LARP: Art not worthy?

worldcon75Worldcon 75 in Helsinki has generally been an excellent event with multiple cultures, diverse forms of art and innumerable communities of fandom coming together. However, what left bit of a bad taste to the mouth was the organizers’ decision yesterday to cancel a LARP (live action role-play), dealing with old people and dementia. The decision is highly controversial, and apparently based on some (non-Nordic) participants strongly communicating their upset at such a sensitive topic has been even allowed to be submitted in the form of a “game”, into the con program. On the other hand, same people would apparently be completely fine with Altzheimer and similar conditions being handled in form of a novel, for example.

There will be no doubt multiple reactions coming in to this from experts of this field in the future. My short comment: this is an unfortunate case of censorship, based on cultural perception of play and games as inherently trivializing or “fun-based” form of low culture. It seems that for some people, there still are strict cultural hierarchies even within the popular culture, with games at the very bottom – and that handling something sensitive with the form of role-play, for example, can be an insult. Such position completely ignores the work that has been done for decades in Nordic LARP and in digital indie “art games” (and also within the academic traditions of game studies) to expand the range of games and play for cultural expression, and to remove expectation or stigma of automatic trivialism from the interactive forms of art and culture. The organisers have obviously been pressurised by some vocal individuals, but the outcome in this case was a failure to stand up, explain the value and potential of role-playing games, and Nordic LARP in particular to an international audience, and make a difference. A sad day.

Link: Worldcon 75 cancellation statement (currently in updated and revised form) in Facebook regarding “The Old Home” [edit: should be “A Home for the Old”] LARP: https://www.facebook.com/worldcon75/posts/1464369666972369?sw_fnr_id=619255795&fnr_t=0.

(There has been multiple exchanges regarding this matter in Twitter, for example, but not linking them here.)

(Edit: the documentation for the said LARP is available for download here: http://bit.ly/2fyxQh7).

(Edit2: LARP scholars and experts Jaakko Stenros and Markus Montola have published a thorough account of this incident herehttps://jaakkostenros.wordpress.com/2017/08/13/how-worldcon-banned-a-larp/.)

(Edit3: Wordcon organisers have now published a more thorough explanation and reasons for their decision herehttp://www.worldcon.fi/news/statement-cancellation-larp-home-old/.)

CFP: DiGRA/FDG 2016

Please spread the word:

CFP DiGRA/FDG 2016 – 1st Joint International Conference of DiGRA and FDG

For the first time, the Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) and the Foundation of Digital Games (FDG) will partner in an unprecedented gathering of games researchers. We invite researchers and educators within game research, broadly construed, to submit their work.

For more information, please visit the conference’s website: www.digra-fdg2016.org

Tracks

DiGRA/FDG aims at being a venue for game research from all research disciplines. In line with this, it accepts and encourages submissions in the following six tracks, on a wide range of subjects including, but not limited to:

  • Game design: Design techniques, practices, methods, post mortems, etc.
  • Game criticism and analysis: Close readings, ontologies and frameworks, historical studies, philosophical explorations, and other humanities-informed approaches
  • Play studies + Interaction and player experience: studies of play, observations and interviews of players, and research based on other methods from the social sciences; game interfaces, player metrics, modeling player experience
  • Artificial intelligence: agents, motion/camera planning, navigation, adaptivity, procedural content generation, dialog, authoring tools, general game playing
  • Game technology: engines, frameworks, graphics, networking, animation
  • Game production: studies of game production processes, studio studies, software studies, platform studies and software engineering

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the DiGRA/FDG conference, authors and reviewers alike will be required to describe their research background and field of study as part of the submission process. The intention for this is to help reviewers be conscious of when they are reviewing work outside their own field as well as making clear the proportions of contributing fields.

Submission categories

DiGRA/FDG 2016 supports two different categories for submitting research:

  • Full Papers (no more than 16 pages)
  • Extended Abstracts with a maximum length of 2-pages

This structure reflects the cross-disciplinary nature and different conference traditions of the conference attendants. A full paper submission is recommended for completed research work, in particular empirical or technical work. The extended abstract format is suitable for discussion topics and ideas. Both full papers and abstracts are subject to a double-blind review process. These two categories are the only ones that will be published in DiGRA’s digital library.

