New version of “The Demon” (retrospectives, pt. 1)

Louis (Brad Pitt) destroying the Theatre of the Vampires in Interview with the Vampire
(dir. Neil Jordan). © Warner Bros., 1994.

My first book published in English was outcome of my PhD work conducted in late 1990s – The Demonic Texts and Textual Demons (Tampere University Press, 1999). As the subtitle hints (“The Demonic Tradition, the Self, and Popular Fiction”), this work was both a historically oriented inquiry into the demonic tradition across centuries, and an attempt to recast certain poststructuralist questions about textuality in terms of agency, or “Self”.

The methodological and theoretical subtext of this book was focused on politically-committed cultural studies on the one hand: I was reading texts like horror movies, classical tragedies, science fiction, The Bible, and Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses from perspectives opened up by our bodily and situated existence, suffering, and possibilities for empowerment. On the other hand, I was also interested in both participating and ‘deconstructing’ some of the theoretical contributions that the humanities – literary and art studies particularly – had made to scholarship during the 20th century. In a manner, I was turning “demonic possession” as a self-contradictory and polyphonic image of poststructuralism itself: the pursuit of overtly convoluted theoretical discourses (that both reveal and hide the actual intellectual contributions at the same time) particularly both fascinated and irritated me. The vampires, zombies and cyborgs were my tools for opening the black boxes in the charnel houses of twisted “high theory” (afflicted by a syndrome that I called ‘cognitocentrism’ – the desire to hide the desiring body and situatedness of the theorizing self from true commitment and responsibility in the actual world of people).

I have now produced a new version of this book online, as Open Access. After the recent merger of universities, the Tampere University Press (TUP) books are no longer available as physical copies, and all rights of the works have returned to the authors (see this notice). Since I also undertook considerable detective work at the time to secure the image rights (e.g. by writing to Vatican Libraries, and Warner Brothers), I have now also restored all images – or as close versions of the originals as I could find.

The illustrated, free (Creative Commons) version can be found from this address: https://people.uta.fi/~tlilma/Demon_2005/.

I hope that the new version will find a few new readers to this early work. Here are a couple of words from my Lectio Praecursoria, delivered in the doctoral defense at 29th March, 1999:

… It is my view, that the vast majority of contemporary demonic texts are created and consumed because of the anxiety evoked by such flattening and gradual loss of meaningful differences. When everything is the same, nothing really matters. Demons face us with visions which make indifference impossible.
A cultural critic should also be able to make distinctions. The ability to distinguish different audiences is important as it makes us aware how radically polyphonic people’s interpretations really can be. We may live in the same world, but we do not necessarily share the same reality. As the demonic texts strain the most sensitive of cultural division lines, they highlight and emphasise such differences. Two extreme forms of reactions appear as particularly problematic in this context: the univocal and one-dimensional rejection or denial of the demonic mode of expression, and, on the other hand, the univocal and uncritical endorsement of this area. If a critical voice has a task to do here, it is in creating dialogue, in unlocking the black-and-white positions, and in pointing out that the demonic, if properly understood, is never any single thing, but a dynamic and polyphonic field of both destructive and creative impulses.

Frans Ilkka Mäyrä (1999)

Philosophy of Computer Games 2014 CFP: Freedom in Play

8th International Conference on the Philosophy of Computer Games
Freedom in Play

Istanbul, 13-15 November 2014

2014.gamephilosophy.org

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Abstracts deadline: 15 August 2014

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We hereby invite scholars in any field of studies who take a professional interest in the philosophy of computer games to submit papers to the 8th International Conference on the Philosophy of Computer Games, to be held in Istanbul 13-15 November 2014.

The concept of freedom is central in the shaping of game experiences and game cultures. It is a lens through which we can critically evaluate the philosophical, cultural and political relevance of computer games, as an art form and as a way of life. This year we especially invite papers that address the following areas of philosophical investigation:

1. The nature of freedom in games. Which philosophical concepts can help us clarify ontological and metaphysical dimensions of freedom in games and gaming?
2. The experience of freedom in games. How do we describe and evaluate specific experiences of freedom in play? Are certain types of freedoms in games artistically or ethically more desirable than others? In what way may such evaluations collide when people play together, especially in an on-line context?
3. Games and existential concepts of freedom. In what ways are games capable of expressing truths about the human condition? Is there a way in which they are inherently more or less capable of expressing ethical and normative truths than cinema, photography or art? How do we account for the semantic underpinnings of how games can create this sort of knowledge?
4. Political and ethical freedom. In what way can game mechanics or the social roles of gaming provide normative reasons for decision-making with regard to political freedom, gender issues, etc? Do computer games have a particular potential for being either politically conservative, progressive or subversive?

