February 2012


The Malaby article points to fundamental differences in philosophy which affect all branches of the academy including game studies. Malaby strives to prepare us “to recognize a better model for thinking about play, one that draws ultimately on the pragmatist philosophers’ portrayal of the world as irreducibly contingent” however this aim may be overlooking some of the individual nuances (i.e. of purpose and/or gratification) found in play and games. To claim that the world is irreducibly contingent is similar to claiming that all phenomenon in the world are bound by laws which lead to universal truths that are contingent upon things which can be divided into smaller truths. However these “smaller truths” cannot be divided infinitum. In the pragmatist philosopher’s view there are contingencies which group truths together. Malaby wants us to think about ways that play can be categorized and, by extension, easily studied.

I would argue that these pragmatist philosophers are also likely to be logical positivists being philosophically more interested in general data sets than individual differences. The opposing philosophical force would be interpretive researchers who prefer to holistically examine specific phenomena within a larger population. As a loose popular culture example, positivists are more like Mulder from X-files believing the truth is out there. Whereas, interpretive researchers could be compared to Scully who insisted on examining each phenomenon for its own merit and in its natural environment or context.

The view of the individual is different for each philosophy as well. Positivists view an individual as similar to all other human beings and look to categorize general behaviors and beliefs of the population as a whole. This is a problem for interpretive researchers who believe that humans are fundamentally different and cannot be pigeonholed or stereotyped. These researchers look at single phenomena and come up with theories to explain them. Positivists take a different tact and test theories to empirically support or discount them by comparing them to other parts of the shared reality. They define the accepted reality first and test against it.

So why does all this matter? In Malaby’s examination of play, the accepted reality of play was broken into branches. The reality of play that materially contributes to the grounded world and the reality of play that is representational. The mere attempt to break play into two branches is drawing a epistemological line in the sand.  Although parsimony is a primary goal of any research, saying something as simply as possible can force “truths” and stereotypes where none may exist. Or, more importantly perhaps, these larger truths may not account for the phenomenon which is outside of those truths – the rogues and non-conformists among us can relate.  Compared with the readings from last week which called for researchers to consider individual differences and contexts, the epistemology of this week’s readings seem to lean in the opposite direction by calling for a more pragmatic and essentially quantifiable definition of play.

Each of the philosophies comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. It is up to the researcher to balance these with the known reality of studying the topic of interest. In the case of play, Malaby is interested in classifying play for a better understanding and more serious study of the field especially considering the lack of attention it was receiving. His aims are good but I am not yet convinced (personally) that there are truths out there to be found…only individual differences and realities.


The discussion around awareness in Fine’s Frames and Games chapter reminds me of this infographic.


Articles:

  • Malaby, T. M. (2009). Anthropology and Play: The Contours of Playful Experience. New Literary History40(1), 205-218.
  • Fine, G. A. (2006). Frames and Games. In K. Salen & E. Zimmerman (Eds.), The game design reader: A rules of play Anthology (pp. 578-601). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Nardi, B. A. (2010). Chapter 4 “Play as Aesthetic Experience.” My life as a night elf priest: An anthropological account of World of Warcraft. Ann Arbor, MI: Univ of Michigan Press.
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Rule – No Girls Allowed…? 

If masculine, clubhouse rules successfully support some majority percentage of the gamer community and the gamer community purchases the products supporting the industry then is it fair to expect any of them (i.e. – gamers, products or industry) to spontaneously shake the boat for women to join the club? The great thing is that it does not seem to matter because women are playing games in spite of it all. Unfortunately, the statistics for women’s experience with games are not easy to decipher.   

For years now, The Entertainment Software Association has been stating that women make up approximately 40% of the game market.  The latest essential fact sheet (ESA 2011) claims approximately 42% of the gamers are women. But the statistics can be dubious and (in this case) prone to bias. Are these AAA title players? Facebook gamers? Smartphone gamers? Console gamers? Who knows and, better yet, does it matter?

Less suspect data can be cited from a 2008 Pew Report (http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1048/) which claims that women are “slightly less likely (50%) than men (55%) …to play any kind of digital game.” The question that should be asked is – What is the goal here? Are we expecting women to become 50/50 partners in the AAA gamer community? What if that is not what that group generally wants? 

That said, there is no doubt that strides should be made in the gaming culture and the institution to encourage women to contribute to the community – starting from the bottom up and the inside out.