Deadlines full papers and extended abstracts

Submission deadline

  • January 29 2016 (hard deadline)

Acceptance/rejection notification

  • March 21 2016

Rebuttals

  • March 25 2016

Notification of final decisions

  • March 31 2016

Camera ready

  • April 29 2016

In addition to this, DiGRA/FDG 2016 accepts submissions for:

  • Events with a maximum length of 2-page abstract
  • Panels with a maximum length of 2-page abstract

These are curated by the local organizers and do not go through an anonymized process.

Deadlines panels and events

Submission deadline

  • January 29 2016 (hard deadline)

Acceptance/rejection notification

  • March 21 2016

Camera ready

  • April 29 2016

Some work does not fit as paper presentations due to its nature or research maturity. For this, DiGRA/FDG 2016 is open to submission to the following categories:

  • Posters with a maximum length of 2-page abstract
  • Demos with a maximum length of 2-page abstract

These categories have late deadlines to allow the most recent research and results to be submitted.

Deadlines posters and demos

Submission deadline

  • April 8 2016 (hard deadline)

Acceptance/rejection notification

  • May 9 2016

Camera ready

  • May 23 2016

DiGRA/FDG 2016 provides a doctoral consortium for PhD students. Those interested in attending this should submit a position paper in the extended abstract format with a maximum length of 2 pages.

Deadlines doctoral consortium

Submission deadline

  • April 22 2016 (hard deadline)

Acceptance/rejection notification

  • May 9 2016

DiGRA/FDG 2016 also welcomes submissions to arrange workshops. These have an earlier deadline than other submission to support workshops that wish to have their own peer reviewing process for submissions. These should be submitted as extended abstracts with a maximum length of 2 pages. Please submit workshop proposals by email to the three program chairs, and place “[FDG/DiGRA 2016 Workshop Submission]” in the subject line.

Deadlines workshops

Submission deadlines

  • November 16 2015 (hard deadline)

Acceptance/rejection notification

  • December 11 2015

Location & Date

  • August 1-6 2016
  • The School of Arts, Media and Computer Games, Abertay University
  • Dundee, Scotland, UK

For more information see: www.digra-fdg2016.org

Program Chairs

 

‘Mobile Games’ in the International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication & Society

International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication & Society (three volumes).
International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication & Society

This is a pretty massive reference book (three volumes, 1296 pages) and it should include wealth of materials that is helpful if you study e.g. online gaming, social media, hate speech, or any other of the dozens of its interesting topics. The International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication & Society has been edited and written by some of the leading experts in Internet and game studies, and I am happy today to put online my small contribution – a short article titled “Mobile Games”: http://people.uta.fi/~frans.mayra/Mobile_Games.pdf. You can also access the regularly updated online version, and sample some of its contents free through this link.

Työstä ja leikistä

Työtä vai leikkiä? (Telma-lehti)
Työtä vai leikkiä?

I wrote a short article about the changing relations between work and play] Työelämän kehittämisen erikoislehti Telman uusin numero on uuden teknologian erikoisnumero. Minulta mukana on lyhyt kirjoitus otsikolla “Työtä vai leikkiä – ajatelmia työstä, leikistä ja pelillisyydestä”; ks. http://telma-lehti.fi/pelit-ja-pelaaminen-tyoelaman-uudistajina/

Panel: From Game Studies to Studies of Play in Society

The first day of DiGRA 2015 conference featured panel titled “From Game Studies to Studies of Play in Society”, which included Sebastian Deterding, Mia Consalvo, Joost Raessens, Seth Giddings, Torill Elvira Mortensen, Kristine Jørgensen and myself as speakers (Sybille Lammes unfortunately could not make it; check out the panel position paper here: DiGRA 2015 panel paper). The immediate incentive for me to start planning this panel was related to the stimulus of our ‘Ludification and the Emergence of Playful Culture’ research project (Academy of Finland, 2014-2018). The scope and conclusions drawn from the discussion, however, point into several directions, now only those related to the opportunities and challenges provided by ‘ludification’ or ‘gamification’ to game studies. In my introduction and outline of panel agenda I was talking about how game studies had been changing over the recent years, with possible transfers of focus in the subject matters, methodologies, theory frameworks as well as in the institutional placement and allegiances of the work carried out in this field. I shortly provided some suggestions on how such developments had featured in the expanding scope of work carried out in the University of Tampere Game Research Lab, and then put forward the questions: Is research of games and play now becoming more relevant for other fields of learning? And on the other hand: Are game studies in danger of losing its distinctiveness in this process? I have no room to fully capture insightful position statements of the distinguished panellists, nor the ensuing lively discussion, but here are some quick notes:

