Under the Mask: An After-Action Report

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I started writing this on the train back from Luton and that was over ten days ago. Life has been hectic but apologies anyway. UTM 2011 was my last videogame conference in the UK - probably. Almost six years of growing up as a games scholar is now at an end seemingly. I have a Lego sheep to remind me of UTM 2011 and it'll stay with me always. Of course, it's been changed to a spaceship now and I can also make C3PO out of it. Anyway, let's talk about the conference.

It was a conference where I heard the best keynote in many years (the last fab keynote that I'd heard was in 2008 by Richard Bartle). Jason Rutter keynoted on the twitter commentary of players post or during play. Rutter observed that player and gamer were different concepts and that analysing tweets by the players of Portal 2 is a useful way of identifying the meaning of being a 'gamer'. To quote Jason:

This was a great opportunity for me to develop a few ideas on what being a gamer actually means and how it is different from being someone who plays games. The presentation I gave, ‘Finding Gamers in 140 Characters: Talk of Games on Twitter‘, started by looking at differences in the use of ‘gamer’ and ‘player’ in the academic literature before turning to gamers themselves to see how the terms are used.  This is did through Tweets about ‘Portal 2‘ before moving to look at the way the category of gamer is developed as a practice involving not only playing games, but not gaming and planning gaming.
There is a written draft of the paper which needs a few tweaks to fill a few gaps and smooth the worst of the rough edges after which I’ll post it online. The slides I used (and indeed quite a few I didn’t) for the presentation are available on my Slideshare page though.
         (Jason Rutter, 'Made by Jase' blog)

In his blog, Rutter also praises the presentations by Caroline Jong, Ewan Kirkland and Steven Boyer - all of them my co-panellists. I particularly like Jong's presentation on the Let's Play archive (http://lparchive.org/) which had much in common with what I was doing with AARs. As the Let's Play people describe themselves, 'the Let's Play Archive focus on giving you the full experience of the games in an informative and entertaining manner. Just look at some of the great playthroughs below and you'll see what we mean'. Jong's introduction of the LP to academia is an useful addition to the studies of the paratext that are now increasingly coming into vogue. Unlike the AAR, however, the LP playthroughs are generally delivered as unedited although one might need to investigate this further. I was interested in Ewan Kirkland's presentation on Little Big Planet and also in Barry Atkins's question about whether LBP is a game. Although there were quite a few good presentations and some which I totally didn't agree with, the other notable presentation for me was Astrid Ensslin's talk on metaludic communcation. Ensslin applied speech act theory (Austin, Lakoff, Searle etc) to analysing communications in and around games. The paratextual angle was interesting for me and I hope she develops this further for me to plug into it with my research.

My presentation was perhaps my 'swansong' (as Gavin said) in the UK. I was happy with it and the after-action reports elicited interest. Barry's question about how constructed these 'reports' were and how they differed or were similar to wartime after-action reports was quite an interesting area that I need to follow up. Astrid's point about whether 'paratext' should replace 'cybertext' was an issue I had not thought about. Now, on hindsight, I don't think so ... firstly, I do not think that 'paratext' will be the umbrella term (if I am forced to pick one) of my choice; 'assemblage' would. In which case, the issue of replacing would not arise.

I answered the questions quickly and then ran off to lunch.  And so from lunch to paper and paper to pub. More interesting conversations there: Tetris studies, Calcutta , Belgium, agency in games (Justin would have loved this), a Robert Graves anecdote from Esther and Lego (they gave me a Lego sheep).

Then it was time for farewells. Goodbye all you nice people. I'll miss you.

Moving away from the farewells, I would like to thank my friend Sonia for helping me during those moments of nervousness when I had those doubts about my last presentation in the UK.

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