Even at (arguably) the lowest level of the gaming industry (e.g. quality assurance tester) where jobs are a dime a dozen and turnover is high, the ratio of female to male testers does not equate to the ratio of female to male gamers by any stretch of the imagination. Tonya Constant (co-founder of The Ant Firm, a QA company) supports this position by stating that “while 43% of all gamers are female, the truth is 86% of game testers are male.” It is not just the design of the games but the general industry makeup.  Robyn Bremner (game tester for Campcom Interactive Canada) had almost the same thing to say in a cerise magazine interview, “I work in an office of 16 people, 14 of whom are men.” (I’ll even offer up my anecdotal experience of the gender gap in the game community and especially as a game tester for further evidence). To make any progress in this debate the changes need to start from the bottom up and the inside out. No game creation without representation should be the motto. And while we are at it… no pink game creation, full-stop. These only serve to widen the perceived gender divide.

Rule – Boys’ clubhouse rules are different because boys play different…?

Research shows that playstyle and (Eccles – 2002 – Motivational beliefs values and goalscan be different depending on the gender. It may be a little shortsighted and high-minded for all of the articles to have acknowledged and dismissed this on the face.

Two of the three articles included a brief sentence on the possible difference in the time men and women spend playing games. By happy coincidence I was able to find an article title Gaming, Gender, and Time: Who Makes Time to Play? by Jillian Winn and Carrie Heeter which found that “time allocated per session of game play is strikingly shorter among female than male undergraduates, with females typically devoting one half hour or less per play session and males typically devoting 1 hour or more.”

We have to start somewhere, why not start with appropriate role models in pop culture and media?

The ‘current’ pop culture female gamer role models can be confusing…The culture can encourage “relationship building” between genders (e.g. GameCrush) and yet discourage this relationship in gameplay (e.g. 9 Things real female gamers hate about gaming). It is a truly confusing landscape. I want to believe that there is a changing face of games but that face is often obscured, belittled, impractical or non-existent.

The current role models are all over the board.
Objectifying:

And (tongue-in-cheek) empowering…
Big Bang Theory’s take on Female Gamers Video

Patronizing

Or even realistic…
Trina Schwimmer (founder of GamingAngels)
Kellee Santiago  (Flower Game developer)

Unfortunately none stand out on their own. This is a real and actionable item. Role models are the best way to  lead and win the hearts and minds of girls as gamers…breaking the stereotypes is a good start but the girls need lasting role models and prototypes to believe that they can play with the “big boys”.


Old Grandma Hardcore
Breaking all the stereotypes and still playing in the clubhouse (NSFW)


Discussion Questions:

Anyone know anything about RapeLay…aside from the sensationalism of the talking heads and their knee jerk reactions? CNN’s Why would ‘RapeLay’ thrive in Japan?

Is it necessary to create games by girls for girls? Does this encourage a gender gap or help alleviate it?


Articles:

  1. Taylor, T. (2008). Becoming a player: Networks, structure, and imagined futuresIn Y. B. Kafai, C. Heeter, J. Denner, & J. Y. Sun (Eds.), Beyond Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New perspectives on gender and gaming (pp. 51-65). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  2. Nardi, B. A. (2010). Chapter 8, “Gender.” My life as a night elf priest: An anthropological account of World of Warcraft. Ann Arbor, MI: Univ of Michigan Press.
  3. Hayes, E. (2005).Women, Video Gaming and Learning: Beyond Stereotypes.. TechTrends, 49(5), 23-28.
  4. Gaming Rules – http://gamingrules.tumblr.com/

On The FenceThe ludology vs. narratology debate is white hot. Hot with anger and attitude. Hot with pretentious academics (present company excluded of course) wrestling over the validity and value of their established or burgeoning field’s right to study games. Both sides make sense in the context of their field and knowledge. Both sides have strong reasons why theirs is the better way to examine games and, yet, neither side appears ready to believe that they could be equally important.

Ludology – The focus of game studies should be the rules. Games are to be understood on their own terms. 
Aarseth (2004) argues that games have three aspects: “rules, a material/semiotic system (gameworld) and gameplay.”  A narrative is just an (unnecessary) overlay for these three aspects. In Aarseth’s view, games should be studied on their own terms and in their own rule set despite any narratives. Aarseth believes that the “value system of a game is strictly internal, determined unambivalently by the rules.” That is the ethics of a game are based on the code from which it was created and should only be studied for their manifest expressions.

To Aarseth a game like Doom has no need for a latent moral dilemma via narrative because “in doom, there is no moral dilemma resulting from the killing of probably innocent monsters.” In this way the killing of monsters is an understood aspect of gameplay. This rule is coded into the game, if not required for gameplay. However one could argue that there may be moral obscurity within some gameworlds which may or may not be accounted for in the rules.

