Technoculture, Art and Games – Biennale de Montréal Event(s)

TAG will be a part of this year’s Biennale Montréal – Culture Libre/Open Culture . Check out the events below!

By Lynn Hughes et Bart Simon.
Between May 1st and 17th, the public is invited to look in on, or join in with, the TAG group’s activities. The Technoculture Art and Games group is made of people from all kinds of disciplines involving digital games that are used as a way to think, talk and create together. Come and see research and creation in action, ask questions, attend stimulating presentations and demonstrations about games and digital culture — or just come to play unusual games.

Coordinated by Lynn Hughes and Bart Simon, with the collaboration of Concordia University.

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Game Studies – New Issue

A new issue of Game Studies – Special Issue – EQ 10 Years Later has just come out. This issue is dear to my heart not only because of the fact that we (Bart Simon & Mark Silverman) have an article in the issue, but also because it is the game that brought me to game studies. The game that has been an impossible benchmark for any other mmo’ since I stopped playing (regularly) in 2004, and that with the mere mention of its name, brings back a flood of memories and ridiculously long stories.

Thinking After Dark: Day Two

After a hectic morning of family stuff, I managed to make my way to one of the sessions today – one a bit closer to my own research – on the “Corporeal Foundations of Horror” – my re-titling would be “Avatar, Bodies and Gameplay”.  Both presentations in this session were very interesting. The first one, by Brendan Main (The Imperfect Avatar: Experiences of immersion in horror video games) got pretty theoretical while talking about the differences between traditional perspectives on avatars in videogames, and avatars in horror games. Using theories of synchronization, concepts of the virtual and the actual; he focused on the different ways immersion occurs in horror games, his talk contrasted the ‘perfect avatar’ which “provides a continguous experience through familiarity, synchronicity, and responsivity” with his notion of the ‘imperfect avatar’, which in certain horror games rejects those elements “in favor of alienation, asynchronicity and irresponsive control”. While I usually try to give a run down of panel talks from my own point of view, I had to quote the abstract in the program to make sure I got it straight. I will be very interested in reading the full article when it comes out in a special issue of Loading… Journal of Canadian Game Studies.

Finally, Bernard Perron (Le Survival Horror: Prolongement du genre corporeal) spoke of his work on the relationship between the actions on the screen and the body’s (re)actions, reuniting the ‘head to the body’ – something that cinema – to some extent – failed to do. This talk was in french – but was quite interesting. Bernard always has great game clips, which always brings full animation to his talks.

At this point we had to break for lunch – for some, that meant leaving the conference venue (always a dangerous thing – spreading out the attendees!) and of course, while I was out – everyday life crashed in, and I had to go home to get ready for an evening of moderating at EA (my part time job outside of my PhD).

Hopefully, I will be able to wake up and get myself together in time to make it to the final day of the conference – I really want to see the keynote speaker – Simon Niedenthal (at 9:30am) – afterwards, I have to empty my office and get a coat of paint or two on the walls before dragging the mounds of books, files and games back in so that I can be back to work by Monday.

To anyone in town for the conference – enjoy the great spring weather we are having  and hope you get to take advantage of the great terraces Montreal is known for.

Thinking After Dark: Day One

Panel 1: The Horror Video Game: historical, narrative, and generic aspects

The sessions I made it to yesterday was very interesting, as one of my colleagues, Dominic Arsenault (Introduction à la pragmatique des effets génériques: l’horreur dans tous ses états) presented on the evolution of genres; talking about and demonstrating both our need/desire to categorize video games, and the processes through which these categories evolve over time. Using the example of Doom as the quintessential first person shooter that started the “its like Doom” qualifications of other games that were released after it, in order to show the historical break when games stopped being compared to the one game, and started being discussed as a genre in general.

In the spirit of a bilingual conference, the next speaker – Carl Therrien (Jeux de peur. Un survol historique de l’horreur vidéoludique), another colleague of mine, presented his work on genres in french. An interesting talk that seemed to flow quite well from Dominic’s work. Carl outlined the definitional boundaries of the horror genre, and how, through these conventions, construct a history of the genre, as well as how these conventions are carried over (or not) into video gameplay – and the methodological issues that ensue such as the broadening of the scope that can be considered horror games based on particular traditional conventions. At least this is some of what I understood. Feel free to comment if anyone has a better details on the presentation =)

Finally, the session wrapped up with Ewan Kirkland‘s talk called Storytelling in Survival Horror Video Games. Keeping with the theme of genres, Ewan elaborated on ” … survival horror’s relationship with the narrative and narration” , how the genre relies on certain conventions and how this translates over to survival horror games. I found the talk very interesting, even if I felt a bit out my element with some of the background information.

