Abstracts 2010

Under the Mask Abstracts - 2010

  1. Diane Carr (Institute of Education, University of London) Player v. Text? Enacting disciplinarity in game studies research
  2. Alec Charles (University of Bedfordshire) Let’s stop playing games: a deconstruction of the illusory interface between the material and the virtual
  3. Steven Conway (University of Bedfordshire) ARGH!: An analysis of the response cries of digital game players
  4. Felix Cretu (University of Bedfordshire) Controlling Action:Analysing types and levels of interaction between game and player
  5. Vicente Diaz Gandasegui (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid) The no-gamer
  6. Judith Dormans (Maastricht University, The Netherlands) Classification of Fan Practices in World of Warcraft
  7. Jessica Enevold & Charlotte Hagström (Lund University, Sweden) Modifying the Methods: Player Research Reconsidered
  8. Sonia Fizek & Isamar Carrillo Masso (Bangor University) Behind the Screen: New Methodologies for the Study of Games, Gamers and Player Characters
  9. Mitja Koštomaj (Thames Valley University, London, UK & University of Ljubljana, Slovenia) The key design issues in AIS full body interactive games
  10. Rachel V. Kowert (University of York, UK ) Geek or Chic: Perceptions of Online Gamers
  11. Nicolle Lamerichs (Maastricht University) All dressed up: Conceptualizing ‘cosplaying’ as a fan practice
  12. Thomas Makryniotis (University for the Creative Arts, UK) Mode Code – Identity through Dress in Virtual Environments
  13. Esther MacCallum-Stewart (University of East London, and an associate lecturer at the University of Chichester, UK) Together Alone - Players in their Own Worlds
  14. Rikke Toft Nørgård (Aarhus University, Denmark) The Body under the Mask: Unveiling the corporeal practice of gamers
  15. Dan Pinchbeck (University of Portsmouth, UK) Adventures in thechineseroom: doing practice-based research in games.
  16. Gavin Stewart (University of Bedfordshire, UK) Ergodicity and ARGing
  17. Jaroslav Švelch (Charles University, Prague & Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic) What It Takes To Be A Gamer: The Construction of the Myth of the Hard Core Gamer in the 1990's Czech Republic

Diane Carr

Player v. Text? Enacting disciplinarity in game studies research

It has become quite common in game studies circles for authors to position themselves as offering a welcome and necessary alternative to text-orientated, humanities-styled research. It is not unusual to find text-orientated research framed as a dominant force in the field, with player-orientated (social-scientific) research posed as a crucial corrective. I think that this is interesting for several reasons, and that is what this presentation is about. For instance, is it the case that the analyst who incorporates these kinds of arguments is inadvertently perpetuating old and perhaps obsolete schisms (i.e. between texts and audiences, structure and meaning-making, humanities and the social sciences, etc.)? Are these patterns that we could be rethinking rather than re-enacting? Here the term ‘humanities-styled research’ is used provisionally in order to describe research directed towards the game-as-object-of-study, and to refer to game analysis that is generated through the invention and investigative testing of theoretical models (of meaning, affect or subjectivity, for example) where the game-as-played by the analyst becomes the ‘data’ [1]. Of course, a great deal of games research in general involves the consideration or generation of theory through an engagement with texts of one kind or another (including the materials generated through data collection). This is one reason why implicitly or otherwise positioning ‘humanities’ and ’social scientific’ approaches as antipathetic is simplistic. It might not be productive to frame these approaches as ‘opposite’; to construct each as monolithic and homogenous, or to argue that either has more to offer game studies than the other (especially when considered outside of a specified research design). Discussing these issues involves thinking about the rhetorical and the methodological strategies being employed when theorizing the relationships between game, play and player. It may also be important to consider the implications if analysts working within a social scientific framework are accustomed to describing research using (and misusing) terms embedded in well established conventions. These terms offer an authoritative and evaluative vocabulary (relating to methods, sampling, rationale, measures and procedures, etc.) Should these criteria be a part of all research and analysis, or is there a need to recognize alternative conventions and practices? If the latter is true, then there’s a need to clarify and articulate these distinctions, in order that – for instance - appropriate criteria are brought to bear during review and critique.
[1] This is a limited definition. In other contexts the remit of ‘the humanities’ would include the visual arts and design, for example.