The first example that comes to mind is the player’s possible moral dilemma of “harvesting” little girls in BioShock. The game presents the player with the option of “harvesting” the “little sister”, a morally bad decision, and gaining an immediate reward vs. “rescuing” the “little sister”, a morally good decision, and reaping the benefits of a reward in the long run. The possibility of being neutral is only available if one harvests and rescues little sister non-player characters in equal amounts. Thus the player has only three choices. The rules within the gameplay do not allow for shades of grey and perhaps that is part of the reason why ludologists dislike the idea of narrative leading the way.

At their core, games are their rules. Specifically video games are 1s and 0s, yes and no, black and white codes– but that may not always be the case going forward. Given the speed of technology in the past 20 years, one has to begin to wonder what happens when there is an infinite decision system for morality built into games. Although current triple A games can be morally dichotomous (i.e. you can be good or you can be evil) a future where game development budgets are expanded to allow for a larger decision pool may not be that far away. We’ll talk a little more about the financial robustness of the game industry in a moment but first let’s take a look at another game example where the morality and rules are not explicitly programmed?

Each game in the Grand Theft Auto series is a set of rules which the developer created to structure the gameworld and gameplay. Although these rules establish the value system of the game, a user can still implement their own rules into the gameworld thus causing ambivalence to the developer’s rules (or lack of).  For example, I am notorious for stopping at red lights in GTA. This is a self-imposed rule. A rule that is at odds with the base-level presumption of the game – kill, damage things and ignore the civility. It a rule part and parcel to the moral dilemma I face when interacting with the GTA gameworld. The rules of the game allow a player to stop at red lights so it is well within the game’s programmed rules but is not an explicit (read: coded) part of those rules.

It is also understood that the characters are not sentient but it should not be taken for granted that we do not have the capacity to feel for them. In a 2009 study, Mast assessed children’s experiences with artificial companions and found that “children saw Furby more as a real animal than a plush animal.” If our capacity for empathy toward pseduo-sentient non-human furry toys is possible then why not the soon-to-be photo realistic video game characters as well?

Game Sales Through 2008

© 2010 Hudson Square Research, Inc.

Scholarly Criticism
All of the authors are guilty of making assumptions which appear to have no scientific evidence for support. Although I am willing to assume that the information is correct, it is difficult to determine what is conjecture and what is hard science. For example, Aarseth claims that “Culturally, especially in ‘high culture,’ stories dominate still, but are currently losing ground to the new simulation-based discourse types, e.g., in the entertainment market, where movies are being outsold by computer games.” This would be easy enough to prove with evidence but Aarseth gives none. Aarseth had this article published 2004 at a time when the video game industry was bringing in less money than the movie industry. But in 2008 that all changed (see graph above) and in 2009 the game industry hit another milestone – outselling DVD and Blue-ray globally (Sliwinski 2009).

Narratology – Games are novel forms of narrative and narrative theory should be used to study games (Murray)
Murray (2004) makes some great points regarding the need to study the narratives which are interweaved in gameplay but I am not familiar with the scholarly study of narrative (beyond these call and response essays) and would really like to hear the commentary from the class. Unlike Aarseth, Murray appears to be open to studying the rules of the game but only secondary to the narrative.

On-The-Fence…It’s both! (Harpold)
Harpold (2007) sits on the fence regarding this debate. Specifically, Harpold claims that perhaps it is the intersection of narrative and gameplay which should be studied. This incorporates both view points and brings forward a third option. I am more inclined to agree with Harpold if only because it moves us away from this haughty debate and into some neutral grounds.  Harpold allows for a grey area to this debate – not too conservative (ludology) and not too liberal (narratology) but just right smack in the middle.

And the winner is…
In the end games should surely be studied and respected on their own terms. Scholars should investigate games for the core, novel and interesting ways they present their rule sets and maneuver the intersection between the rules, the gameworld and gameplay. But scholarly study should not stop there. If we ignore the obvious narratives which are also created in games then we are only looking at half (or a quarter) of what games have to offer society. If my choices are ludology or narratology then I’m with Harpold and I choose both.

Discussion Question: What about games (interactive narratives?) like “The Lost Experience” (extended from the Lost television series) where finding narrative easter eggs and discovering untold character development through online sleuthing is the game? The rules are not obvious and the line between reality and fantasy becomes blurred (e.g. A “Hanso” site appeared to be real all the way to the WhoIs lookup). This is not a game that is programmed. Players can continue to seek (and probably find) more information but there are no rules on where to find that information or what you might find when you get there.

