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.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Finished the CSAA Paper

Wow, some serious work this past week and a virtual all-nighter last night (just 3:30am) and now is its done. Well I sent it to my sister for some editing, and then I'll look over it again tonight before I actually submit it.

Its so strange to actually make the deadline for something... ...whats happening to me?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Unaustralia Conference

So the annual Cultural Studies Association of Australasia Conference is coming soon in December. The theme is Unaustralia, and I managed to do a bit of a procrustean feat on one of my old research streams that I have been looking to publish. Basically, its going to be an update of the final chapter of my honors thesis, with current literature (its amazing how much stuff has come out on strategy games - and how much my research skills have improved), and refocused on Europa Universalis (Paradox Interactive, 2000) and Victoria: Empire Under the Sun (Paradox Interactice, 2002). The dissertation version used Civilization III and Medieval: Total War, both of which are getting a bit long in the tooth, and also importantly don't explicitly reference the Australian colonial period. In EU2 Australia is unclaimed by any European power, and its colonization can take place during the game, in Vicky South and East Australia are Bristish colonies but anything can happen, I've played games where the Netherlands colonized North and West Australia, and one where Britian traded Australia to Brazil for the Phillipines. Here is the abstract that got accepted:

Virtual Unaustralia: Videogames and Australia’s Colonial History
In this paper I will discuss the representations of Australia in the videogames Europa Universalis II and Victoria: Empire Under the Sun. The first game deals with the historical period of 1400-1820, the second from 1838 to 1920. In both games Australia is portrayed as an empty space on these games’ map, which may during the course of play, be revealed and colonized. Many scholars over the past few years have made a point of arguing these games involve players uncritically accepting and applying the logic of colonialism. However, an examination of the community forums of these games reveals what I believe is a more complex picture of the players’ engagement with the representations of colonialism within the games. Drawing on these sources, and on textual analysis of the games I will argue that these games reflect the colonial ideology by exploiting the potentiality of the empty map which portrays Australia as a virtual non-space waiting to be actualized. Following from this, despite a dominant logic of colonialism an examination of players’ reports of their games reveals that this non-space may be actualized in multiple ways, leading to trajectories of history being actualized within the game that radically diverge from traditional representations of the past. Finally, that by opening up the notion of Australia to a multiplicity these games confronts the players with alternatives to the reality of the colonial moment, which can be considered more or less ethical than what actually occurred.

This has to be finnished by the end of the month, so I am starting my write up of the new draft featuring the Paradox Interactive games today.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sad But True

Flux Conference Panel Proposal

Here is the proposal for a panel on Actor-Network-Theory that my buddies Bjorn and Michael and I have put together for the flux postgraduate conference run by the cinema studies department this November.
Panel: Assembling the ANT: Ventilators, Maps, Videogames

This panel seeks to bring together diverse work within cultural and media studies that utilises the framework outlined by Bruno Latour and Actor-Network-Theory. This approach broadly redefines sociology through an inclusive methodology that attempts to capture movements; it is an act of tracing associations between heterogeneous elements. Crucially, it redefines our understanding of the social world, arguing that the heterogeneity found in such associations is not exclusively composed of human ties, and that focusing solely on the human entails a fundamental misunderstanding as it ignores the participation of objects, technologies and non-human entities in the social world; from mechanical ventilators, GPS technology and videogame algorithms.
Keywords: Actor-Network-Theory, Bruno Latour, Non-humans

Machine Breaths
Bjorn Nansen

The term flux operates as a kind of metonym for the mutable conditions of postmodernity, suggesting a range of movements, fluidities and becomings. These familiar tropes saturate our current milieu, and cluster prominently around conceptions of the body, identity and self as something able to be constructed, changed and transformed through modes of consumption and a range of fashion, dietary and exercise practices. Even more radical are the potential transformations enabled through medical technologies of transplantation, prosthesis and reconstruction.

As such, both essential and regulated images of the self are abandoned in favor of choice, agency and flexibility. Inherent to these notions is a popular celebration in possibility and a common sense perception of technology as instrumental. Alternatively, technology is framed as autonomous, threatening and destructive to the human; this view is aligned with a sense that fluidity translates into fragmentation and erasure. The mechanical ventilator is a technology generally framed within this dialectic; either radically destabilising human life, creating new and ambiguous states such as brain-death; or as a simple prosthetic device, serving an instrumental purpose through simulating the function of breathing for patients whose own ventilatory abilities are diminished or lost.

