Abstracts 2012

Under the Mask Abstracts - 2012

  1. Steven Boyer (University of Glasgow) The Problem of the "Audience" for Games and Games Measurement
  2. Steven Conway (Swinburne University of Technology, Australia) We Used To Win, We Used To Lose, We Used To Play: The Player-Consumer Paradox in Digital Games
  3. Daniel Golding (University of Melbourne) Putting the Player Back in Their Place: spatial analysis from below
  4. Richard D. Gough, James. A Dearnley and Adrienne Muir (Loughborough University) [Spoiler alert: Information overload in gaming communities and individuals]
  5. Linda K Kaye (Edge Hill University) & Jo Bryce (University of Central Lancashire) Modelling Gaming Outcomes: New Perspectives and New Insights
  6. Claudio Franco (University of Bedfordshire) One Game, Many Masks
  7. Aleksander Nikulin (Aalto University) Simulating Society: The game-like patterns of Social Media
  8. Anthony Reynolds (University of Glasgow) Grown-Up Gaming:Cultural Memory, Identity and Social Practice in UK Gamers
  9. Michael Ryan Skolnik (Swinburne University of Technology) Strong and Weak Procedurality
  10. Thomas Makryniotis (National Film & Television School) DressCode – Identity through Dress in Virtual Environments
  11. Emma Short and Richard Young (University of Bedfordshire) Game Violence?
  12. Anne Mette Thorhauge (Department of media, cognition and communication, Denmark) Intended and negotiated gameplay: The interpretive power of the player
  13. Jessica Enevold, Ashley Brown, Emily Flynn-Jones, Nicolle Lamerichs, Esther MacCallum-Stewart What is Game Love? Where is it? Design Workshop and panel discussion on Game Love Culture & Aesthetics

Steven Boyer

The Problem of the "Audience" for Games and Games Measurement

Digital game developers and publishers are increasingly measuring aspects of their players, a shift enabled by widespread internet connectivity, evolutionary development models, and an expanding consumer base. This is particularly evident in social games, with market leader Zynga claiming to be "an analytics company masquerading as a games company" (Wingfield, 2011). The scarce game studies writing on the subject, however, is not only challenged practically by industrial trade secrecy, but also theoretically by the problem of the "audience" for games from both within games studies and from established mass communication paradigms.
This paper thus has two main goals revolving around the gaming "audience." The first focuses on player measurement to determine how mass communication models may need to be altered when considering digital game specificity. I argue that the dominant audience models are closely tied to advertising, a monetization strategy that has routinely failed for digital games. This complicates even the most recent and thorough discussions of measurement within mass communication (e.g. Napoli, 2011), where concepts like the "post-exposure" marketplace simply do not apply. At the same time, the idea of a gaming "audience" is highly contested within game studies (see Gosling and Crawford, 2011), with most literature either focusing on individuals or strictly defining audiences as markets. Ultimately then, this paper uses measurement as an entry point to questioning the entire idea of a gaming "audience" to understand how game players both conform to and destabilize the molds established by mass communication models of the audience.

Gosling, V. and Crawford, G., 2011. Game scenes: Theorizing digital game audiences. Games and Culture 6(2): 135-154.
Napoli, P., 2011. Audience evolution: New technologies and the transformation of media audiences. New York: Columbia University Press.
Wingfield, N., 2011. Virtual products, real profits. Wall Street Journal. 9 September 2011. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111904823804576502442835413446.html

Steven Conway

We Used To Win, We Used To Lose, We Used To Play: The Player-Consumer Paradox in Digital Games

This paper is concerned with the design of modern digital games, in particular their formulation as experiences for consumers rather than players. Utilising Baudrillard's concept of the simulacra as an analytical probe, I discuss the simulation of winning, losing and playing in today's digital game products. Building upon the author's previous work, which introduced the twin concepts of hyper and contra-ludicity to game studies, this article argues that the recent invasion of hypo-ludicity into game design sets a dangerous precedent for digital games as games as opposed to entertainment media.
Whilst hyper-ludicity empowers, and contra-ludicity challenges, hypo-ludicity is characterised by its emptiness; of empowerment, of challenge, of agency. Anchoring the discussion in analyses of popular game systems, design features and mechanics, the article ultimately illustrates the prevalence of simulacra within today's digital game products, and how this undermines the very notion of winning, losing, and even playing.

