Can the Nintendo Switch Create Physical Gaming Spaces?

I recently did a pilot study of physical gaming spaces and why individuals choose to attend gaming events. I’m currently looking to extend the pilot study to a fully realized research project, and will hopefully share it when it is complete, but an interesting phenomenon occurred during the course of my research: The Nintendo Switch was released.

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Released in early March, Nintendo’s new console handheld hybrid has been a hot topic in the gaming industry, but few are talking about what potential the console may hold for create physical gaming spaces. Simply put, physical gaming spaces are local gaming gathering, events, or meetings with the intent purpose of interacting together in a shared local environment. Examples of physical gaming spaces range anywhere from LAN Parties to competitive competitions.  Although handhelds have had wireless multiplayer for over a decade, those seeking a true console local multiplayer experience often had to go to great lengths to create physical gaming spaces around console gaming. With the Nintendo’s Switch’s ability to immediately transfer between Console and handheld, it has the unique ability to create authentic local multiplayer experiences anywhere, without the need to connect to a television or several handhelds.

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Anecdotally, we’ve seen new stories of  athletes turning to the Nintendo Switch to kill time during rain delays and long travels, pointing to the console early success in reaching new audiences with innovative ways to create physical gaming spaces anytime, anywhere. Such an occurrence is exciting for anyone who is passionate about local multiplayer, as a rise in people playing in physical gaming spaces may result in more developers designing games that take advantage of space and place.  Although games like the Jack Party Box and Towerfall Ascension have had success in the ever increasing niche local multiplayer market, the industry is progressive moving towards one that promotes online interaction in lieu of local multiplayer; the 2017 ESA Report on video game consumption and use  found that the amount of time gamers play online with others is significantly higher than the amount of time they play with others locally. The Switch is still freshly on the market, and console shortages have prevented many gamers from being able to dive into all that console has to offer, so we’ll have to see how the console develops in regards to physical gaming spaces once the console is more readily available. Nonetheless, it’s an exciting time for people who enjoy playing locally; the industry has seen its first big developer’s push since the launch of the Wii.

I hope to update the blog as my research continues, but I would love your opinion about the Switch and what it may offer to both local multiplayer and physical gaming spaces. Feel free to post a comment or message me with your opinions or questions.

 

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Book Review: Coming of Age in Second Life by Tom Boellstorff

I’m a few years late with this, but I recently had the chance to read Coming of Age In Second Life by Tom Boellstorff, an anthropological ethnography of the Massive Multiplayer Online World Second Life. I know this might be an odd book to review, given that it’s nearly 10 years old now and Second Life isn’t quite the juggernaut in the MMO scene that it once was, but the book provides valuable insight for social researcher looking to do research in online worlds.  I thought I’d share my opinion about the book so that others could check it out.

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First published in 2008, Coming of Age in Second Life is part proof of concept and part by- the-books ethnography of a digital world. With new virtual worlds being constructed each year, Tom Boellstorff set out to prove to the academic community that traditional methods of research could be applied to these rapidly changing, new worlds. Coming from an anthropology background and having done. There have been many ethnographies of online worlds, but Coming of Age may be one of the most groundbreaking and influential.

Boellstorff starts the book by discussing the background of Second Life  and painting what a typical day in the world looks like, before moving onto a discussion about the philosophy, ethics, and academic interest in researching such a community. Collecting data and living natively for over 2 years as his online avatar Tom Bukowski, Boellstorff explores various topics of inquiry within this rapidly changing online world. Using traditional anthropological methods and theories, Boellstorff tackles this virtual world with the same keen sense and methods as he would any other social field.  Boellstorff does not claim his research to be a definitive guide to MMOs or even Second Life, rather a dive into a very specific era of a constantly changing world.

The crux of the book comes in the forms of chapters dedicated to overarching themes that emerged during Boellstorff’s research: place and time, personhood, intimacy, community, and political economy. In each of these chapters Boellstorff explores more narrowed down sub-themes in discussions that include the anthropological and philosophical background for their importance,  and data as evidence for their existence within Second Life. This justification through data comes in various forms, including transcribed interviews with second life citizens,  summaries of pertinent events the author witnessed or heard of second hand, and screenshots that give the reader a visual understanding of what the author is expressing.  I mention this range of topics to say that the book offers a sort of survey about the world of Second Life during the author’s stay. While your typical ethnography will focus on one individual topic of interest, Boellstorff has the luxury of exploring a world that many of his respondents will have absolutely no experience with; such a luxury is almost impossible in the “real world”.

Throughout the book, Boellstorff is attempting to both prove that traditional methods work in digital worlds, but also argue that humans have always existed between real and virtual, with  online virtual worlds being newly enacted forms of  traditional culture creation, social interaction, and creativity.  By presenting his years of research with precision and thoroughly thought out discussion, Boellstorff’s argument is carefully explored and fought for.   The only draw back that I may mention in regards to the book, is that it is at time perhaps a little too academic. This of course is a concession the author must of had to make; either weigh too heavily on public appeal and be ignored by the academic community, or weigh too heavily on the academic side and prove a little dry to the general population. In the end, the book seeks what it sets out to do. For anyone seeking to conduct social research on video games or massive multiplayer online worlds, Coming of Age in Second Life proves to be a useful resource to have on your shelf. Boellstorff’s work exemplify what we students of the social sciences and lovers of interactive media should strive to. You’ll be hard pressed to find a deeper dive into an online world.