Bruno Latour argues, however, that this perpetuates a false dichotomy; humans and technologies are not separate, but continuous and co-emergent; and objects mediate and act within the social world. Latour’s inclusion of non-humans invites us to re-assess the ways entities are mutually constituted through their relations, and how each participates in defining and redefining each other.

I want to deploy Latour’s methodology and idiom to consider the reconfigured and distributed ontology of the human-mechanical ventilator relation; to trace the tensions between enabling and attenuating bodily practices; and to discuss how this relation complicates notions of fluidity and choice privileged in contemporary life.
Keywords: Actor-Network-Theory, Embodiment, Medical Technology,

Objective Memories: On Assembling Things through Locative Media
-Michael Dieter

Locative media has routinely been understood through theories concentrated on spatial analysis and the virtual annotation of urban landscapes. Such discourses often rely on a utopian desire to recover stable relations and place-bound modes of community in a global era characterised by the flux of compressed networks of time-space. Paradoxically, these practices rely on the very technologies of reproduction and simulation that Andreas Huyssen understands as being ‘leading players in the morality play of memory.’

My paper will apply the recent work of Bruno Latour on political assemblies, ‘matters of concern’ and object-orientated democracy in order to examine the instrumental position that projects like Proboscis’ Urban Tapestries or Milk by Ieva Auzina and Esther Polak maintain in relation to imagining technologies. In particular, I want to examine how a reflexive approach, inspired by actor-network-theory, might bring into consideration the function of new media in these works as non-human actants. That is, if such projects are based on a reflexive approach to memory, the role of forgetting or disappearance should not be overlooked, especially concerning the material apparatus itself. This is of critical importance, I will argue, in order to distinguish the function of mobile and digital devices from the imperatives of control, surveillance and commercial spectacle characteristic of the contemporary urban experience.
Keywords: Actor-Network-Theory, Locative Media, Memory.

Analysis through Design: Examining the Technological and Social Actors in a Videogaming Ecology
-Thomas Apperley

This paper will argue that – rather than ‘great graphics’ or a ‘compelling story’ – the key to a videogames’ acceptance and adoption by an audience is the appropriateness of its design in relation to the context of its play. Through an ethnographic examination of two situated videogaming ecologies in Melbourne, Australia and Caracas, Venezuela I maintain that factors aside from narrative have a crucial role in shaping the experience of play. Of particular importance are the interoperability of the gaming technology, which takes effect in the relationship between software and hardware, and the capacity of the game to be played across a network. This points to the role of both the technological and the social in shaping the videogame experience, and being equally important as narrative or visual concerns when selecting what game is played in a given context or situation. The paper will argue that the practices involved in the consumption of videogames constitute a complex ecology, formed by the interplay of both the social and the technological contexts of their play. I will examine the influence of technology and the social on shaping the experience of play through Latour’s (2005) notion of Actor-Network-Theory. Using Latour’s notion as a starting point I will outline, and argue in favor, of a theory of videogames based on design, that incorporates narrative and visual aesthetics as elements without privileging them, using the game Gunbound: World Champion (softnyx, 2005) as an example of the utility of this framework.
Keywords: Actor-Network-Theory, Media Ecology, Situated Gaming, Videogame Design.

Mobile Media Abstract Accepted!

The organizers of Mobile Media: an international conference on social and cultural aspects of mobile phones, convergent media, and wireless technologies, Larissa Hjorth and Gerard Goggin have accepted my abstract to the conference. Good news for me, have to have a written version of the paper availible for refereeing by the 15/01/07, thats a long time away now.
Don't have much other information about whats going to happen, except for that its on the 02-04/07/07, and its in Sydney. The organizers say there's going to be a lot of people there from around the world so should be cool.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Videogames: Issues in Research and Learning