Claudio Franco

One Game, Many Masks

In the current context of global converged transmedia production, the use of licenses constitutes a key business strategy in the games industry. Games based on existing IPs can aim to tap into existing audiences of readers, viewers and fans who may be attracted to games which use themes, narratives and characters that they already enjoy. In order to provide seamless cross-media experiences, game adaptations are required to live up to the expectations set up by their source materials, whilst similarly taking into consideration the expectations of gaming audiences.
Game designers aim to cater for audiences with different levels of knowledge about the source IP (and possibly previous adaptations), different expectations, and different levels of games literacy. Game designers end up wearing different masks – those of readers, watchers and gamers.
This paper is based on two pieces of research: 1) an empirical study of game production following the adaptation of a children’s book into a cartoon and a game; and 2) a qualitative audience study constructed around the potential adaptation of a classic book into a game.
The author proposes to a) describe the ways in which game adaptations are influenced by a series of hypertextual, intertextual and extratextual processes and factors: from the narrative of their source texts, to contemporary children’s media IPs, to other games, the conventions of gaming genres, and producers’ conceptions about different types of game players (multiple player masks); and b) propose de-risking audience research approaches which may improve the quality and success of game adaptations.

Daniel Golding

Putting the Player Back in Their Place: spatial analysis from below

Theorists have long regarded spatiality as an essential facet of the videogame, and recent years have seen a dramatic increase in the emergence of space-focussed research. However, the figure of the player has been largely absent from this research, and the role of player action remains under-theorised in understandings of videogame spatiality. Generally, the internal, diegetic space of the videogame has been conceived of in static terms in order for any sort of analysis to be performed. In the language of De Certeau, videogame space is frequently imagined as ‘from above’, and outside of the direct experience of the player.
This paper seeks to re-place the figure of the player as central within analyses of videogame space, and point towards the study of videogame space ‘from below’. Unlike more traditional critical frameworks surrounding physical space, the spatial diegesis of the videogame is both conceptual and affordance-based. Consequently, though physical space may be repurposed and contested (as in Rasmussen’s Experiencing Architecture (1959)), the player’s place in videogame space is far more constitutive. Thus, the toolset and possibilities for action of the player form a critical frame for spatial design.
Therefore, this paper argues that the design of videogame space is fundamentally inseparable from its use. Through close analysis of Valve’s Portal (2007) from the perspective of space/use and the figure of the player, this paper will examine the possibilities of spatial analysis ‘from below’.

Richard D. Gough, James. A Dearnley and Adrienne Muir

[Spoiler alert]: Information overload in gaming communities and individuals

This paper demonstrates the pervasive nature of information seeking and sharing in the lives of gamers, presenting results from a phenomenological study involving interviews with members of several gaming societies and social groups. Seeking and sharing game-related information through every-day information practices contributes to the formation of gaming capital (Gough, Dearnley & Muir [forthcoming]), accumulated by individuals demonstrating knowledge and experience in gaming matters to others (Consalvo 2007). Whilst the importance of gaming capital varied depending on society or social group, some participants felt pressured to gather and use information efficiently or to participate in discussions on games they had not yet completed.
The pursuit of gaming capital often exposed participants to information that might spoil or lessen their gaming experience. Gamers were therefore subject to information overload, occurring when information received becomes a hindrance, though it is potentially useful (Bawden & Robinson 2009). Even participants who did not feel pressured by their respective communities developed information practices that occasionally lead to information overload, such as automatically (and later regretfully) referring to paratexts without considering possible solutions or being unable to resist reading wiki pages that they know contain spoilers. We therefore expose and explore the conflicted nature of every-day information seeking for games: to use information to gain and maintain social standing in an MMORPG, to achieve the best ending possible in Mass Effect, or to experience the narrative and puzzles with little foreknowledge?
Bawden, D & Robinson, L. 2009. The dark side of information: overload, anxiety and other paradoxes and pathologies. Journal of Information Science, 35(2), 180-191.
Consalvo, M., 2008. Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Gough, R.D., Dearnley, J.A & Muir, A., [forthcoming]. Information Acquisition for Role-playing: A preliminary model. Paper presented at Role-Playing in Games seminar, 10-11 April, 2012, Tampere, Finland.