  • Sebastian Deterding moved to position game studies in the context of convergence culture, comparing the situation with games to that of television (and television studies), where also the “classic television” had been recontextualized and complicated by the emergence of “crowdsourced YouTube series television” and similar phenomena. He urged game studies to move away from seeking some “eternal essence” of gameness to research of more granular units, putting more emphasis on particular cultural forms and conditions, and relying on empirical studies.
  • Mia Consalvo eloquently outlined the “choice fatigue” that is facing students (and possibly also scholars) who are moving to the (expanded, emphatically complex) field of digital games. She also talked about the agency and identity of people working on game studies: if I only play ‘peek-a-boo’ with my baby, am I allowed to have a voice in studies, or research, of this field?
  • Joost Raessens was questioning the implicit narrative suggested by the title of panel: we are not really moving from studies of games to studies of play, because those two have been inseparably linked and integrated from the very beginning of game studies (Joost was also quickly highlighting some lines of this thought running from Heraclitus, Schiller, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Gadamer, Marcuse, Deleuze and Derrida – to Sutton-Smith, Zimmerman and Sicart). Himself working on the ludification of culture, he saw the study of play element in culture at the centre of game studies project, explaining how Huizinga’s broad-ranging thought in Homo Ludens still resonates strongly within game studies community. Pointing towards the recent book Playful Identities, Joost concluded by suggesting how ‘ludic identity’ could be articulated and analysed from at least three key perspectives. From ontological concepts we should move to more epistemological approaches.
  • Seth Giddings was putting forward a beautifully written (and read) argument on how the play of animals and children can not be fundamentally separated, and what kind of consequences it has on including ecological and ethological approaches to the repertoire of this field.
  • Torill Elvira Mortensen took issue with ‘dark play’, discussing the internal conflicts and frustrations of (unemployed) youth – something that can perhaps been positioned at the background of the hatred and aggression that has recently exploded to the forefront of digital “gamer” cultures. Games and play can easily be utilized as a sort of “disarming rhetoric”, where “boys will be boys”, “it is just play” or “it is just trolling” can be used to justify all kinds of acts of violence and dominance. Torill reminded us that play and games, while ancient, are not “natural” or beyond critique, and that the entire field is deeply embedded in various (hegemonic) power structures.
  • Kristine Jørgensen kind of summarised the entire panel by at first outlining the current situation, where game studies is highly relevant for surrounding culture and society, with play infusing many different aspects and dimensions of culture and society. Player demographics are currently emphatically diverse, players hold high profile as consumers, paralleled by highly visible roles that game industry holds in (popular-cultural) economics, and game forms as a medium of expression. But such notable position also comes with a price: there are increasing pressures from within and outside of academia to how games and play should be approached – or exploited. Game studies are being challenged by other fields and disciplines that also want to include games and play into their agenda, and the distinctiveness of game studies is indeed under increasing pressure to dissolve, or disappear.
  • In the ensuing discussion, the “pyrrhic victory of game studies” (Sebastian) was debated: had game studies made itself ‘unnecessary’ in the process of becoming the highly successful ‘science of everything’ through the expanding range of gameful, playful and otherwise play-related approaches and expansions of its research field? Some, like Joost celebrated the success and potential of game studies to bring together and build bridges between theoretical and practical, humanistic, social-scientific and design research work. Sebastian suggested that the best “survival strategy” for game studies would be to adopt design science approach at its core, since that would be the best way of arguing for its sustained societal impact and relevance. From the audience, Annika Waern commented that HCI (human-computer interaction) research field is an example of how this already has been attempted for more than two decades, without resounding success – even while design practitioners are indeed frequenting HCI conferences, more than game designers would be participating in DiGRA or other game studies’ scholarly events. Annika saw that game studies academics are much stronger currently in analytical, theoretical work on foundational issues of games and play research, and there is also the danger of becoming subservient to industry (with its typically more practical, and short-to-medium-term interests), if design science would be emphatically set as the sole, dominant organising principle of game studies.
  • Other key themes in discussion was the one thread that related to the “built-in anti-essentialism” in studies of games and play: the academics in this field are typically emphatically suspicious of essentializing views, or fixed definitions of their subjects of study – it was suggested that this is rooted in the fast change in new media as the context of this field, and on the other hand, on “new and innovative”, the next thing, always being more inviting to these academics (us) than the questionable idea of stopping at any kind of ‘fixed’ or stabilizing identity. On the other hand, Joost provided the example of gender studies, where it had been recognised that “strategic essentialism” might be necessary to maintain some kind of ‘core’ of disciplinary identity for gender studies, while analyses and awareness of gender studies issues has certainly also expanded and transformed work carried out in multiple other disciplines. Similarly, “strategic essentialism” of maintaining the core of game studies (as in conceptual, theoretical, methodological and pragmatic dimensions of game studies as academic, institutionally organised and recognised field), in addition to having interdisciplinary collaborations, explorations and experimentations fruitfully altering and evolving games, play and related research and development practices. (This is something that I actually discussed in my “Getting into the Game: Doing Multi-Disciplinary Game Studies” chapter, in The Video Game Theory Reader 2, Perron & Wolf, eds., 2009.)
  • Other take-aways from this stimulating session included e.g. Sebastian’s suggestion that the optimal game scholar is “T-shaped”: she is capable of maintaining wide-ranging collaborations and discussions on topics that cross disciplinary boundaries, while having also “in-depth” knowledge and academic capabilities in some area of specialization.

