to be held preceding the conference. Workshops/panels gather together participants around a particular subtopic, while tutorials present a useful tool or method of interest to the digital humanities community. Either can take the form of either a half or a full day session, and they generally take place the day prior to the conference.

Proposals should include the session format, title, and a short description of its topic (max 2000 words) as well as the contact information of the person/s responsible. Proposals should also include the following: intended audience, approximate number of participants, and any special technical requirements.

Submit your workshop/tutorial at the conference ConfTool: https://www.conftool.net/dhn2018/

Organisers at HELDIG – the Helsinki Centre for Digital Humanities at the University of Helsinki, the Faculty of Arts include Mikko Tolonen (conference chair, mikko.tolonen@helsinki.fi), Eetu Mäkelä (programme chair, eetu.makela@helsinki.fi), Viivi Lähteenoja (conference producer, viivi.lahteenoja@helsinki.fi), Maija Paavolainen (communications chair, maija.paavolainen@helsinki.fi), Jouni Tuominen (web chair, jouni.tuominen@helsinki.fi), and Eero Hyvönen (HELDIG director, eero.hyvonen@helsinki.fi).

Special Issue: Reflecting and Evaluating Game Studies – Games & Culture

This is now published:

Games & Culture:
Volume 12, Issue 6, September 2017
Special Issue: Reflecting and Evaluating Game Studies
(http://journals.sagepub.com/toc/gaca/12/6)

Guest Editors: Frans Mäyrä and Olli Sotamaa

Articles

Need for Perspective:
Introducing the Special Issue “Reflecting and Evaluating Game Studies”
by Frans Mäyrä & Olli Sotamaa
(Free Access: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1555412016672780)

The Game Definition Game: A Review
by Jaakko Stenros

The Pyrrhic Victory of Game Studies: Assessing the Past, Present, and Future of Interdisciplinary Game Research
by Sebastian Deterding

How to Present the History of Digital Games: Enthusiast, Emancipatory, Genealogical, and Pathological Approaches
by Jaakko Suominen

What We Know About Games: A Scientometric Approach to Game Studies in the 2000s
by Samuel Coavoux, Manuel Boutet & Vinciane Zabban

What Is It Like to Be a Player? The Qualia Revolution in Game Studies
by Ivan Mosca

Unserious
by Bart Simon

Many thanks to all the authors, reviewers, and the staff of the journal!

Keynote, EDEN 2017 – Diversity Matters!

EDEN 2017 keynote, Frans Mäyrä
EDEN 2017 keynote, Frans Mäyrä

Next week, I will take part in EDEN 2017 – the annual conference of the European Distance and E-Learning Network – in Jönköping, Sweden. I am proud to present an invited keynote in the first conference day, 14th June. Titled “Multidimensional Ludic Literacy: Diversity in Game Cultures” my talk is aimed to build bridges between the multiple dimensions needed to understand and constructively engage with games and play (the ludic literacy), and the issues related to diversity in game cultures. Looking forward to an interesting exchange of ideas. (Btw, this is also the first public appearance of the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies logo – test driving it: the CoE officially starts its operational period from January 2018.)

See the full conference program here: http://www.eden-online.org/2017_jonkoping/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Conference-Programme.pdf.

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!