[csaa-forum] Gaming Networks, issue 8 of The Fibreculture Journal - online

Andrew Murphie andrew.murphie at gmail.com
Tue Oct 24 10:47:40 CST 2006

Gaming Networks, issue 8 of The Fibreculture Journal Edited by Chris
Chesher, Alice Crawford and Julian Kücklich



Gillian "Gus" Andrews - 'Land of a Couple of Dances: Global and Local
Influences on Freestyle Play in *Dance Dance Revolution'*
Dean Chan - 'Negotiating Intra-Asian Games Networks: On Cultural Proximity,
East Asian Games Design, and Chinese Farmers'
Laurie N. Taylor - 'Cameras, Radios, and Butterflies: the Influence and
Importance of Fan Networks for Game Studies'
David B. Nieborg - 'Mods, Nay! Tournaments, Yay! - The Appropriation of
Contemporary Game Culture by the U.S. Military'
Larissa Hjorth - 'Playing at being mobile: Gaming and cute culture in South
Bo Kampmann Walther - 'Pervasive Gaming: Formats, Rules and Space'


It is increasingly difficult to think of cultural formations as distinct
entities because of our awareness of the increased *interconnectedness* of
our communication systems," writes Tiziana Terranova in her 2004 book *Network
Cultures*, and nowhere is this felt more acutely than in the domain of
computer games. Phenomena such as *Pokémon*, which sweep the entire planet,
employ a multitude of media channels to plant their memes in the brains of
millions, and erect merchandising empires of unprecedented magnitude, are
only the most visible symptoms of this development. Massively multi-player
online games like *EverQuest* and *World of Warcraft* bind players together
in social networks that span the globe, and extend well beyond the realm of
the virtual. In part, this is because gaming has become an increasingly
online phenomenon, and technological developments bear witness to this fact:
for the new generation of game consoles, including Xbox 360, Wii, and
PlayStation 3, network adapters are no longer an optional accessory, but
part of their core functionality; portable devices such as the PSP and the
Nintendo DS facilitate the set-up of ad-hoc networks through wi-fi, while
distribution of PC games is shifting from "brick and mortar" retail to
content delivery over networks such as Steam.

The result of this increased interconnectedness is a blurring of boundaries
- between real and virtual, private and public, global and local. In the
last year or so, we have seen a number of publications on the subject of
games which address the difficult questions arising from this blurring of
boundaries, and embrace the network paradigm, thus opening up new avenues of
inquiry for future research. Books like Edward Castronova's *Synthetic
Worlds* (2005) and TL Taylor's *Play between Worlds* (2006) are spearheading
the second wave of game studies, characterised by an awareness of the
social, cultural and political contexts within which gaming is taking place.
Game Studies 2.0, as one of us has recently called it, has much more in
common with Terranova's research on network cultures than with, say, Janet
Murray's *Hamlet on the Holodeck* or Espen Aarseth's *Cybertext*. As
important as these books were for the birth of game studies as an academic
discipline, their usefulness in the contemporary world of networked gaming
is limited. While the likes of *Halo*, *Grand Theft Auto *and *Metal Gear
Solid* will continue to deliver engrossing experiences for individual
players, we no longer associate gaming primarily with single-player games.

In order to account for these developments, game studies must try to answer
the question of how games create links between people, institutions, and
cultures. It is undeniable that games create networks between players from
different cultures, but this does not mean that the cultural differences
between them are suspended. More often than not, these differences are
highlighted, and may even become a source of conflict, due to the fact that
games that are created for a global audience are not only localised for
different markets, but are also appropriated by players in different ways.
Take the example of *Starcraft*, an American real-time strategy game
published by Blizzard in 1998, which subsequently became one of the
best-selling games in South Korea.  In the context of South Korea, *
Starcraft* quickly acquired the status of a professional sport, complete
with celebrity players, sponsorship deals, and games being broadcast on
national television. Of course, this raised the stakes considerably, and it
can be argued that the changes implemented in later updates of the game,
such as stronger cheat prevention, and the option to 'record' games, are due
to its lasting popularity in South Korea. As this and many other examples
indicate, there is an ongoing, complex interaction between the local and the
global.  Finding ways of describing and analysing these networks of
interaction is one of the challenges game studies faces.

