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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Follow me on Twitter @SocialVideoGame

 

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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Presentation at The Pacific Sociological Association’s Annual Conference

I’ll be presenting my research “No Skin=No Skill: Reproduction of Toxic Masculinity and Capitalist Hierarchy in Free-To-Play Battle Royale Video Games” at the Pacific Sociological Association’s annual conference on March 29th in Oakland, CA. I’m excited to meet with other sociologists and for the discussion the panel I’m presenting on creates around video game’s place as an area of sociological inquiry.

I’ll also be presenting this research in April at the Southern Sociological Society’s annual conference in Atlanta, GA. More details about that presentation to come.

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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Presentation on Capitalism and Video Games at San Diego State University

I’ll be presenting at the “Capitalism: Culture and the Individual” on April 14th at San Diego State University.  The presentation, entitled “Now You’re Playing With Power: Video Games and Capitalism”, will focus on how video games have contributed to a continued capitalist global ethic and an extension of empire. The presentation will also look into how video games may combat capitalism, and how video games may be the medium to implement counter-capitalist ideology. 

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The conference is free to the public and will feature presentations on an array of subjects across the theme of capitalism and culture. My presentation will be apart of a panel focusing on capitalism and entertainment, but the entire day should foster some great conversations. The conference will conclude with a keynote presentation by Dr. Timothy Taylor of UCLA.

You can find out more about the conference, as well as a detailed schedule, here: https://sociologygrads.wixsite.com/capitalismconference

Follow me on Twitter @Socialvideogame

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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.

Follow me on twitter at @SocialVideoGame

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.

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 “Bo” Ruberg of The University of Southern California has been nice enough to put together a guide to obtaining a PhD in Game Studies. Their 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.

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.

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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.

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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.