Readings:

  1. Aarseth, E. (2004). Genre trouble: Narrativism and the art of simulationFirst Person New Media as Story Performance and Game, 45-55.
  2. Murray, J. (2004). From game-story to cyberdrama. First person: New media as story, performance, and game, 2-11.
  3. Harpold, T. (2007). Screw the Grue: Mediality, Metalepsis, Recapture.Game Studies7(1). Retrieved from http://gamestudies.org/0701/articles/harpold
  4. Hudson Square Research. (2010). Plugging into the video game market: Trends, challenges and opportunities in the interactive entertainment market. Last retrieved from http://www.dcia.info/activities/p2pmslv2010/1-6%20HSQR.pdf on February 15, 2012.
  5. Mast, D. (2009). Doe kaa wee-naa oe-nai boo: Assessing children’s experiences with active and passive artificial companions. Proceedings from the 13th Computer-Human Interaction Netherlands Conference. Leiden, Netherlands. Last retrieved from http://mediatechnology.leiden.edu/images/research/mast-doe-kaa-wee-naa-oe-nai-boo-assessing-childrens-experiences-with-active-and-passive-artificial-companions-chinl2009.pdf on February 15, 2012.
  6. Sliwinski, A. (2009, January 26). Games outsell DVD, Blue-ray at retail globally. Joystiq. Last retrieved from http://www.joystiq.com/2009/01/26/games-outsell-dvd-blu-ray-at-retail-globally/ on February 15, 2012.

Not mentioned: Jenkins, H. (2006). Game Design as Narrative Architecture. In K. Salen & E. Zimmerman (Eds.), The game design reader: A rules of play Anthology (pp. 642-670). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

The readings for this week were meant to establish an updated, theoretical foundation for gaming as a social practice. Steinkuehler & Williams (2006) updated Oldenburg’s “third places” to incorporate virtual communities as “public spaces for informal social gatherings.” Consalvo argued that Huizinga’s idea of a “magic circle” is no longer applicable in our always on and always connected world. Squire points to the frames that our culture has developed around video games and attempts to situate those frames. On a whole, these readings support multiple viewpoints and multiple contexts for studying video games but there is still something that is lacking across all disciplines- a common vocabulary. Costikyan (2002) addressed some of the critical vocabulary issues  but I believe the operationalization of a few more terms would be helpful in light of their appearance in this week’s reading:

  • Edutainment – Is it educational or entertainment? Can you do both successfully or does the game need to be created to be entertaining and have the education happen in a non-obvious way? The term “Edutainment” has been hotly contested. According to legend, the term can be traced to 1983 when the technology industry linked it to educational software developed specifically for the Oric I and Spectrum microcomputers as advertised in several issues of “Your Computer” magazine. It was not created by educators but by the “entertainment” industry. If the goal of edutainment is to keep students involved in the content longer by increasing the entertainment value then isn’t the entertainment value the current driving force in educational game development. And if not, are those which emphasize education actually entertaining? Can we rely on entertainment to teach? Should we re-frame this area to emphasize the processes and mechanics (ie- the gameplay)?
  • Casual Gamer – What is a casual gamer? The word is bandied about in many articles as if everyone who is reading the article should already know the definition. For example, Consalvo stated, “MMOs are difficult for casual gamers to do well in.” It would have been helpful for Consalvo to cite some research indicating this. In order to understand this statement one has to first know the definition of casual gamer and decipher why casual gamers would not do well in an MMO. Are we considering a purist definition of casual gamers-as in they can only ever play casual games and have no concept of other games? Perhaps this is an instance where a better understanding of how, why and when we use video games will help to untangle this mess of neologisms that are coming out the industry.
  • Video Games – “1980 called and they want their word back” – Is this term outdated? What is the difference between video games and computer games? Does the term “video games” prime researchers and readers to the cultural frames which Squire discusses?   It’s no longer a video cassette, they are no longer video cards …so why still keep it as a video game? Why not just lose the video part? (eg. Interactive Games, Digital Game) Is it video game or videogame? Or perhaps it is still appropriate because it incorporates the video (narrative and graphics) and gameplay (ludic) in “one” word?  

Resources:

Short Game Assignment 1: Analyze a board game that is over 1 hour in length and allows for 2+ players. Use the class readings for support and guidance.