Linda Kaye & Jo Bryce

Modelling Gaming Outcomes: New Perspectives and New Insights

Research examining the outcomes of gaming has traditionally considered the influence of specific game content on emotional, physiological and/or psychological consequences. This has tended to focus on the role of violent game content on aggression outcomes (e.g., Carnagey et al., 2007). The current research suggests this perspective as being too restrictive in understanding the range and diversity of gaming outcomes. Given this, the current research highlights the utility of leisure theory as a wider framework for understanding the way in which players’ motivations and experiences influence a range of positive and negative outcomes. Based on initial empirical findings, this research presents the Process Model of Gameplay (Kaye, 2011) to provide an insight into the way in which the nature of gaming experiences are associated with differential outcomes. This presents an alternative to the traditional contention of some researchers, that violent game content results in aggressive outcomes (e.g., Anderson et al., 2010), by suggesting that differential outcomes of gaming occur as a result of a range of both personal and contextual factors, as well as through the dynamic process of gameplay itself.

Claudio Franco

One Game, Many Masks

Aleksander Nikulin

Simulating Society: The game-like patterns of Social Media

The success of social networks and digital practices is in its root related the idea of consistent collaborative effort . Social media phenomena have started affecting our world on a global scale by enabling such events as the Occupy Movement, the London Riots and even the Arab Spring. There for it is important to understand the mentality of the users and the collaborative environment digital platforms create. That will allow us to establish a strong theoretical base for analysing the future developments of social media and developing its full potential. In this paper I try to point out that one of the reasons digital media is so efficient in both engaging the users and encouraging them towards active action/creative expression is due to several key similarities to a game-like simulation. Those chief aspects are the idea of constructed identity and the user and community created narrative, as well as the interaction system and observable progression with clear audio-visual markers. The users literary discover and create they own social media experience in a manner similar to immersion in game worlds, together with consistent artefacts, environments and tokens. These all combine with the experience of a suspended disbelief environment and the notion of a simulation (due to the nature of the digital medium). This leads to a mind-set of a user, experiencing intense levels of communication and information processing through tight streamlined systems. When considering the intensity of the communication and the ability to react(comment, repost,reblog,retweet and so on) and receive recognition for that ,the users develop almost gameplay like patterns . All of these can be clearly observed as recurring mechanics behind successful digital platforms. In these next pages I will try to both provide examples and define a set of basic principles for engagement in the user in the “social sphere” of digital communication. My approach will be based both on Game Theory and Theory of New Media studies…

Jenkins,H.(2006) “ Convergence Culture” New York University Press
Joinson, A.(2005) “Internet Behaviour and the Design of Virtual Methods” in “Virtual Methods”
Berg Rheingold, H. (1993) “The Virtual Community:Homesteading on the Electronic Fronteer”,
Addison-Wesley Publeshing House Salen, K. And Zimmerman, E. (2003) ”Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals”
MIT Press.

Anthony Reynolds

Grown-Up Gaming: Cultural Memory, Identity and Social Practice in UK Gamers

This paper is borne out of an ongoing project into the cultural memory of self-identified gamers in the UK. Using original, respondent-based social research, this project offers an analysis of the historic and contemporary experience of gaming, while also examining the cultural and social history of gaming – specifically, the gaming lives of those who choose to self-identify and socially define themselves as ‘gamers’. It conducts an investigation into the lifestyles and personal histories of participants – game users for whom devoted and long term game use has been a part of their everyday life up to the present – and in doing so will explore evaluative methods for examining gaming cultures. The paper will focus on the project’s methods and early findings. The research design triangulates a number of established methods: an autoethnography of the researcher’s experience of returning to gaming; a quali-quantitative survey that collects both demographic and testimonial data; and focus groups designed with oral history practices in mind. An early picture is emerging for the research, which suggests that self-identified gamers develop a particularly strong sense of cultural identity based on gaming literacies, tastes and preferences, and an especially notable alignment of social and cultural practices. For the self-identified ‘gamer’, the cultural practice of gaming can play a particularly significant role in personal development and social experience, which frequently influences career and relationship formation, and in many cases contributes considerably to experiences of social rejection and inclusion.

