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Archive for the ‘Conference’ Category

The online booking system for the WIG2010 conference is now open at http://www.womeningames.com

You can pay by credit or debit card, or download and print our offline booking form for cheque payments.

Full conference passes are £200 (or £125 NUS/unwaged), or £125 for a single day pass. The conference dinner is an optional extra at £35 (venue TBA).

Hope to see you there!

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The University of Bradford in collaboration with Bradford College are hosting Women In Games 2010 on March 25th and 26th. Women In Games is in its 7th year and Bradford brings a strong technological and cultural background to this internationally recognised event, designed to highlight and discuss the issues of women working in game development, women as subjects of games, and women gamers.

The conference is a meeting of the academy and the industry and this year will focus on the theme of Diversity; diversity in markets, in demographics, in development methodologies and platforms, as well as cultural and ethnical diversity surrounding games. This year we are proud to announce keynote speakers Lorna Evans from TIGA and Professor Valerie Walkerdine, author of ‘Children, Gender, Video Games’.

WIG2010 has extended the deadline for calls for papers to February 12th, and is looking for speakers and sponsorship partners. If interested please check out http://www.womeningames.com or contact the conference chairs at enquiries@womeningames.com for more information.

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This reading of ‘Diner Dash’ involved it being understood as a ‘mother’ of the genre of time-management games, a genre of which many games are stereotypically associated with women. The game was described as repetitive. Braxton stated that narrative/visual elements are often ignored in studies in favour of rule-based and ethnographic studies, and argued that ‘Diner Dash’ is based upon these narrative/visual elements, which situate it.

The difference between hardcore and casual games, we were told, was based on the learning curve, the level of abstraction, and complexity of the interface.  This brought Braxton to the idea of the threat of feminisation, whereby based on masculine anxiety it being contained at a visual level meant a divide between masculine high culture and low culture, between active and passive.  Braxton saw this as a re-emergence of a gendered divide between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, making it almost kitsch. Thus, the objective of this talk was to show the complexity in ‘Diner Dash’ so that previous methodology might be applied.

Braxton began by stating that the gameplay experience of this game was very similar to women’s experience temporally. This was based on an assumption that women and men are afforded the same quantity of leisure time, but women’s is more fragmented. Therefore, playing ‘Diner Dash’ fits in well with this. Also Flo’s initial experience of attempting to flee the ‘masculine’ world of suits, in which she is both empowered (starting her own business) and regressive (return to a stereotypically feminine space: being a waitress). Braxton also stated that the gameplay remains about taking orders, which hardly differs from the job she left. However, it was stated that this is a displacement of difference in favour of reinscribing familiarity.

Braxton brought up the fact that Flo is yawning when she is not doing anything, which might be connected with indifference or overwork equally. This is taken further when she is transformed into a goddess with four arms towards the end of the game: her eyes being closed are representative of her being able to do this job in that state. Yet, the idea of her having four arms means that more work can be extracted. Braxton asked us to think about whether these final ten levels were a dream sequence or not, for Flo has her eyes closed as though sleeping, and regular items are transformed into fantastical ones (chairs as hands, for example).

Finally, the ending was stated to reflect the external world of the player. The goddess must get back to her own restaurant is considered almost a wake-up call for the casual player to return to reality. Braxton said that is was tempting to read the entire sequence as a repetition-compulsion, or as a wish for more (uninterrupted) time. Time itself becomes interrupted when even the word ‘destiny’ can not be stated without being cut off.

Braxton’s final point was the idea of Flo’s character as being in a dream-within-a-dream scenario, whereby one is dreaming the real.

Questions asked regarded change of experience within the game and narrative expectations.

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Hanna’s talk was on women constructing identities. She stated that her work here was based on McRobbie and Garber (1976) and was an approach to the skinning community in The Sims particularly with reference to bedroom culture. She stated that this approach was because of the gendered space of the bedroom, and its alignment as a safe and appropriate space.

Hanna conducted interviews with various individuals involved in this scene of modification. She stated that they wanted to mention that they did not play for long periods of time and that play made them feel guilty because they did not feel like they had done anything (she referenced later the idea of women not feeling as though they have the right to leisure time). One individual, we were informed, stated that it was bad enough to be a geek, let alone a female one. Creativity in this scenario, Hanna stated, was a form of resistance.

This resistance here is considered active. Hanna said that these players are resisting by being female players, by beingThe Sims players (which they considered different from other types of game), and by being atypical players (by building and emphasising content). Making skins, therefore, is also a resistance.

Making skins was stated to be because people do not necessarily like the original skins. EA’s perceived understanding of this allows players to create new skins. Skins here, Hanna stated, are a desire to improve play and to help others. This moves us from resistance.

The anonymity is important, too. Hanna pointed out that because it is so anonymous individuals do not enjoy any form of identity boost from the process. Therefore the resistance becomes guilty and silent. Hanna stated that these skinners do not necessarily talk about such things with their friends, only with other skinners. These achievements, however, can be separated from default achievements in games, although these individuals were stated to not necessarily be bothered to do such things if the tools were not available in the first place.

Finally, Hanna pointed out that the virtually male-exclusive The Sims skinning is isolated from other modding groups, and that there is no communication between the two. Hanna suggested that this is partially due to insecurities in their own experience, and therefore an inability to share this with anyone outside of that community.

Questions included whether or not Hanna had shared this analysis with respondents yet, if there is visible resistance required with regards to subcultures, and the lack of awareness amongst these communities of other modders or places to put their mods.

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Jessica’s talk was on gaming mothers, a three-year project on how they juggle time, play and family. The research is based on an awareness that there is currently no other research on gaming mothers. There is, however, Jessica stated, some research on older gamers.

The research itself is based upon what people do in everyday life (and the outcomes of this) and how new communication patterns may be formed through the combination of play and everyday life. The research involves discourse analysis, participant observation, emails, interviews, qualitative face-to-face, and game lab setups. Something that they found from this was that gaming life was very much considered to be interconnected with everyday life.

Jessica showed us a Mountain Dew commercial in which two women are at a supermarket, notice that each is buying the opposing coloured Mountain Dew and break out into World of Warcraft characters. This was shown as an example of play mixing in with/becoming part of the everyday.

The idea of the mother, Jessica explained, was a fixed role. The mother was expected to be policing or supportive, and certainly outside of gaming discourse. Jessica stated that she found that gaming mothers mostly played alone, to have time to themselves, even when playing online games such as WoW. Jessica asked what productivity meant with relation to gaming mothers and suggested that productivity lies away from established norms.

Gaming mothers tended to give sensible reasons for playing when asked, such as to relax or to spend time with the children. Also worth a mention here is the weightloss club “Wii Mommies” in which the Wii Fit system was used to lose weight, with consistent reports of weight loss.

The way gaming mothers talk about play, Jessica stated, is interesting because it’s as though they make excuses for play. An Example cited included it not being fair on others if they stop playing. Jessica said that excuses are made for playing in the first place and also for continuing play. She also asked why it is that they speak this way, and why it is hard to accept or admit that they actually like playing rather than playing games to be good for them or for pragmatic purposes.

Questions included how many of these mothers brought the consoles into the household, how this play affected the family, why you would choose to play alone, and the decrease of play with age.

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Alison’s talk involved women’s access to gaming and the implications of this. She asked us to think about how games are situated gender-wise and the focus on masculinity in games. She stated that it was a very heteronormative and hypermasculine practice, and that females were trespassers on the ground of the male player.

An “historical construction of maleness” is central to video games, Alison stated. Women in this situation are considered unlikely to be audiences and are therefore marginalised. There is, Alison said, a tendency to make anything in gaming that does not follow hetereonormative convention inferior, and that action and adventure should be left to the male audience.

Alison argued that games are played based on access to them and that girls might not specifically choose to play games because they simply were not offered the choice to do so. Because of the perceived increase in access, men claim expertise over games, Alison stated, which undermines the female connection to them. She considered that girls who did not have access to games might think that they were for boys and therefore not play them. This affects future perceptions of such matters.

After speaking about the Wii and its lack of an ideal market, Alison also addressed the divide between the hardcore and casual gamers and stated that although many people do both, there is a perceived gender divide in place. Female play in this way is scorned. Games which are quick to pick up and play are ideal for people in a situation where they might not be able to spend time on working towards mastery or finding a save point.

Alison pointed out that there is a shrinking gap between male and female players, but female players are nonetheless framed as sexualised, in part due to structures embedded within the games themselves.

Alison stated that a possible future research direction might be to look at trends in handheld devices and the access and practices associated with such play.

Questions included those regarding the hierarchies in place, the discourse of the industry, types of masculinities and femininities that come into play,the manipulation of the female player (the PC as masculine and consoles as feminine, for example) and therefore the language of games/marginalisation.

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The goals of this presentation were to consider the young female voice through an ethnographic perspective. The long-term implication of this was stated to be to create a fuller image of what is going on, and to consider girls’ gameplay and preferences as contrasted with those of boys. Pink games were initially referenced, and questions were considered about who these games are actually aimed at and who in the industry makes these kinds of decision. Based on conversations with individuals with the industry, Kelly and Shanly became interested in these questions. Female gamers, they stated, increased by five percent between 2008 and 2009, but the way things were perceived in the industry was often very different to literature on the subject.

Kelly and Shanly spoke about what they had done so far. They followed three groups of girls aged between twelve and sixteen. These girls already played games and had access to them. The aim of this aspect of the research was to see the differences in play between individual and social play. The second phase of this research would be to see how these preferences evolved, and the third was to establish long-term patterns in their gameplay. These groups were chosen based on pre-existing social groups and centred around Guitar Hero.

Kelly and Shanly reported four core findings from this observation.

1. Collective play. Girls played differently to the previous research that had been conducted on boys. Girls tended towards play styles that involved everyone, even when the games were not designed to be played in that way. Sometimes, the girls would make and follow their own rules in these games.

2. Playing outside the limits of the game. This involved mimicry of avatars, dressing up, taking photos, and adding their own moves.

3. “Context shapes play”. Based upon Diane Carr’s work. This was stated to be more complex than they had realised. Girls were described as being in their own (everyday) spaces, and switching over between different games and preferences occurred extremely quickly. Sometimes they would also play games with boys, for example, but this would be a phase.

4. “The Grey Zone”. These are gender-inclusive titles. Kelly and Shanly described that it seemed that girls would make this type of game out of a game, even if said game did not allow for this.

One final point of note was that Kelly and Shanly considered that moving games further into this ‘grey’ area could be beneficial, and that they were not specifically looking at games for girls but to actively find out what it is that girls like about games.

Personally, I was quite interested in how their presence affected the performative aspects of the girls. Questions included the danger of generalising on such matters, neutrality of games testing, the idea of games being specifically marketed towards the male audience, and play contexts.

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