The Queerness and Games Conference

Just wanted to give heads up to a exciting conference in the near future: The Queerness and Games Conference at The University of Southern California, taking place April 1st and 2nd, 2017.

qgcon_logo_with_text

The schedule is an impressive list of panelists with talks and discussions concerning varying matter concerning queerness and games. Registration for the conference is currently open, so if you’re in the Southern California area and interested in attending go and check out their site.

You can find information about the conference at this link: http://www.qgcon.com/

Posted in gaming, Sociology, Technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Games Studies and The Sociology of Video Games

14580391561

Having started upon a path towards advanced degrees with an emphasis in interactive media and online communities, it has increasingly become evident to me that there is no singular route to studying the emerging field of video games. As I have mentioned in the past, video games uniquely fall at the cross section of multiple disciplines, each with varying ways to analyze and interpret the social significance going on in these digital worlds.

Anthropology, Media Studies, Psychology, and, of course, Sociology, all offer valuable insights for researchers setting out upon this path towards the academia of video games, but the road isn’t probably the neatly paved one you hope it be. Academia, for all it affords and fails to be, is still a regimented system of bureaucracies and categories; those seeking to study video games in any of the aforementioned fields will undoubtedly come across hurdles and pitfalls. Despite this, we push on: we make concessions and we work at expanding the field inches at a time. A triumph has arisen in the developing field of  Game Studies, an interdisciplinary field for all of these traditional academic interests and more.

What is Game Studies?

Wikipedia (The student in me is rebelling) defines Game Studies as

The study of games, the act of playing them, and the players and cultures surrounding them. It is a discipline of cultural studies that deals with all types of games throughout history. This field of research utilizes the tactics of, at least, anthropology, sociology and psychology, while examining aspects of the design of the game, the players in the game, and finally, the role the game plays in its society or culture. Game studies is oftentimes confused with the study of video games, but this is only one area of focus; in reality game studies encompasses all types of gaming, including sports, board games, etc.

That all sounds great! But what does that all encompass? This really is a large umbrella term that captures multidisciplinary research across the vast subject matter of gaming. This isn’t to be confused with game design, which of course is a vastly different discipline centered around the creation of games themselves. The best place to start to understand Game Studies would be with the theory behind it. A foundational theory connecting these discipline comes from Dutch theorist Johan Huizinga in his extensive exploration into how play connects society and culture. To summarize in the most simplistic way, Huizinga believes that play is an essential part of the cultural membrane that connects, one that brings people together and sets rules and boundaries to define the rules of play.  This theory of play, originally formulated in the 1938  book Homo Ludens, has been expanded, reevaluated, and used to understand the cultural significance of gaming, even as it has evolved to to reach highly technological heights.

What role play holds in our life is an incredibly open and complex question, with endless angles for it to be tackled. Authors like Jesper Juul, Ian Bogost, Tracy Fullerton,and Jane McGonigal  have taken upon this question in vastly different ways and they are just the start. My current research has led me to tackle this issue from a different take as well: evaluating what role deviance and punishment play in virtual worlds. Still, there is much to be explored and much to understand. Game Studies sounds to be a haven for all these inquiries and more.

What’s the Issues?

You may be thinking “Well, that sounds all great. Why aren’t we [academics interested in video games] all just flocking to Game Studies then?” .  Unfortunately it’s not as easy as just that.  Academia  is slow to move and currently there are no programs that offer advanced degrees in game studies. Fortunately, Bonnie Ruberg of The University of Southern California has been nice enough to put together a guide to obtaining a PhD in Game Studies. Her advice? Get in where you can. Find universities that have academics and professors who work and write in Game Studies, applying to their departments or related ones.  Graduate programs are often about who you know, so such a recommendation is definitely valuable; find individuals you want to work with, not schools that you want to go to on name alone.

Of course graduate programs aren’t for everyone, and one is certainly able to contribute to the field without an advanced degree. For those not wishing to  go back to school, the best thing I think one can do is create work and submit it to the appropriate sources. For all of you lovely game enthusiasts, an online journal for game studies has  been created: Game Studies.

The Journal’s mission statement is:

To explore the rich cultural genre of games; to give scholars a peer-reviewed forum for their ideas and theories; to provide an academic channel for the ongoing discussions on games and gaming.

Sounds perfect…Now to just produce something worthwhile.

All of this is to say that we, gaming academics, have options and avenues available to us. It won’t be an easy route, but perhaps will prove to be a fruitful one.  I am of course not in any way a Game Studies expert, so any oversights or generalizations can be attributed to ignorance. Of course I’m always willing to learn more, so if you have any insight or information that you feel I am leaving out, please let me know.