Accepted papers will have a clear focus on philosophy and philosophical issues in relation to computer games. They will refer to specific examples from computer games rather than merely invoke them in general terms.

In addition to papers that are directed at the main theme we invite a smaller number of papers in an “open” category. We are especially interested in papers that aim to continue discussions from earlier conferences in this series.

The abstracts should have a maximum 1000 words including bibliography. Please note if you intend your paper to fit in the “open” category.  The deadline for submissions is Midnight GMT, 15 August, 2014. Please submit your abstract through review.gamephilosophy.org.  All submitted abstracts will be subject to double blind peer review. Notification of accepted submissions will be sent out by 15 September 2014. A full paper draft must then be submitted by 6th November 2014 and will be made available on the conference website.

We also invite proposals for panels/workshops on October 12th. Please contact the programme committee chair if you are interested in organising one.

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Tonguc Ibrahim Sezen, Istanbul Bilgi University (organising committee chair)
Rune Klevjer, University of Bergen (programme committee chair)

Game Studies: a polyphonic discipline?

Critical Evaluation of Game Studies: Bart Simon
Critical Evaluation of Game Studies: Bart Simon

The Critical Evaluation of Game Studies seminar closed today, leaving a full house of tired but intellectually stimulated games scholars to debate and reflect on the outcomes and overall synthesis of the varied papers and discussions. One of the threads of the discussion concerned the identity and character of Game Studies (or “game studies”, or: games research? Or: ludology, even?) In his keynote, Espen Aarseth talked about Game Studies as a field, and argued (with explicit comment against my earlier published views) that a “discipline” is something that he particularly does not want to see Game Studies developing into.

This particular, anti-disciplinary view can in a way be grounded on the existing polyphony in this field: there has not emerged any single, unified school of thought that would encompass everything that is going around games and play in academia. On the other hand, one could also – again following Espen – argue that a discipline that produces its own undergraduates as well as postgraduates would need a more solid methodological basis, and also more established work market to guarantee the employment of such “native graduates”. (Sebastian Deterding had an interesting analysis and proposal in his paper, suggesting that since there are not much guarantees of employment, or not so many well-established publication venues in the “core” areas of Game Studies, people are escaping back to more established academic fields, such as HCI or Communication Studies, which have already opened up for games related research, and provide more institutional work opportunities – and that Game Studies should merge with Design Research so that it would have better opportunities for survival.) Or, one could follow Bart Simon who in his speech talked about the “unseriousness” inherent in games and play as an object of study, and go against the instrumentalization and reification of disciplinary knowledge by principle.

While I see the point of all these, well-grounded arguments, I just want to emphasize again that Game Studies needs both dimensions and movements: both the elements that pull people towards each other and focus at organizing the knowledge production and educational activities in Game Studies into some, hopefully rather unified wholes, as well as more interdisciplinary elements that fertilize and stimulate the growth of new approaches and innovations – both within Game Studies, as well as in other fields of learning. While there is enough anarchist in most game scholars today to make us stand up and go against any attempt at governance or “central control” in this daring, iconoclastic intellectual project that has been set into motion, it is also important, I think, to carry enough responsibility to aim at positive conditions for such project, and sometimes this will also require setting up “disciplinary versions” of the fast-moving research field, so that it can engage with various academic institutions and neighbouring disciplines at even terms. While such “freeze frame” simplifications of the field probably always do some violence to the plurality, coverage and dynamism of Game Studies, they are probably necessary illusions that we also need. Textbooks, lectures and articles are all good places to construct such, identity creating moments of Game Studies, as well as for deconstructing and questioning them. After the seminar, I think that the deconstructionist momentum is currently stronger than the constructivist one, but it just may be my impression.

In any case, I came out of the seminar invigorated and energized, believing even more that before to the need and enormous potential Game Studies has to offer, not only to academia, but also to the surrounding society. If we do not try to fit together and negotiate the multiple aspects that complicate the superficial, commonplace perceptions of what games are, or what game playing means, who is going to do that? Also, I do not think that the other academic disciplines that I know about are that much more unified, or less polyphonic than Game Studies is, actually. As years and decades go past, academics tend to question the truths of their fields from multiple angles, and come up with dozens of different, mutually competing and incompatible theories and approaches into their fields of inquiry. And that is a very good thing. Long live Game Studies, one and many!