July 2018, Turin: The Game is the Message

Website: digra2018.com

“Games have long since moved out of the toy drawer, but our understanding of them can still benefit from seeing them in a wider context of mediated meaning-making. DiGRA 2018 follows Marshall McLuhan, and sees games as extensions of ourselves. They recalibrate our senses and redefine our social relationships. The environments they create are more conspicuous than their content. They are revealing, both of our own desires and of the society within which we live. Their message is their effect. Games change us.”

July 25-28 2018, Campus Luigi Einaudi, Università di Torino, Turin, Italy.

The websites of DiGRA, the Digital Games Research Association, and DiGRA Italia.

“We invite full papers, 5000 – 7000 words plus references using the DiGRA 2018 submission template (http://www.digra.org/?attachment_id=148233), extended abstracts (from 500 words, maximum 1000, excluding references), and panel submissions (1000 words excluding references, with a 100 word biography of each participant). Full papers will be subject to a double-blind peer review. Extended abstracts will be blinded and peer reviewed by committees organised by the track chairs. Panels will be reviewed by the track chairs and the program chairs. General inquiries should be addressed to Riccardo Fassone – riccardo.fassone AT unito.it. Artist contributions, industry contributions, performances or non-standard presentations should be addressed to Matteo Bittanti – matteo.bittanti AT iulm.it.

Submission will be opened December 1st, 2017, and the final deadline for submission is January 31st 2018. The URL for submissions is https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=digra2018.

Program chairs are
Martin Gibbs, martin.gibbs AT unimelb.edu.au, University of Melbourne, Australia
Torill Elvira Mortensen, toel AT itu.dk, IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Important dates:
Submission opens: December 1st, 2017
Final submission deadline: January 31st, 2018
Results from reviews: March 1st, 2018
Early registration deadline: March 15th, 2018
Reviewed and rewritten full papers final deadline: April 15th, 2018″

Further details regarding the call for proposals are on the website of Frans Mayra.

April 2018, Tampere: Making Games

Website: makinggamesseminar.wordpress.com

“The seminar welcomes contributions relating to all types of games and game making. Traditionally, games have been situated in the public domain – communally created and played – and even today, games are not only created by commercial game studios but also by independent developers, game jammers, students, enthusiasts, experts, and amateurs. In addition, we can identify a wide network of intermediaries ranging from commercial enterprises to non-profits and government agencies that actively shape the ecosystem of game making.

We are seeking submissions from scholars studying different aspects of game making. Prominent work is done in many fields ranging from design research and organizational ethnography to production studies and political economy. We hope that the seminar can address some of the theoretical and methodological approaches that will help us to start to bridge the hitherto disconnected fields.”

24-25 April 2018, The Finnish Museum of Games, Tampere, Finland.

Organised by: gamelab.uta.fi

“Making Games is the 14th annual international spring seminar organized by University of Tampere Game Research Lab. The theme changes each year, as do the expert commentators. The Game Research Lab Spring Seminar is the longest running game studies seminar.”

As I’ve happily said before (several times), the Game Research Lab at Tampere University are also a friendly group of pro-active researchers; the best conference I have ever attended and presented at was their 2007 Gamers in Society seminar.

Game designing, again. At last.

I haven’t designed, written or coded a digital games in … a long time. Years. Too many years. My first attempts, back in the early 1980s on a Sinclair ZX81, were unsurprisingly crude. A few programs did make it into computer magazines as boringly long code listings for people to type in; there’s a vague recollection of being excited by this, and not realising for several years that I wasn’t getting paid for my work.

I did, however, get paid for a basic (in every respect of the word) flight landing simulator which was published as an actual game that you bought on a cassette and spent an eternity loading. But not richly paid as it sold five copies on the shelf of Evesham Micros (when this was a tiny store in Evesham, the location of which ironically is now my solicitors), and I was left with a stock of C60 tapes from WHSmith in anticipation of doing multiple production runs to keep up with demand. Thankfully, I’d cornered the market at school in Panini football sticker trading (irony: never liked football) and so I was able to support failed enterprises such as ‘Independent 13 year old Game Designer and Publisher’.