So in December 2005 and March 2006, the Sage Journal Simulation & Gaming published a two part special issue on videogames. Included was my article on Videogames and Genres, which appeared in the March 2006 issue (stoked!). Don't know why I haven't mentioned it until now, been out of blogging mode I guess. Anyhow sheck out their site and hopefully you can find out a way to download it legitimately (or just click the link on the bottom of the sidebar).
The editors describe my research: "Apperley examines the aesthetic components of video games, contrasting market-driven genres that pigeonhole video games into prior media genres versus genres based on visual aesthetic or narrative structure. His conclusions highlight the disassociation of video game play, content, and analysis from previously embedded conventions of market, culture and critique." Could not have put it better myself, I love it how some people can just explain to you what the hell you are doing, its like the whole situated play epiphany I had a few moments ago after I discovered what the rest of the world was calling the kind of research I do.
Bottom line for me is that genre is a useful was to explore the complex interrelation between the narrative, the representational and the ludic. That is not all that I think genre can do for Game Studies... ...but more on that later.
Anyway the article is still in the journals top-ten most downloaded (read) articles, at number nine after six months, it was number one from April-June, before slipping to number five and then 8. It has consistently been the most popular from the symposium issue. Hey I guess someone had to write an article about videogame genres didn't they?

Situated Play - I'm Part of a Meme

It turns out that other scholars out there, namely those that select the topic for the 2007 DiGRA conference are also interested in the context(s) in which gaming takes place, however, they called this 'Situated Gaming'. Nice for me, a new key word and a sense of validation in the value of my project and the direction its been taking over the write-up period.
Starting to think maybe I should join them, so many things to spend money on. Darshana went to the conference they had last year in Vancover and said it was pretty cool, I think I was in Venezuela at the time, or maybe stuck in Melbourne teaching.

Urban Hellraisers in Vice City

On the 21st of November 2005, CSI: Miami (apparently the most popular USA TV show worldwide - certainly one of the most reactionary) featured an episode called 'Urban Hellraisers' in which a fictional videogame of the same name was being used by university students to learn how to commit crimes. The game shared many features with Grand Theft Auto (primarily the cover aesthetics), enough at least to be considered a clear reference to the game.

It is not the first time that gaming has been a theme on CSI:Miami, the episode 'Game Over' from season three shared a similar theme. This time based on the cut-throat game design business and a murder that took place in a special skateboard bowl/ramp which was being used to motion capture special moves for a skateboarding videogame.

So we see one side of Miami confronting the other: CSI: Miami, the official side which often plays on the threatening elements of popular culture (Spring Break, Girls Gone Wild, Marijuana, Videogames - among others) to associate them with serious crimes, and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City - a simulacra of Miami, that draws upon many representations of Miami from popular culture, in particular those associated with crime, drugs, and the creolization of American Culture (in particular with regard to the influence of Latin American and Carribean immirgrants).

This led me to reflect upon the particular status of Miami in American (both North and South) popular culture. One a a few North American cities which has been particularly transformed by Latin culture. Its location makes it the closest part of the North American continent for the Carribean and South American Countries. It could be seen as a liminal zone, which while politically and geographical belonging to North America, culturally it is connected to the South. Indeed Miami featured large in the imaginations of Venezuelans.

Intersected with the spatiality of Miami is the time in which the game is set, 1986... ...a key date associated with the games main cultural reference Miami Vice. For Miami this time was characterized by a creolization of culture cause by a large influx of immirgrants from Latin America and the Carribean. For Venezuela this period was the last years of the oil wealth benefitting the general population, a time that was characterised with good relations with the USA, and for even the middle class holidays to Miami for shopping (particularly for clothes and other luxury goods like electronics).

Miami is also the centre for the anti-chavistas, since Chavez has come into power more and more of the Venezuelan rich have been locating themselves in Miami. So Miami postulates a complex amalgamum for the global imaginary of Venezuelans: part better times, part refuge, part resort and part cultural centre. It represents a shift in peripery alligeance from metropolitan Europe (Spain: Madrid), to Metropolitan United States (Miami), a shift from the 'Old' world to the 'New' world, from the old 'Imperial' centre to a new centre which is liminaly both inside and outside of North America, where the various assemblages of creolization of the contentents meet and reformulate new connections. Connections which have culturally transformed the North America, and provide an important source of rejuvination for South American culture - both as a market for and a producer of Latin culture.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

