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Re-Playing Japan Symposium | 14.08.2012

The GRAND/Play-PR group at the University of Alberta is hosting a one day symposium about Japanese game culture and industry with speakers from Japan, Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta.

Replaying Japan is a one day symposium on Japanese game culture, game studies and the gaming industry that will bring together researchers from Japan and Canada on August 22nd, 2012 at the University of Alberta to talk about the challenges and opportunities in cross-cultural study of game culture with a particular focus on university/industry interaction. The symposium will run from 9:15am – 5:00 pm in Humanities Centre L-2, University of Alberta campus. Anyone interested in game studies and/or Japanese popular culture is welcome.

Where: Humanities Centre L-2, University of Alberta

When: August 22nd, 9:15am till 5pm
Who: Speakers include:
  • Koichi Hosoi, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan
  • Kazufumi Fukuda, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan
  • Kevin Kee, Brock University, St. Catharines ON, Canada
  • Mia Consalvo, Concordia University, Montreal QC, Canada
  • Akinori Nakamura, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan
  • Geoffrey Rockwell, University of Alberta, Edmonton AB, Canada
  • Mitsuyuki Inaba, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan
  • Sean Gouglas, University of Alberta, Edmonton AB, Canada
Cost: None!
Replaying Japan is supported by GRAND (http://grand-nce.org), the Prince Takamado Japan Centre, the Canadian Institute for Research Computing in the Arts, and the China Institute

GRAND researcher curates major exhibition on games in Paris. | 9.07.2012

Joue le jeu / Play Along runs from June 20 – Aug 12, 2012 at the Gaîté Lyrique, Paris

GRAND researcher Lynn Hughes (PI for PlayPR) along with GRAND HQP Cindy Poremba and long time collaborator, game designer Heather Kelley, curated the exhibition Joue Le Jeu / Play Along at the Gaîté Lyrique in Paris. The show transformed the Gaîté into an immense playground and used its stunning new spaces, where architecture goes hand in hand with technology, to create conversations between bodies, the space around them and virtual worlds. The (completely playable!) exhibition is one of the first to present current game development and research as the richly diverse and creatively innovative culture that it now is. It showcases innovation in games –but with an emphasis on new approaches to aesthetics, narrative and gameplay mechanics. At the same time, Joue le jeu / Play Along insists on the cultural centrality of games within digital culture and on connections to both more traditional (non-digital) game culture and to ludic interactive art environments.

During the opening night, Propinquity, a game created by GRAND researchers Lynn Hughes and Bart Simon in collaboration with the Modern Nomads, was featured (see the full Propinquity project description here). Propinquity is a game focused on the body rather than the screen, and is designed to evoke both dancing and fighting games. It focuses on full body interaction and the use of sound and game play mechanics to produce an intensely social and physical experience.

The exhibition has garnered reviews from major print, radio, television and web media.

Click here to view the English Press Release (pdf) for information on some of the other games and works in the show.

Geoffrey; “Reading Close Reading” | 26.05.2012

Geoffrey writes: “Can we imagine other ways that readings might be shared?”

First, apologies for the length of my earlier responses – another problem with academic writing.  And, yes, implicit in my interjections was the assumption that writing is the appropriate vehicle for sharing the results. I’d take it one step earlier – writing is the vehicle by which I come to fully understand any insights I have.  There’s a precision of thought to good writing – which clarifies for the author and communicates to the reader.

Second, yes again – we can imagine other ways of sharing insights into the medium – and one is exactly as you suggest: in the making of good works.

They are not inconsistent, of course – one can do both – and many do.  But don’t you think the two activities (making and writing) are complementary, rather than possible substitutes for each other?

(I’ll spare you yet another rant, but I think the real problem with academic writing is that so much of it is so bad.  I’m heading out to Cypress Bowl now in order to stifle yet another screed on that topic.)

On Practice as Research, Embodied Knowledge, and Procedural Rhetoric | 26.05.2012

I’m joining this conversation a bit late, and feel like Jim has already said much of what I would say about close reading, so I’m going to instead talk a bit about “practice as research”: a methodology that has been articulated primarily through arts research.  When Jim initially described the conversation that was had about ludic engagement as research at the GRAND conference it struck me that framing game design activities as a form of knowledge creation was a good fit for these more experiential paradigms.  Practice as Research is rooted in epistemologies of “know-how” rather than “know-what” (in the sense that one “knows how” to ride a bicycle, but would be hard pressed to describe “what” one is doing when riding), which is to say that it is grounded in embodied experiences rather than linguistic reflection.  My primary source for this is Robin Nelson’s “Practice as Research and the Problem of Knowledge” (http://dx.doi.org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1080/13528160701363556) which tackles the specific problems of transforming experiential knowledge into articulated rational/linguistic knowledge.

Creating knowledge from art practice is challenging because art practice often happens at a pre-rational level:  even when an artist has a specifically articulated method for accomplishing a given piece, this method cannot account for entirety of the process, or the artifacts of it.  The challenge with practice as an epistemological act is that language isn’t sufficient to communicate bodily experience.  Design research suffers from this challenge as well, and while design theorists often argue that design practice can lead to theory creation (specifically Ken Friedman and Richard Buchanan) they tend to gloss over exactly how this process is to take place.  Nelson’s answer to this is to triangulate between multiple ways of knowing:  he proposes a model that includes experiential knowledge, conceptual knowledge (his term for theoretical academic knowledge within the humanities tradition), and critical reflection (his term for more observational and empirical knowledge about the socially situated elements of a practice).  In this way, Nelson manages to dodge around the bigger philosophical questions about how to best come to terms with embodied and experiential knowledge.

In this context Geoffrey’s question strikes me as particularly important, because (if I’m understanding him correctly) it asks if writing about play experiences is really sufficient for communicating the information about play that is most relevant to designers (or other scholars).  I write this, of course, as someone deeply invested in linguistic, rhetorical, and hermeneutic ways of knowing, while acknowledging that they have significant limitations when it comes to grappling with lived experience.  Nelson uses the example of dance classes and dance training to describe the ways in which certain know-how must be acquired through bodied experience, and I’ve been using examples from actor training and performance studies in my work to look at how strategies for framing a person’s activity can impact their cognitive experience of a text.  What dance, acting, and games have in common is that they rely on procedural rhetorics to communicate experiential knowledge through action, rather than through didactic or linguistic systems of communication.  Each of these domains draws on systems of structured rules around activity that lead their participants to “enact” desired meanings.  Good games use rules to communicate to their players through play, while good acting trainers and dance instructors create gamelike systems of constraint to guide a student to access or acquire somatic knowledge.  Thus, I can imagine using a game to communicate something about games that is not linguistically tractable, but I suspect that this communication will be beholden to the same problematics as close reading:  that it will vary from playing to playing, and player to player; that it will disclose more or less information depending on the skill level of the interactor; and that it could potentially require extended time commitment, especially if it needs to communicate anything of depth or importance, because it will require the teaching of new literacies.  I like the idea of an essay or argument in the form of a game quite a bit:  I feel like the PS3 game Journey succeeds at accomplishing this in a very compelling way.  I think however that such a task is not to be taken on lightly.  Mike Treanor, and Michael Mateas warn against the impact of unintended procedural rhetorics (in their paper on Newsgaming): they argue that inattention and sloppy design can lead to an interactive artifact where the lived experience of the play directly contravenes the desired encoded meaning.  We have a lot of experience with crafting arguments in text, and much less experience in crafting arguments through experience and participation.  I’d be interested to see Geoffrey’s provocation taken up and explored in some detail, because it strikes me as a compelling way to communicated embodied knowledge, but I don’t know where one would begin such a project.

“Struggling to Make Games” | 26.05.2012

As usual, Geoffrey’s is making interesting and relevant interventions – I’ll try to respond in kind.  I’ll start with his earlier post – “Struggling to Make Games”.  The making of art can indeed be informed by the close reading of art.  One of my favorite examples is Tarentino – he worked at a video store, and clearly he spent a lot of time looking at films, and just as clearly this is reflected in his own work.  I recognize he’s not to everyone’s taste – either in content, values or style – but there’s no question, whatever you think of his work, he is a filmmaker steeped in the history of his medium.

However, there are two critical variables I would like to interject: rigour and purpose.  I don’t know how Tarentino watched, but a close reading done well is done rigorously.  Van Looy and Baetans rightfully set the bar high: “When close reading, the eyes are almost touching the words of the text.  Every small discontinuity, contradiction or aporia is identified and written down for future reference … there is a sense of hostility between the reader and the text.  The text is never trusted at face value, but is torn to pieces and reconstituted by a reader who is always at the same time a demolisher and a constructor.”

