The Ludologist is Five Years Old

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out of the crib: end of the incunabular period of game studies?

.... So you see Game Studies isn't a baby any more.

Congratulations to Jesper Juul on five fruitful years of forming my thoughts on the ludic and posing conceptual challenges. Juul's post can be read here. Says Juul,

Video game studies are progressing nicely in my opinion, but there the long tradition of play research seems to be constantly ignored.
It’s official: The new conflict in video game studies is between those who study players and those who study games.
The magic circle is for real.
Some bad news for me ... I don't like conflicts (except with pixellated zombies and headcrabs). And as for the 'magic circle', pace Huizinga, I'm not too sure. As i commented on his blog, 'is the magic real or is reality magical or is everything very circular?'
All the best to The Ludologist. It's been one of the first things that I see when I open my iGoogle page ... and will continue being so, I'm sure.

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In the Beginning Was the Dialogue: Dialogue Conference at Nottingham Trent University , 23rd May 2008

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Dear me, how time flies. The long-awaited Dialogue Conference is now all set to happen. Part of our Research Practice Course project, it gives my classmates and myself an excellent opportunity to have our first experience of organising conferences. The website is up and running, the programme has been finalised and the finishing touches are underway.

We introduce a novel concept here (my classmates' brainchild) - with each paper we will have a non-expert discussant engaging in a dialogue with the speaker. I am supposed to be the discussant for Stephan Juergen's paper 'Strategies for Interactive Situations in Technologically Expanded Life Performance'. Interactivity, HCI, agents - Stephan has everything in it to make it interesting. I'm looking forward to this one, for sure. There are papers on a wide range of topics ranging from contemporary art to Gulf War literature. The latter being by my colleague Jenna Pitchford - all the best Jenna!

Well need we say more - let the dialogue begin.

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When Gaming Is Business, Not Personal

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Buongiorno paisan. After a stressful few days of battling with immersiveness in theory (Janet Murray, Ryan, Frasca et al.) I remembered that I have a just cause for doing some actual gangster shooting ... call it the experience of immersion if you will. Since I eschew the word 'immersion' as much as I can, let's call it my 'becoming-gangster'.

Soon there will be one less gangster to think of .... Buongiorno, anyway

For two hours, I was driving to various little businesses and rackets in Little Italy and Hell's Kitchen and buying them out for my capo regime (Michael Corleone, in case you didn't know) and money wasn't the only thing that I was after. 'Respect' was high and it felt great to see the whole of New York make obeisance to my car as it passed. And I learnt two new execution styles and upgraded my Magnum and my extended clip pistol . The Barzini 's warehouses are difficult to loot but a few shots into the burning tar barrels has the outer guards frying and when the music changes from the Godfather theme to a more fast-paced tune, you know that the trouble has just started. I had forty five minutes (in game time) to kill every Barzini two-bit punk or I would risk a full-fledged mob-war. I killed them all. I blew the last two off the balcony as they shot me in my knee. That's 'becoming-gangster' for you! But I had to get home and drink that health power-up that lay on the bedside-table and to refill my tommy-gun with the two hundred and fifty bullets that I had fired.
I am a car and I don't particularly enjoy it here

The next scene sees me ambling towards the car. I stagger inside and then I 'become-car'. Yes, I, Tommy Angelo (my in-game identity) and I, in my out-of-game self, am now a car. I perceive myself as the bullet-riddled back of a black jalopy (what horrid cars they had back then). In my becoming-car, I drive through Broadway and knock down a few flower pots. In Corleone compound, I emerge from the car ... yet becoming-gangster and becoming-car ... are they different? I haven't got time to think. Those Barzinis - I will show them. But as Don Vito taught me, it's after all business and not personal.

At least, that's what I say to anyone who asks me how many games I get to play for my PhD.

want to be a Corleone? Press the button

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PKD-Day@NTU, 14th June 2008

Wow! I am on a blogging spree it seems. Well, I've just finished designing the website for the PKD-Day event at my uni (Nottingham Trent University) that I am co-organising. This is the second event of its kind and aims to celebrate the genius of science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick through various aspects of responses to PKD from among the Phildickian community.

GAMERS PLEASE NOTE: Barry Atkins has very kindly agreed to do a talk on PKD and videogames. His talk is titled "Videogames: Playing in a Dickian Universe".

Those interested in Phildickian news , please check out Total Dick-Head's and Frolix-8's blogs. They have both posted on PKD-Day 2. Last but not least, check out the event's website and also the designing skills (or the lack of them) of yours truly. I promise to buy a drink for the first person who tells me what the picture (the background of the header) means.


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Under the Mask Conference in Luton, Bedfordshire, 7th June 2008

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I am speaking at the Under the Mask Conference in Luton on 7th June. Got to stop playing and start writing, it seems.

My paper is titled: I am a Paddle, I am a Stalker, I am a Game. You can find more details about the conference here.

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Becoming-Stalker and Deleuze Islands: Rambling Thoughts on Potsdam, Philosophy and Videogames

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still from Stalker by Andrey Tarkovsky

In Tarkovsky's film, the 'Stalker' lies on the grass and on water in the multiple existences that the Zone offers him. In doing so, it is as if he 'becomes' part of the Zone itself. It is this scene from the movie that keeps coming back to me as I remember the three days of the conference in Potsdam. The scene from the movie pretty much sums up what i wished to say about the experience of playing computer games and hence forms a key theme for my paper which attempted to explore ludic action through similarities with Deleuzian conceptions of cinema (though at the same time, keeping in mind the media-specific differences). On another level, the scene also serves as a sort of metaphor for my experience of the conference itself: in my present prosaic world of writing my thesis and my other jobs in the university, it seems like a different yet parallel existence. Never before was i able to meet so many people who had such interesting things to say about computer games.