Alec Charles

Let’s stop playing games: a deconstruction of the illusory interface between the material and the virtual

While Genvo suggests that the video game player may be “engrossed in his game although he knows that after all it is only a game”, King and Krzywinska argue that immersion in a virtual world would only result in the assumption of the subjectivity of a character within that world if that virtual reality were to become as convincingly naturalistic as the external lifeworld. One is reminded of Walter Benjamin’s distinction between a critical immersion within culture and an uncritical absorption of culture.
These notions of the integrity of identity in the face of cultural or virtual immersion require, however, the existence of an a priori subjectivity – founded upon the romantic notion of an essence of selfhood – or upon the prioritization of material experience as somehow more influential upon the propagation of subjectivity than digitally mediated experience.
There is, of course, no difference between material and virtual experience: it is just that we tend to use the word ‘virtual’ in depicting forms of experience mediated by more recently evolved technologies. We are defined by performance and play as much as by ‘real life’ activity – insofar as there is, of course, no difference between these phenomena, except one imposed by economically and ergonomically determined epistemologies. Jean-Paul Sartre famously describes the way that a waiter in a café plays at being a waiter: “All his behaviour seems to us a game.” Sartre’s point is that it is such play which defines identity: existence precedes essence, the parts we play define our subjectivity.
If there is no difference between the ways in which material and digital experience construct subjectivity, should the notion of identity within the virtual realm in any way concern us? What is different, of course, about contemporary digital culture is its globally homogeneous nature, and (through the speed and seamlessness of its operation) the ease with which it disguises its ideological and economic construction. The virtual environment, like any mode of conventional realism, smoothes out the wrinkles in material reality, offering a realm whose continuity of logic makes more sense (and appears more realistic) than the incoherence of the material world. Its realism offers an immersion in the ultimate escapist fantasy – the fantasy of ontological logic.

Steven Conway

ARGH!: An analysis of the response cries of digital game players

Our tacit theory of human nature recommends that these actions are "purely expressive," "primitive," "unsocialized," violating in some way or other the self-control and self-possession we are expected to maintain in the presence of others, providing witnesses with a momentary glimpse behind our mask… [yet] obviously they come to us as our language does and not from our own invention. Their point lies elsewhere. One must look to the light these ventings provide, not to the heat they dispel.
(Erving Goffman, Forms of Talk, 1981: p.120)

Response cries, imprecations and expletives are often, when vocalized, viewed by our society as instinctive, unsocialized and primitive, as simply cathartic release for whatever sensation currently overwhelms the invoker, whether that be dropping a phone, stubbing a toe, or burning one's hand. Yet these response cries are in many instances also social communiques, as the person attempts to sustain or create a particular impression in relation to his or her audience.

This presentation focuses upon the response cries of digital game players, discussing what social meanings are communicated through these distinctive shouts and curses, and how they can be productively viewed through the prism of social status and (perceived) skill level.

In doing so, response cries, though often neglected in sociological analyses, will be illuminated as a specialized form of social expression ripe with meaning for the attentive analyst.

Felix Cretu

Controlling Action: Analysing types and levels of interaction between game and player

The very nature of a videogame is inherently related to the manner in which it interacts with its player, both the way in which its world logic receives input from the user, as well as its approach to demanding said input and feeding consequent output back to them. What could be loosely described as “control” is a first rate factor into classifying videogames and the base building block for the user’s experience, and it is therefore important to understand its various incarnations and applications, to understand the types and levels of this interaction between game and player, and their impact on the overall experience.

Focusing on avatar-driven games, the current paper attempts to provide an analytical classification, with the aid of relevant examples, of the methods of control and feedback encountered in such videogames and to evaluate the ways in which they contribute to the various component elements of the experience, as well as the overall result. Tackling the implementations of such mechanics ranging from contextually-conditioned actions and quick-time events (for instance, as in Heavy Rain) to universally consistent controls (for instance, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.), the analysis will break down the flow of information into three separate layers – Control, Mechanic, and Action – and propose classification along an axis between Implied and Direct action, with regards to the way individual approaches manage player focus between the three components. Ultimately, the end-goal is to assess the resulting scope and direction of player participation in the context of the immediate game world and the effects on content support and delivery.

Vicente Diaz Gandasegui

The no-gamer

This paper is a sociological analysis of those individuals that are not involved in the gamer culture even though they live in a society in which technology has assumed a fundamental relevance in the perception of (un)reality and the presentation of virtual worlds, worlds able to (re)create our best and worst imaginings. In such a world, the individuals having access and being able to afford the necessary technology, to play videogames on computers, mobile phones or video consoles, deny that possibility and constitute nowadays an increasing minority. I will examine the sociological aspects and psychological characteristics of this group of individuals that share their time with friends and relatives who play videogames. These ‘future minority’ currently live in houses surrounded by technological devices, their work is often influenced by technology, they use transport that is managed by technology, but prefer not to enter virtual worlds in their leisure time; they choose the realities expressed in atoms rather than bits, and in doing so they reject the opportunity to enter the unlimited possibilities offered by virtuality.
In social terms, technology has simultaneously united and divided virtuality and reality, creating two societies in one or dividing one society in two. As mentioned by Paul Virilio, this sociological phenomenon means that ‘those in the virtual community, will live in the real time of the world-city, but others will live in deferred time, in other worlds, in the actual city, in the streets’ (Virilio, 1993: 75).
From a personal perspective, I have had to deal with a long term professional interest in analysing and researching virtual worlds and videogames and a lack of personal interest in playing and accessing the potential offered by technology and virtuality. My professional and personal concerns collide and result in a contradiction that I will explore as a member of the no-gamer social group.

Judith Dormans

Classification of Fan Practices in World of Warcraft

In this paper I will examine online and offline fan cultures of World of Warcraft (WoW) and use this as a basis for constructing a classification of fan activities. Fan cultures form an important, yet often neglected, aspect of the games industry. This classification will help to explain how fan cultures operate.
Fans actively and creatively engage with games by creating content like videos (machinima) and stories (fan fiction) or discussing game design and strategies on forums. Fans also engage with their favourite games in their offline lives by visiting fan conventions organised by the games industry or creating costumes based on their favourite games.
WoW is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Many servers and guilds (i.e. an in-game organised group of players) are dedicated purely to role- play. Here fans combine the elaborate story of WoW with their own fantasy to create extremely rich narratives and personal experiences.
There is also an offline variant of such a type of play, called LARP (Live Action Role-Playing game) in which players gather at a specific location and role-play within a similar gaming system. The experience and execution however differs quite intensively from the online variation.
My analysis of role-play, machinima, fan fiction, cosplay and other fan practices both online and offline will provide valuable insight for understanding fan cultures. Starting with WoW case studies I will form the basis for a classification of fan practices, which will provide academia and industry with a useful tool for examining fan cultures.

Jessica Enevold & Charlotte Hagström

Modifying the Methods: Player Research Reconsidered

Doing qualitative research is not as easy at it sometimes seems. The increased focus on players in game studies has brought ethnography into the heart of the field. Often the continual adjustments made during the course of a qualitative research project using ethnographic methods remain invisible as the research is represented; the methods used tend to end up as a list of qualitative tools next to the number of subjects interviewed, to show that the project indeed has used some “proper” ways to extract data. Failures or mistakes made along the way are seldom reported and the often labyrynthine process of doing ethnographic research is obscured. To unmuddle the waters of qualitative player research, we thus discuss two methods – diaries and time-lines – that were used in our project about women players and how they integrate play into their family life. We consider how these methods needed to be modified in terms of their design and ways they were and could have been handled differently.

Sonia Fizek & Isamar Carrillo Masso

Behind the Screen: New Methodologies for the Study of Games, Gamers and Player Characters

We will demonstrate two emergent methodologies in the making that will attempt to produce a) a method to study the gameplay experience of the player character (PC) in cRPGs and b) a hybrid, universal, modular method to study video games as complex interactive texts by using multimodal corpora, including the study of gamers’ in-game (intraludic) interactions and metaludic (Carrillo Masso 2010) interactions.

The micro-method introduces the Pivot Player Character Model, which focuses on seven major components: the player character itself (PC), non-playable characters (NPCs), props and inventory, interface, emergent game play, agency and immersion. The aim of the micro-method is to produce a meaningful and contextualized analysis of various in-game components that may be carried out only in relation to the game’s central figure – the player. This method requires the researcher to wear a professional gamer’s mask and to implement first-person perspective in order to test the validity and replicability of the PPC model in selected gameworlds.

The hybrid macro-method aims to obtain accurate and unbiased information about video games, their content, how players interact with games and with metaludic information, and how gamers themselves produce metaludic information, making both games and gamers more accessible as objects of discourse analysis, scholarly study and social critique. The method includes several modules that focus exclusively on the gamer both as player and as social actor, and on the study of player-produced content, including metaludic texts (fanfic, pictures, machinima) as well as an approach to the study of the use of modding.

Mitja Koštomaj

The key design issues in AIS full body interactive games

Design of full body interactive games is a new research area. Comparing to desktop games, design is more complex. Knowledge of computer vision algorithms is needed, while games elements dictate physical movement through gameplay.
The aim of this paper is to identify and discuss the key design issues and their relation with games elements. The paper is based on a case study “AIS - full body interactive games”. Ambient Interactive Storybook (AIS) is an interactive storybook for an immersive environment. AIS uses a webcam, a large display and a computer using low level computer vision algorithms.
The development of AIS full body interactive games followed an iterative process of design and testing. Several informal studies and two formal experiments have been conducted to see the impact of AIS games on children. First formal study analysed user’s physical experience in edutainment games. Second study analysed progress of a player in AIS educational games over a period of two weeks. Results showed that in AIS games “a player moves his body in a space in certain time with an effort interacting with digital objects on the screen in order to respond to challenges a game provides with his physical and mental abilities to solve problems and ultimately learn”. A progress of a player depends on his mental and physical (motor) skills and abilities.
The main part of the paper discusses the key design issues: a user, user’s physical experience (body, space and time), educational, health and safety and technical issues. In the final part relations between the key design issues and games elements are discussed.

Rachel V. Kowert

Geek or Chic: Perceptions of Online Gamers

The Internet gaming industry continues to flourish. According to techcrunch.com, a reported 217 million people play online games of some sort, constituting 28% of people online. As online gaming communities continue to develop, participation in these environments will inevitably increase. Current literature and the popular media seem to frame members of online gaming communities in a negative way; the image of an aggressive, anti-social, teenage male comes to mind. It is unclear why this assumption is made; one suggestion is that it could be due to negative stereotypes about online gamers. To discover why negative stereotypes develop, one must first define what the stereotype actually is. The primary aim of this study was to provide such a definition to discover if the anecdotal characterization of this group is how this population is perceived. An additional aim was to discover if perceptions vary between gamers, non-gamers and non-players. Preliminary results show significant differences between ratings of one’s own views on the population and ratings on how the group is viewed by others, with the latter skewing strongly to the negative aspects of the stereotype. Significant differences were also found between non-players’ views and gamers’ views, as well as between the average responses of gamers, non-gamers, and non-players. Consistently, participants reported online gamers as unpopular, reclusive, and lazy. The results of this study not only illustrate a collective stereotype of the online gaming population, but also provides insight into the discrepancies between gamers’, non-gamers’ and non-players’ perceptions of this community.

Nicolle Lamerichs

All dressed up: Conceptualizing ‘cosplaying’ as a fan practice

Academic accounts on fan cultures usually focus on creative products as fan fiction, fan videos and fan art. Through these practices fans, as an active audience, closely interpret existing texts and rework these with texts of their own. A practice scarcely examined is cosplay (or costume playing) in which fans produce their own costumes inspired by fictional characters. Fan costumes are usually worn in distinct settings: at conventions; during specific events such as theatrical skits or fashion shows; as props for fan videos or at gatherings of cosplayers.
Cosplaying is a form of appropriation that transforms and actualizes an existing story in close connection to the fan community and the fan’s own identity. This is illustrated by a recent case-study, Final Fantasy XIII. By discussing several cosplayers of the game, various layers within cosplaying can be discerned: the player, the setting, the intertextual relations with the source-text and the costume as a creative product.
The paper then examines how cosplaying can be viewed theoretically through the use of three concepts. Firstly it discusses cosplay as mimicry, a play of make-belief and imagination; secondly, as transformative play in which gamers change the context of the game and thereby give it new meaning; lastly, as a form of performance that leads to an extension of the self. Now that cosplaying as a fan practice is gaining more ground, it is important to look into how the practice can be defined, and in turn, how this defines the fan’s identity.

