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Huddersfield 15/16 Digital Cultures: Games culture

Games in culture, gaming communities, the economics of gaming, games as art.

Richard Jones

on 8 March 2017

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Transcript of Huddersfield 15/16 Digital Cultures: Games culture

Games culture
Contact me
Email: R.L.Jones@hud.ac.uk
Twitter: @rlwjones
Blog: richardjonesjournalist.com
Office hours: Tuesday 1:15-2:15pm
Wednesday 12:15-1:15pm
Today's lecture
Games in culture
The economy of gaming
Gaming communities
Games as art
Games in culture
Compared to other cultural forms, games are still relatively new. The first commercially successful arcade video game, Pong, came out in 1972.
Video games have usually been considered part of "low culture". This isn't particularly surprising. The history of media shows us there is always scepticism about a new form of media
(McLuhan 1964)
. This has applied to movies, radio, TV, social media and so on.
McLuhan, M. (1964).
Understanding Media (in particular Chapters 16 and 29)
Williams, D. (2005).
A brief social history of game play
Cohen, S. (1972).
Folk devils and moral panics: The creation of the Mods and Rockers
Egenfeld-Nielsen, S. et al (2012).
Understanding Video Games
Marchand, A. & Henning-Thurau, T. (2013).
Value creation in the video game industry
Burger-Helmchen, T. & Cohendet, P. (2011).
User communities and social software in the video game industry
Boyd, D. (2014).
It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens
Taylor, T. (2012).
Raising The Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalisation of Computer Gaming
Macintosh, I. et al (2012).
Football Manager Stole My Life
Parker, J. (2013).
Games Are Art: Video games as theatrical performance
Klevjer, R. (2002).
In Defence of Cutscenes
Gee. J. (2006).
Why Game Studies Now?
Both games and gamers are often represented negatively in politics and the media.
"In the U.S., our collective
conjures up an immediate image: Isolated, pale-skinned teenage boys sit hunched forward on a sofa in some dark basement space, obsessively mashing buttons. In contrast, the statistics and accounts tell a very different story—one of often vibrant social settings and diverse playing communities."
Williams (2006)
Games are at the centre of
moral panics
, while gamers themselves are given unflattering
moral panic
was most memorably described as something that "emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests... its nature is presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media".
(Cohen 1972)
These have regularly occurred in games going back to the 1970s. One of the biggest concerned the console version of the original Mortal Kombat in 1993.
US Senator Joe Lieberman held a high-profile committee hearing which put games in the media spotlight.
Within months, under political and media pressure, the games industry had introduced an age-rating system that still exists today.
The Nintendo version of Mortal Kombat was significantly toned down. So was the Sega version, but it included a "gore cheat" which allowed you to restore the blood of the arcade original. It outsold the Nintendo game by 5 to 1.
The row over Mortal Kombat took place at a time when games were moving from arcades and the bedroom into the living room. What had previously been seen as a children's toy was increasingly a form of entertainment for adults.
This process continued in the 1990s with the release of the PlayStation 1 and in particular the bestselling FIFA series of games, popular with men in their 20s and 30s (in the US, John Madden Football played a similar role).
Now, according to research by lobby group the ESA, the average age of a gamer is 31 and 48% of all gamers are women (other surveys produce similar results).
ESA (2014)
But that lobbying appears to have had little impact on the mainstream media, which is still quick to resort to
moral panics
around gaming.
The economy of gaming
A question:

What's the fastest selling entertainment product of all time?
Grand Theft Auto V took more than $1bn in its first three days of release in 2013. That's as much as Frozen earned in its entire box office run.
The GTA games are made by Rockstar North in Edinburgh. This British success story has its origins in another, the Sinclair Spectrum computers of the 1980s.
These were the first commercially successful home computers in the UK, and spawned a host of software developers large and small.
The computers were made by Timex in Dundee. Legend has it that every boy growing up in Dundee in the 1980s had one.
David Jones founded DMA Design in Dundee in 1988. Soon, he'd made Lemmings, a huge global hit on the Amiga.
The first GTA game was made in 1997 and the series has gone on to extraordinary success, part of what is now Britain's biggest entertainment industry.
In 2014, we spent £2.5bn on physical and digital games in the UK. Movies earned just over £2bn, music £700m.
(Entertainment Retailers' Association)
The business of gaming is an
. The top 10 software makers account for 62% of the market. But this actually makes gaming less concentrated than other entertainment industries.
Marchand & Henning-Thurau (2013)
While the bigger software houses tend to focus on action, shooter and sports games, indie developers have been able to have hits with less obvious titles.
Indie developers are able to sell their games through XBox Marketplace, the App Store, and most importantly for PC games, Steam.
Gaming communities
"Many of those who live second lives as managers play no other games. They are not gamers, but lovers of football, and FM has become as much a part of that culture for them as waching the game on a Saturday."
Macintosh et al (2012)
Football Manager has been around for more than 20 years. But, in common with many popular games, the online community around it has become as much a part of the game as the game itself.
"The video game industry is shifting towards online content, player interactions and social gaming, where the joint efforts of firms and communities creates the value for the consumer."
Burger-Helmchen & Cohendet (2011)
Crossley, R. (2014). Mortal Kombat: Violent game that changed video games industry. Retrieved from
ESA. (2014). Essential facts about the computer and video game industry. Retrieved from
Hruby, P. (2011). The Franchise. Retrieved from
Dring, C. (2013). Rejection, tragedy and billions of dollars - The story of FIFA. Retrieved from
Schiesel, S. (2010). Way Down Deep in the Wild, Wild West. Retrieved from
Ebert, R. (2010) Video games can never be art. Retrieved from
The range of user-created content available for games is remarkable, and software companies really encourage it.
The natural progression from all this is what we now call
. This is literally watching other people play video games live.
Gaming tournaments are as old as gaming itself. But its recent growth and professionalisation has prompted a lot of discussion.
Let's watch a bit, live.
Taylor (2012)
suggests it's partly because hardcore gamers are seeking to reclaim their niche in a gaming world now dominated by more casual gamers.
Games as art
"In the more than 1,100 articles I have written for this newspaper since 1996, I have never before called anything a tour de force. Yet there is no more succinct and appropriate way to describe Red Dead Redemption."
Sam Schiesel, New York Times (2010)
There are three points to note that from particular clip of Red Dead Redemption.
They got a fashionable singer-songwriter (Jose Gonzalez) to do a song purely for the game, and it's used only once, just like in a movie.
There's an element of narrative or story. There was a cut scene at the start. These are quite controversial in gaming, because they're considered by some critics to be a bit rubbish.
The landscape is rendered beautifully (as well it might be for the estimated £50m it cost to make the game). In fact, we might describe it as cinematic.
There's a debate over whether video games can really be considered art.
Parker (2013)
argues that, because video games include many of the properties of films and plays, surely that means they must be art.
Klevjer (2002)
contends that cut scenes are necessary to move the story along, give a respite to players from intense gameplay, and sometimes to provide rewards.
Critics have suggested that games don't include enough story or narrative to be considered art.

Gee (2006)

argues that narrative in games is a joint construct of the game developer and the player, and is different for each player - a form of performance art subtly different to others but art nonetheless.
"No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets."
Ebert (2010)
Boyd (2014)
describes gaming communities, and other online spaces on social media, as
'networked publics'

where young people in particular go to be social and express themselves.
Google has established YouTube Gaming as a significant rival to Amazon's Twitch. Two of today's biggest media companies are fighting hard in this area now.
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