The chance to meet and discuss my thoughts on gaming with eminent game-studies scholars was invaluable to say the least. It is beyond my ken to discuss all the papers here but I will try to address at least some that I think are more relevant to my own research. The first keynote address by Ian Bogost, especially its highlighting of the relationship between the player and the machine, was extremely interesting. His discussion of speculative realism
applied to computer games seemed to me a promising track for game studies to move forward on ... i sincerely wish that this talk will develop into a book-length analysis. For the present, i hope this paper is published somewhere ... soon. The other keynote address by Jesper Juul was equally promising. Juul described the magic circle using the apt metaphor of a game as a piece within a jigsaw puzzle.
The Deleuzian jigsaw?

The game's relationship to all the various aspects to which it 'plugs-in' reminded me of a Deleuzian assemblage. In such a paradigm, the game would then have to be represented by a shape-changing jigsaw puzzle piece! Stephan Guenzel's analysis of ludic space in terms of what he called the 'space-image' is something that I am looking forward to reading about in more detail. I feel that this will complement my own research on spatiality and temporality. Some other papers that I can still remember fairly clearly are the one's by Gordon Calleja and Bernard Perron - both on the magic circle. Calleja, speaking just after lunch, nevertheless kept the audience awake in his talk about the frontiers of game and reality. I was happy to find him mentioning Case (Neuromancer) while speaking of the frontier metaphor operating in discussions of virtuality and reality. The discussion of the virtual and the real itself, however, was to me less satisfactory, especially where he brought in Deleuze and Levy in a rather sketchy manner. I am hopeful though that he has developed this angle more in his actual paper. Perron's presentation was quite eye-catching even though i am still scratching my head about whether to agree with him or not. Perron spoke interestingly and effectively replaced the concept of the magic circle with that of a 'magic cycle' where he showed games as existing on various levels of a spiral structure. I was happy to see that the narrative was firmly ensconced within his structure.
the palace: the only bit of sightseeing that I managed :)

I think I'll stop trying to summarise the papers ... and end by writing down some general impressions. And i suppose, i should say something about my own paper (which by the way, is available on my website ). Some of my best game research moments happened during this conference and most of them outside the formal conference sessions. For example, I had a really illuminating conversation with Jesper Juul and Richard Bartle at dinner: as such conversations tend to do, this one meandered around a host of topics like cricket, game-design, UK universities and even time in games. Something Bartle casually mentioned while describing his conception of game-design will, i think, remain with me for a long time: he described the design of the MUD as a river - what a lovely metaphor for sandbox games! The other extremely memorable moment was my conversation with Mark Butler. I had a chat with Mark on the train from Potsdam to Berlin - a journey of about forty minutes. In those forty minutes, I discovered one of the keenest minds working on game studies. Mark Butler's research encompasses computer games in terms of Lacanian psychoanalysis, Zizek and finally D & G. I am at present reading his book Would You Like to Play a Game? - which is turning out to be a struggle mostly due to my rather limited German.

My own session was chaired by Mark (which was fortunate as having a fellow Deleuzian chairing the session always is). Personally, i feel that my presentation did its job and despite my over-accelerated pace a lot of people got the gist of what i was saying. Pace the game-designers and the many whom i left restless, Deleuzian theory is perhaps the most germane single set of theoretical assumptions that help describe the ludic process in videogames.It is difficult to absorb Deleuze and he often is kept out of the common philosophy diet - so I'm more than happy to have had evoked the response that i got. I was asked some great questions: particularly one by Professor Mersch about the face in the FPS game which still has me scratching my head. Even from those who didn't ask me anything, I had some responses like 'I'm not sure how Deleuze is relevant to my approach to game studies but now i feel that he is terribly relevant ... somehow' : guys, you don't know how happy this makes me. I was in the selfsame situation and saying the same things not so many days ago and this kind of gives me the feeling that I'm not alone in feeling how i do. Finally, for those whom i left stranded on 'Deleuze island' :) , i'm sure they will be able to build bridges and to plug-in to numerous planes in the various assemblages around them.

I've got to get back to writing about 'immersion' (again!) for my current chapter: quite a depressing change from the stimulating conversations that i had with game studies researchers in Potsdam. There are quite a few people whom I' haven't managed to name in this post - however, they have indeed 'made, shaped and quickened' some of the opinions that i hold now. Both my co-speakers and the students at Potsdam have made my visit more than fabulous and I will jump at a chance to go back. Only this time I have promised myself some sightseeing.

Those who have reached as far as this, my apologies for writing such a long and rambling post. I thought I'd write down whatever came to my mind in whichever desultory manner ... a week has already passed and the memories are growing dim.

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Stalker in Potsdam!

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Becoming Stalker: Looking Forward to the Games and Philosophy Conference

It's finally happening! I am going to present a paper at the Games and Philosophy Conference at the University of Potsdam in exactly four days from now. I'm quite thrilled (to say the least) because of two reasons mainly: 1) this will be my first visit to Germany and 2) I'll be able to meet game studies heavyweights like Ian Bogost, Jesper Juul and Richard Bartle to name a few.

What am I speaking on? It's a combination of all my pet obsessions - Deleuze, S.T.A.L.K.E.R , cinema ...

Will write a detailed post when i come back. I can't help noting that planning for this trip (including the visa hassle) has proved no less than a bad bossfight: let's see what the next level holds in store.

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