I hope this book review has proved worthwhile. I’ll try and recommend other useful books and resources as I come across them.

-Ian L

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2017 ESA Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry

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The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has published their annual report about the computer and video game industry. This yearly report is an invaluable asset for researcher looking for statistics and figures concerning video game usage and consumption, as the ESA is the foremost collectors of this type of data. Each year they’re kind enough to report their findings, so let’s take a look at what this year’s report found.

Who is playing

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More and more people are playing games, and the stereotype of video games being relegated to young boys is a thing of the past. The “average gamer” has seen an age decrease across both genders, with 2016’s report finding the average female was 44 and the average male gamer was 35. Nonetheless,  the demographics of the gaming community is shifting towards being an activity participated across all ages. Female gamers above the age of 18 make up significantly larger population of the gaming community than men under the age of 18. That may sound unimportant, but consider it in relation to the general cultural perception of video gaming be a teenage boy activity.

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Despite gains in the community, male gamers still make up the most frequent purchasers of video games. Considering that free-to-play titles are often a popular genre of games for females, this statistic may be slightly misleading as to who is actually playing games.

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It is now more likely to have a gamer in your household than it is not to. The percentage of households that have at least one person who plays 3 or more hours a week has seen a slight increase from 2015 (63%). With this percentage growing each year, more and more we are moving towards a culture in which playing video games is the norm.

Who Are Gamers Playing With?

We’ve established that gamers are playing, but who are they playing with? With an increase in the number of online enabled games and access to online multiplayer platforms increasingly becoming easier each year, it’s not unreasonable to assume that more people are playing together.

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The numbers suggest that people are connecting through games, with the majority of gamers believing gaming to be a way to connect with friends. This statistic falls in line with contemporary research on how gamers view multiplayer interaction within their lives. The amount of time spent online vs. playing in person has actually shrunk from 2015, with gamers playing half an hour more with individuals in person in 2016. With developers such as Nintendo investing considerable attention in local multiplayer, particularly with the newly released Switch, it will be interesting to see how this figure changes next year. All of this is to say that people are using gaming as a way to connect with those around them, including their family members and spouses.

parentsTo go along with those findings, the amount of parental approval of video games has stayed steady with a very slight decrease from 2015 (68%). Despite this decrease, the majority of parents are found to believe video games are a positive influence on their kids’ lives and nearly all parents control the games their kids play in some way.

Other Findings:

  • Games are big money: the video game industry is continuing to grow, with the industry growing to 30.4 Billion from 23.5 Billion in 2015.
  • Bang for your buck: most gamers believe video games to be a better value for their money than music, movies, and dvds combined.
  • Digital Games are on the rise: digital purchases now make up 74% of all sales, with an increase from 69% in 2015.
  • Video Games are good for America: Video games added more than 11 billion to the GDP of the US in 2016.

Some great information for social science researcher to use to analyze video games and gamers. I left out a good deal of findings, so I definitely recommend checking out the actual report from the ESA. All graphics and pictures were pulled directly from the ESA’s report.

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Google Releases Findings on What Teens Find Cool

How do you do, fellow Kids?

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Google today released  It’s Lit: A Guide to What Teens Think is Cool  a report of the brands, technology, and products teens think are cool. Of the topics covered in the report are what teens think are the coolest video games and video games brands. It’s rare that we see a huge company like Google conduct such forms of qualitative research (and share it), so I thought it would be worth looking at.

The first thing you’ll probably notice is the theme of the the whole report. It’s…grabbing?  From the name of the report “It’s Lit” to the usage of headlines like “Gen Z are the most aware generations in recent history”, it’s definitely trying to pander to a certain crowd. Likewise, its attempts at presenting the data seems like a shallow attempt to come off as cool itself; from the terminology being used to the overall design of the report. Google is clearly targeting a specific audience with this report and evaluating a reports presentation, focus, and scope is an important step in analyzing it’s validity and purpose. I can poke fun at how ironically uncool this presentation manner comes off for hours, but let’s move on and look at the actually findings:

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The report finds that the most popular video games  amongst teens are, surprise surprise, the most popular games. The part of this I do find interesting is the reports usage of  descriptions as to why teens like video games. “It’s no wonder most teen boys see video games as a cool escape from reality”. That’s an odd statement that seems to come out of no where, and I’m not completely sure if it’s something they polled for or if it’s something they’re just pulling out of no where.

The narrative of video games prevalence being in part due to its escapism aspects is certainly true, but studies have found that it’s often not the leading cause for why people choose video games. Granted they follow up with more options as to why people choose it, but even those options feel as if it’s interjection added in by the report.

