Platforms at the Peripheries Extended Abstract now Available to Read

My extended abstract entitled “Platforms at the Peripheries” that I submitted to the Digital Games Research Association’s (DiGRA) 2020 conference is now available via their proceedings.

A Famicom clone “Bootleg Console” called the Skyeye Racing Pro,

I wrote this around a year ago when the world looked pretty different, but it still encompasses a lot of what I’m exploring in my research. I’m excited to share more about the project as it progresses,.

Updates and Cancellations

Just wanted to update the blog with two unfortunate cancellations about presentations of research.

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I was accepted to the Digital Games Research Association’s annual conference in Tampere Finland to present my on-going research. The presentation was tentatively entitled Platforms at the Peripheries:A Case Study Analysis of Historic Bootleg Consoles. Of course the conference has been cancelled due to the global pandemic. An extended abstract for the research will be published in the Conference’s proceedings in the next few months.

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I  was accepted to the American  Sociological Association’s annual conference in San Francisco California to present a paper I wrote entitled Gaming Tastes: Cultural Hierarchies Amongst Video Game Consoles and Devices.  The paper broadly looks at communal hierarchies of gaming hardware through concepts by Pierre Bourdieu. This conference has also been cancelled due to the global pandemic. Discussion of a virtual conference are in the works, so we’ll see what happens.

I wanted to share these two projects to extend my willingness to discuss and share info about these areas for any potential academics or interested parties. I’m always happy to chat with individuals about this research, so please do hesitate to send a message.

As unfortunate as it is for these conferences to be cancelled, they are done in an attempt to keep everyone safe. I’m extremely grateful for all of the organizers and peer reviewers for their hard work, and for the conference officials for making the swift and hard decisions to cancel. Hopefully everyone’s hard work won’t go to waste and we’ll be back to physical meetings in 2021.

 

 

Short Post on the Early History of Console Cloning

I wanted to share a guest blog post I did for the Strong Museum of Play’s Play Stuff Blog during my summer fellowship there last year. The post entitled, Clones in the Archives: Console and Software Cloning Practices in the Early Years of Video Games, is a short look at how console cloning contributed to the global proliferation of video games in the 1970s and 1980s. It narrows in on cloning narratives around Pong Clones and Famicom clones (Famiclones) and seeks to understand if these narratives differ in meaningful ways. It also briefly reflects on doing archival research and the amazing opportunity I was given by the Strong Museum.

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This historical piece has increasingly become a tent pole of my understanding around cloning practices more broadly, as well as foundation for situating how video game history favors specific narratives over other. Hopefully I’ll have some more pieces of this project to share in the future, but the Play Stuff Blog post should give you an idea as to where my research is heading.

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New Project: Bootleg Consoles and Regional Gaming Identities

I wanted to share an area of research I’m currently engaged with, particularly looking at what are typically referred to as Bootleg Consoles as meaningful social artifacts that make up regional gaming identities.

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A Subor Famicom clone, not licenced by Nintendo

Broadly, the term bootleg console can be used  to refer to any third party video game device that plays another manufacturer’s software without the intent permission from the original developer. Bootleg consoles of the past had traditionally been cloned devices that enable one to play physical software on a non-licensed device. During the early years of the industry, these types of devices sprung up all around the world in areas left untapped by big name game developers (Atari, Sega, Nintendo, etc.) and many countries had their own variations that they fondly remember.

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The CrazyBoy famiclone.

Modern bootleg consoles exist somewhere between cloned consoles and straight emulation, and many device tend to be marketed as all-in-one devices similar to official products like the NES Classic or Sega Genesis Mini. These devices tend to feature a swath of pirated games at a fraction of the cost of official products, with the most common platform pirated still being the Famicom/Nintendo Entertainment System.

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Power Player device, an example of modern bootlegs on the market

Looking more critically at these devices as platforms that are more than just cheap cash-ins or pirateware may yield interesting results about gaming more broadly, and how the industry as created a platform hierarchy through I.P and access.

One way that I am examining this project is through a twitter account that collects, documents, and share many of these types of devices.  You can check the twitter account @Bootlegconsoles.

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The intent of this account is to share knowledge and experiences around these devices, and does not condone piracy. You can support this project by simply sharing or subscribing to this twitter account, but also by sharing your own experiences with these devices!

I’ll be sure to share more info on this project as it progresses.

 

Summer Travels 2: HEVGA summer school, Sweden.

Continuing with an update about my games research related activities this summer, I wanted to share a little bit about my experience at the Higher Education Video Game Alliance  (HEVGA) summer school in Skövde, Sweden.

This was a three day workshop where games researchers from multiple countries came together to discuss current topics in the field, share on-going research, and collaborate over shared interests. I presented on a research proposal about bootleg consoles I’m starting to dive into and received some great feedback from participants and faculty. It was a terrific opportunity to meet scholars from around the world and create connections outside of my narrow academic lens.

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A brainstorming exercise to find collaborative ideas

It’s a rare opportunity to engage in a event like this, so I was incredibly honored to have the chance to participate in the summer workshop. Even just traveling abroad for video game related research is something I never would have thought i’d be doing some years ago. Hopefully HEVGA decides to hold the summer school next year and the event becomes an annual gathering of academics.

After the summer school I had the chance to spend a few days in Stockholm, and I took the opportunity to check out some game related activities

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One of my first stops was to NERDS video game bar, located in the area of Södermalm. Besides offering video game themed drinks, the bar offered the ability to rent out consoles and tvs for local play of classic titles like GoldenEye and Mario Kart 64. Having done research prior on physical gaming spaces, seeing how social engagement was key to the design of the bar was really fascinating. It was incredibly packed so I didn’t get a chance to play anything, but I did get to try one of the bar’s in-house beers.

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Also decided to check out one of Stockholm’s used game store, GameShop.Se. It was a really neat store that had consoles and games from multiple regions (US, PAL, Japan) and even some old cloning/bootleg devices. The shop owners were incredibly hospitable and overall the store seemed like a great stop for anyone in area looking for some retro titles.

What’s next? I’m hoping to update the blog more often and actually share some written work. Unfortunately academic publishing moves slower than blogging and it’s taken me awhile to actually pull together some research worth sharing, but things are in the pipeline. Overall this summer has been incredibly productive for creating new connections around game studies and for solidifying some ideas I’ve been working on.

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Summer Travels Part 1: Strong National Museum of Play, Rochester, New York

I’ve been active doing video game related things this summer and thought it was finally time to sit down and share. I’ll be breaking this up into multiple post, so stay tuned for most posts in the near future.

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A Outside look at the Strong

This July I had the opportunity to conduct archival research at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, as  part of the Strong Research Fellowship. For those unaware of the this impressive museum,  The Strong is the largest museum dedicated to the act of play in the world and boasts multiple exhibits dedicated to video games and gaming. I was thoroughly impressed by the range of exhibits the museum offered, both those pertaining to video games and those more centered more broadly around the history of play. In particular, the Strong had an excellent exhibit on the history of Women in Games that was expansive and nuanced. With the Strong having broken ground in 2018 on a major expansion aimed to open in 2021 that will include a World Video Game Hall of Fame gallery and other immersive video game related exhibits, the future for the museum as a global archive and educator of play is bright.

 

As a part of the fellowship, I had access to the International Center for the History of Electronic Games’s impressive collection of documents, artifacts, and digital records pertaining to play. I came in interested in studying software and hardware cloning in the early history of video games (1972-1995), a subject that I have developed a fascination for this past year. Through the ICHEG’s archives, I was able to to play and see some devices that have become increasingly rare to find in working order, as well as diving into documents of gaming past that inform our current community. I’ll have more to share via the Strong’s Play Stuff Blog about the specific of my research findings in the near future, but I can’t express how grateful I am to have received the opportunity to do this form of archival research by the staff at the Strong.

My next post will share some pictures and experiences from the Higher Education Video Game Alliance’s (HEVGA) first Summer School that took place in Skövde, Sweden.

Follow me on Twitter at @SocialVideoGame

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Earnest’s Demographic of Video Gaming

Earnest, a technology company that analyzes data pulled from loan applications, surveys, and/or publicly available data sources released their finding on the demographics of video game consumers. In this case, they pulled their data from student loan refinancing applications. Data sets on video games usages and gamers are relatively rare so I figured I’d examine their findings and share. Despite the less than ideal data source, let’s examine what their key findings were:

Key Takeaway

  • Younger people, especially those aged 18-24, are more likely to make video game-related purchases than older individuals.
  • Men are more than three times as likely to make gaming purchases than women.
  • Individuals with high school diplomas or Associate degrees are the most likely to make gaming purchases, while dentists are the least likely.
  • People making more than $90,000 are less likely to make gaming purchases than their lower-earning counterparts.
  • People are less likely to make video game purchases the more time has elapsed since they graduated from their highest degree program.

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There’s some interesting findings here, some of which reinforce or challenge the Electronic Software Associations. The disparity between male and female game purchasers is significantly higher than the findings of ESA,  who found that men are the purchasers of video games about 63% of the time (compared to 37% for females). Likewise, the finding that 18-24 years are the ones most likely to make gaming purchases conflicts with finding that the average purchaser of video game content is 36 years old.

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This graph I find particularly interesting, because it exemplifies how video games as a medium is a relatively universally participated one. You see some minor dips, especially as income increases, but for the most part there isn’t a huge difference across income levels. As the report points out, some of this may also be tied to age and profession; as one earns more they are often more set in their careers, older, and perhaps have less time for video games.

I’d be interested to see survey myself and to get a little more information about sample size and general demographics of respondents, but this report does provide an interesting perspective that we may not get in other large scale data sets.  You can check out the entire report here: https://www.earnest.com/blog/the-demographics-of-video-gaming/

Follow me on Twitter @Socialvideogame

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Splatoon 2 Players Fight Hate with LGBT Pride

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There’s been an interesting development going on in the Splatoon 2 community. Players can interact with their fellow peers via shared in-game pictures and messages. For anyone familiar with Mii-verse, these messages are more or less mii-verse posts in game (sans the actual miiverse). This is something the Splatoon has featured even in the original game, and it’s long been a forum for memes and jokes, with content being heavily monitored by Nintendo’s moderators.

Anyone playing Splatoon 2 may have noticed that a different trend has arisen: fans of the game are using in-game messages to drown out hate against the LGBT community. Presumably this arose out of backlash against anti-LGBT sentiments being shared in the community, but the amount of pro-messages have outnumbered the negatives ones significantly.  Some gamers have been skeptical about this movement, citing that the movement follows the same trend as in-game jokes among the community and that this pro-LBGT trend may be the latest in-game joke. While I hope it’s more genuine than that, it’s interesting to see a game community like Splatoon 2 become a battle ground for social issues.

Even with the limited means of communication that Splatoon 2 give players, it has shown to be a powerful tool in expressing social beliefs and ideas. Each gaming community has its own culture, and Splatoon 2’s is increasingly becoming one to watch. I

 

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.

 

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