To the University of Bergen web site (opens in a new window) Institutt for informasjons- og medievitenskap

You are here: Aesthetics of Play >> ABSTRACTS
 
Aesthetics of Play - A Conference on Computer Game Aesthetics
 ABSTRACTS
[smaller font] | [LARGER font]
 
 
 
 
   Keynote: Espen Aarseth
   IT University of Copenhagen
   [Full programme]
   Games: The Art of Simulation
 
One of the challenges of games research has been to frame games as a coherent, unique object, separate from other phenomena that seems closely related, such as play, sport, drama, fiction, social interaction, conflict, etc. It might not even be a good idea to try, if by trying too hard we narrow the concept down to a pure but useless subgenre of nothing in particular. Are there games that are not "also" something else? Does "game"have a separate core identity as a concept, a key aspect that overrules the others? Or is everything a game of some sort?

The talk aims to characterize some crucial aspects of games, and promote certain theoretical perspectives, while also trying to avoid a definition that divorces the concept from everyday language use.

 
   
  PLAY AND TECHNOLOGY
   Melanie Swalwell [To the top]
   Victoria University of Wellington
  [Full programme]
   Movement and Kinaesthetic Responsiveness: A Neglected Pleasure
 
Some of the most enjoyable bodily pleasures of gaming result from the felt sensations of movement in games – improvisation, freedom, becomings. Moments of kinaesthetic responsiveness evidence both the closeness and the liveliness of gamers’ aesthetic engagements with computing technology. Moreover, these movement pleasures indicate the need for more nuanced understandings of players’ relations with game worlds and avatars, as they are not relations of identification in the commonly understood filmic sense. Drawing on her ethnographic research with gamers, and insights from the aesthetic theory of writers including Walter Benjamin, Roger Caillois and Margaret Morse, the author lays out a mimetic account of these movement sensations, pointing out the partial nature of the mimetic ‘becoming similar to’, and the potential this has for understanding what it is to encounter a game and to “enter” virtual environments. Attention is focussed on some of the different negotiations gaming involves – particularly across and between a range of materiality and reality statuses – and the implications of negotiations such as these for subjectivity. The author argues that games studies needs to develop nuanced models of player engagement with computer games, models which do not rush to explain away points of friction, dissonance and ambiguity, for such moments offer valuable insights into the ways that players – and indeed, users more generally – engage with virtual worlds.

Melanie Swalwell is a cultural and media theorist, lecturing at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Melanie’s work on computer games includes work on players’ aesthetic engagements, LAN gaming, war/games, censorship, games art, and the early history of video game development in local markets such as New Zealand. Together with Jason Wilson, she is editing a collection of essays for McFarland & Co on the pleasures of computer gaming, with the working title Gameplay: Pleasures, Engagements, Aesthetics.

 
     
   Seth Giddings & Helen W. Kennedy [To the top]
   School of Cultural Studies, University of the West of England.
  [Full programme]
   Playful Objects: agency, technology and aesthetics
 
A number of commentators have argued that videogames aestheticise their players’ relationship with computer and digital technology. They ‘teach us how it feels to be a cyborg’ (Friedman, 1999) they are ‘a new kind of intimacy with machines’, with ‘almost hypnotic fascination’ (Turkle 1986).

This presentation will argue that such comments are not merely rhetorical, that videogame play does instantiate an intimate relationship between the human and the technological that is both material and aesthetic. Indeed it will be argued that the analysis of videogames in play should tackle the various ostensibly autonomous circuits – from the gendered technoculture of contemporary everyday life to the reflexive twitches of both the player and the game software.

A number of theoretical approaches – not as yet evident in game studies – including cyberfeminism and actor-network theory, will be suggested as resources for the development of a techno-aesthetics of videogames and videogame play. It will be argued that questions of agency are central: that the videogame, the player and broader cultural and material contexts must each be seen as agents in the videogame play event. But also that videogames are distinct artefacts: at once technological (software) and aesthetic (media objects and images). For instance a gameworld’s virtual physics or its NPCs artificially intelligent reaction to the player must be seen as both technologically based yet aesthetically motivated.

These questions will be developed through a case study of the ways in which particular games configure or produce their players and the aesthetic and material / technological techniques by which this configuration is effected or undermined.

 
   
  PLAYABLE CHARACTERS
   Michael Nitsche, Robert Fitzpattrick, Martin Walsh [To the top]
   Georgia Institute of Technology
  [Full programme]
   Character data sets and parameterized morality
 
Creating dramatic and engaging characters is one of the ‘holy grail’ issues in video games. Another – related – focus is the use of morality implemented in game characters. We look into a combination of these two issues inside the game character’s definition. Acknowledging that a character comes to life through his actions we suggest an analysis of what pre-defines this behavior: the character data set that forms the backbone of the game character and from which behavioral engines operate. Social connections, personal history, moral status, fame and notoriety develop from – and often feed back into – this data set through the actual play. Thus, we will also look at the change of this data set. In detail we deliver an example analysis that looks at a) data sets, their range, limitations and contents b) ways in which they mimic the social and ethical references by trying to integrate them into what we call “parameterized morality” The analysis uses exemplary titles such as the Final Fantasy series, the Ultima series, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and the aforementioned Fable to demonstrate effects of different character data sets and their functionality. We, then, examine how these features refer to established character definitions from traditional media. Lajos Egri suggested physiology, sociology, and psychology as three defining elements for theatrical characters. How do game character data sets provide sociological, physiological, and psychological aspects? Christopher Vogler – based on Campbell – argues for underlying archetypes that shape characters in film. Can the data set deliver such an archetypical imprint? Obviously, adding a moral dimension to the game characters complicates the data set significantly. Our analysis of the data set aims to provide insights how this extra dimension can be and is factually incorporated.

