May 21, 2003
They called me mad on USENET … I’ll show them!
Here at DAC I’ve seen many great presentations and had several discussions that were provocative. I won’t try to repeat what’s been blogged about this already on the conference site; I do hope to post more on the conference later. Among many digital artist and researcher friends here, several are part of the new Center for Computer Games Research at the IT University of Copenhagen. (Of these folks at the Center, Espen, Lisbeth, and Susana are here at DAC.) I haven’t actually talked to Espen much about this, however; he and Noah and I instead have been spending time (and lots of money) trying to defeat House of the Dead 3.
Anyway, I’m quite enthusiastic about the Center and what it can accomplish. But I wonder what concerns or questions some of the game developers and researchers reading this might have? Are game-makers wary of Dr. Aarseth’s transgressive experiments? Is there (still?) the feeling that the analytical, theoretical, academic perspective on computer gaming is a maniacal attempt to kill everything and resurrect everything? Or is there something interesting that could come from this sort of study and discussion?
May 23rd, 2003 at 12:15 pm
For anyone unfamiliar with Espen Aarseth, in 1997 he came out with a must-read book called Cybertext that delves into the aesthetics and experience of playing / reading digital literature, including hypertext fiction, interactive fiction, games, MUDs and interactive drama.
Nick Montfort reviewed the book with an essay called “Cybertext Killed the Hypertext Star”, which suggests that thanks to Cybertext, a much wider range of digital literature (ie, more than just hypertext) can no longer be ignored or considered unworthy of critical attention. This further motivated a response from Katherine Hayles.
May 23rd, 2003 at 7:58 pm
Just as an update on the conference, we beat HOTD3 with an appreciative audience – including the local champions – looking on. Shout out to Mary Flanagan who also rotated in this time to help us get all the way through Chapter 5: The Wheel of Fate. (Oh, and Espen also gave a good talk about the need to play video games in order to study them.)
May 24th, 2003 at 9:15 pm
By the way, what’s Espen’s take, or anybody else’s, on the term “video game”, as opposed to “computer game”? I know some find “video game” an outdated, inaccurate term.
Generally I tend to prefer “computer game”, even for console games or arcade games, because, of course, all those forms use computers. I noticed the Computer Game Developers Conference recently changed their name to Game Developers Conference, even though they focus exclusively on digital (computer) games, versus, say, board games or card games or live action role playing games.
May 26th, 2003 at 11:10 pm
My take on “video games” is that it is indeed a historical term, with little analytical value. So, I think, is “computer games”, and even “digital games”. My personal choice is “games in virtual environments”, which would include paper and board games such as D&D and Monopoly, but not things like blackjack.com
May 28th, 2003 at 9:57 am
I’m afraid I don’t see why the term “games in virtual environments” excludes things like blackjack.com, where you are playing a card game in what is indeed a virtual environment. Is your claim that “virtual environment” must refer solely to the world of the game itself, rather than including where the game is played, and that the game world must have a certain level of complexity? That is, that card games like blackjack and Fluxx are not virtual environments, but Monopoly is?
I’m also unsure that the terms “video/computer/digital games” have so little analytical value that they can be replaced by a more inclusive term that also encompasses board games and pen-and-paper role-playing games. The medium is still an important part of how such games are presented.
June 4th, 2003 at 10:06 am
I held off in case Espen was going to answer, but since he hasn’t, I’ll offer some thoughts from my perspective …
Is your claim that “virtual environment” must refer solely to the world of the game itself?
If it didn’t refer to the world of the game, rather than the context of playing, it wouldn’t distinguish anything. All games are “virtual environments” in which one or more players play.
The medium is still an important part of how such games are presented.
Yes, but the vido/computer/digital medium isn’t something special to games and it isn’t clear that it plays as important a role in games as something like “virtual environment” does. Basically, if we want to study how the computer medium works there’s not much reason to restrict ourselves to looking at the special situation of games. Of course, there are virtual environments that aren’t games, and I happen to think that a form like IF is best seen as one in which the virtual environment, rather than the game, is essential. So Espen and I may have overlapping but not identical interests; at least, we seem to have chose a different focus or grounding for what we find interesting, at this point. But as to the question of medium vs. form, Espen generally (since Cybertext and even before then) hasn’t been concerned with the qualities of the digital medium but with the forms that the comptuer seems to particularly enable and intensify.
That said, the boundary between what is a game in a virtual environment and what isn’t such a game seems rather hard to draw. If Monopoly is this sort of game, what about other games in which adjacency is important, such as chess with its 2d space? Backgammon? Hopscotch? Games that involve seemingly spatial concepts like a “full house”? This is at least somewhat related to a question I’ve tried to deal with (or perhaps just tried to dodge) in interactive fiction: at what point is some aspect of the IF world simulated and at what point is it only narrated?
June 8th, 2003 at 11:54 am
Is your claim that “virtual environment” must refer solely to the world of the game itself, rather than including where the game is played, and that the game world must have a certain level of complexity? That is, that card games like blackjack and Fluxx are not virtual environments, but Monopoly is?
Yes. And I would also make a distinction between virtual and online. There is nothing virtual about the online, per se. Anyway, “games in virtual environments” (GIVE) is nothing more than yet another perspective on games, which may or may not suit your purposes. An interesting border case would of course be to play blackjack in an Everquest casino…
I’m also unsure that the terms “video/computer/digital games” have so little analytical value that they can be replaced by a more inclusive term that also encompasses board games and pen-and-paper role-playing games.
“Games in virtual environments” is less inclusive than “computer games”, not more. Any game can be turned into a computer game, or played by or with computer, somehow.
The medium is still an important part of how such games are presented.
Ah, but what medium? Is a Gameboy the same medium as the Internet? The assumption that there is only one “digital medium” fails to acknowledge that “the computer” can emulate any medium, and so it does not really help us to make useful distinctions (unless you are a computer salesperson, and probably not even then).
May 24th, 2003 at 1:33 am
I’m at the internet cafe down the road from the hotel, which has unbelievably trashy computers and miserable connection speed – but then it is really cheap. The conference is over, and a wonderful conference it was. There were a…