Snippet from text adventure I’m designing

Rolling forward over a third of a century and I’m using an online service called inklewriter to, well, write Interactive Fiction. I’ve never, to be honest, got on well with traditional branch-oriented Interactive Fiction. You know, “To hit the goblin, turn to page 36; to run away from the goblin, turn to page 112”; that kind of book. Typically, I’d become quickly bored and try to reverse-engineer the entire story by reading it sequentially to figure out the path to the end. The better – or more frustrating – IF books were designed so you’d have to read the entire thing, and draw a complex graph, to figure this out.

Me: more of a location-oriented computer game player; the classic text adventures from Infocom, or The Hobbit from Melbourne House, and the like. “Exits are North, South, or West” – that kind of thing. Over the years since, I’ve tried various bits of software that help (or claim to help) the construction of such stories, but with limited success or interest held. Twine, for example, I’ve been playing around with of late but has some fussy shortcomings that bog me down to the point of giving up. I may return to it in the future as it has some interesting functionality, to be fair.

Pulling in a picture from my Flickr account
Pulling in a picture from my Flickr account

However, more recently – and this may yet come to nothing – inklewriter is proving intriguing and surprisingly easy and fast to work with. It has very limited options in terms of look and feel; just one style of display (see the screenshots in this post of things I’ve been writing with it), though you can incorporate some outside content and interesting randomness within. And the logic operations are also few and simplistic – but, I’ve noticed, just about functional enough to make something like a location-oriented games possible.

I’m a little reluctant to say more at the moment because, as said, this may still go wrong. Also, spoilers and meta-spoilers. Oh, and it’s a free and web browser-based bit of software that isn’t actively supported, so it may disappear at any point and is therefore somewhat risky to use.

Another text adventure snippet
Another text adventure snippet

But there’s some potential here so I’m tentatively building an Interactive Fiction adventure that, surprisingly to me, is starting to take a playable shape. There’s a major arc plot, an end-goal, a fair amount of content already, and several puzzle concepts at various stages of implementation which provide different degrees of difficulty. Construction and testing are a fun exercise and it’s forcing me to confront game design decisions in a logical and unavoidable manner. More on this as it hopefully progresses; I’m keeping a design log which is already useful and, if and when it’s all done (there is a rough plan for this), this log and other materials, as well as the game itself, will be publicly available.

July 2017, Melbourne: DiGRA 2017

Website: digra2017.com

3-6 July 2017, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.

(Text below from the conference website)

DiGRA 2017 will bring together a diverse international community of interdisciplinary researchers engaged in cutting edge research in the field of game studies. DiGRA 2017 is supported by Swinburne University of Technology, RMIT University, the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne.

The conference welcomes submissions on a wide range of topics associated with studies of games and play, including, but not limited to:

  • Game cultures
  • Games and other cultural forms
  • Communication in game worlds
  • Gender and games
  • Games as representation
  • Minority groups and games
  • Games and childhood
  • The games industry
  • Independent games
  • Games criticism
  • Gaming in non-leisure settings
  • Game studies in other domains
  • Hybrid and non-digital games
  • History of games
  • Game design
  • eSports and spectatorship
  • Platform studies
  • Game production studies

Further information – including registration information – will be available on an expanded conference website by mid-January.

Submission Types

We welcome a range of contributions to DiGRA 2017. These include full papers, extended abstracts, panel and workshop proposals, and doctoral consortium participation, as well as proposals for events and other activities that fall outside the academic tradition.

Full papers will be peer-reviewed, published on the conference website and published in the conference proceedings available via open-access through the DiGRA digital library.