Thomas Makryniotis

Mode Code – Identity through Dress in Virtual Environments

The purpose of this thesis is to examine the formation of identity through dress in virtual environments, and to establish connections between identity, fashion, and virtual reality by means of language and semiology. The notion of identity through fashion in virtual environments is examined, with fashion as a factor in identity formation through dress as analysed in structuralist terms. The virtual aspect is used both as a literal field, i.e. the medium of video games and social networks that involve virtual avatars, and as theoretical testing ground from which to derive new results on the nature of dress and many of the aspects of clothing and fashion.

The practical outcome of this research, a video game based on dress and narrative, serves as an applied experiment of the three main themes in this thesis and the relations and interactions between them, as well as a testing tool with which to challenge in a practical way the theories and speculations formed in the thesis.

My methodology is based on structuralism and post-structuralism in the fields of linguistics, psychology and anthropology, with particular application to the visual media and virtual reality. I am using a post-structuralist approach as it has been the most dominant discourse of replacing economic and social (power) relations with codes and the interplay between signifiers and signifieds. This, I find, is the most appropriate method for analysing both virtual systems and fashion, because, on an atomic level, they both depend on variables such as words and numbers. The code is therefore the common denominator of both disciplines. Furthermore, both disciplines use narrative for their proper function, video games for their back story and motivation of the player, and fashion for its advertising and promotion, as well as through archetypes and symbols. Fashion in this context works as a catalytic agent between post-structuralist codes in modern media as texts, and video games.

Esther MacCallum-Stewart

Together Alone - Players in their Own Worlds

Role-playing is an activity in MMORPGs which is often difficult to fully realise. Although online games provide huge vistas in which to become the stuff of epic legend and to perform heroic deeds above and beyond the call of duty, the player is not always a role-player, and not always someone who wants their game to be a narrative experience. Accordingly, MMORPG designers do not always privledge this type of role-play. Whilst all MMORPGs have their roots in Gygaz and Arneson's Dungeons and Dragons, it is the statisics and the fantastical worldview that have survived and somewhat surprisingly, the imaginary which has been side-lined. This paper therefore looks at how users who do like to role-play realise themselves as entities within MMORPGs. It introduces the concept of 'quiet role-play', in which players appropriate elements of the game in order to understand their characterised selves. Because role-play is difficult to undertake and must often be performed as an addendum to the main direction of the game, players adopt personas which are not always immediately obvious to others, and are only displayed at certain moments. Often, these moments help substanciate a characters' self-identity, but this must be supported by an ongoing interior narrative by the player which does not always take place within the game or in the view of other players.

I will also examine elements of MMORPGs which allow role-play (quiet or otherwise) to take place; nuances of the game which are otherwise overlooked or perhaps introduced as superlative elements. The paper will end with a brief case study of Lord of the Rings Online, and how it allows this type of imaginative process to take place.

Rikke Toft Nørgård

The Body under the Mask: Unveiling the corporeal practice of gamers

Through the history of games studies, research on gamers and gaming has mainly revolved around areas such as perception and interpretation of visual output, virtual interaction, learning/cognition, identity/roles, and community/sociality, whereas the areas of performance of bodily input, corporeal interaction, training, movement, (kin)aesthetics, and collective corporeal (inter)actions has largely gone unnoticed. Hence, the title of Drew Leder’s book The Absent Body could also serve as a telling headline for research on gamers and gaming.
Therefore, this paper adapts and develops notions and concepts originating from “corporeal” philosophy and phenomenology (Leder, Merleau-Ponty, Sheets-Johnstone), as well as the holistic philosophy of martial arts (Funakoshi, Nakazawa), to unveil methodological possibilities that will enable an understanding of how gamers experience to a great extent is shaped by their corporeal practice. By investigating what takes place between the player and the screen when playing e.g. World of Warcraft through notions such as corporeal interaction, bodily-kinesthetic learning, and moving in rhythm, the player is situated as something more than a “brain in a vat”: Gamers’ corporeality cannot be understood as a simple question of ergonomics, motor skills or muscle memory – it isn’t a passing phase as one “learns to play the game”. However, my aim isn’t to neglect the importance of “stereotypical” research, as if the gamer were “just a physical acting body”. Rather, the goal is to enrich our notion of the gamer by giving him back his body, escaping the general trend towards the “decorporalized” gamer, and establishing a balanced holistic perspective.