Another, directly related challenge, is to develop ways of accounting for
the variety of fashions in which games become embedded in everyday life. If
we subscribe to the view that culture is not something that is simply passed
on from one generation to the next, but something that is kept alive through
practice, and we recognise that play is a cultural practice, then it is
obvious that games cannot be described in purely formal terms. In the
example given above, the game remains the same, but the manner in which it
is played varies across cultures. It is important to note that play differs
not only inter-culturally but also intra-culturally, as players find
different uses for games in their lives. Cultural imagery and values may be
understood differently in a different context, and the same is true for
ideological messages. While games often come burdened with ideology, this
does not mean players cannot find ways of resisting interpellation. There is
a long tradition of playful subversion, from the *Quake* players who wrapped
female 'skins' around male avatars and early game modifications like *Castle
Smurfenstein *to the sophisticated 'countergaming' culture of today, which
includes mods that act as a form of political critique ( e.g., *Escape from
Woomera*), games that engage directly with social issues (such as those
created by Molleindustria), and satirical machinima like *The Strangerhood*.
But this does not mean that simply playing a game off-the-shelf does have to
be affirmative of the status quo. Modders, machinima makers and creators of
'serious games' started out as simple players too, but that apparently
hasn't stopped them from engaging with games in a critical fashion.

The multiple, active ways in which gamers perform both as consumers and, in
many ways, *producers* of the games they play, draws attention to the
question of technicity, whose significance for game studies has recently
been highlighted by Helen Kennedy and Jon Dovey in their book *Game Cultures
*. As they argue, technicity must not only be understood as a set of
technological skills, but as a way of engaging with technology that impacts
upon both the way we see ourselves and others. While it is significant that
games are often one of the first access points to new technology for
children, and that the skills required to play a game are remarkably similar
to the skills required for most kinds of informational labour, it is also
worth highlighting that games allow for an affective relationship with
technology. In other words: games are where we learn to love machines. Games
are also the sites where many of the first experiments in a post-human
lifestyle are taking place: where fortunes are made selling virtual real
estate, where people fall in love with other people's avatars, where new
algorithmic art forms are invented. Importantly, this also allows us to see
how old these new lifestyles are, how virtual we have always been.
Technology, understood as a combination of *techne* and *logos*, has always
been at the heart of the social networks humans create.

Taken together, these four vectors - the increasing interconnectedness of
games, games as a site of interaction between the global and the local, play
as a cultural practice, and games as an apparatus of a technological
subjectivity - point to a problematic whose surface has hardly been
scratched so far: the politics of play. Recognising that play takes place
within specific social, cultural, and economic contexts allows us to
understand that it is interwoven with diverse political discourses, ranging
from ideology to identity, from intellectual property rights to labour
rights. First inroads into this territory have been made, most notably by
Nick Dyer-Witheford, Ian Bogost, and Alexander Galloway, but much more work
remains to be done. Ensuring the success of this work will require us to
think about games in a new way, unencumbered by established theoretical
paradigms, and it will also require us to come up with new methods of
studying games. If we want to account for the myriad ways in which games are
interwoven with everyday life, we will need to look at games much more
closely than we have been doing. At the same time, we will need to learn to
take a step back, and pay attention to the interplay between games and the
large-scale processes that shape our world. Finally, we need to find ways of
identifying correspondences between these micro- and macro-political

The articles in this issue of *Fibreculture Journal* all contribute to this
project in different ways. They all trace networks - between fans and
academics, between institutions and players, between technologies and their
affordances - but they do so in different ways, thus demonstrating the
strength and flexibility of the network metaphor. One example that makes the
usefulness of a network approach immediately obvious is Gillian Andrews'
article on *Dance Dance Revolution* (*DDR*), which uses Actor-Network Theory
to tease out the often subtle relations between the affordances of gaming
technology, the establishment of vernacular codes of practice, and cultural
domains. Her specific focus is on the interaction between global and local
influences on the dance styles of *DDR* players, and it is fascinating to
see how arcade machines become the sites of cultural hybridisation. In the
process of linking all these various factors together, Andrews touches upon
questions of publicity and privacy, cultural hegemony, and the
commodification of play, thus drawing attention to the fact that an
aesthetic discourse is inevitably tied to political questions of visibility,
dominance, and identity.

The interaction between the global and the local also plays an important
role in the work of Dean Chan, who uses his article to map the cultural
flows between Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan in order to outline the
formation of a specifically Asian games culture. He reveals how traditional
notions of 'Asianness' are translated into the new medium of gaming, and how
the localisation of games across borders goes hand in hand with a
renaissance of nationalism. This nationalism not only informs the production
of games that draw on traditional mythology in East Asia, but also permeates
the discourse of players of massively multiplayer online games. This is
evident in the problems that have arisen due to the exploitation of virtual
resources, which is often seen as the work of Chinese 'immigrants' to
virtual worlds. While Chan is careful not to take the aggressive backlash
that 'Chinese farming' has provoked as a sign of outright racism, he raises
serious questions about what this development may spell for the future of
online games culture.

