[-empyre-] December Discussion - Gaming Subcultures

Gabriel Menotti gabriel.menotti at gmail.com
Mon Nov 29 19:16:15 EST 2010

Dear all,

Welcome to an early December and another debate! This month, empyre is
dedicated to the general universe of Gaming Subcultures - the
different forms of "playing outside the console," titles that explore
such dynamics and, especially, the social practices built around them.

In spite of the many stories they might tell, videogames are first and
foremost narratives of mastery over the system. Their particular drama
is not situated on whatever turning points are shown on the screen,
but between the player and the controls. This is easier to perceive in
highly technical genres such as platformers and rhythm games. To play
a game is to learn how to perform within it – how to take things into

In an article about game design, [1] Daniel Cook shows that the
gameplay is meant to conform the user to its rules gradually, in a
sort of smooth pedagogy of procedures. The extent to which this
increasing reflexivity between man and machine can be tutorial is
obvious from titles such as Mario Teaches Typing. [2] However, this
tendency may not be collateral, at least according to German
philosopher Claus Pias: in a thesis that is available online (but that
I could never read), Pias finds the historical origins of videogames
in military training. [3]

Could videogames be then reduced to a mere dressage medium? I believe
not. To do so is to attribute an impossible self-sufficiency to them.
On the one hand, the designers themselves are never completely free to
set the conditions for training. They are also constrained by rules:
those of the available frameworks, libraries and engines, whose total
parameters often escape them. This is why bugs occur and, sometimes,
the users get to find something that the designer did not put there.
The same Daniel Cook, upon sharing a hint page of his Steambirds on
Google Reader, confesses: “Now I finally know how to play my own
game.” [4]

In that sense, one cannot ignore that every platform is contained
within others, and therefore can be exploited, hacked and cheated
(just like school). This means that the feedbacks between player and
system can occur far beyond the individual and pre-planned hand-eye
coordination, they can happen on a larger socio-cultural scale. Even
if internal mastery cannot be achieved, the game can be beaten from
the outside – or, better yet, circumvented into other uses.

I personally consider these activities a constitutive and inseparable
part of ordinary gameplay. I take that from my personal memories of
titles such as Stunts [5] and Street Fighter II, which I played during
my early teens with the neighbourhood gang. Our main mode of
interaction with the former was making and exchanging racetracks in
which we never actually care to race on. With the later, it was
watching friends fight each other in living room championships, while
we waited for our turn to use the joystick (for barely three minutes).

Even so, there was a lot of engagement even when no playing seemed to
be involved. It comes as no surprise that the off-game creation and
trade of in-game content (from Chinese Gold Farming to Knytt Stories
[6]), as well as the physical situation of the gaming platform (from
the Pokéwalker [7] to Auntie Pixelante’s Chicanery [8]), are fast
approaching the centre of the stage. Maybe this is a mark of the
increasing complexity of the medium. Maybe it’s a sign of the
colonization of these social fields by the system’s logic.

Finally, the debate means to focus on how videogames can be publicly
appropriated through the invention and transmission of supplementary
parameters, leading to activities that James Newman dubs as
“superplay.” [9] These include but are not limited to their use as
platforms of audiovisual creation and their employment in sport-like

Our first guests are Joshua Diaz and Julian Kücklich. They will be
addressing how the gaming practice often spills into the immediate
surroundings and then back again, as playing becomes a subject of
everyday conversation and players resort to each other to understand
rules, optimize their skills, pass through a certain stage, etc. All
this communication requires and generates its own channels, such as
gamesforums and faqs. More often than not, these external channels are
the only way to get into the system's most internal rules - the ones
that are never written on manuals and made explicit, such as hints
(e.g. the order to fight megaman's bosses) and exploits (e.g. konami
code). Bios below (and links bellower).

*Joshua Diaz*
Joshua Diaz is a game designer and researcher. Currently working in
social games in the SF Bay area, he's a graduate of the Comparative
Media Studies program at MIT and an alum of the GAMBIT Game Lab. His
research focused on multiplayer game design and the impact of player
communities, collaborative storytelling and procedural narratives, and
game literacy research in education and development. He's findable
under the nick "dizzyjosh" most places, like

*Julian Kücklich*
Julian Kücklich is an independent media researcher based in Berlin.
More at http://playability.de.


* * *

[1] http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1524/the_chemistry_of_game_design.php
[2] http://www.abandonia.com/en/games/987/Mario+Teaches+Typing.html
[3] http://e-pub.uni-weimar.de/volltexte/2004/37/
[4] http://hubpages.com/hub/Steambirds-Strategy-and-Hint-Guide
[5] http://stunts.hu/
[6] http://nifflas.ni2.se/?page=Knytt+Stories
[7] http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Pok%C3%A9walker
[8] http://www.auntiepixelante.com/?p=507
[9] http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415385237/

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