Michael Ryan Skolnik

Strong and Weak Procedurality.

There is a disciplinary debate in game studies about whether the meaning of a game is inherent in the game’s ruleset (Bogost 2007) or constructed by players through the performative process of game play. (Sicart 2011)

These two seemingly disparate positions have a major impact on the disciplinary discourse of game studies because of the ontological and epistemological claims that they make about what games are and how we interpret and understand them. This paper attempts to reconcile these perspectives by introducing the concepts of strong and weak proceduralism using case studies of interventionist game design and game play.

Gonzalo Frasca’s September 12th (2003) provides an example of strong procedurality. In September 12th, there is no possibility for playing in ways that are not prescribed by the game’s rules. The game’s rule-set and its meaning as a political message are so strongly linked to eachother that there is no room for alternative game play or meaning.

Interventionist play in video game spaces, as occurs in Joseph DeLappe’s dead-in-iraq or Anne-Marie Schleiner’s Velvet Strike, demonstrate the weak procedurality at work in America’s Army and Counter-Strike, respectively. These interventions centre on play styles that are possible within the framework of the rules, but in opposition to the games’ procedural rhetorics, allowing for subversion and the creation of new meanings within the game space by the players.

These ideas of strong and weak procedurality allow for a more nuanced approach to the question of the roles of rule sets, game designers, and game players in determining the meaning of games.

Thomas Makryniotis

DressCode – Identity through Dress in Virtual Environments

DressCode examines how avatarial dress affects the identity of the player while playing a video game. It utilises dress as its main gameplay factor, as play progresses through choice of dress and the social interaction it encourages and facilitates, and it combines a graphical user interface, three-dimensional graphics, and sound. DressCode is an attempt to break free of all traditional cultural assumptions that come with video games, and to see the medium for what it really is. It explores what games do best, namely simulation, and why this is the reason they do not always involve interesting or even acceptable representation, examining the relationship between the two. This is necessary in order to establish if and how self-reflection and the affect on the player’s identity are established. Game characters are the imaginary, symbolic, and pragmatic connection of the player with the game world, and as such, any affect on the player will likely occur through them. As their dress, or rather their polygonal body, is there to do two things, the first being to establish the pragmatic simulational connection and interaction of the character with the game environment, the second being to visually position the character in the imaginary and symbolic context of the game, it is there that we may find how identity is affected. The avatar’s clothing is the interface between the game world and the avatar, which in turn is the interface between the player and the game.

Emma Short and Richard Young

Game Violence

There are a number of research papers which suggest that violent video games cause hostile and aggressive behaviour in those who play those games (Anderson et al, 2010). However this study set out to challenge this idea and it was instead hypothesized that a combination of certain personality traits and violent games is what leads to hostile and violent behaviour in gamers. An experiment was run in which participants filled in a personality questionnaire and played either a violent or non-violent video game and after a suitable amount of playing time the participants then filled out a state hostility scale. It was found that there was a significant difference found between those participants who scored highly in the personality trait of “neuroticism” and played the violent video game and those participants who scored low in neuroticism and also played the violent video game, which supports the primary hypothesis outlined at the beginning of the study which was: “H1: Those participants who scored high in neuroticism and who also played a violent video game will score significantly higher in hostility scores than those participants who scored lower in neuroticism and who also played a violent video game”. It was found that there was no significant difference in hostility scores between the violent and non-violent video game conditions which meant that the secondary hypothesis “H2: Those participants who played a violent video game will not score significantly higher in hostility scores than those participants who played a non-violent video game” was also confirmed. It should also be noted that there was a significant difference found in hostility scores between participants who scored highly in neuroticism and those who scored low in neuroticism regardless of condition, so it could be argued that highly neurotic individuals are aggressive already, however when the participants who only played the non-violent game were examined it was found that there was no significant difference between the hostility scores of high neurotics and low neurotics, which seems to suggest that the two factors of a violent game and high neuroticism trait together are what leads to the highest amount of hostility and aggressive behaviour, and not just the one of the two factors alone.