Further adding to the variety of gaming cultures considered in this issue of
*Fibreculture Journal*, Laurie Taylor explores the fan networks that have
developed around the *Fatal Frame* series of games, highlighting the
importance of fan-created resources for academic research. She draws
attention to the fact that game researchers depend on sources such as fan
websites to understand the way games become embedded in everyday life. While
playing games is an important way of approaching game culture, researchers
often lack the time and resources to immerse themselves fully in the culture
of a game. Importantly, Taylor also draws attention to the fact that games
research may often involve taking recourse to 'walkthroughs', which is often
considered as a form of cheating. However, an intimate knowledge of game
texts is sometimes simply unattainable without the help of such extratextual
resources, which are themselves subject to a process that can be compared to
academic peer review. At the same time, this perspective on games makes
clear that their textuality is de-centred and fluid - and that the network
metaphor is uniquely suited to account for these characteristics.

That networks are not immune to ideology is demonstrated by David Nieborg in
his article on the recruitment game *America's Army*. Portraying the game as
a propaganda instrument, Nieborg highlights the connections between the
entertainment industry, the U.S. Army, and the Bush administration's War on
Terror. It seems ironically appropriate in the light of American
unilateralism that the game only allows players to play on the side of the
Americans, even when they are perceived by other players as 'enemy
combatants', and vice versa. But Nieborg also draws attention to the way
civilian computing technology is being turned into a military training
apparatus, thus revealing how technicity can feed into the ideological
entrainment of the player. At the same time, the Army's strong stance
against cheating and modding may be read as a sign of a growing awareness
that ideological messages my not be controlled as easily in games as they
are in other media.

While *America's Army* can be seen as a prime example of what Kline
*et al.*have called the militarized masculinity of computer game
culture, gender is
constructed in an entirely different way in the culture of casual mobile
gaming that Larissa Hjorth studies in her article. Focussing on the in-game
representations of players, she employs the concept of cute culture to
account for the way games like *Kart Rider* establish a gendered aesthetics,
which allows her to outline the politics of cuteness that operates in Asian
gaming cultures. Noting that the number of *Kart Rider* players has
surpassed the number of *Lineage* players, Hjorth raises important questions
about the future of gaming, and challenges us to reconsider our assumptions
about gaming, gender, and technology. It is often assumed that gaming will
continue to take place predominantly in the home (or in PC *bangs*), and
that the number of male players will remain significantly higher than that
of female players, but if we can take the developments in South Korea that
she describes as an indicator, these expectations may turn out to be
entirely off the mark.

Finally, Bo Kampman Walther invites us to imagine an entirely different
future, one in which games blur the boundaries between real and virtual
worlds to an even higher degree than today's games already do. Looking at
the emerging culture of pervasive gaming, Walther employs the network
metaphor to deconstruct Huizinga's notion of the magic circle of play, which
is still prevalent in game studies today. Pervasive games allow us to see
familiar places in a new light, establishing a virtual topology on top of
the real one, and creating connections between real-world places that may
remain invisible to the naked, un-augmented eye. Walther's description of
these multi-layered spaces as heterotrophic spaces is reminiscent of
Foucault's term heterotopia, and thus draws attention to the fact that space
itself is transformed by political forces. Making these transformations
visible may well be one of the ways in which future game designers create
opportunities for meaningful play.

As the editors of this issue of *Fibreculture Journal*, we are pleased to
see such diversity in the articles published here. While there are certainly
many aspects of gaming networks that have not been covered, we hope that
these articles will inspire others to follow the lines of thinking mapped
out here, and to connect them with other perspectives and approaches. In
other words, we would like to see that this collection of papers will itself
become a node in a network that increases the connectivity between people,
disciplines and institutions. As the articles in this issue show, a network
perspective is not tied to a specific discipline or school of thought. It
can be employed by social scientists and humanists, by ludologists and
narratologists, by formalists and nonconformists. Thus, the increased
connectedness of communication systems may work in our favour, opening up
the possibility of a truly transdisciplinary approach to games.

The editors would like to thank the authors for their patience during the
editing process, and the reviewers for their perceptive comments. Special
thanks to Ned Rossiter for coming up with the idea for this issue, Andrew
Murphie for his unfailing support even in times of crisis and Lisa Gye for
making sure it all came together in the end.

Alice Crawford
Julian Kücklich
Chris Chesher

October 2006

"I thought I had reached port; but I seemed to be cast
back again into the open sea" (Deleuze and Guattari, after Leibniz)

Dr Andrew Murphie - Senior Lecturer
School of Media, Film and Theatre, University of New South Wales, Sydney,
Australia, 2052
fax:612 93856812 tlf:612 93855548 email: a.murphie at unsw.edu.au
room 311H, Webster Building
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