Michael Nitsche holds a MA in Theaterwissenschaft and Germanistik from the FU Berlin, a MPhil in Architecture and the Moving Image and a PhD in Architecture from the University of Cambridge. Initially he was interested in effective dramaturgy for interactive new media until he discovered that many of his questions were rooted in the spatial form of virtual worlds. From then on his research concentrated on the design, presentation, and use of virtual spaces via a combination of theoretical analysis and practical experiments. These experiments include collaborations with the National Film and Television School London, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, Funatics Germany, and educational institutions like West Herts College, UK and Cambridge University. He joined the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2004 and works as Assistant Professor at the School of Literature, Communication & Culture where he is a member of the Experimental Game Lab and teaches courses on virtual environments. Michael has published on the use of cinematic language, performance, and space in virtual worlds and issues of games research. His most current research interests are in procedural space and Machinima. In a former life he was co-author for a commercial videogame, professional Improv actor, and dramaturgist.

 
     
   Jonas Linderoth [To the top]
   Göteborg University, Department of education
  [Full programme]
   Animated game pieces – Avatars as roles, tools and props
 
Since Turkles seminal work Life on the Screen, avatars have been described as a form of alter egos, being means for exploring and playing with identity. Following this line of reasoning, computer gaming is seen as an activity were we become immersed in a fictitious world, pretending to be the character we play. Drawing upon empirical observations of children’s game-play I argue that the relation between the avatar and the player is a more multifaceted affair. The meanings of avatars depend upon how they are framed by the player, thus they can have at least three different functions. Avatars can become roles for socio-dramatic interaction. As extensions of the player’s agency, avatars can become tools for handling the game state. Finally when choosing and using avatars in the presence of others avatars can become a part of our identity, not as alter egos but as props for our presentation of self on the social arena surrounding the game. These results points out some of the problems of doing textual analysis of games and suggests that game studies might benefit from changing its unit of analysis from the actual games to the activity of gaming.

 
   
  POWER PLAY
   Keynote: Jon Dovey [To the top]
   University of Bristol
  [Full programme]
   'What Am I Doing in Vietnam?'
 
Its Friday night and the TV is dismal as usual. I’m still stuck in the Tet offensive. By the time I find the squad member with the yellow smoke grenades I’m overrun by VC. Time to get organized. Why do we get the games we get ? This presentation is based on research into the production history of 'Conflict Vietnam' (Pivotal Games SCI 2004). Using evidence from workplace observations and interviews it describes the economic, technological and cultural forces that shaped this mainstream console game. It will address the risk averse tendencies of the political economy of the console games industry as it has emerged as a global medium. I will also make some observations about the particular relations between technology and realism from the designer’s point of view. However the most interesting findings from the research project concern the cultural tastes and formations of the designers themselves – it was clearly possible to identify a particular range of tastes and sensibilities at work contributing to the choice and design of the game. ‘Game Cultures’ are here embodied gendered subjects making choices about work that excites and inspires them. I will argue that the culture of game designers is itself a major force in shaping game production. The analysis of the production history evidence when correlated with biographical accounts of leading game ‘auteurs’ led my co resarcher Helen Kennedy and I on to the development of the idea of ‘dominant technicities’ at work in industrial and academic game cultures. This account of the production history of one game will be intercut with my own experience of the game play itself. The presentation will therefore open out questions of the relationship between institutional forces and gameplay experience, between different kinds of ‘technicity’ at the textual interface. I can kill but boy I just can’t navigate. Pleasures of navigation ? Huh! Put me on a real mountain – I’m fine, not bad in a forest, But these endless circular maps, I’ve been running round the jungle for half an hour. VC all dead, objectives completed, every bit of booty hoovered, and still I can’t find the exit. Then – a booby trap that I swear I’d already disarmed puts us all out of our wandering agony.

 
     
   Geoff King [To the top]
   Brunel University, London
   [Full programme]
   Play, Modality and Claims of Realism in Full Spectrum Warrior
 
This paper will examine the balance between notions of play and claims to the status of realism in the tactical military game Full Spectrum Warrior. The paper will start by defining play as a mode, considering markers of modality that signify the status of games as such, in distinction from other aspects of the external world. It will consider in detail aspects of Full Spectrum Warrior that also blur or contest such markers, to some extent. These include claims to the status of realism at the level of graphical representation, but more importantly in claims to the status of a functional variety of realism, in which the gameplay is said to be modelled on real-world tactics and capacities, an issue particular salient to a title such as this, based on a game originally designed for use by the Army. This area of potential blurring of modality markers in Full Spectrum Warrior will also be considered in a broader context in which some degree of convergence is often suggested betwe en real- and game-world military experiences.