Anne Mette Thorhauge

Intended and negotiated gameplay: The interpretive power of the player

When ludologists declared war on the narratological approach to video games in the beginning of the millennium, they did so in accordance with a formalist structuralism stating that ludology should focus on ”(games’) structure and elements – particularly their rules – as well as creating typologies and models for explaining the mechanics of games” (Frasca, 2003, p. 222). The object of analysis was clearly the games as programmed systems whereas games as activities and processes of communication were somewhat left out of the picture. This tradition was later followed up by the proponents of ”procedural rhetorics” (Bogost, 2007), focusing on game’s as tools for expression with a special focus on the designed characteristics of the games as programmed systems. Recently, Sicart has criticised this approach for its overly author- and designer-centred focus suggesting instead play theory as a relevant framework for analysing games (Sicart, 2011). However, within the field of media studies the theoretical and analytical understanding of popular media and their meaning as something that is ultimately defined in the context of reception has been around for several decades. Key concepts from the cultural studies traditions such as encoding and decoding (Hall, 1980) and the integration of media in everyday life (Morley, 1986), has sharpened the focus on the dynamic meaning making processes of popular media and the crucial role of the audience in this regard. In a similar vein, I will argue that the game mainly represents a platform or a framework within which the players enact their own play cultures. That is, they do not define a specific set of rules as ludologists tend to argue, they are programmed systems with particular affordances (Gibson, 1979; Norman, 2002) that make them more or less useful in relation to those games and play cultures the players bring to the game. Writing on the basis of a study of play patterns in GoSupermodel, an online game for young girls, I will show how the intended gameplay as put forth by the game designers represents only a minor aspect of the players’ activities. Instead, the players seem to invent all sorts of alternative games and activities using the available communication and interaction functionalities. The analysis will be based on a quantitative analysis of server data as well as a qualitative analysis of player activities as they appear from online communication and it will lead to a discussion of the player activities as alternative “readings” or “decodings” of the game system.

Cited works
Bogost, I. (2007). Persuasive games : the expressive power of videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Frasca, G. (2003). Simulation versus Narrative: Introduction to Ludology. In B. P. Mark J P Wolf (Ed.), The Video Game Theory Reader. New York and London: Routledge.
Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Hall, S. (1980). Encoding/decoding. Culture, media, language. London: Hutchinson.
Morley, D. (1986). Family television : cultural power and domestic leisure. London: Comedia Pub. Group.
Norman, D. A. (2002). The design of everyday things (1st Basic paperback. ed.). New York: Basic Books.
Sicart, M. (2011). Against procedurality. Game Studies, 11(3).

Jessica Enevold, Ashley Brown, Emily Flynn-Jones, Nicolle Lamerichs, Esther MacCallum-Stewart

What is Game Love? Where is it? Design Workshop and panel discussion on Game Love Culture & Aesthetics

In 2004, Koster, Spector and Right battled it out at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco: who could create the best love story? In 2012, a similar challenge is brought to Under the Mask (UTM) in Luton, UK. Who puts together the best love game? Building on our work with the anthology The Game Love Reader: Playing with Affection, we wish to pose the question that has been puzzling us to all game-interested conference goers at UTM: What is game love? Where does it reside? What makes a game romantic, what makes you love it? How do you build love into a game? How does the game make you a lover? Spector eventually gave up, will you?

Jessica Enevold and Esther MacCallum Stewart, editors of the anthology, will introduce the topic and act as chairs. Setting the stage for designing a love game, with the aid of cards, chocolate, and a playful and passionate audience, and three of our anthology contributors, we want to arrive at some game love definitions. Half of the session will be dedicated to putting together a number of love games. Ashley Brown will act as Game Master, assisted by Emily Flynn-Jones and Nicolle Lamerichs. They will raise questions particular to player-centric love, social dynamics and fan communities to spark the ensuing interactive discussion of the outcomes and shortcomings of our game, which makes up the other half of the session. We hope to harvest insights from a hopefully fun design exercise and to inspire an academically anchored discussion of the issues it has raised to help us in our endeavors to tackle the intriguing topic of game love.