Pelien vetovoimasta ja “koukuttavuudesta”

[My views on games’ holding power and “addictiveness”.] Hiljattain toimittaja kyseli minulta sähköpostitse näkemyksiä siitä, mikä tekee Angry Birdsin kaltaisesta mobiilipelistä “koukuttavan” ja ovatko tällaiset pelit kenties addiktiivisempia (eli riippuvuutta aiheuttavia) verrattuna perinteisiin tietokonepeleihin. Hesarissa julkaistu juttu oli lopulta supistunut osaltani muutamaan riviin, joten tässä oma vastaukseni näin blogin kautta kokonaisuudessaan:

  • Pelien vetovoimaisuus tai “koukuttavuus” ovat monen tekijän summa, eivätkä samat tekijät toimi aina samoin eri pelaajien ja pelityyppien kohdalla. Esimerkiksi saavuttamisen tai kilpailemisen kaltaiset tavoitteet voivat olla erittäin keskeinen vetovoimatekijä kilpailuvetoiselle pelaajalle – mutta karkottaa luovasta leikistä tai sosiaalisesta yhteispelistä kiinnostuneet pelaajat.
  • Mobiilipelien suosion vahva kasvu on ollut näkyvissä esimerkiksi Pelaajabarometri-tutkimuksemme tuloksissa. Mobiilipelit ovat usein helposti lähestyttäviä ajanviete- tai pienpelejä, joiden etuna on alhainen aloituskynnys, mutta parhaimmillaan vuosikausien peliharrastukseen soveltuva, skaalautuva pelisisältö ja aina uudistuvat haasteet. Parhaat mobiilipelit eivät ole kertakäyttötuotteita, vaan pelillisiä palveluja, joita koko ajan aktiivisesti kehitetään ja ylläpidetään.
  • Myös pelin helppo saavutettavuus ja vaivaton lataaminen verkosta mobiililaitteesta valmiina löytyvän sovelluskaupan avulla ovat edistäneet mobiilipelien yleistymistä.
  • Pelitutkijoiden enemmistö ei usko “peliaddiktion” olemassaoloon kliinisenä oireyhtymänä, mutta liiallista tai muuten ongelmallista pelaamista toki esiintyy. Rahapeleihin muodostuneita toiminnallisia riippuvuusongelmia on tutkittu eniten, viihdepeleissä peliongelmatutkimus on puolestaan painottunut peliväkivaltavaikutusten tutkimukseen. Usein ongelmalliseksi kasvaneen käyttäytymisen taustalla on masennuksen tai työttömyyden kaltaisia muita tekijöitä ja pelien lisäksi monet muutkin asiat voivat tarjota ongelmakäyttäytymiselle kanavan.
  • Peliin suunnitellut ominaisuudet ovat kuitenkin myös yksi osatekijä siinä, millaiseksi pelaaminen muodostuu. Pelisuunnittelijan työnä toki yleensä onkin vetovoimaisen ja vangitsevia elämyksiä tarjoavan pelikokemuksen suunnittelu. Hyvä peli voi siis periaatteessa aina olla osallisena ongelmapelaamisessa – huono ja epäkelpo peli sen sijaan harvoin. Perinteisesti pelaamisen hallintaan ja tasapainoiseen elämään kuuluvat perusasiat kuten järkevä rahan- ja ajankäyttö on nähty pelaajan omaksi asiaksi. Kirjailijoitakaan ei ole kielletty luomasta yli tuhatsivuisia tiiliskiviromaaneja, vaikka lyhyet novellit toki veisivät vähemmän lukijoiden aikaa, ja olisivat halvempia hankkiakin.
