Modelling Cultural Processes

Mt Fuji with the setting behind

Sitting on a hill with a view of Mt. Fuji across the water is the Shonan Village Center where I just finished a research retreat on Modelling Cultural Processes. This was organized by Mits Inaba, Martin Roth, and Gehard Heyer from Ritsumeikan University and the University of Leipzig. It brought together people in computing, linguistics, game studies, political science, literary studies and the digital humanities. My conference notes are here.

Unlike a conference, much of the time was spent in working groups discussing issues like identity, shifting content, and constructions of culture. As part of our working groups we developed a useful model of the research process across the humanities and social sciences such that we can understand where there are shifts in content.

Mt Fuji in the distance across the water

Racism, misogyny, death threats: Why can’t the booming video-game industry curb toxicity? – Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is reprinting a story from the Washington post, Racism, misogyny, death threats: Why can’t the booming video-game industry curb toxicity? The story is one more on how nasty online gaming can be. The usual companies try to reduce the toxicity of game culture and don’t really succeed. So we are left to just ignore it?

With no clear methods to effectively monitor, halt or eliminate toxic behavior, many in the gaming community have simply tried to ignore it and continue playing anyway. Many of the titles cited most for toxic players remain the industry’s most popular.

‎GoQueer Locative Game

‎Queer places are, by definition, sites of accretion, where stories, memories, and experiences are gathered. Queer place, in particular, is reliant on ephemeral histories, personal moments and memories. GoQueer intends to integrate these personal archives with places for you to discover.

I recently downloaded and started playing the iOS version of ‎GoQueer from the App Store. It is a locative game from my colleague Dr. Maureen Engel.

Engel reflected about this project in a talk on YouTube titled Go Queer: A Ludic, Locative Media Experiment. Engel nicely theorizes her game not once, but in a doubled set of reflections show how theorizing isn’t a step in project design, but continuous thinking-through.

You can also see an article reflecting on this game by the title, Perverting Play: Theorizing a Queer Game Mechanic.

Nakamura: Transmedia Storytelling within the Media Mix system in Japanese Pop Culture

Today I had the honour to introduce Professor Aki Nakamura from Ritsumeikan University who talked about Transmedia Storytelling within the Media Mix system in Japanese Pop Culture at the JSAC 2018 conference in Edmonton.

He began by introducing us to transmedia storytelling. He talked about how transmedia franchises can extend the fictional world through space and time.
Continue reading Nakamura: Transmedia Storytelling within the Media Mix system in Japanese Pop Culture

EaaSI | The Software Preservation Network

I just learned about a new project called EaaSI | The Software Preservation Network. Stanford will be one of the nodes. They are looking at how to provide emulation as a service. They are using technology from Freiburg called bwFLA Emulation as Service.

Emulation as a strategy for digital preservation is about to become an accepted technology for memory institutions as a method for coping a large variety of complex digital objects. Hence, the demand for ready-made and especially easy-to-use emulation services will grow. In order to provide user-friendly emulation services a scalable, distributed system model is required to be run on heterogeneous Grid or Cluster infrastructure.

The Emulation-as-a-Service architecture simplifies access to preserved digital assets allowing end users to interact with the original environments running on different emulators. Ready-made emulation components provide a flexible web service API allowing for development of individual and tailored digital preservation workflows.

Emulation is going to be important to game preservation. Already the Internet Archive is making games and other software available with emulation. There is also the MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) project that is a community project that has traditionally allowed people to play older games right from the bit sequence off cartridges.

Home – DIGRA 2018 Conference

Last week I was at the DIGRA 2018 Conference in Turin, Italy. The conference was well organized and the quality of papers was high. As always, I kept conference notes here.

I was struck how game studies is less and less about games. Of course, games are the subject of research, but game studies is less about the appreciation of games and more and more about what we can learn about other things through games. Games, like literature, have become a lens for looking at other things making the field richer and better aligned with other fields like media studies or literary criticism.

Next year the conference will be held in Japan and linked up with Replaying Japan. I look forward to the encounter between these different game studies cultures.

Kompu Gacha: Banning Loot Boxes

I’ve been meaning to write for while about Kompu Gacha (or Complete Gacha), a game mechanic that was popular in Japanese mobile games until it was banned in 2012 (see this story too). Kompu gacha is an extreme (or complete) form of the gacha game mechanic which was in turn inspired by the ubiquitous gachapon vending machines you find in Japan where for a couple of coins you get a small loot box (sphere) with a random gift in some theme or series. Children collect items by buying the loot boxes with the hopes of getting new trinkets in series that they collect and trade. Mobile games in Japan borrowed this well known play mode and began to include virtual loot boxes that you could buy in-game. Developers fine tuned the system to the point where millions of yen were being spent on vanishingly rare items. This led to a public controversy after there were cases of youth spending thousands of dollars that then led to banning the loot boxes.

There are a number of reasons why this mechanic and its banning are interesting:

  • It is an example of the grey area between gaming and gambling. In fact, Belgium has also outlawed video game loot boxes as gambling.
  • Gacha mechanics in general are economically important to Japanese mobile/social game design.
  • They are an interesting mechanic in and of themselves and show how an element of randomness that has consequences can be fun. Philosophers and historians of gambling have noted the importance of the element of real risk to the intesity of gambling. It gives everyone a chance to be heroic.

I should mention that it was Mark Johnson and Tom Brock who drew my attention to loot boxes. They have been doing important research on loot boxes and giving papers on the subject.

The Truth About ‘Video Game Addiction’


Recently the World Health Organization included “gaming disorder” in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) 11.

Gaming disorder is defined in the draft 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.

Needless to say, this has raised hackles in the gaming world. One balanced article in The Truth About ‘Video Game Addiction’ in Kotaku.

CBC TV: The Artists

The Artists is the story of the creators that were at the forefront of the early video game revolution. It explores the first three decades of video game history.

I just finished watching the CBC TV series, The Artists – Season 1. This is a series of short (9 – 12 minute) video essays that you can watch off the web. The series focuses on the issue of game designers as artists and starts and ends with an early and influential ad, We see farther, that EA (Electronic Arts) ran that showcased their developers, something other companies (like Atari) didn’t do.

The CBC series is well done, though I find the shorts too short. I wish they lingered a bit more over the clips of games and other historic materials. The kinetic style of the shorts may suit the medium, but not the history.

My other gripe is their choice of game designers to feature. There are no Japanese game designers. In fact, it is as if no one outside of the US and Canada designed games at all. They could have also covered some influential women designers like Brenda Laurel.

What is great, is episode 9 on Bioware (and Edmonton!) I didn’t realize that Greg Zeschuk, one of the founders of Bioware, started the Blind Enthusiasm Brewing Company which has a beer brewery and restaurant near my house.

Dan Hett’s game “c ya laterrrr”

c ya laterrrr is text “game” by Dan Hett to document his experience after the Manchester terror attack when he lost his brother. “c ya laterrrr” was the last message he got from his brother. I found the game through an interview with the Guardian that talks about the games he is making. Another games that is less narration and more 8-bit graphics is the Loss Levels made with Pico-8.

As both games deal with the same event they make an interesting comparison of genres. I find the text adventure game much more effective for this subject as you feel the event unfold and the decisions give you a feeling for the experience.