I don’t have this sense of hostility when I close read – which may be a fault of mine – but I do have the sense of closeness and attention – which I know is a virtue.  Josh and I took notes every step of our reading of ME2 – a total of 54 pages of single-spaced pencil notes.  We supplemented that with screen shots – about 360 in total.  We then went over the set of notes, starred what we thought were important highlights, cross-referenced them to our analytical framework and produced a 7 page annotated summary of memorable moments tied to specific concepts.  I’m not sure Josh would have needed to do this on his own – his memory and internal retrieval systems are superb, but I need this level of annotation to feel comfortable with my own close-readings.  If a close-reading isn’t grounded firmly in the work, it’s pretty much hot air.

The other variable – which goes directly to your question of making “someone a good designer” – is the purpose of the reading.  Close readings can have a variety of purposes.  Your goal could be understanding the work through any number of lenses – political, sociological, historical, cultural.  That’s what Brian and Darren did so well at the Concordia Game Narrative symposium.  My own goal is poetics – and on this one, Bordwell is right.   Close-reading for poetics – for design – is an empirical exercise.  If you’re careful, and if you have a base understanding of the medium, you will figure things out.  You will reverse-engineer the significant creative decisions, and in the process you will understand the design of the work – or at least that part that you have focused your attention on (as Jen pointed us to in her linking to the “micro-readings” or as Adam pointed out in his “Skyrim” example).

To finally answer Geoffrey’s point (my apologies for the length of this) – if you close-read for design, you will understand the making of the work, and if you push yourself, you will increase your understanding of the medium.  In so doing, you will objectify the design process – and give yourself better tools for conceptualizing design. This won’t guarantee you’re a good maker, but if forty years of teaching filmmakers is any guide – it will darn sure help.

Reading “close-reading” | 25.05.2012

I want to respond to Jim Bizzocchi’s “rant” about close reading and making. In the humanities the problem is that the only legitimate form of academic discourse is reading and writing. In Montreal I was trying to argue for other forms of interventions. I realize that in other fields the situation may be reversed and reading may not be considered serious work, but in the humanities we struggle to get our colleagues to take made theory seriously.

There is, however, a doubling to the question. I could choose to read games closely but share my readings through another game. Increasingly games quote earlier games which you could argue is a way of re-presenting a reading. You seem to be arguing not only for close-reading but for publishing as the best way to share the insights of close reading. Can we imagine other ways that readings might be shared?

Geoffrey Rockwell

Struggling to Make Games | 25.05.2012

I would like to believe that the making of games can be informed by the close reading of games. This is not to say that having played a lot makes someone a good game designer. I’ve read a lot of sci fi, but I doubt I could write it well.

Perhaps the question is how to weave critical reading and making together.

@ Brian – Chronotopes ? | 25.05.2012

Chronotopes

Brian asks: “ Are there any analogous chronotopes in other media?”  “No, but there are digital ones …”   OK, shoot me, Brian – clearly I need it!

For me, mismatching the time frame can be magic in the cinema.   Consider the one we saw at the GRAND Conference:  “Zea”.  < http://www.nfb.ca/film/zea_en >   That’s not “an extended campaign” – but it is exquisite.  Douglas Gordon did “24 Hour Psycho” – slowed Hitchcock’s Pyscho from 24 fps to 2 fps – took 24 hours to finish.  Gordon used a big screen to give more visual impact.  Never saw it, but always wanted to. Bill Viola’s work may be the best in this direction – he uses slow motion exceedingly well in a number of his works.

Here’s a pointer for possible gameplay mechanics: Do you remember the duel between Paul Atreides and his fighting tutor (Patrick Stewart) in “Dune”.  The key to delivering a killing knife wound through the force-field armor was a slow entry.  Lots of games privilege fast responses – which ones favor slow and careful physical response?

@ Jim – “slow glass” | 25.05.2012

‘Haven’t read it in years myself, but i remember it as a gorgeous and moving tale about love, memory and loss.  In life, sometimes slower is better:  and maybe it’s true in games as well.  After all, 100 hours for Skyrim!  What do you call fast action carried out over an extended campaign?  Are there any analogous chronotopes in other media?

@ Brian – “slow glass” | 25.05.2012

“When I say the glass is ten years thick it means it takes light ten years to pass through it …  Having a [slow glass] scenedow meant the meanest cave dweller could look out on misty parks …”

- Bob Shaw, “Light of Other Days”

Thanks, Brian – you got me to look up some old sci-fi references I’ve been meaning to track down.   The “slow-glass” metaphor is consistent with my own video production aesthetic and genre <www.ambientvideo.ca>.

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