Global gaming networks are heterogenous collectives of localized practices, not unified commercial products. Shifting the analysis of digital games to local specificities that build and perform the global and general, Gaming Rhythms employs ethnographic work conducted in Venezuela and Australia to account for the material experiences of actual game players.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Everday Empowerment?

Everyday Empowerment? Videogames in the Developing World: A Case Study of Venezuela

In her groundbreaking book Playing with Power in Movies, Television, and Videogames: From Muppet Babies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Marsha Kinder maintains that the interactive nature of videogames gives children a sense of empowerment. A key caveat that she places on this sense of empowerment is that it is linked to acts of consumption, both within the game (e.g. when the Super Mario Brothers consume mushrooms they become giants), and outside the game (e.g. through the consumption of the various non-game commodities: Super Mario Brothers lunchboxes; TV shows; films; etc.). Kinder locates this phenomenon of empowerment through the play and consumption of videogames in a global context. In this paper, I will re-evaluate Kinder’s claims in the light of the inequality of the power relations between the global videogame industry and their audience. In order to do this I will turn to the ethnographic data gained during fieldwork in Caracas, Venezuela from March through July 2005.

My intervention in Kinder’s argument takes the form of the following question: Can the interactivity of videogames be empowering in the developing world, in the same manner as they are in the wealthier countries of the ‘developed world’? This paper examines the ways in which game players’ that are otherwise excluded from consumptive practices due to lack of resources may nevertheless be empowered through game-play. Through a investigation of videogames in the context of the everyday lives of the players’ I will argue that empowerment in the context of Venezuela, is not so much linked to empowerment through consumption; but rather to empowerment through community, participation, and creativity.

Keywords: Consumption; Ethnography; Everyday Life; Videogames.

Monday, December 19, 2005

And Today....

I guess I hadn't got around to telling y'all that I got accepted to the conference in Toronto! Great news. Sent of another abstract to a book called Adolescent Medievalism: The Past Packaged for Children and Young Adults, here is the abstract:

Rethinking History: Playing with ‘Historical Authenticity’ in Videogames.

History and historical events are common themes in videogames, and have been from their pre-commercial days. This chapter will argue that history is typically deployed in computer games in two ways; either as a diegetic backdrop and aesthetic influence (e.g. Medal of Honour, Crimson Skies), or as a simulation of the flow of history, in particular the development of a culture through time (e.g. Civilization, Age of Empires). In particular I will examine one game from the second group: Civilization III; in order to focus on the productive and creative ways that these games are utilised by their players.

Taking the form of an on-line ethnography, and utilizing site-based fieldwork and interviews conducted with children in Melbourne, Australia and Caracas, Venezuela during 2005, this paper will shift the focus from the games themselves to the way in which the two games are used by their players’ to negotiate the concept of ‘historical authenticity’ in relation to the demands of entertainment. In his recently published book The Nature of Computer Games: Play as Semiosis (2003) David Myers examines the earliest computer games and earmarks an underlying contradiction that governs the experience of game-play that exists between the law of physics and the law of play. Myers’ observation pinpoints a major division in the players of Civilization III.

This paper will argue that this contradiction has become of key importance among a certain segment of this game’s players, who deploy significant historical knowledge to critique the games, and also to a certain extent combine their historical knowledge with a minor knowledge of programming in order to customize more ‘authentic’ or ‘entertaining’ versions of the original games. Specifically, I will demonstrate that the strict adherence to the historic ‘facts’ incorporated into the game design, combined with an engaged and productive audience creates a potential for a critical reading by its audience that suggests Civilization III, and other simulation games that model history, or historic events, may provide a space for critical evaluation of history that contradicts the generally held opinion that in the postmodern era historical references in children’s media and generally nostalgic, meaningless examples of surface play that lack depth, or critical concerns.

Tom Apperley is a PhD student in the Media and Communication Studies Program at the
University of Melbourne, Melbourne. He has recently returned from fieldwork in Caracas, Venezuela.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Knights of Honour

I've been staying up late playing Knights of Honour, the new game from Paradox. It's pretty interesting, with a big focus on micro-management (opposite to the usual trend in strategy games). It has a 'retro' aesthetic, kind looks like a more pretty, less garish version of the first Age of Empires. It really difficult, I'm still getting my ass kicked on easy, need to learn to pay more attention to the politics going on at the kingdom-to-kingdom level outside my own sphere.

About Me

This blog started as a PhD blog, for my project 'Global Rhythms: Video games and the Transformation of Play'. It finally become a book. This is a "historic" record of the trials a tribulations.