In the light of the sometimes perceived or claimed slippage between reality and game in titles such as this, some argue that games of this kind can act as training simulators for players. Such claims will be considered in the light of notions of games acting as sources of interpellation, in the Althusserian sense, in either general or specific kinds of subjectivity. Against this, emphasis will be put on the dimension of play: interpellation, as some kind of ‘serious’ positioning, vs. the capacity for play and ‘playing at’, which includes important dimensions of imagination, fantasy and freedom. The latter may still contain ideological investments, this paper will conclude, but these are on the basis of a clear distinction between the modalities of play and real-world military activity.

Co-author of Tomb Raiders and Space Invaders: Videogame Forms and Contexts, with Tanya Krzywinska (I.B.Tauris, forthcoming summer 2005), co-editor of ScreenPlay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces (Wallflower Press, 2002). Also author of several books including studies of Hollywood and American independent cinema.

 
     
   Robertson Allen [To the top]
   University of Washington
   [Full programme]
   Representations of the Enemy in Conflict: Desert Storm and America's  Army
 
As developments in technology during the past 20-30 years have generally aided in decreasing the levels of abstraction in video games, the characterizations of enemies in violent video games have progressively moved away from abstraction and towards representations of specific groups of people and cultures. Two games, Conflict: Desert Storm and America\'s Army, can serve as examples of this phenomenon. In both of these games, virtual enemies in the world of the video game have come to reflect our world in a bastardized form, and instead of fighting the terrorists at home, Americans have preemptively struck after them within the realm of virtual reality. The social element of these games—which includes the virtual world of the game, the visceral practice of playing the game, the comments of players about the game and their experience of playing, and the marketing of the game itself—when combined with a real-world enemy which is represented in the game, serve to form what Emile Durkheim calls a “collective representation” based upon experiences that are common to all (or most) who play. I examine some of the multivalent meanings which result in this construction of the enemy in these two games, and examine how this development parallels and compliments American international politics and the construction of the Iraqi enemy as evidenced throughout the invasion and occupation of Iraq. America’s Army, as a recruitment tool for the US Army, bridges the gap between the “real” and the “virtual” enemy and represents a blending between simulation and real life. The consequences of this development can only be speculated, but is seems safe to posit that video games--and the enemies that inhabit them--both refer to the reality outside of the game and exist as simulacra that are just as "real" as any other reality.

I am currently a graduate student in sociocultural anthropology and ethnomusicology at the University of Washington, Seattle. My interests are wide-ranging, but they center on topics which relate to music, representations of the Other, video games, and the geographical areas of Japan and Scotland. I am interested in bringing anthropological methods and questions to the area of game studies as I feel that much can be gained from the interaction between these two disciplines.

 
     
   Greg Singh [To the top]
   Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College
  [Full programme]
   San Andreas: Agency, Movement, and Containment; or, How the West  is (Frequently) Won
 
The recent commercial success of Rockstar Games’ GTA: San Andreas has captured the popular imagination in the UK, and attracted the attention of many tabloid reports on videogaming. Accounts of the game’s promotion of crime and violence (pimping, murder and theft), and racial stereotyping (featured gangland characters are predominantly African-American or Hispanic), are offset by discourses on the size of the game-world, and the level of freedom of movement not readily available to the game enthusiast until now.

This curious tension between discourses on tendencies towards misrepresentation, tendencies towards negative media effects, and tendency towards freedom of expression through greater player agency, highlights a number of problematic issues facing the academic field of gamestudies. Whilst the direct media effects model has long been identified within cultural studies as a largely inadequate approach to texts and audiences, adapting an approach to modes of representation in gaming based upon established film studies models would ignore the issue of user identification through specifically kinaesthetic agency. This paper explores this mode of representation/identification, by considering how GTA: San Andreas embodies both the exploratory tendency necessary to extending freedom of movement outside of the goal-orientated gameplay, whilst simultaneously embodying a task-based narrative within the game’s urban architecture – embodiment which seeks to ensure that one must either complete the tasks within the game’s parameters to ‘unlock’ features, or else, one must ‘cheat’.

By significantly building upon Murray’s definition of agency, this paper will suggest that, through representations of murderous frontierism and libertarian discourse, San Andreas reproduces political control of the urban environment through virtual urban containment systems. Considering Jameson’s notion of ideological containment, this paper will further suggest that this reproduction is related to both Galloway’s allegory of control, and Lefebvre’s dialectic of space and production in the modern city.

Greg Singh is Lecturer in Media Studies at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, England. He specialises in aspects of New Media and Popular Culture, and in particular, aspects of remediation. He will begin his PhD at the University of Reading in October 2005, where his doctoral research will consider problems of cross-mediation, spectatorship and narrative closure in recent cinematic trilogies.

