My presentation at NGDC, Pune

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So, here's another very long overdue post. Partly, because my students have been asking me ...

Reading Games and Playing Books - Dr Souvik Mukherjee, Presidency University: NGDC 2012 from NASSCOM


  • 1. Reading Games and Playing Books Or, a game researcher’s ‘leap of faith’
  • 2. Why You Guys (Probably) Already Hate Me … • I am an academic. I get to talk a lot and do little by way of coding. • I research videogames and say that I do GAME STUDIES (now that’s a contradiction!) • I try to correct misconceptions about videogames. • People always raise questions about the VALUE and the SERIOUSNESS of games research. • Anyway, LIKE IT OR NOT, games are a cultural phenomenon and influence how we understand CULTURE, SOCIETY and ART these days. • Both Academics and the industry need to consider these aspects if they wish to stay in business. • That’s why I’ll talk about STORIES in VIDEOGAMES.
  • 3. I love reading Max Payne. I mean the videogame, of course.
  • 4. Videogames as literature “This is, of course, a gigantic debate, played out constantly between two schools of videogame theory; the ludologists and the narratologists. I think the key points here are that game narratives can at least be thought of in similar terms as novels, and that they provide a different insight into the whole concept of story-telling. But I wont be holding my breath for the first game to appear on an A Level English Lit syllabus. GSCE is a different matter, though...” (Keith Stuart in the Guardian Gamesblog)
  • 5. NOW, ACADEMIA IS VERY CONFUSED … Why all this intensity? Why do thesedamned things have so many endings Who’s the Agent, ? Baldy?
  • 6. Let me just say that no video gamer now living Videogames will survive long enough to experience the AIN’T medium as an art form!!! ART ???Roger Joseph Ebert is anAmerican journalist, film critic andscreenwriter, who has beendescribed by Forbes as "the mostpowerful pundit in America". The game is "about trying to find a balance between elements of urban and the natural." Nothing she shows from this game seemed of more than decorative interest on the level of a greeting card. Is the game scored? She doesnt say. Do you win if youre the first to find the balance between the urban and the natural? Can you control the flower? Does the game know what the ideal balance is?
  • 7. Some people say, videogames don’t tell stories. Then why all the fuss? Why do people say they love the story of Skyrim or Fallout 3? If there’s nothing artistic about videogames, then what are we doing here ? (especially the artists among you)
  • 8. “I‟m sure there was a time when movies first started that they weren‟t considered art, and it‟s not like movies went to the world of literature and said, „Please, could you say that we’re art? They didn‟t ask permission from fine painting, they just did what they did and they took it seriously, and that’s where people started considering it art.” Tim Schafer, Noted game-designer and founder of Double Fine ProductionsClearly, the Eberts of this world have a problem.
  • 9. Rethinking Morality: The „No Russian‟ mission in Call of Duty 5
  • 10. Rethinking Ethics: September 12th
  • 11. Rethinking Time: Prince of Persia: The Sands of TimePrince: Take this, return it to yourfathers treasure vaults...guard itwell...Farah: I owe you thanks, but why didyou invent such a fantastic story, doyou think me a child, that I wouldbelieve such nonsense?(Prince kisses Farah)Farah: (pushes him away) I said Iowe you thanks. You presume toomuch.(Prince rewinds time)Farah:...Such a fantastic story, doyou think me a child, that I wouldbelieve such nonsense?Prince:...Youre right, it was just astory (gives her the dagger).Farah: Wait, I dont even know yourname...Prince: Just callme...Kakolookiyam..."―Farah and the Prince[src] Theirfinal words before parting in onetimeline.
  • 12. Rethinking Involvement: Spaced!, British TV serial
  • 13. Rethinking GAMES“The function of this center was not only to orient, balance, and organize the structure-one cannot infact conceive of an unorganized structure-but above all to make sure that the organizing principle ofthe structure would limit what we might call the freeplay of the structure. No doubt that by orientingand organizing the coherence of the system, the center of a structure permits the freeplay of itselements inside the total form. And even today the notion of a structure lacking any centerrepresents the unthinkable itself. Nevertheless, the center also closes off the freeplay it opens up andmakes possible.” Jacques Derrida “If we apply to science our definition of play as an activity occurring within certain limits of space, time, and meaning, according to fixed rules, we might arrive at the amazing and horrifying conclusion that all the branches of science and learning are so many forms of play because each of them is isolate within its own field and bounded by the strict rules of its own methodology.” Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens
  • 14. Can you read a story that you readCan you read a game that you read yesterday? yesterday?
  • 15. Rhizome (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, ) : artist‟s impression
