From Under the Playful Mask

The 'Under the Mask' Conference at the University of Bedfordshire is all set to begin. The joysticks, gamepads, mice and keyboards are at the ready; the players in position. To cap it all, the papers are all online, including one by yours truly. A quick skim through shows me that research on online multiplayer games is getting increasingly richer. 'Griefing' has been singled out for particular attention - with two papers providing a detailed analysis from different angles. Esther MacCallum-Stewart's paper reveals a whole new world for a non-MMORPG gamer like me (yes, that species exists). I didn't even think that a possible typology existed for 'griefing': ludic grief, social grief and spectacle grief. This is very illuminating and the 'deeper' levels of MMO gaming is well revealed in the analysis. Good grief, Esther! I didn't know that there are so many 'griefers' out there ...

The ultimate 'Griefer' mask

Narratives, narratives ... yes, narratives ... games tell stories: now that is for sure. Many papers testifying to the fact, here. Pity, i didn't join the team having chosen 'becoming' and ludic philosophy of Deleuze (perhaps, I did take the storytelling aspect for granted - i have been doing so since I first started researching games). Particularly interesting for me are Anne-Mette Albrechtslund's paper on narrative in online games and Jan van Looy's on Alice. The first paper I have only just had time to glance at and since it's just after mine, I'll get to have a good listen, i think. It's the next that's even more up my street. Van Looy speaks on American McGee's Alice ... we say similar things. Visitors to my website will find two papers by me on the subject: one written in 2000 and the other one being more recent: my 'Brown Bag' presentation at Nottingham Trent University. Van Looy's work adds the novel dimension of viewing the game using 'Kendall Walton’s theory of representational artefacts as props for evoking imagining in games of make-believe.' Moreover, it does a pretty decent job of analysing the Alice narratives in different media.

There are thirteen solid papers and I haven't the skill to summarise them here. I can't help noting another very promising paper on onlookers of arcade games. The audience of gaming has always fascinated me ... somebody somewhere says that games don't have an audience ... I wonder. The papers can be accessed here and the direct link to mine is here.

Finally, Tanya Krzywinska's keynote presentation on 'Reanimating HP Lovecraft: The Ludic Paradox of Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth' looks very intriguing. Never had the chance to delve much into the Cthulhu mythos. Here's my chance.

My first paper on Alice are to be found on the London School of Journalism's website and the more recent one's to be found on my own website, here.


  1. Very, very intriguing... I have to say, I like the program a lot, it appears to be less abstract than what he heard in Potsdam.

    I wasn't even half way through reading Esther MacCallum-Stewart's paper when I stopped dead in my tracks: EULA and TOS agreements actually define cheating?! Woah. How?

    I can imagine that the practice of cheating has more weight in a MMORPG context than in single player realms and thus warrants closer scrutiny by definition. I wasn't thinking of that when I blogged about cheating in GTA IV a while back. Still - it doesn't change my opinion about single player cheating. The morals of play...a play on we need a 'gameorality'?

    The issue of guild leadership and challenging authority also especially grabbed my attention.

    However, since usually people have not been trained to do this (or if they have, it is part of their work and thus causes dissonance when applied socially to their friends), all of these roles need in some part to be supported by the affirmation of the group. Usually, group psychology suggests that most people recognise that this is a practical way to survive as a unit. In a game however, people might see it as playful to disrupt this.

    When I went sailing, the group psychology worked perfectly well to convince everyone to play their part in creating a unit. Of course, there was an element of playful bahaviour there all the time, yet after all, when directly confronted with the arbitrarily powerful nature of the high seas, one does kinda get the feeling that survival is the central issue here.

    But - exactly whose survival is at stake in a MMORPG? The "It's just a game"-stance I think perfectly illustrates the problems that can arise from varying perceptions of game reality. Alright, now I'm begging the newly obvious philosophical-ludological question: "But - what is reality?"

    Argh - now where was I? Right, preparing for a master's exam... gotta get back to that.


  2. The conference was great Reinhard. Though I think the one at Potsdam was also wonderful.

    Esther's paper was pretty good. Pity, her new Vista-based computer made it impossible for her to do a slideshow. 'Gamorality', is it? How interesting! I suppose all is not fair in love, war and videogames ...

  3. Would have to agree - looks interesting, especially Alec Charles' Worldplay. Re. reinhard's comment about cheating, there's an interesting article on cheating as a form of narrative progression (apologies if you've seen it) by Julian Kücklich at

  4. Hi Will, Welcome to Ludus Ex. Yes, i liked Alec's ideas a lot. Even though we approached games from different positions, we seemed to have loads in common - particularly our thoughts on 'agency'.

    Julian Kuecklich's article is new to me though the Deus Ex cheats example is familiar to me from Half Real and my thesis also develops on the idea in HR to briefly address cheats as a narrative strategy. It's good to see JK moving towards a position that's more tolerant towards ludic narratives. I spotted a reference to the Deleuzoguattarian 'becoming-machine' which i am very interested in but believe that JK needs to develop this much further. I need to have a more careful read though ... have loads of time to do so with my arm in a sling and not much chance of writing :)

  5. Thanks again for pointing out this essay, Will.

    Reinhard, we'll have to think more about 'Gamorality'. By the way, i joined your group on FaceBook but am struggling with the German.

  6. one final comment: the categories of cheating are really very intriguing ... very good essay: i am sure i'll revisit this more properly in Ludus Ex.

  7. Reinhard, i just spotted Mia Consalvo's book on cheating, on the google books website.