 
     
   Daniel Pargman [To the top]
Co-authors: Jacob Senneby and Simon Goldin
   University of Skövde, Sweden
   [Full programme]
   Problematizing production – economy and value creation in Second Life
 
Despite much evidence to the contrary it is still often taken for granted that the border between online and offline activities is relatively unproblematic. This paper challenges such notions and describes ongoing work that explores the border between ”online” and ”offline” in the Massively Multiplayer Online Game (or online world) Second Life (). Second Life, as apart from most other online worlds (e.g. Everquest, World of Warcraft) is less of a game and better thought of as an open-ended inhabited simulation, or, a society within a computer. The company behind Second Life, Linden Lab, grant players ownership of player-generated in-world (“in-game”) products and explicitly encourage entrepreneurship. Our explorations include a series of artistic projects with Second Life as their base. We report on three ongoing projects in this paper;
  • Objects of virtual desire, our project to produce and sell real-life copies of in-game objects with strong sentimental value to their avatar owners
  • The Port, our very own virtual island (purchased from Linden Lab for the facile price of US$ 980) and our ”physical” base for action within Second Life.
  • Talk show, our in-game made-for-export tv program recorded in our studio on The Port and scheduled for airing on a Swedish public access television channel.

Using artistic interventions as our main research methodology, we go beyond exploring the border between online and offline to explicitly challenge such a division. Our interventions point towards a more complex reading of where to locate social and economic values generated by in-game production. In a creative collaboration between scientists (first author) and artists (second and third authors) we are also on a continous basis exploring how art can inform science and vice versa. Reported-on artistic interventions have been complemented with participant observations, in-game interviews and studies of Second Life discussion forums.

Daniel Pargman is a Senior Lecturer in Media with a specialization in computer game development at the University of Skövde, Sweden and a Senior Lecturer in Media technology at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden. He in interested in social phenomena in online games as well as other examples of the interplay between technical systems/computer code and social systems/human behavior. Daniel Pargman defended his Ph.D. thesis, “Code begets community: On social and technical aspects of managing a virtual community” in December 2000.

Jakob Senneby is an artist working within the fi eld of new media and the conceptual problematics therein. Installations often involve a diverse set of media; including CGI, programmatics and audio experiments. Graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Stockholm in 2004. See website: www.jakobsenneby.com.

Simon Goldin is an artist focusing on issues of economic, institutional and organisational power structures. Presently studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Art in Stockholm as well as the Stockholm School of Economics. Interested in developing an artistic practice which is located within non-art institutional contexts.

 
   
  PLAYING TOGETHER
   Tanya Krzywinska, Henry Lowood and David Surman [To the top]
   PANEL PRESENTATION
   [Full programme]
   Myth, Performance and Form in World of Warcraft
 

The cultural meaning of play is negotiated at many levels of engagement with a game. In this panel, we focus on one game, World of Warcraft, in order to reveal these levels of engagement with the game, but also to show how these various forms of engagement overlap: myth and the textuality of the game, performance and game movies, the player as agent of a historical experience.

 

Tanya Krzywinska [To the top]
Brunel University
“Elune be Praised”: The functions and meanings of myth in the World of Warcraft
 

One of the joys of playing MMoRPG World of Warcraft is exploring and engaging with the complex mythological context of the game. This paper argues that to understand the game’s formal, aesthetic and structural specificity, its pleasures and potential meanings, it is essential to consider the function of its integrated ‘myth’ system. Myth functions ‘textually’ in a range of ways. It plays a primary role in making a consistent world in terms of gameplay, morality, culture and environment, thereby adding layers of meaning that simply ‘killing’ monsters out of context could not provide. In industrial terms, the particular mythic profile is important for attracting sustained subscriptions. At the level of gameplay, the mythic context provides a rationale for player’s actions, as well as providing the logic that underpins the stylistic profile of the game, its objects, tasks and characters. In terms of the ‘cultural’ environments of the game, the presence of a coherent and extensive myth scheme is core to the way differences and conflicts between races are organised, providing a rationale for the optional player-versus-player mode. The paper will also sketch out some of the sources the game draws upon, the way these have been remediated and tailored to accord with the specific requirements of game format and, importantly how such intertexts operate as markers of modality to signify ‘fantasy’. I claim that the correlation between myth and fantasy acts to locate and attenuate the violence of the game, while also demonstrating that the game’s myth system lends a particular kind of realism in terms of functionality, context and world integrity. In summary, I argue that the pervasive presence of myth significantly enriches the player’s sense of ‘being-in-the-game-world’.

Tanya Krzywinska is a Reader in Film and TV Studies at Brunel University. As well as editing hardcore, she is the author of A Skin for Dancing In: possession, witchcraft and voodoo in film (Flicks Books, 2000), Sex and the Cinema (Wallflower, forthcoming), co-author of Science Fiction Cinema (Wallflower Press, 2000), Tomb Raiders and Space Invaders: videogame forms and contexts (IB Tauris, forthcoming) and co-editor of ScreenPlay: cinema / videogames / interfaces (Wallflower Press, 2002). She is currently editing videogames / text / player with Barry Atkins (MUP), has recently begun work on Imaginary Worlds: A cross-media study of the aesthetic, formal and interpolative strategies of virtual worlds in popular media and is currently developing an MA programme in videogame design.

 
Henry Lowood [To the top]
Stanford University
Story-Line, Dance/Music or PVP? Game Movies and Performance in World of Warcraft
 

Beginning already with the beta version of World of Warcraft, player-created game movies have been a popular outlet for performance and creativity in the WOW player community. Considering the relatively short life of the game and the aesthetic and technical constraints posed by movie-making in this game form (limited suite of emotes and gestures, restrictions on game control, lack of access to game art or other typically modified assets), the proliferation of players, clans, websites, and community forums devoted to WOW movies is remarkable. Historically, the linkage between multiplayer, competitive games and game movies (demo movies, speedruns, replays, etc.) is not new, but in this paper, I argue nevertheless that the context and function of game movies and their role as public spectacles in the player community is particular to WOW. This particularity can be traced to the evolution of Warcraft as a series of real-time strategy games and as a narrative world, to an established virtual community built around competitive play as a performance mode, and to the establishment of “textual poaching” (Henry Jenkins), transgressive play, and player-generated content in the mainstream of contemporary game culture and related media. I will suggest that WOW game movies may be capable of inspiring similar forms of “aesthetic play” in other media.

Henry Lowood is Curator for History of Science & Technology Collections at Stanford University and Lecturer in the History and Philosophy of Science Program and in the Science and Technology Studies Program. He has written widely in the history of science and technology and historical game studies. Currently, he is co-Principal Investigator of "How They Got Game: The History and Culture of Interactive Simulations and Videogames," a research project sponsored by the Stanford Humanities Laboratory, and co-director of the Stanford Humanities Laboratory. Accomplishments of How They Got Game include two curated exhibits on the history and practice of computer games as an art form, the development of the Machinima Archives, and an archival and research project on the history of military simulation. For the last five years, he has taught an annual course on the history of computer game design at Stanford.

 
David Surman [To the top]
University of Wales, Newport
Being History: Contingent Histories, Player Choice, and World of Warcraft
 

In this paper I illustrate the ways in which play has a direct consequence on narrative trajectory in World of Warcraft. Importantly, my discussion relates first and foremost to the creation of entirely fictional histories, using formal devices or ‘cues’ which are remediated from the metadiscursive strategies of ‘actual’ historiography. In order to contribute to our critical understanding of the ways in which computer and videogames evoke such complex responses from their varied audiences, discussions of history and representation are absolutely necessary. Since play is at the core of the games experience, discussions of history and representation (and represented histories) are coloured by this fundamental principle.

Here, the catalytic emphasis is on the player as an agent of history, who through choice shapes the trajectory of the narrative. This fundamental equation is central to our understanding of the temporal aspects of gameplay. In a gaming cosmology, the player is truly at the centre of the universe. While the range of choice and potential developments are predetermined, the performative aspects of play build upon that deterministic foundation to create an involvement predicated on historicity: the condition of being ‘in’ history.

Through an analysis of World of Warcraft I would like to illustrate the recurrent ways in which games formally construct both a denotative and connotative representation of history. These differing modalities combine with historical aspects of play itself, for instance repetition (repeated play) and luck, to create a singular experience comparable to an (albeit reduced) sense of historical involvement. In a final move, I shall construct a working typology of formal devices used in this way that are common to the MMORPG videogame mode.

David Surman teaches Computer Games Design at the University of Wales, Newport. He is an editorial board member for Animation, An Interdisciplinary Journal (Sage) and Games and Culture (Sage), and is author of The Videogame Handbook (forthcoming, 2006). Recent work has included an essay on videogame stylistics for the upcoming anthology Animated Worlds edited by Suzanne Buchan (John Libbey, 2005), an essay on understanding caricature for the online journal Entertext, and an essay on invisibility in popular visual culture for the anthology Art, Literature, Consciousness edited by Robert Pepperell and Michael Punt (Rodopi Press, 2006). He is currently writing an essay on the Streetfighter franchise for the anthology Videogame/Player/Text, edited by Tanya Krzywinska and Barry Atkins (MUP, 2006), and convening research into innovation in games design at the Newport School of Art, Media and Design. He is currently playing World of Warcraft.

 
     
   Mattias Ljungström [To the top]
   University of Applied Sciences Potsdam
   [Full programme]
   The use of architectural patterns in MMORPGs
 
The latest of the online games is World of Warcraft. It has been an immense success with more than 1.5 million subscribers world wide. When examining the game, it is evident that its virtual world is exceptionally designed. Intentional or not, many areas in the game are similar to the solutions found in the classical architectural work “A Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander. This paper will explore these patterns and examine how they are applicable to MMORPG world design in general by doing a close study of the design in World of Warcraft.

The patterns described by Alexander are not only spatial construction blocks, but also intended to be used in creating a healthy society that enables social interactions. Therefore, many of these patterns should be useful in virtual worlds as well. Some of the patterns discussed in this study include Activity Nodes, High Places, Community Of 7000, Public Outdoor Room, Promenade, Country Fingers, Local Transport Areas, Neighborhood Boundary, Eccentric Nucleus, Sleeping in Public and Country Towns. As an example, the pattern “Local Transport Areas” tells us that cars kill social interaction. Hence, local transportation should be done with bicycles, scooters or other means that stills enables a close interaction with the surrounding. Looking at World of Warcraft, we find that local transportation is either done by foot or using a mount. As used in the game, transportation is therefore not a means of moving between two places but rather a way to meet other players.

The aim of this paper is to create an improved understanding for the possible uses of architectural patterns in virtual world construction for digital games. It will show how some patterns are directly applicable, while others are useful in concept, and yet other fail to have any purpose.

Mattias Ljungström has a Master of Science in Computer Science from the University of Linköping in Sweden, with a master thesis from Université Paris-Dauphine in Paris. After graduating he worked with web development at Razorfish, and later with mobile game development at BlueFactory in Stockholm. He relocated to Berlin in 2001 and has since worked as a freelancer in the professional game industry with mobile phone games, PlayStation 2 projects, and computer games. Currently, he has a research position in Advanced Media / Game Design at the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam, where he also teaches game design.

 
     
   Jonas Heide Smith [To the top]
   Dept. of Digital Aesethetics and Communication, The IT University of  Copenhagen
  [Full programme]
   The aesthetics of antagonism – patterns of player conflict in game design  history
 
This paper presents an analysis of the ways in which player-player relationships have changed and diversified through game history. By offering a close analysis of four games which displayed noteworthy approaches to the player-player relationship, the paper shows that standard game definitions interestingly fail to describe the many cooperative relationships afforded by computer game rule systems.

The four games analysed are: Pong (1972), which constructed an entirely antagonistic in-game situation, Joust (1982) which let the players cooperate but also made the alliance somewhat unstable, Gauntlet (1985) which made players inter-dependent, and Counter-Strike (2000) which placed players on a team but with some temptation towards “selfish” play (in order to increase individual frag-count). Of these four games, it is curious that only the first seems to be fully covered by game definitions like that of Salen and Zimmerman which stresses that “A game is a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict…” (Salen & Zimmerman, 2004: 80). While not directly inappropriate, such definitions seem to entirely ignore the ways in which players of modern computer games must often cooperate and coordinate their in-game activities in order to succeed.

In order to shed systematic light on this academically under-appreciated game design aspect the paper ends by proposing a typology of player-player relationships in computer games. The study is part of a larger PhD project which aims at a full analytical model of cooperation and conflict in computer games, guided by empirical data on the relationship between game rules and player behaviour.

Jonas Heide Smith is a PhD candidate at the Center for Computer Games Research (IT University of Copenhagen). His work centres on communication and conflict/cooperation between players of multiplayer games. He is co-founder and editor of the resource site www.game-research.com and is presently co-authoring a games text-book to be published by Routledge.

 
   
  ADVENTURES
   Sébastien Babeux [To the top]
   University of Quebec in Montreal
   [Full programme]
   King of the Hill : Investigation and Re-appropriation of Space in the  Video Game
 
Beyond the flexibility of the possible avatar modeling, the appropriation space (a transfer zone by which the player invests himself in his ludic experience and takes over parts of its unwinding) is delimited by all the elements related to the construction of the game – as much technical limitations than the regulation of the intra and extra-diegetic configurations of the proposed ludic universe. Of these elements, the configuration of space is prominent. The navigable space (Manovich) of the video game (the space to which the avatar has access and through which it can wander) is circumscribed and determined. The play-ground is always a closed perimeter, subjugated to the limitations of the software. The movements of the avatar inside that perimeter are obstructed by walls, passable or not (the navigable space presents itself as gruyere), and are generally directed and managed by corridors which, by multiplying the walls, form a circuit, draw a trajectory. This constructed space always remains the trace of an organization (be it of the designer or of the adversary). The organizer’s felt presence in the ludic experience of the gamer restricts the appropriation space and the player then must have recourse to free play (Perron) and tactics (De Certeau) in order to take again possession of its playing space and to be able to play in a creative way (Winnicott). The Hitman and Splinter Cell series, authorities of the stealth-game genre in which spatial edification and investigation are core components of both the designing and the playing stages, will be used as primary examples to illustrate the lecture.

Sébastien Babeux is a PhD student in semiotics at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQŔM). He obtained his Master degree in film studies from the University of Montreal (UdeM) where he has been a research assistant for two different research projects on film reception as a game. Adding to his present research focusing on intertextuality in postmodern cinema, he recently did a onference on the Splinter Cell video game for the Montreal GameCODE Project, based at Concordia University.

 
     
   Morten Breinbjerg [To the top]
   Multimedia Studies, Information and Media Science, University of Aarhus,  Denmark
   [Full programme]
  Sound as Narrative - Staging of Auditory Spaces in 3D Computer Games
 
Adopting an ecological approach to auditory perception my paper analyses how sound conveys meaning of its source (dimensions, materials), its cause (human/non-human) and the environment in which it occurs. This leads me to discuss the importance of sound in the construction of the set and as narrative element in computer games like Half Life 2 (Sierra) and Far Cry (Ubisoft). Also I will show how sound affords actions in computer games. Sound is not just descriptive; it actually informs us about the necessity of taking actions. Sounds alarms us and points out possible solutions to our problem. For instance the sound of a door slamming informs us that there is a way out. The sound we hear when we pick up ammunition informs us that we can make use our weapon etc.

As index sound convey meanings of actions and phenomena which are not present in the visual perspective, of actions taking place behind visual obstacles or behind walls. In short, sound immerses the player into the game as a consequence of our spherical hearing. In this sense sound enhances the space of the computer game and the aesthetics of the play. The way in which sound informs the player of the nature of the space concerns me the most in the paper. Drawing from the theory of soundscape studies I outline different dimensions of space. The first being the “architectural space” that the player detects from the nature of the acoustics, the second being the “relational space” that the player experience by the locations and movements of the sound sources. The third is the “space as place” since the sound as index to its source, cause and environment constitutes the space as a site-specific place. In this third dimension we can say that sound plays an important role in the staging of the “genius loci”.