MU: Online v Nintendo & City of Heros v Marvel

I was just looking over some of my fieldwork material today and noticed a few references to Mu: Online. I had seen this game being played a lot - along with Tibia, another free MMORPG - during August-October 2004, but hadn't really noticed any significant play of it when I was in Caracas from March-July 2005. Anyway I was looking over the games site and saw that it had switched to a mixed free/pay service (pay service is called premium) this April. This meant that free players would be limited to four of the game-worlds, and to 60th level, while pay players would get unlimited access. The pay only worlds were also promoted as being bug free (bugs and third-party mods plagued MU: Online back when I was doing my research on it).
So I was looking around on the internet for some news on what happened with MU, because the buzz around the game was pretty big because of the huge size of its regular community (I use community here in the loose sense - but lets say at least it had a hell of a lot of players) all I could find was wikipedia claiming that it was sold by webzen (the Korean developers) to K2 (the current owners) for 2,000,000USD.
During my search I also discovered that Nintendo had been on webzen's case for allowing (out of 1,000s of possibile combinations) characters to be customized that looked like Link (of Zelda fame), in one of the new games it has been beta-testing, S.U.N. (Soul of the Ultimate Nation). Nintendo didn't sue just issued a stern warning. Now apparently this issue has cropped up in the past, according to Gamespot News, with players in City of Heros customizing their characters to closely resemble various Marvel favorates. The dispute between Marvel and City of Heros went from November 2004-December 2005, and resulted in an undisclosed settlement payment to Marvel. Wired News states:
"Considering that defendants own no comic characters themselves, it stands to reason that the comic books to which they refer are those that depict the characters of Marvel and others," wrote Marvel's attorneys in the complaint. "Defendants' Creation Engine facilitates and, indeed, encourages players to create and utilize heroes that are nearly identical in name, appearance and characteristics to characters belonging to Marvel."
The Story is also covered by USA Today.

What I'm wondering is what is the story with the Habbo Hotel game's jedi/sith roleplaying factions?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Mobile Media

Stayed up late last night writing this abstract for the Mobile Media conference in Sydney next year. Was pretty interesting doing the research. Mobile gaming has a whole lot of interesting issues... ...and its pretty obvious that those who have waxing lyrical about this in various forums I have attended have just read 'Smart Mobs'.

Anyway I found the summary of the issues by Mark Finn in AJETS to be pretty sweet, and Aphra Kerr's book had some good stats, I'll have to get around to reading it soon.

Here is the abstract (its over 100 words too long :$) :

Games without Borders: Globalization, Gaming and Mobility in Venezuela

Using fieldwork data from ethnographic research conducted between March and July 2005, this paper will examine the impact of mobile games on the videogames industry and audiences in Caracas, Venezuela. I will argue that mobile games represent a tactic through which Venezuelan game developers can create content This dovetails with the Venezuelan markets’ readiness for mobile games due to the already largely public context of gaming, which means that the conceptual shift that other videogame markets face with the development of the mobile game sector will be ameliorated.

Kerr and Flynn (2003) argue that the structure of the global videogames industry is such that it potentially prohibits many small countries from developing this sector. Lugo et. al. (2002), underscore the unevenness of the development of the videogames industry, noting that while Latin America lacked a significant stake in the development of software, it was significantly the location of the production of many Xboxes in Mexican maquiladoras. While the people of Venezuela – in this case – are able to participate in the global culture of videogames, they relied on content produced elsewhere (the North). Finn (2005) and Kerr (2006) both note that mobile games create a significant intervention in the industry model for videogame production and distribution, both in terms of the cost and time associated with production, and in terms of controls and restrictions based on licensing and distribution. Potentially, this sector offers countries excluded from producing game content an opportunity to foster local talent and creativity.

Hall (2005) describes the impact that mobile gaming has had on videogame content. Play takes place within a particular context defined by time and space, the stability of this model is challenged by mobile games, which can be played in numerous contexts. Further to Hall’s understanding of context I will argue, based on my own experiences and observations, that culture and social bonds have a particular impact on context. Content, as in the type of game played has a strong correlation to these contexts. Particular contexts suit particular games (content), and vice versa, this explaining the ubiquity of certain games in Venezuela. Hall and Finn both point to the shift of videogames to the public sphere is the central contextual innovation of mobile gaming. This paper will argue that cultural context like that of Venezuela –where a considerable portion of videogaming takes place in public spaces already – is ready to be receptive of mobile games.

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.