Here are the final two findings regarding video games, and even they are not all that controversial. It’s not unreasonable that a younger generation finds X-Box as the “coolest” video game company, considering that Microsoft has done a considerable amount to appeal to the younger demographic and appear hip and cool. The second graphic of brands is…Odd. To think that teens are saying “oreo”, “doritios” and “chrome” are the coolest of brands sounds almost as if it was a made up as a joke. I’m not questioning their validity, but I do wonder if these answers were perhaps some what leaded.  Which brings us to their methods:

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It sounds like a solid piece of research, but I’d be interested to see what the actual poll looked like. I wonder if the poll was open ended or if it had specific answers for respondents to pick from. If the later was true, I think that would explain answers like “oreo” and “chrome” as appearing as the coolest brands.

In the end, it’s all a bit silly. This market research is attempting to label what is cool by the usage of products, as if they have some inherent value besides what we place upon them. It’s the ultimate capitalist research: we’re defining teens sense of “coolness” by products and things we can consume and buy. Any sort of philosophical or analytical thoughts of why things are “cool” are left to the background and almost completely left out of the findings.

Regardless, it’s interesting to see how a massive corporation like Google collect, interpret, and present data.

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Video Game Music: Discussion and Resources

I often find myself listening to video game music as background music while I read or write. It makes sense, most of the tunes we hear in video games were meant to be just that: background music to your adventure and experience. Having played countless video games over the year, the right video game tune can bring back a deep memory or a long forgotten emotion. I can’t imagine I am the only one, so I’ve decided that the time may be right to discuss video game music.

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Why should we care?

There’s some inherently interesting about video game music. Its evolution from basic background tunes composed out limited tech to grand orchestrated ballads that overlay movie level scenes is of interest in a historical context alone. Separated from the medium, sociology has had a long interest with music; the sociology of music has been a strong and intriguing sub-field within sociology because of music’s unique ability to bring people together in a shared experience. Many social researchers examine music and live-shows as a form of collective effervescence; a shared communal event in which people come together and share a release of emotion. All of this is to say that caring about the sociology of video game music is a natural extension of sociological interest that we can look at, explore, and try to understand. With an increase in the amount  musical events being formed around iconic video game series and songs (Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddess, Video Games Live, etc.), more people are coming together to share their love for video game music and video games in general. If we’re to study video games as a medium and their social elements, then certainly video game music and the shared connections they forge are of pertinent interest to us researchers.

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Symphony of the Goddess just announced a new world tour. If you’re a Zelda fan, it’s well worth checking out.

How should we research video game music and its community? Who should lead the charge in studying video game music? Game studies researchers? Music Researchers? Sociologists? Obviously Video Game music as a genre of music it doesn’t hold all the hallmarks of the dominant genres in the industry, but it does share a considerable amount with the overarching medium as a whole. Similarly there’s a considerable amount of concerns within the subfield as well; issues of archiving tracks, legality of who owns rights to tracks, and the place of fandom within maintaining and creating new remixes and tracks around their favorite games and series.There’s a good amount of questions that one can hypothesize concerning video game music, but the first and most accessible aspect is knowing one’s field. As such, I’ve put together a small resource list for researchers and fans alike to discover new and old video game tracks.

Resources

It may not dawn upon everyone that listening to your favorite video game tunes is something one can even do. We’re fortunate to live in a time in which more or less every video game soundtrack is readily available one way or another. Here are some useful resources to listen to some great video game music that don’t require you to pirate or spend tons of cash:

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VGM Radio

VGM Radio is just that: a video game music radio station. If you’re feeling like having a mix of tunes, genres, and eras, then VGM is a great choice to let your video game music interest get set on shuffle.

RPG Gamer Radio

As with VGM radio, RPG Gamer Radio is another great choice for a video game related radio station available for free online.

Video Game Music Radio App (IOS)

If you feel like listening to video game music on the go and have a mobile device, the Video Game Music Radio App is a great free choice. Featuring an array of channels, you’re likely to find a station that meets your interest. I recommend RadioSega if you’re a fan of a classic Sega tunes.

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If you’re more interested in discussing video game music, then you’ll need a place to do so. In this case Reddit provides a great outlet for gamers seeking to connect around video game music and discuss classic and modern tunes alike.

Youtube

Of course the most valuable resources for researching video game tunes is youtube. With a dedicated community of gamers uploading musical tracks, compiling playlists, and sharing remixes, youtube is a great place to find any video game track you’re looking for.

So this may have just been an excuse for me to talk about video game music and share some links to fellow gamers, but I do believe that video game music has a place within the analysis of the medium for social researchers. The amount of activities and shared interactions that are being created around video games are increasing with each year. As someone who has been to multiple of these video game related concerts and shows, I can tell you that the experiences and interactions shared there are genuine ones. We’ll see where video game music goes in the future, and where its place within the medium as a whole falls.

 

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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.

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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/

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Games Studies and The Sociology of Video Games

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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.

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