I hope this post was helpful. For any regulars (the few of you), I apologize for the lack of posts. Graduate school has a way of making you not feel like writing in your free time. I’m hoping to write and share more in the coming weeks.  And now it’s time for me to bury myself in piles of graduate assignments and research.

Posted in gaming, Psychology, Sociology, Technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

BBC’s The Women Challenging Sexism in E-Sports

A quick one to share today:

Apart of their 100 Women of 2016 series, a series of videos and articles about influential women in varying industries, the BBC has put together a video and accompanying piece about women in the world of competitive gaming.

Stephanie Harvey and Julia Kiran, two of the most prominent female gamers in the world of competitive gaming, speak out about the challenges they have had to overcome and the hurdles that still exist in the gaming industry.  Issues of pay gap between males and females and consistent harassment plague the industry, so it’s great to see issues brought up.

Posted in equality, gaming, Sociology, Technology, Uncategorized, video games | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Voice Actors Are Striking: Why You Should Care

carou_onstrike_1

For the last couple of weeks SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents many voice actors in the video games industry, have been picketing and striking outside of major video game developers and tomorrow, Nov.17th, they plan to picket Insomniac Games in Burbank. Many of the biggest voice actors in the industry have come out in support of the strike, including Sarah Palmer and Roger Craig Smith.

Essentially the union is fighting for more protection and wages for their actors, citing that many video game developers/publishers do not adequately pay or support their actors. Additionally, the union is fighting for voice actors to receive residual payments for their works that go-on to have long life spans.With game’s rapidly expanding to become more and more immersive experiences, voice actors play a huge part in creating these worlds and it’s only natural that actors need to be compensated and treated fairly with this growing trend.

CxU5qq9UcAAZavD.jpg

SAG-AFTRA released these statements:

“This group of video game employers knowingly feeds off other industries that pay these same performers fairly to make a living. This represents a ‘freeloader model of compensation’ that we believe cannot and should not continue.

“In this industry, which frequently uses performers and understands the intermittent and unpredictable nature of this type of work, fair compensation includes secondary payments when games hit a certain level of success with consumers, not simply higher upfront wages. Secondary compensation is what allows professional performers to feed their families in between jobs.

“No matter what these companies are peddling in their press releases, this negotiation is not only about upfront compensation. It is about fairness and the ability of middle-class performers to survive in this industry. These companies are immensely profitable, and successful games — which are the only games this dispute is about – drive that profit.

“We have proposed a fair payment structure that enables the sustainability of a professional performer community. These employers have unreasonably refused that. The time has come to end the freeloader model of compensation and that is why our members are united behind this cause.”

Gamespot has a great article that goes into a considerable more deal than I can, but I think it’s important to note why labor movements are important in both society and the gaming industry. Fair and equitable relations within jobs have long histories of fighting for rights, and we often overlook just how important labor fights are to our history. We tend to forget this history because we live in a time in which unions aren’t as prevalent because of the privatization of many industries and years of smear campaigns against them, but unions still very much help and work in many industries and they make substantive change for many people.

So go support SAG-AFTRA, urge your favorite developers to support and work with them, and next time you boot up your favorite game take a moment to think  about the people performing the voices of the characters.

You can support the cause by tweeting #PerformanceMatters

 

Posted in equality, gaming, Politics, Sociology, Technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Documentary Review: Man Vs. Snake

10439394_674494945988417_2082168650138827161_n

I had the chance to watch Man Vs. Snake, now streaming on Netflix, which tells the tale of the Nibbler world record holder. Like King of Kong before it, the movie  delves deep into the community of world-record arcade gaming and even brings out many of the characters at the forefront of King of Kong. I mention King of Kong because there’s undeniably no way this film wouldn’t be compared to it; it features a strikingly similar arc of individuals trying to achieve the high score of a old video game they once had high success with in their youth. Despite the comparison,  Man Vs. Snake actually tells its core tale more effectively than King of Kong; the story of Tim McVey trying to achieve the world record is one of constant struggle and hardships, and you get a genuine sense of McVey, his wife, and his life. That said, it perhaps isn’t quite as memorable as King of Kong, which was made extremely memorable by dynamic between Steve Weibe and Billy Mitchell and the absurdity of aspects of the community. For better or worse, Man Vs. Snake really puts its players at the forefront to make it a more human interest sort of documentary, which in this goal it succeeds in strides. McVey, who throughout the movie says he’s trying to expand the notoriety of Nibbler, comes off as an underdog trying to reclaim his early glory. Unlike Kong, the community comes off as much more unified and welcoming; with competitors not having the antagonistic relationships as much. Even Dwayne Richard, who in some ways plays the Billy Mitchell role in this film, comes off as supportive, even when he is faced with the controversy of perhaps rigging his record.