Associate professor, ph.d. Working with sound design in multimedia and with digital aesthetics. homepage: www.multimedia.au. dk/~mbrein

 
     
   Bernard Perron [To the top]
   University of Montreal
  [Full programme]
   Coming to Play at Frightening Yourself : Welcome to the World of  Horror Games
 
From Haunted House (Atari, 1981) to Alone in the Dark (I-Motion Inc. & Infogrames/Interplay, 1992), and from Phantasmagoria (Sierra, 1995) to Resident Evil 4 (Capcom, 2005), this paper will study how horror video games scare or rather, how it prompts us the frighten ourselves. Inevitably, it will be impossible to ignore the remediation of the cinematic aesthetic and tricks. While those links are important, it is what the interactivity brings to the genre that will be examined. Because a dark alley, a door slightly opened, a freaky noise in the distance or the actual one-to-one confrontation with a monster are not only fictional horror signs, they are above all gameplay cues to act, to gain or lose control. For instance, the flickering lights and thunderclaps of Haunted House or the flashlight device in Silent Hill (Konami, 1990) not only create a spooky atmosphere, it precisely constraints the field of vision of the gamer in order to give him even more a sense of insecurity.

The same thing can be said about the framing in Resident Evil. As the startle effect is as effective in games than in movies, it is trigged by the movement of the gamer in the former. The active coping potentials of the gamer is therefore at the core of the horror or terror experience. Not to mention the forewarning system that I have studied before (COSIGN 2004), it is then relevant to examine devices such as the Panic Meter of Clock Tower 3 (Capcom, 2003) that sees the avatar act increasingly erratically as it rises, to the point where she is not responding to commands anymore, or the Sanity Meter of Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (Silicon Knights/Nintendo, 2002) which, once it falls very low, makes weird things happened to your avatars, game-world, and television set and console.

Bernard Perron is an Associate Professor of Cinema at the University of Montreal. He has co-edited (with Mark J.P. Wolf) the anthology The Video Game Theory Reader (Routledge, 2003). His research and writings concentrate on narration, cognition and the ludic dimension of narrative cinema; and on interactive cinema and video game.

 
     
   Ragnhild Tronstad [To the top]
   University of Oslo
   [Full programme]
   Figuring the Riddles of Adventure Games
 


In adventure games, riddles and puzzles represent the main types of challenges presented to the player. According to Pagis (1996), there are certain conditions that must be fulfilled for a text to qualify as a riddle. For example, it must have one single correct answer, there must be a balancing between concealing and revealing of hints, and the riddle must be soluble: ”not only in terms of its hints but also in the nature of the subject itself. [..] The subject must be general and familiar” (94-95). To draw a difference between a riddle and a puzzle, we could furthermore define a riddle as an enigmatic entity that constitutes a semantic whole in and of itself, whereas a puzzle may represent a part of this whole, or stand alone, as a mere obstruction hindering the player’s progression in the game. The riddle is traditionally a literary figure, and it is frequently to be found in textual adventure games, such as Interactive Fiction and MUDs (Montfort 2003, Tronstad 2004). The focus of this paper, however, will be on how the figure of the riddle may manifest itself in a visual environment, e.g. the popular adventure game The Longest Journey (Funcom 2000).

References:

  • Montfort, Nick (2003): ”Toward a Theory of Interactive Fiction”. December 19. First published 8 January 2002. To appear in Emily Short (ed.) (2004): IF Theory. St. Charles, Illinois: The Interactive Fiction Library.
  • Pagis, Dan (1996): ”Toward a Theory of the Literary Riddle”, in Galit Hasan-Rokem and David Shulman (ed.): Untying the Knot. On Riddles and Other Enigmatic Modes. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 81-109. The Longest Journey. Adventure Game. Funcom, 2000.
  • Tronstad, Ragnhild (2004): Interpretation, Performance, Play, & Seduction: Textual Adventures in Tubmud. Doctoral thesis. Oslo: Unipub.

Ragnhild Tronstad is a lecturer at the Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo. She wrote her doctoral thesis on questing and character performance in the Multi-User Dungeon Tubmud. Current research interests include adventure game rhetorics, as well as performative/interactive practices and objects that challenge our familiar conceptions of presence.

 
   
  POETICS
   Stefan M. Grünvogel and Richard Wages [To the top]
   NOMADS Lab
   [Full programme]
   What Systems can and cannot do for Computer Games
 
From a research point of view there is a strong need for analysis and classification of games based on certain basic design patterns. These patterns have to be defined with the help of a terminology, which uses only well-defined terms from its own realm. In a comprehensive theory obscure collective terms like 'game play' will have to be omitted or redefined. It is then that we have the chance to analyse games properly. We would be enabled to either describe their build-up itself from basic design patterns explicitly in a constructive manner, or; when exploring an existing game; by developing a canon of questions that will deliver the character type of the game under investigation as a result. The term \'system\' is used both for the definition of games as well as for their description and analysis. In this paper we will explore the opportunities the notion 'system' offers, its limitations and what alternatives could be used.