Panel 2: Figures and Adaptations of Horror

The second session I attend was equally interesting. The first speaker – Clara Fernandez-Vara (Dracula Defanged: Empowering the Player in the Castlevania Series) began her talk by stating that the Castlevania is not a horror game, even though on first glance, it’s imagery and themes may suggest otherwise. Clara talked about the symbolic conventions that would seemingly connect the game to a horror genre – particularly the Dracula series; however, upon further inspection, what appear to be traditional symbols have been re-appropriated for a different cultural audience. Of course, there was much more to her talk, but as always, I get too wrapped up in listening and being game studies, there are always great images to look at at the same time! As always, feel free to add more in the

Finally, the last talk of the day was given by Alexis Blanchet (L’adaptation de films d’horreur en jeu vidéo: réflexions autour d’une absence) who had a more quantitative approach to looking at the history of videogame adaptations of film over approximately the last 30 years (I believe the earliest movies were from 1975 in his analysis). He looked at over 400 films, and evaluated them by the elements traditionally thought of as horror. By doing this, he demonstrated the breadth of what constitutes a horror film (beyond the pre-labeled categories) and then discussed those titles that have been adapted into video games, which essentially were more scarce than one would have thought.

After these two panels, there was a short book launch for Bernard Perron’s upcoming edited collection Gaming After Dark. Welcome to the World of Horror Video Games, McFarland, Jefferson (N.C). due out in Spring 2009. Afterwards, there was wine and videogame play for everyone. Unfortunately, due to living in the same city as the conference I mentioned in my previous post – I had to duck out early for family stuff. But surely the rest of the evening was as great as my afternoon.

Conference In the City: Thinking After Dark

I always love conferences.  A place where you can go and be fully immersed for two or three days (sometimes longer) in a limited subject with the same group of people. Most of my conference experience has been outside my home city – Montreal, and come to think about it, I think I prefer it that way. Not for the content side of a conference, but mainly the best bits – the in-between sessions conversations, the day’s end 5 à 7; the organized or impromptu  social evenings that sometimes turn into late nights of conversations that blend deep theoretical (or conference contextual) content with the ‘getting to know someone’ fun.

Besides the conference on research methods that Shanly and I put together a few years ago (the site is no longer there), I have only ever really attended two here in Montreal. The trouble with conferences in your home town, is that after the day is done, you go home. For some of us, that means cooking dinner for our children (seems no matter how old they are, they still want dinner made) and following your usual daily routine, perhaps getting work done that you feel guilty about putting aside the way you would if you left town for a conference. Each time I step away from a panel for breaks or lunch time (sometimes lunch is not available on the conference site, so you become at the whim of a slow waitress in a busy restaurant), if I am running late, I find myself wondering if I shouldn’t go and do some work – no matter how much I was enjoying myself while at the conference itself.

Currently, the conference on horror and video games “Thinking After Dark” is going on in Montreal. The last day is Saturday and I cross my fingers that I will make it early enough to attend the keynote. When I am away, in a hotel bed, it is easier to get up at 8am and trek to the conference site – usually only a few steps or blocks away. At home, I am at the mercy of the comfort of my own bed, and the bus ride to wherever the venue is.

/Rant On

RE: Online streams of TV shows blocked

I understand (some) of the underlying reasons about why American channels cannot (or will not) stream previously aired tv shows to Canadian IP addresses – but sheesh – we pay for American channels on our cable (since there is actually VERY LITTLE choice otherwise), so – in my logic – we contribute to their success – why not allow your shows to be viewed online by Canadians … I mean, even if I had to enter a cable code to prove that I at least subscribe to their channel to have access…

/rant off

Professional Identity

I have been working on the same stream of research on identity and video games over the last five years. My argument has been relatively consistent over the years, with a few flaws here and there as to be expected. Regardless, my goal has always been the same – to decentralize the concept of identity as a “result” or thing that belongs to the individual player and move towards thinking about identity as a process that occurs throughout game play instead. There is a lot more to it – of course – and you can read all about it when my dissertation is finished 😉

That being said, I have had a few side-streams of research over the years as well, mostly concerned with how people (young people, and often girls) integrate technology into their every day lives and discussing the pros and cons of the increasing use of web spaces (forums, blogs, university hosted sites etc) for university classes. Over the last year, while I have been thinking about the details of my dissertation, I have been working  on these side projects (publication/conferences etc).

What has been worrying me is that it has been a year and a half since I presented at a conference, and it was not on my “primary” research. I have been becoming increasingly worried about my “professional” identity as a scholar of X or Y topic. Is this line of worry even necessary? Is it better to be known as a scholar of X topic or a scholar that researches a broader scope of issues that surround a particular topic or technology? I have many interests, and enjoy working on several things at once with different people, but my question is – does it damage my “professional” identity – do I even have one yet?! Perhaps it is a silly thing to worry about – but as I sit here working on conference papers and abstracts, I wonder how far from my ‘primary’ research is too far – or is that even a question to be asking myself/worried about?