manvssnake-cartoon-billionpoints-700x374

 

What really is socially fascinating, for me at least, in both Man Vs. Snake and King of Kong are the communities built around these aged machines. World records of 30+ old video games aren’t typically the first thing you think about when you imagine communal gaming, but such movies speak to their power to bring people together and form bonds. One of the best moments of the movie comes in its final moments when Walter Day, whom has become a name synonymous with world record gaming, speaks to the power of video games:

walter_day_twin_galaxies_entertainment_center

“Video Games were just the device. It could have been all sorts of other things, but it happened to be video games… Video Games are like a superficial thing, it really was the essence of life challenging them, putting them at the forefront, making them have to go deep within, and really flower and pull out their own inner qualities and really decide what type of person they’re going to be”

All in all, it’s a fun and interesting enough documentary to fill your time. If you’re interested in gaming or have no prior knowledge of world record community I’d recommend giving it a shot.

 

Posted in Documentry, gaming, Kickstarter, Sociology, Uncategorized, video games | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

New Research Finds Adult Men are Choosing Video Games Over Full-Time Work

It’s the end times my friends: Video games are destroying our economy.

New research coming out the Princeton, The University of Chicago, and University of Rochester has found a correlation between the abundance of high quality video games and uneducated adult men choosing to remain out of the workforce. The study itself isn’t yet available, but the Washington Post has a good summary of the study’s findings and an evaluation of what they may mean.

imrs

The study compares unemployment rates of adult men with happiness levels and screen time usage and found that, despite having higher unemployment rates than in previous years, adult men are on average reporting having higher levels of happiness, which is potentially tied to their increase in average video game usage. It’s a pretty interesting study with some pretty big implications:

While young men might temporarily enjoy a life of leisure, the implications could be troubling for them as well as the economy. The young men aren’t gaining job experience that will better equip them to work in their 30s and 40s. That, in turn, could lead to a lifetime of decreased wages, limited opportunities and challenges such as depression and drug use — problems that the United States is already seeing in areas hit with heavy job losses.

These are interesting findings, and in some way makes logical sense: the abundance of media is making people more content, unemployed or not. However, there are potentially other variables that are effecting this relationship. It’s not absurd to think that a contributing factor to adult men not entering the work force is because of the entry level job have been considerably reduced in recent decades due to shrinking opportunities for the working class: rather than enter the work force working for Mcdonalds and making next to little money, many adult men choose to stay at home and focus on their happiness instead.

imrs-happy

For an economist, these are certainly concerning findings because they exemplify how potentially disenfranchised uneducated adult men are with job opportunities. At the same time, it’s positive to see that happiness levels are steadily rising, potentially because of video games. Whats bad for the economy may be good for the individual.

I would need to read the entire study, including their methods, to make a better critique and analysis of it, but it’s great to see video games gradually become a more researched field. I highly recommend at least reading the Washington Post article as the research does do a good job of looking at the whole picture. Video games are important sociological variables that are pervading in all parts of society, so it’s great to see different disciplines starting to struggle with their place in society.

Posted in gaming, Sociology, Study, Technology, Uncategorized, video games | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Capcom Investing In Benefits To Keep Female Employees

Really Quick one today:

capcom_logo

Japanese game developers have traditionally been slow towards creating more diverse work staffs, which makes Capcom’s announcement that they’ll be investing in medical benefits to encourage employees with children to stay with the company. In their annual report, which has lots of information about Capcom and where they see the industry headed, the veteran gaming made the commitment to keeping working mothers.

Capcom is engaged in improving the employment environment for women, promoting projects in which both women and men participate, and the proactive hiring of non-Japanese employees…In particular, with respect to improving the employment environment for women, we have introduced systems that promote utilization of paid leave before and after childbirth, childcare leave, and shortened working hours. In fiscal 2016, we promoted the establishment of children facilities within the company

It’s a small step, but an important one for a company that historically has had a lot of issues with gender representation. Capcom’s current workforce is made up of about 20% women, so hopefully this step towards retaining their currently female population will increase those numbers in future year.

You may be asking: “Hey, why should I care about female employees at Japanese gaming company getting benefits?”. Well, person who hates talking about benefits for Japanese women, the more video game companies invest in programs to diversify their work force the more we’ll get a diverse range of ideas and perspective in our games. Had Capcom had more female employees on their staff, maybe they wouldn’t have received such backlash for their depiction of  female characters in Street Fighter V….Just maybe.

 

Posted in equality, gaming, Sociology, Technology, Uncategorized, video games | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments