Archive for the ‘Guest Bloggers’ Category

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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Nicholas’ talk involved us looking at men and women in professional play and how they structured themselves on the occasions when they were present, with particular reference to a team of players of Halo 3 in North America who called themselves ‘NerdCorps’. Nicholas described their successes at attending various gaming tournaments across the world, including the World Cyber Games in Germany, which involved more than eight hundred players from various countries, involving fourteen games. This, Nicholas described, was a feeling of ‘making it big’, and a realisation of the sheer globalisation of Halo 3 games. The dreams of professional gaming opportunities, it seems, are rather closer than we might think, to the point that Nicholas described how professional gamer Tom ‘T-Squared’ Taylor has been featured on bottles of Dr. Pepper. It is not just Halo that these major tournaments exist for, either, for Nicholas described a Guitar Hero tournament also being in existence. Gaming, it seems, might be big business.

Whilst Nicholas stated that he was not initially looking at the opportunities for women in the scene, it was noted how limited these opportunities were when he was involved in attending these global tournaments. Furthermore, women who attended such events were often sexualised, branded as ‘Halo hoes’, who would ‘pick up’ men at events. Similarly, ‘Booth Babes’ and such like are there to interact with the players and push the product they are advertising. Nicholas questioned why these women were at such events and put it down to them assuring the safety of a homosocial, heteronormative space in modelling a stereotypically masculine product. Nicholas described how the majority of women who were present at these events were involved in the service industry, not in participating in the events, thus providing a monopoly over the prizes by men. Nicholas also described how only four or five mothers were usually seen at these events, even those involving younger players.

There was, however, one female player that Nicholas saw regularly: a player who called herself Fatal Fantasy. She was described as the only female regular NerdCorps member, and one who was highly involved and skilled, particularly with ‘strategy calling’. Nicholas said she “Represented herself as both a desirable & unattainable heterosexual female, and as a highly-competent player” [taken from slide]. Fatal Fantasy was described as having a good grasp of the codified language required to succeed in playing the game, and also over ‘trash talking’ both her own and opponents’ teams. She was also very vocal about training the team she was on if they made an error.

Nicholas described Fatal Fantasy’s attitude towards her gaming as different from the male gamers. For example, she mentioned to him that she was allowed to play if she got good grades at school: something that none of the male players had ever told him with regards to their own limitations of play. Furthermore, Nicholas noted that Fatal Fantasy dressed in specific ways, informed him that she was there simply to game, and set herself as different from other girls who attended events, specifying that she was not gay or there to ‘pick up’ men.

Nicholas specified that he was describing what was occurring albeit on a far smaller scale, that the eSports industry is very male dominated and that women are marginalised at these events.

Nicholas was asked questions regarding how the players reacted to his presence as cameraman, the difficulty of understanding what is occurring on the screen when at an event unless one already has a good knowledge of the game, and the performative aspect female players must adhere to.

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Ben’s talk was explained as looking at the representations of LGBT within the gaming world. His intention was to look at the theory and raise some of the issues of this representation.

Ben had been studying a site known as Gaydar, a large dating site designed to assist men in finding other men, which he described as making money from gay men a niche market. In this, he described, there are certain tensions in classification and representation. At this point we were shown a chart of how many gay men used hair straighteners in comparison to the number of straight men who did the same. This kind of study is designed to reinforce stereotypes and representations of people.

Ben moved on to how LGBT individuals are represented in games. http://www.GayGamer.net has a list titled ‘Top 20 Gayest Video Game Characters’. This interested Ben because it showed how people connected with games beyond the intention of the designer and also beyond play. He referenced Jenson and de Castell (2008) and the requirement for a rethink of gender assumptions with relation to games. He then moved on to list some of the games and characters that LGBT people identify with and some games that have included LGBT content.

SingStar Anthems was labelled ‘queer edition’ due to the perceived identification of the LGBT community with certain tracks. Ben also described the box art, whereby it seems that one of the men is looking at the other, and the same with the women. Ben stated his surprise when he realised just how much LGBT content there was to find. This included a playable ‘camp’ character by the name of Ash from Streets of Rage 3 who was removed from play in the US version of the game, and the developing relationship between two female characters in Fear Effect 2 which was later said to be revealed to be included for teenage boys who wanted to see such things. Ben questioned why such content would be included in games and answered himself with a statement about “commodification of difference”. Further examples cited included Bully: Scholarship Edition, in which one can kiss girls and boys and even gain points for homosexual encounters. The Temple of Elemental Evil, Fable, and Fallout included the serious possibility of gay marriage. Ben stated that developers claim to aim for a more rounded experience in games with such content.