Dan Pinchbeck

Adventures in thechineseroom: doing practice-based research in games.

For the last three years, a small, research driven, independent games
company has been developing out of the School of Creative Technologies
at the University of Portsmouth, UK. Initiated through an AHRC
speculative grant to explore new narrative and affective experiences in
first-person gaming, thechineseroom has developed into an award-winning
company with a cult following in the FPS community. As we make the move
from modding to commercial development, it's a good time to reflect back
on the process that led us to the decision to build and release games as
research tools and what the advantages, challenges and constraints of
doing so are. Practice-based research is a well-established, if
occasionally contentious, methodology in the arts but remains
chronically under-explored in our field, and I'll be looking at why that
is. I'll also be asking why regardless of the difficulties, I consider
it to be one of the most critical means by which academia can address
the understanding of games, engage with industry and the playing
community, and produce valuable media products that are highly unlikely
to emerge from the commercial marketplace. This lecture will also
feature abusive NPCs, representations of hallucinogenic psychosis and
shotguns with rubber bullets, just to keep in the spirit of FPS gaming.

Gavin Stewart

Ergodicity and ARGing

Sometimes it pays to revisit an old idea when trying to understand new experiences. In this spirit, this paper will return briefly to the 1990s and to Espen Aarseth’s concept of ‘work-path’ with a view to exploring some conceptual issues arising out my experiences of researching alternate reality gaming (ARGing). It will argue that it is possible to ‘re-engineeer’ this somewhat neglected concept, if we shift our focus away from the ergodic text and think instead about the ergodicity of a particular experience. In advancing a generalized notion of ergodicity, this paper will relate this concept to a wider tradition of textual studies based on the ideas of Roland Barthes and Mikhail Bakhtin. It will then deploy this idea of ergodicity as a possible analytical tool that relates aspects of ARGing to the concept of flow. This brief journey through the ‘maze’ of games vocabulary will conclude by looking beyond the world of ARGing, to suggest that the most ambiguous and challenging experiences of ergodicity lie beyond the relative comfort of gaming.

Jaroslav Švelch

What It Takes To Be A Gamer: The Construction of the Myth of the Hard Core Gamer in the 1990's Czech Republic

"Do not let anybody disturb you. As soon as you come from school or work, immediately turn on your computer (or, better, do not turn it off at all) and load your favorite game. Do not answer phone or doorbell. Do not go to the bathroom at all – you could have done that at work! Newbies should play at least until midnight, advanced gamers need not sleep at all. On weekends, pařans must stay at their monitors non-stop.“ - a guide on how to become a real gamer, the Excalibur gaming magazine, issue 7, 1991

Based on a larger research project mapping the history of the video game culture in the Czech Republic and Eastern Europe, this paper analyzes the ways hard core gamers defined themselves in the gaming discourse in the age of video games' coming of age – the early 1990's. Czech gaming culture, affected by the non-existent software and hardware market before 1990, is specific in many ways. One of its specifics is the word “pařan”, used for a hard core gamer, very frequent in the Czech gaming press of the period. The word described a person totally devoted to gaming and “jumping between dimensions”, the holy grail of gamerdom. The paper analyzes wealth of material, including the gaming press (especially letters to the editor, which often include elements of fan fiction) and oral history interviews with gamers active during the period, using theoretical concepts from subcultural studies (Thornton) and fan studies (Jenkins), and also employing the concept of social capital (Bourdieu).
It concludes that the concept of “pařan” was loaded with both real and imagined values. Taking into account the subcultural nature of the particular gamer community, there was a strong emphasis on the accumulation of social capital based on gaming achievements, technical skills, richness of one's gaming career narrative etc. On the other hand, as evidenced by many imagined gamer feats and tall tales, “pařan” was also an outlet for playful fantasies of resistance against authority and the cultural norms of the general public, who at the time often considered video games either banal or dangerous. In the end, the paper compares the 1990's situation with the recent discussion of the hard core/casual distinction, as described in Jesper Juul's A Casual Revolution.

The abstracts for the Under the Mask 2008 papers are available here.

The abstracts for the Under the Mask 2009 papers are available here.