Games and Cultures Conference, Magdeburg 2009
Souvik Sunday, March 22, 2009I've just come back from the 'Games and Cultures' Conference at Magdeburg, Germany. Almost a year ago, I had gone to the 'Games and Philosophy' Conference in Potsdam, also in Germany and I had thoroughly enjoyed it. The Magdeburg conference was a mixed bag, though. Some of the papers were on pedagogy and therefore, were not my cup of tea. Some others were in German and therefore, too difficult for me to understand (with my very limited German). Of those that remained, I enjoyed a few and quite unusually for me, I even asked many questions.
I mainly went for three keynote papers: Richard Bartle's, Tanya Krzywinska's and Michael Nitsche's. I missed Michael's because I had to catch a cheap flight home (all my expenses were paid out of my meagre bank balance) but I greatly liked the other two.
Richard spoke on morality in MMOs and how players often cross the designer-created boundaries because of their own sense of morality. What I particularly found interesting was the new focus on moral dilemmas set by game-designers vis-a-vis the interesting moral responses of the players. I remembered reading on Boing Boing about a parent who made his son follow the Geneva Convention while playing COD4 - RB made a similar point ... well, he didn't mention parents and COD4 but the Geneva Convention and the morality of torture in games was quite interesting to hear about. Incidentally, I am still asking myself the question about whether I play STALKER morally or whether I do things to gain XP (experience)? I'm not sure Richard has quite answered this question for us ... for me, he's certainly raised it.
Tanya Krzywinska's paper on the 'Mis-appearance of Sex in Videogames' showed how in various implicit ways sex had a major presence in gameplay. The lithe body and movements of Altair (Assassin's Creed), the buxom Lara and the muscular Beowulf are all testimony to the deep sexual elements that are present in videogames. I've seen the Assassin's Creed video many a time, but I had never noticed the phallic elements in it ; nor had I connected the eros to the thanatos present in the game - as Tanya commented, even death was sexy in the game.
There were other papers that i was quite impressed with - even though I did not agree with all of them. The one I liked most was Patrick Rueckdeschel's paper exploring the depths of Batesonian metacommunication in videogames. Bateson and Goffman have received some attention already in videogame textbooks; my own thesis explores their theories in terms of videogames, in further detail. Patrick, however, is out to do much more. What I really liked about his presentation was the introduction to Sergeant Star of America's Army. Star glibly comments that death should not be a major deterrent to people joining the army. Apparently, all jobs have an equal risk of death. At which, Richard Bartle quipped that he didn't know that being a lecturer was such a deadly job. Besides Patrick's paper, I heard a few others that were of interest to me --- on perception, on the wii and involvement (though I thought that the theory behind it was rather under-developed) and emotions in videogames.
My own paper was a close-reading of the STALKER games - i focused on identity and did a literary analysis of the games. I have always seen identity as a process and not as a given in which the holes are plugged in after events happen to us. For me, this is what the term 'first-person shooter' misses; 'Egoshooter' , the implications of which were suggested to me by Mark Butler quite does the job. In my paper, I use Deleuze to develop Mark's idea and do a literary analysis of videogames. I was asked whether I chose the STALKER games because they made my point so well. 'Course I did. While I fully agree that videogame analyses can yield a general theory of videogames (as mine does about identity and subjectivity), I also feel the need to read/play videogames as separate texts rather than clubbing them together under any unwieldy term. That's what I've been doing so far and you will see more of it in 'Ludus Ex'.
'Literature is a combinatorial game that pursues the possibilities implicit in its own material [...] but it is a game that at a certain point is invested with an unexpected meaning' - Italo Calvino