[-empyre-] December Discussion - Gaming Subcultures

Julian Raul Kücklich julian at kuecklich.de
Tue Nov 30 05:00:51 EST 2010

Hi all,

after Gabriel's introduction, I would like to get the ball rolling by 
raising the question what we are actually talking about when we talk 
about gaming subcultures. While Gabriel has provided some fascinating 
examples, which demonstrate the breadth of the contemporary videogame 
landscape, I think it might be useful to delve into the history of 
games, and look at some crucial junctures which lead up to the current 

I think it's useful to keep in mind that computer gaming itself was seen 
as a subculture until recently, and that some "hardcore gamers" are 
still holding on to this notion, despite the demographic changes 
ascribed to the Nintendo Wii, browser-based gaming, and "social games" 
such as FarmVille. In the light of this development, we might also ask 
when the notion of a gaming mainstream was first articulated, and in 
which relation it stands vis-a-vis its subcultures.

1. Cold War Games
Gabriel mentioned Claus Pias' book "Computer Spiel Welten", which traces 
the history of computer games to military-cybernetic experiments in 
behavioural control. In this context, it seems pertinent that early 
computer games such as William Higinbotham's Tennis for Two and Steve 
Russell et al.'s Space War were developed on computers paid for by the 
Pentagon and represent both an abuse of military technology for 
entertainment purposes and an extension of military logic into gamespace.

2. Subcultural Networks
Another mythological foundation of computer game culture can be found in 
the development of "Colossal Cave / Advent", which was allegedly only 
possible because Don Woods got in touch with Will Crowther through the 
new medium of email, sending messages to every server on the net in the 
mid-1970s (see http://www.rickadams.org/adventure/a_history.html). True 
or not, this story draws attention to the fact that computer gaming was 
relegated to an academic elite for a long time.

3. Bedroom Coders
In the 1980s, it was still feasible to make a game for individuals or 
small teams of two or three people. The "bedroom coders" of the 1980s 
were mostly in it for the money, yet they refused to work according to 
project plans and predefined milestones. And in games like "Manic Miner" 
they infused videogames with political messages for the first time. 
After all, it is hardly a coincidence that "Manic Miner" was released 
shortly before the UK miner's strike of 1984-85.

4. Skins, Maps, and Mods
It seems almost ironic that early 3D games like Doom and Quake managed 
to start a revolution in fan-created game modifications, while at the 
same time sounding the death knell for bedroom coders. The complexity 
and size of 3D games required much larger teams, so it was no longer 
feasible to create games by yourself. At the same time, however, id's 
laissez-faire approach allowed gamers to create their own maps, skins 
and mods for their games.

5. Independent Games
The return of "independent games" (often created by individual game 
designers such as Jason Rohrer or Jonathan Blow) is often attributed to 
the increasing viability of digital distribution (and a concomitant 
deacrease in the influence of publishers) but it also seems to betray a 
changing aesthetic sensibility. After two decades of higher and higher 
polygon counts, gamers seem to be quite comfortable with the simple 
graphics of Rohrer's Passage, or Daniel Benmergui's Today I Die.

That's it for today, looking forward to the debate,

dr julian raul kuecklich


Am 29.11.2010 09:16, schrieb Gabriel Menotti:
> 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
> effect.
> 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
> tournaments.
> 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
> http://twitter.com/dizzyjosh.
> *Julian Kücklich*
> Julian Kücklich is an independent media researcher based in Berlin.
> More at http://playability.de.
> Best!
> Menotti
> * * *
> [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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