  • Vakavien rahapeliongelmien tarjoavat varoittavat esimerkit ovat kuitenkin jo pitkään johtaneet eri yhteiskuntia säätelemään pelien tarjontaa. Niin fyysisiltä kasinoilta kuin Internetin pelipalveluilta edellytetään yleensä erilaisia vastuullisuuteen tähtääviä toimintoja, joiden avulla liiallista pelaamista ja pelihaittoja voidaan ennaltaehkäistä. On merkkejä siitä että samantyyppisiä suojamekanismeja halutaan luoda myös viihdepeleihin ja -pelipalveluihin. Joissain peleissä jo nykyään löytyy suunnitteluratkaisuja, jotka kannustavat pitämään pelaamisessa taukoja.
  • Paljon pelaamista tai runsastakaan rahankäyttöä on kuitenkaan ulkopuolelta vaikea luokitella ongelmapelaamiseksi. Kyseessä voi olla puoliammattimainen peliharrastaja, jolla runsas pelaaminen on rakentavassa ja tasapainoisessa suhteessa hänen elämänsä prioriteetteihin. Runsas rahankäyttökin voi olla tietoinen valinta: jonkin muun yhtä kalliin kulutuskäyttäytymisen sijaan pelaaja on päättänyt sijoittaa omat rahansa kyseiseen peliin koska hän kokee saavansa siitä vastineeksi elämyksiä ja viihdettä.
  • Mobiilipelit eivät näiden perusasioiden suhteen juurikaan eroa muista digitaalisista viihdepeleistä. Pienpelien lelunomaisuus ja näennäinen harmittomuus voivat tosin ehkä helpommin tuottaa yllätyksiä. Esimerkiksi alaikäiset pelaajat jotka saavat täysin rajoittamattomasti tehdä rahanarvoisia hankintoja pelipalvelussa tai käyttää peleihin aikaa ilman että heidän vanhempansa valvovat toimintaa mitenkään, ovat selvästi vaaravyöhykkeessä. Lasten mediakäyttöön ja pelaamiseen liittyykin erityisiä vastuukysymyksiä, joissa vanhempien mediakasvatusvastuun lisäksi myös pelikehittäjien ja digitaalisten kauppapaikkojen ylläpitäjien on myös toimittava vastuullisesti.
  • Pelaaminen on moniulotteinen ilmiö, missä ongelmanratkaisusta, taitojen kehittymisestä ja esimerkiksi interaktiivisesta tarinankerronnasta sekä näiden yhdistelmistä voi syntyä kullekin pelaajalle ainutlaatuisia kokemuksia. Leikkimisen tarve itsessään ei rajoitu vain ihmiseen, vaikka pelit kulttuurimuotoina ovatkin vain ihmisille ominaisia. Leikkimisen evolutiivisesta perustasta on runsaasti tutkimusta ja myös pelaaminen on liitetty erilaisten hyödyllisten taitojen ja valmiuksien kehittymiseen. Jos pelejä lähestytään taide- ja kulttuurimuotona, ei niiden toki tarvitse puolustaa paikkaansa instrumentaalisten hyötynäkökohtien kautta.

SciFest, SciEdu

[I will be talking about play, games and new technology in the context of learning in Joensuu] Matkustan tänään Joensuuhun, missä on laaja SciFest 2015-tapahtuma 23.-25.4. Itse puhun tapahtuman yhteydessä toteutettavassa SciEdu-seminaarissa la klo 13 otsikolla “Leikkiä, peliä ja uutta teknologiaa: oppiminen ja kulttuurin muuttuvat puitteet”. Lisätietoja: