My Arctic Adventure - Tromsø 2018

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I was in Tromsø , Norway for just two days and the shift back to 25 degrees centigrade from a good -10 is still quite something to adjust to. Short as the visit was, it was one to remember. It is not often that one from the so-called Global South ventures this far north to examine a PhD proposal. Again, a PhD topic that relates so deeply to the issues raised in the South-South interactions - namely, the postcolonial, the subaltern, the Othered et al.

Beautiful is an understatement: Tromso from my hotel.

Emil Hammar, the co-editor on the forthcoming 'Videogames and Postcolonialism' special issue being published by the Open Library of Humanities, is probably the northernmost Game Studies PhD scholar in the world. He and his supervisor, Holger Pötzsch, are doing interesting stuff in faraway Tromso. Emil's work on postcolonialism in videogames and recently, on counterplay and the representations of race and diversity in the upcoming titles (such as Kingdom Come!) have already attracted attention. I was also fascinated by Holger's brief introduction to his work on the current digital 'remediated' perceptions of war where war, or iWar as he terms it, is personalised and even customised to preference. My day started with a class taken by Holger, Emil and their colleague, Juliana. Juliana spoke about the remediation in the movie Downfall and how history is reproduced in the remediated filmic medium and then on, even in memes that show Hitler ranting at a whole variety of things that we wish to laugh at. Emil's talk led to an exploration of who and what is the Other(ed) and how normative constructions affect our understanding of life around us.

The northernmost games studies PhD scholar is on his way with flying colours

The assessment procedure was pretty simple and friendly. I got a whole lot of very useful ideas from the discussion with Emil and Holger. I'm hoping that my two penn'orth of thoughts was of some use to them as well. The other highlight (and it was really high) was the cable car ride up to a mountain peak overlooking Tromso and our many slippery trysts with the ice. And then there was a fantastic three-course dinner. I usually reserve my opinions on things culinary for a different space but I can't help commenting on this one since this was a three-course grand affair with wines to match each course. Not something I'll get anywhere outside Europe. I'm sure.

The LEGO house in Tromso

Mural from the more Leftist days
I gave two talks. The first, my usual rant on the need to figure in postcolonial themes into the historiography that videogames engage in, took place in the Peace Centre - with Gandhi ji's statue right outside. As I spoke on how the terribly insensitive treatment of history in the depiction of Gandhi's nuclear rage in Civilization games upsets me, I believe Gandhi ji outside might just have approved. There has been some intense activity on how videogames represent history (but too little too late if you ask me) and that's a good thing. What I don't get is that the historians seem to have a European or North American bias. This is what I addressed in my discussion of subaltern history(ies) in videogames and the way these games can help us look beyond the archives (that are mostly created by those in a position of power and advantage). Some of the questions that I got were quite thought provoking. For example, one of the faculty members spoke about the Sami people and the lack of archives - how the Sami drum is not something that people really know about and how the Sami language had to be reconstructed from scratch in recent times. A student (who is clearly a gamer) asked me why the prevalent historical presentations in videogames are often so inaccurate - he used the example of the much-touted historical accuracy of the WW1 game, Battlefield One. Again, following E.H. Carr's famous description of history as a 'hard kernel of interpretations surrounded by facts' I spoke of history as constructed according to a certain preferred politics. This for me is the politics of Empire as I have discussed at length in Videogames and Postcolonialism: Empire Plays Back.
Gandhi ji outside the Peace Studies Centre where I gave my talk.

The second talk was on a very different topic - Indian boardgames as precursors to gamification. I had given this talk to a packed gallery in the Indian Museum (thanks to the efforts of the wonderful education officer, Sayan Bhattacharya) but I have never written about it. Here was a far smaller audience and certainly one that was unfamiliar with Indian boardgames and some had never even played Snakes and Ladders! The mechanics of the game is, thankfully, very easy to explain  because of how our former colonial masters simplified it from the original Gyan Chaupar. So I was able to move the discussion from the simple race game that was about a straightforward telos to the very complex and almost unending game of rebirth. Quite fulfilling to talk at length about karma and its complicated working through what is considered a children's game. Again, I was asked interesting questions about how during gameplay people start creating narratives of their own and also whether these games are more like simulations than games. One of my biggest takeaways, however, was the translation of the Persian text in one of the Gyan Chaupar boards. Azadeh Isaksen, who originally hails from Iran, was quick to spot almost literal translations of the Hindu terms into Persian in the bilingual Gyan Chaupar board that I showed in my slides. This has set me thinking - why translate it? and is it actually possible to translate the religious ideas?
Persian translations underneath the Sanskrit terms on this Gyan Chaupar board.

The stay in Tromso was all too short - just two days and I was on the plane again. All the way from Oslo to Dubai, I was sitting beside a Croquet player from Norway (there are only forty-five in the country) who was on his way to Cape Town for a Croquet World Championship. It was kind of hard to get through the hoops of the Croquet conversation (literally) and finally, fatigue and sleep took over.

Sami Game Jam 

Sami drum

While I was in Tromso learning about Sami culture, my friend Shailesh Prabhu was attending a Sami game jam somewhere in Northern Finland. They have made some fantastic game prototypes representing Sami culture and the subaltern narratives that do not get represented in our majoritarian discourse. Here's the link to some of the games -

I hope I can go back again and learn more about the Sami culture.

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