Cho Aniki is a game involving a sexual relationship between two men. Ben described said title as being filled with hypermasculinity and highly sexualised content (such as using sperm as a weapon). He also stated that some individuals considered the characters of Dance Summit 2001 as drag queens, which brought him to what I considered as perhaps his most central point of the talk. Ben pointed out that it doesn’t actually matter with these characters whether they are LGBT or not, it’s the case that if someone has thought that way about them then it is important. This brought with it further examples, including the infamous Tingle character from the Zelda series (incidentally, this character made #1 on the GayGamer.net aforementioned top twenty). This character is important, states Ben, because of the on- and offline commentary regarding the character and how that interacts with itself. These are, Ben says, contested characters.

As a final two examples of content in games, Ben cited games in which one must run away from gay characters or, more alarmingly, kill them. The final example mentioned was what is apparently considered to be a bug, in which one could partner and even have children with someone of the same sex.

To conclude, Ben stated that there is much content in games intended to make humourous statements, or to be homophobic and hetero-normative. However, there is also an inter-textual element in which characters are hidden, and the idea of guessing on contested subjects. Ben will be working ethnographically in future with the game SingStar and the LGBT networks forming within that community. He wanted to observe the ‘gaymers’ versus ‘gamers’ divide and the idea that individuals play games because they want to play them, not simply because they are LGBT. Finally, Ben urged us to look at pre-determinism and stated that perhaps women only play certain games because that is what they are comfortable doing, and not because of their sex.

Ben received a number of questions and spoke about the situation of inclusion of content and whether it can become more political, the interest (or lack thereof) of content being directed towards LGBT gamers, and the discourse of men playing the SingStar games.

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By popular demand, here is a PDF version of the keynote PowerPoint presentation from the WIG strand of DiGRA 2009.

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Gamesification Panel

Out of the last talks of the Thursday I was really tied with what to go to, in the end I went with Gamesification panel, which ended up being made up of Maurice Suckling – The Mustard Company, Charles Cecil – Revolution Software, Antonia Saraiva – , Jorg Tittel –  The main emphasis of the panel was ‘product, people, platform, process – making a good game’

It was interesting hearing their problems they’ve had while in development of games Jorg had worked on Minority Report, and his team hadn’t seen the film, and didn’t until a month before the game’s release, which is why the game was a bit of a failure he feels. If they had researched into the film, and found relevant experiences that the film had to offer, which could have made Minority Report very similar to Mirror’s Edge perhaps.

Charles faced many problems when consulting on the Da Vinci Code game, firstly from being told by the producers and directors of the film that they did not want a game. After giving his ideas on it they came to a compromise, but when working with The Collective on it, they apparently only wanted to make a fighting game, which is pretty much what they did.

A point that Charles brought up on game to film adaptations was that people don’t understand the process that is required when taking a game and turning it into a film. As he feels most directors rush things, and don’t realise that they’re taking a character who usually is controlled by a player, from taking this character and placing them in a film it doesn’t create the correct atmosphere, and doesn’t usually become addressed.

The best way to make a film into a game is by looking over the film and finding relevant experiences that will make an interesting game

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I was so happy for Matsuura-san to come to Develop, coming all the way from Japan it was an honour to have him attend, especially the year that I happened to be attending Develop. His talk had an introduction for while people were entering the room, which was a video of himself playing some music.

Masaya Matsuura

One of the first points brought up is that he feels it’s his personal mission to keep making games for the music genre. He feels that games should use music as a way of conveying information just like films do.

The music needs to be integrated into the gameplay, a game that does this well is Mario, with the speed up of music when the time is running low, mixed with the diegetic feel the music has when playing the game.

His main goal lies within implementing rhythm into the games he creates, I can say I honestly can see where he is going as his games such as Mojib Ribbon and Rhyme Rider Kerorican show this use of rhythm amazingly.

One thing he wanted to integrate into his games as well is the feeling of call and response, so that during play the player would get some feedback from the game while inputting. So for example the music would change depending on good or bad circumstances.
He has always enjoyed creating games that can generate game data from music and lyrics, this was of course addressed in Vib Ribbon.
While then also informing us of what he’d love to see in some new music games being:

  • A game where you can perform with actual musicians
  • A game that gives the player an opportunity to play as a musician in the London Symphony Orchestra
  • A game that uses anything and everything as a musical instrument, so everything you pick up or touch creates a musical sound


Matsuura’s talk was very entertaining as he showed us 3 videos during his talk, all being very cute and entertaining, one including a talking Vibri.

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