The term 'system' is used in many different ways in games research. However, in most of the cases it is not defined precisely either and it has a different meaning in the various scientific areas. But they all come down to essential elements and concepts of classical system theory in the sense of Bertalanffy or cybernetics in the sense of Norbert Wiener. An approach which uses the terminology of systems is made in diverse scientific disciplines, since it is in some way a universal concept. This facilitates to find analogies between games research and other areas of knowledge. We present examples on how to transfer and apply concepts from various scientific fields (e.g. mathematics, computer science) to games analysis and design and also show the limitation and drawbacks of this approach.

Stefan Grünvogel's work focuses on supporting the collaboration between scientists, artists and developers. He did research in various areas, starting on the control of chaotic systems where he received his doctoral degree, character animation and interaction, mixed realities, non-linear storytelling, formal models in game design and aesthetics of computer games. He worked several years at the Laboratory for Mixed Realities at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. As an invited professor at the Centre National des Arts et Metiers in Paris, he worked on formal models for game design and analysis. Together with other colleagues, Stefan has founded the non-profit organization NOMADS Lab.

Richard Wages: Scientist at the NOMADS. Born in Moenchengladbach, Germany in 1967. Studied mathematics and biology at the University of Tuebingen and UMass at Amherst. Main focus: Group theory, category theory, chaos theory, cybernetics and bioethics. Graduation degree in 1999. Engineer in the mainframe computer testing division at HP Germany in 2000. Since 2001 research and development in the alVRed project (nonlinear dramaturgy for VR environments) at the Laboratory for Mixed Realities at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne, project leader since 2002. Research Topics: Creative tools, mixed realities, aesthetic and interdisciplinary considerations on computer games, non-linear storytelling, hierarchies/heterarchies and emergent system behavior, theoretical biology, anticipatory systems.

 
     
   David Myers [To the top]
   Loyola University, New Orleans
  [Full programme]
   The aesthetics of the anti-aesthetics
 
This essay examines the relevance of early formalist theories of literature to current theories of digital media aesthetics and forms. To this end, the essay extends the ideas and implications of the arguments in Myers (2004) and Grodal (2003).

A primary goal of early Russian formalism (see Erlich, 1981) was to define “literariness.” Formalists defined literariness on the basis of its reference to and derivation from natural language; according to early formalist theory, natural language habitualized the senses. Literature and poetic language then revalued the conventions of natural language, resulting in the defamiliarization of natural language. This process recalled a more natural, less mediated, pre-linguistic aesthetics -- or, in the words of Russian formalist critic Sjklovsky, poetic language and literature served "to recover the sense of life, in order to feel objects, to make the stone stoney" (Art as technique/design, 1917).

Can we understand digital media in a similar theoretical framework?

This essay examines digital games and play as exemplary of digital media aesthetic forms and as occupying the same position relative to a natural semiosis that, for the formalists, literature occupies relative to a natural language. Just as literariness is derivative of and functions in opposition to the habituation of a natural and common language, the interactiveness of digital media can be understood as derivative of and functioning in opposition to the representations of a natural and common semiosis.

Such a position offers a human visceral aesthetic in which the function of a reader's willing suspension of disbelief is analogous to the gamer's active reinforcement of false experience. This reinforcement process involves the activation of semiotic mechanisms that are common, universal, and relatively intractable.

  • Erlich, V. (1981). Russian formalism, 3rd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Grodal, T. (2003). Stories for eye, ear, and muscles: Video games, media, and embodied experiences. In M. Wolff and B. Perron (Eds.), The video game theory reader. (pp. 129-156). New York: Routledge.
  • Myers, D. (2004). The anti-poetic: Interactivity, immersion, and other semiotic functions of digital play. In A. Clarke (Ed.), COSIGN 2004 Conference Proceedings. Split, Croatia: Art Academy, University of Split.

 
     

  UPDATES
13 OCTOBER, 2005
Online registration has now closed. Registration on site, NOK 300 per day.
12 OCTOBER, 2005
Conference venue address: Ulrike Pihils hus, Prof. Keysersgate 1. Look for a pale blue and pink house. Please phone Eli on 0047 99 44 14 14 if you have any problems finding us. See map (430 k), opens in new window.
30 SEPTEMBER, 2005
Programme, travel section and front page have been updated.
6 SEPTEMBER, 2005
Web site has been updated with Submission Guidelines for presenters
18 AUGUST, 2005
Programme has been updated
9 JUNE, 2005
Abstracts and preliminary programme have been added to the web site.
21 MAY, 2005
The accommodation page has been updated with special conference offers and information about budget accommodation.
19 APRIL, 2005
The deadline for CfP has now been reached.
16 APRIL, 2005
Confirmed keynote speakers:
Games: The Art of Simulation
Espen Aarseth
IT University of Copenhagen

What Am I Doing in Vietnam?
Jon Dovey
University of Bristol

28 MARCH , 2005
Registration is now open.
22 MARCH, 2005
The opening of the registration has been postponed from 21 March to 28 March
25 FEBRUARY, 2005
Call for papers has been published. Submit abstract
18 FEBRUARY, 2005
The conference web site has been launched.

 
To Bergen Kunsthall web site (Norwegian)