BeezerWizzer

BeezerWizzer Game Session

The game used for this analysis is BeezerWizzer (Mattel – $28.99). The game night included two couples and a last minute fifth player all of which had never played the game prior to that night. The social ties between players added an interesting layer to the play. During the game both of the couples used their personal affiliation to influence their partner’s decision on whether or not to make a strategic move against them (ie – “You shouldn’t switch my categories because you are going home with me…). The group sat in as much of a circle as we could create with a rectangular coffee table but it is interesting to note the literal circle formed for our own “magic circle” (Huizinga, 2006) of play.

Round One – Cooperate!
In considering the play and game aspects of the evening, the first time through Beezerwizzer was much more play than game. Much of the first round was spent examining and re-examining the game rules. Tuckman’s (1965) “forming, storming, norming and peforming” occurred as the group dynamics began to develop around the discussion of the game rules. Where rules were unavailable or unclear (eg – Can you zwap after someone puts down a beezerwizzer? Can you zwap your own tiles?) the group brainstormed and came to a consensus which essentially created house rules.

Round 2 – Fight!
Once the rules were established and understood, more strategic and less cooperative play developed. At this point everyone had taken ownership of their play, were comfortable with the rules and were now motivated to win.  There was a sharp change in the social atmosphere of the game the second time around as well. The group dialogue was lively when the group was discovering the rules but quickly dissipated once the rules were set and the “serious” game began. This is what Tuckman would have called the “performing stage” and it was during this time when “higher-risk trust activities and values exercises” (Thompson 2010) were explored. During this second round, when trust was at it highest, one player decided to try a deceptive and tactical move by pretending not to know the answer to the question. In response, another player tried to “steal” the question by providing another possible answer. As a result, the first player (who knew the answer from the start) received full points for the question and the challenging player was forced to move back 1 space due to an incorrect answer. Interestingly, the player who challenged felt slighted after the game which may or may not be attributed to the loss in trust which resulted from the tactical move the first player made. Although there was a “magic circle” of play for the game that night it would appear that this “magic circle” may have a longer half-life than just the space and time in which the game was played.

BeezerWizzer Game Board

BeezerWizzer Game Board with category and action tiles

Gameplay explained: Beezerwizzer is a trivia game wrapped in a strategy game surrounded by a game of chance. The team (or individual) that makes it around the board first is the winner. Each team chooses four six category tiles from a bag at the beginning of the game which correspond to categories of trivia questions they may be asked. Each category tile is placed on a board below the point value that the team anticipates they could earn if they got the question correct. Ostensibly, the more knowledgeable you are in category, the more points you would give that category. Each team also has two “BeezerWizzer” tiles and one “Zwap” tile. The BeezerWizzer tiles are used to “steal” a question from another team by answering the question correctly when/if the other team cannot. If an attempt to “steal” a question is made and the thief gets the question incorrect as well then the would-be thief’s piece is moved back one space. The Zwap tiles are used to swap any two available tiles; including two of your own or those of two other players. The BeezerWizzer and Zwap tiles add an element of strategy to a genre of games (ie – trivia) which usually do not entertain strategic gameplay. Using these “Beezerwizzer” and “Zwap” tiles makes it possible for the other team to steal your top category especially if they consider it a strategic advantage to do so. The game is designed to go through at least two rounds in order to traverse the entire board and these Beezerwizzer and Zwap tiles are recharged every round. This means that there are at least four chances to “steal” a category and two chances to swap categories each time you play the game. The points collected allow you to move your piece around the board and the first team (individual) to the last square wins. 

On a side note:
The choice of game was originally limited to the assignment criteria and a price point at or under $10. However, this price point was adjusted to allow for an actual choice of games. It was disheartening to find only a handful of games for under $10 at Target. It was no great surprise to find a few more than that at Walmart. In both stores, “cheap games” for under $10 were either table games (ie – checkers, chess, mancala), card games (ie – Uno, traditional deck, Go Fish) or low budget games (ie – Don’t Break the Ice, Memory, Yahtzee). Award-winning games were the highest priced with some coming in at over $45. As developers continue to create cheaper mobile versions of these games for smart phones, tablets and e-readers one begins to wonder about the future of the physical board game market. If one can purchase a mobile, electronic version of Catan for $3.99, why would you spend $41.99 for a bulky off-line version?

References:

  • Huizinga, J. (2006). Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon. In K. Salen & E. Zimmerman (Eds.), The game design reader: A rules of play Anthology (pp. 96-120). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Thompson, P. (2010). Play and Positive Group Dynamics. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 19(3), 53-58. Last retrieved on February 1, 2012 from http://readperiodicals.com/201010/2271091531.html
  • Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384-399.