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.
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:
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.
“Code Notebooks: New Tools for Digital Humanists” was presented by Kynan Ly and made the case for notebook-style programming in the digital humanities.
“Absorbing DiRT: Tool Discovery in the Digital Age” was presented by Kaitlyn Grant. The paper made the case for tool discovery registries and explained the merger of DiRT and TAPoR.
“Splendid Isolation: Big Data, Correspondence Analysis and Visualization in France” was presented by me. The paper talked about FRANTEXT and correspondence analysis in France in the 1970s and 1980s. I made the case that the French were doing big data and text mining long before we were in the Anglophone world.
“TATR: Using Content Analysis to Study Twitter Data” was a poster presented by Kynan Ly, Robert Budac, Jason Bradshaw and Anthony Owino. It showed IPython notebooks for analyzing Twitter data.
“Climate Change and Academia – Joint Panel with ESAC” was a panel I was on that focused on alternatives to flying for academics.
“Archiving an Untold History” was presented by Greg Whistance-Smith. He talked about our project to archive John Szczepaniak’s collection of interviews with Japanese game designers.
“Using Salience to Study Twitter Corpora” was presented by Robert Budac who talked about different algorithms for finding salient words in a Twitter corpus.
“Political Mobilization in the GG Community” was presented by ZP who talked about a study of a Twitter corpus that looked at the politics of the community.
Also, a PhD student I’m supervising, Sonja Sapach, won the CSDH-SCHN (Canadian Society for Digital Humanities) Ian Lancashire Award for Graduate Student Promise at CSDHSCHN18 at Congress. The Award “recognizes an outstanding presentation at our annual conference of original research in DH by a graduate student.” She won the award for a paper on “Tagging my Tears and Fears: Text-Mining the Autoethnography.” She is completing an interdisciplinary PhD in Sociology and Digital Humanities. Bravo Sonja!
Last week I was at Replaying Japan 2016 which was held in Leipzig and organized by Martin Roth and Martin Picard of the jGames Research Initiative at University of Leipzig. You can see my Replaying Japan 2016 Conference Report here. The conference is the fifth such conference that I have helped organize to look at Japanese and Asian videogame culture. We had terrific keynotes from Namco game and game music designers from the 1980s including Iwatani (Pac-Man) and Junko Ozawa (music for many Namco arcade and videogames). We also had a terrific talk about the history of localization from Minako O’Hagan.
The conference continued a tradition of bringing Western and Japanese game studies researchers together in a friendly environment. The quality of papers was really quite high and the conversation even better. The time has come to develop a community of research.
The Hamburg Museum of Arts and Crafts has a well designed exhibit called Hokusai x Manga that looks at the history of comics from the first kibyōshi to current manga and videogames. The exhibit draws on an extensive collection of woodblock books and prints from the Edo period. They mix a historical approach with themes like the depiction of demons (Yokai) in print and the franchise Yo-kai Watch.
One of the earliest comic picture books that they have is Kyōden’s Playboy, Roasted à la Edo (1785). Harvard has put up a Flash version of this in English and Japanese. (Second book here, third here.) They also have a copies of Hokusai Manga (or Hokusai’s Sketches) published starting in 1814 which was a sort of manual on how to draw with lots of examples. Note that “manga” at the time didn’t mean what it means now.
There is an excellent catalogue with useful essays including one at the end on “Manga in Transition” by Jaqueline Berndt.
Shulze, S., et al. (2016). Hokusai X Manga: Japanese Pop Culture since 1680. Munich, Hirmer.
My conference notes cover mostly the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities, but also DHSI at Congress, where I presented CWRC for Susan Brown, and the last day of the Canadian Game Studies Association. Here are some general reflections.
I am impressed by how the CGSA is growing and how vital it is. It has as many attendees as CSDH, but younger and enthusiastic attendees rather than tired. Much of the credit goes to the long term leadership of people like Jen Jensen.
CSDH has some terrific keynotes this year starting with Ian Milligan, then Tara McPherson, and finally Diane Jakacki.
It was great to see people coming up from the USA as CSDH/SCHN gets a reputation for being a welcoming conference in North America.
Programs of research, which are by nature exploratory, may require faculty members to take up modes of research that depart from methods they have previously used, therefore the form the resulting scholarship takes should not prejudice its evaluation. Original works in new media forms, whether digital or other, should be evaluated as scholarship following best practices if so presented. Likewise, researchers should be encouraged to experiment with new forms when disseminating knowledge, confident that their experiments will be fairly evaluated.
The Guidelines have a final section on Documented Deposit:
Digital media have not only expanded the forms that research can take, but research practices are also changing in the face of digital distribution and open access publishing. In particular we are being called on to preserve research data and to share new knowledge openly. Universities that have the infrastructure should encourage faculty to deposit not only digital works, but also curated datasets and preprint versions of papers/monographs with documentation in an open access form. These can be deposited with an embargo in digital archives as part of good practice around research dissemination and preservation. The deposit of work, including online published work, even if it is available elsewhere, ensures the long-term preservation by ensuring that there are copies in more than one place. Further, libraries can then ensure that the work is not only preserved, but is discoverable in the long term as publications come and go.
From a story in The Asahi Shimbun on Toyota goes manga for ‘Prius! Impossible Girls’ campaign I learned today that Toyota has developed a set of IMPOSSIBLE GIRLS for the different components of the Prius. Check out the site. They have something like 40 manga girl characters for the components of the latest Prius. I must say I find this anthropomorphicization rather tacky. The characters are all young girls that have nothing really to do with cars. What does it say about the Prius that they are pitching it though infantilized manga babes?
Jeremie alerted me to a strange debate raging about Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, a sexist beach volleyball game that Koei Tecmo decided not to release in the West, apparently because of concerns about a feminist backlash according to an employee’s comments on Facebook:
Do you know many issues happening in video game industry with regard to how to treat female in video game industry? We do not want to talk those things here. But certainly we have gone through in last year or two to come to our decision. Thank you.
Needless to say, this has animated the SJW (Social Justice Warrior) discussion around the representation of women in games and censorship of games. (I should note that it isn’t censorship if a publisher decides to not publish something.) Interestingly, this is not the first time we have had this debate about Japanese adult games across cultures. Brian Ashcraft has an article in Kotaku on Why Is CNN Talking About Rapelay? which documented how the Japanese publishers of adult games were adapting to attention from the West by changing titles and not localizing titles. What has changed is how the West is arguing with itself through Japan. The Japanese seem to be trying desperately not to be part of our culture war.