  • 16. Chapter XVI – 204BC (From The Rise and Fall of the House of Jimius, an after-action report based onRome: Total War)with one comment204BC – Roma VictorQuintus II finally reaches the front, having abandoned his infantry for extra speed, but all he gets to do is huntdown a Brutian family member that’s just hanging around. Galerius goes to the boot of Italy and siegesCroton, while Lentulus hits Tarentum on the heel. Meanwhile, a scipian fleet carrying 2000 troops is sunk in theTyrhennian sea. Takes about fifteen separate attacks to sink a single ship, but still. I did it.Tarentum sally with the aid of the last Brutian stack of troops. The pre-battle odds give me 1:2, I think this is meantto be one I lose. Screw that, while I may have no chance in a straight defence, they won’t be expecting an attack.As the troops leave the gates, my siege towers rumble up to their walls, and all the melee infantry I can spare rushin. Under heavy fire from the gate and just generally being heavily on fire from boiling oil, they force their way intothe city. Racing to the square, they manage to engage the relieving cavalry before they can get to the square. Theenemy pour through the streets as they realise the countdown timer for city possession has begun, but thanks tothe dogs holding them for precious seconds, they can’t reach it in time. It’s almost a bloodless victory, but it is oneof the best manoeuvres I’ve ever pulled off. Daring can work occasionally. I’ve summarised it in this sexy, sexytapestry.
  • 17. After-action reportsAn after action report (or AAR) is any form of retrospective analysis on a given sequenceof goal-oriented actions previously undertaken, generally by the author himself.The two principal forms of AARs are the literary AAR, intended for recreational use, andthe analytical AAR, exercised as part of a process of performance evaluation andimprovement, while in most cases AARs are a combination of both.The first AARs were developed by army generals. One of the first and best examples of anAAR is Julius Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War.Contemporary examples of AARs include project evaluations in business, as well assummaries of large gaming sessions in videogame culture. (Wikipedia)AARs are a fun way to read about a game and provide interesting details and examplesof gameplay that reviews often don’t. They also can be very funny, entertaining andeven enlightening! So read on and enjoy as we list to new games, old games and nichegames that may surprise you. (After Action Reporter)
  • 18. Hello, I’m Mike, I’m 24, and I write game diaries.‘House of Jimius’ was based on Rome: Total War and was a chronicling of a grandcampaign, from city state to Europe-spanning behemoth. ‘The Amateur’ was based onHitman: Blood Money and was a more character-driven playthrough of the game, assomeone who became a hitman by accident. I write a few AARs a year but mostly theystay on the cutting floor of a forum somewhere. *…+What you write has to reflect what happens, the events described must be anaccurate portrayal, otherwise there’s no point, go off and write some fanfic. Sure,come up with the fluff that connects the dots the game presents, but don’t let thatoverwhelm it. I’ve seen some massive, sprawling AARs that divorce themselves fromthe game being played far too much to be interesting, that devolve into florid proseand twiddly stuff that is just filler and distracts from the point of the thing.
  • 19. It has to be clear what you, the player, have done and how the gameworld hasresponded, you never want to come away from reading a diary with a lack ofunderstanding over what just happened. This can be difficult to put across intext and image form so you have to be imaginative in how you get it acrosswithout being overly boring.With The Amateur I was playing in-character which does help with that. Thatis, you can’t just play the game and write the AAR afterwards, you need tohave played it in a certain mindset and reported on it accordingly, whetherthat’s a sneering disdain for the game, some naive optimism in one aspect, orwhatever. Having something personal that a reading audience can latch ontois important.
  • 20. Permanent Death in Far Cry 2Death in games is often very… temporary. I want to find out what happens tome as a player if I make my videogame death much more permanent. This isthe story of one game of Far Cry 2 – one single narrative that one way or theother will end in my death. Whether it is at the hands of my enemies, theharsh environment, or my own ineptitude, I am not going to survive thetelling of this tale.The rules: Normal difficulty; fortunes DLC installed. When I die, that’s it.Game over.Let’s see how far Qurbani Singh can get. Ben Abrahams (2009) Permanent Death – the Complete Saga
  • 21. Let’s Play
  • 22. So why should you bother about the videogame-story ?
  • 23. Dr Souvik Mukherjee, Department of English, Presidency University, Blog: http://readinggamesandplayingbooks.blogspot.comWherever you look now there are white Mysorian flags fluttering. Souvik seems to be musteringwhat’s left of his force for a final assault on the pavilion. His own archers arc arrows onto theflat roof of the building. Bargirs fire back at them from behind sawtooth crenelations.Musketmen edge forward and are driven back by a hailstorm of lead. Perhaps sensing the lastchance of victory has slipped away, the Mysorian leader charges his own horsey formation intothe corpse-strewn pavilion yard. A musketball knocks him permanently from the saddle. From ‘Bangalore Galore: An Empire Total War AAR’ by Tim Stone (slightly modified)

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