All other submissions will be reviewed by a panel of track chairs and the conference organisers for suitability for DiGRA 2017. These submissions will be published on the conference website, but will not be included in the conference proceedings published through the DiGRA Library.

April 2017, Tampere: Spectating Play

Website: spectatingplay.com

24-25 April 2017, Game Research Lab, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland.

Organised by: gamelab.uta.fi

“Spectating Play is the 13th annual spring seminar organized by University of Tampere Game Research Lab. The seminar welcomes any and all scholarly work on the intersection of audiences and game/play.” More on this as well on the blog of Frans Mäyrä.

As I’ve happily said before, the Game Research Lab at Tampere University are also a friendly group of pro-active researchers; the best conference I have ever attended was their 2007 Gamers in Society seminar.

It’s also rather pleasant to publish this post on the 99th anniversary of Finland’s independence; I think I have a good idea where there will be an excellent party exactly a year from now…

Bully

Bully, an open world action game, originally came out for the PS2 back in 2006, and was ported to several other consoles since. I played it for a while early on, attracted by some of the event scenes which seemed to be stylistically based on Shenmue fight sequences. It was okay, overall; not really my preferred genre, but I could appreciate how others may take to it.

In the game, you are put into a new school where your aim is to rise in status. There’s lessons to attend, which give you various skills (if I remember rightly, chemistry lessons gave you the ability to make stink bombs), social situations to navigate and, as the title suggests, bullying. Though somewhat faded in memory, the game seemed to be based less on the realities of school life (which in my case was mostly boredom and counting down the hours till the school bus took me home) and more on stereotypes and satires of school days, with the addition of the usual Rockstar Games humour.

Bully, by Rockstar Games

Bully was also noted for the controversy over the content, title, possible plot lines and several other aspects of the game – before the game was actually released and played by most of the complainers. (Having said that, there was the lingering suspicion at the time that the game producers stoked up some of the controversy to get headlines and more sales; whether they did so or not, who knows) On launch, and discovering that the content was for the most part fine to all, much of the controversy went away. The game was given an advisory 15, not an 18, rating.

Now, I’m noting that an anniversary edition of the game has appeared as a well-priced app for android devices (both the screenshots on this post are taken from that version). I admit to being somewhat tempted but, as per usual, too many games and too little time.

Looking back now, I think one of my main objections was the horrible haircut the protagonist was forced to endure. As someone who had more than his fair share of bad childhood haircuts (from the cheapest place in town), I can both identify, and don’t want to identify, with a poor head of hair while gaming. Not all nostalgia is good nostalgia.

Bully, by Rockstar Games

Game Studies: the game

A game about academic game studies; how meta. Or perhaps, recursive. The Kill Screen headline asks if we really need academics to study videogames. Hmmm.

And so we have the game of Game Studies. This simple HTML5/WebGL game is playable in your web browser. The rest of the website is worth a wander around, too.

A series of five short levels, the game is simple: get the man to the goal by clicking on the ground until he walks there. Along the course of each level, the game will lampoon one of five different theories, whether by having the player dive into a pool to demonstrate “immersion”, having them walk into a circle to demonstrate “the magic circle,” having them play baseball while listening to Snow White to demonstrate the conflict between “ludology and narratology,” and the like.

I look forward to “Game Studies: the movie”, and hope Robert De Niro with a convincing beard plays me.

RAGE: Realising an Applied Gaming Eco-system

The RAGE project is a European Union consortium project involving various partners from the academic and gaming sectors. It’s an interesting one to watch; their aims are to create a collection of assets and resources of actual use to game developers, including those developing in or for the education sector, helping to speed up the process of game development.

The project was partially born out of CETIS, the Centre for Educational Technology, Interoperability and Standards, with Paul Hollins being particularly active.

The RAGE project also tweets, and has some downloads and a blog. The project plans to hold events such as workshops and training courses across Europe. One to keep an eye on, especially if you’re into educational game development.