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DiGRA Tokyo 2007 “Situated Play”. The Hegemony of Play. Ludica. Janine Fron Ludica. Jacquelyn Ford Morie USC Institute for Creative Technologies. Celia Pearce Georgia Institute of Technology. Tracy Fullerton USC School of Cinematic Arts. Ludica.

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DiGRA Tokyo 2007

“Situated Play”

The Hegemony of Play

Ludica

Janine Fron

Ludica

Jacquelyn Ford Morie

USC Institute for Creative Technologies

Celia Pearce

Georgia Institute of

Technology

Tracy Fullerton

USC

School of Cinematic Arts


Ludica

A women’s game collective devoted to creating a more gender-inclusive environment for game research, art, design and education.


The Argument


  • What is “The Hegemony of Play”?

  • Coined by Pearce/Fullerton at a 2005 lecture by Bernie DeKoven at USC

  • Describes the exclusionary power structures of the computer game industry that have narrowed the conception of both play and player in the digital sphere

  • Supported by “conventional wisdom” that game industry trajectory is entirely market-driven

  • We argue that this is a self-fulfilling prophesy designed to justify practices of both production and employment which are flagrantly biased and discriminatory


  • Underlying Assumptions

  • Three levels of unexamined assumptions in this defense of the game industry’s status quo:

  • Production process and environment in which digital games are created

  • The evolution of technologies of play

  • The cultural positioning of games and “gamers.”


Underlying Assumptions

Infused our notion of games with values and norms that reinforce that industry’s technological, commercial and cultural investments in a particular definition of games and play, creating a cyclical system of supply and demand in which alternate products of play are marginalized and devalued.


  • Structure

  • The power elite of the game industry is a predominately white, and secondarily Asian, male-dominated corporate and creative elite

  • Represents a select group of large, global publishing companies in conjunction with a small handful of massive chain retail distributors.

  • This hegemonic elite determines which technologies will be deployed, and which will not; which games will be made, and by which designers; which players are important to design for, and which play styles will be supported.


  • Rationale

  • Exclusionary rhetoric of play based on the construction of a “hardcore gamer” as its primary audience

  • All others are considered minorities, although in actuality they constitute a majority, e.g., women and girls, older males, racial/ethnic minorities, etc.

  • Aided and abetted by game review and advertising infrastructure that valorizes certain types of games and marginalizes others

  • Prevalent in spite of the fact that the most successful commercial games have been inclusive, esp. of gender, e.g., Pac Man, The Sims, etc.


  • The Situation

  • The Hegemony of Play is the proverbial “Elephant in the Living Room.”

  • Some have critiqued:

    • Cassell and Jenkins, etc. (1998)

    • Grainer-Ray (2003)

    • Kafai, Heeter, Denner, Sun et al (forthcoming)

  • Only a few have called attention to its underlying structures or raison dêtre:

    • Flanagan

    • Laurel (2001)

    • Taylor


  • Our Call

  • Because game studies is working with the material of the Hegemony of play, for the most part, we have bought into and help to perpetuate it

  • Play should not be controlled by a hegemonic elite

  • We are calling on the game studies community adopt a critique of the Hegemony of Play rather than perpetuate its rhetorics

  • As scholars and educators, this is our prerogative; as game designers, our mandate.


  • How Game Studies has Played Along

  • Because we study their games, we often inadvertently valorize and fetishize their work without interrogating it

  • The Hegemony of Play has driven the discourse of what is and is not a game; embedded in discussions of taxonomy are the underlying values of the video game industry

  • Because of the self-perpetuated demographic, the majority of player-centered research concerns the “gamer” (i.e. male player). Gender is often not called out or not considered of consequence

  • We have helped perpetuate the exclusionary construction of “gamer” in our writing, and educational practices


The Production Environment


  • IGDA 2005 Study on Workplace Diversity

  • In the U.S., 88.5% of all game development workers are male

  • 83.3% are white

  • 92% are heterosexual

  • Most interesting ins the qualitative data of comments published in the appendix:


  • Comments from IGDA Study on Diversity

    • «The industry is not diverse. The people interested in games and computers in general are not diverse. Most programmers are men - because men tend to like programming more often than women do. Its just the way it is.» - M, 24, White, Canada

    • «Games are made by White Males, for White Males. I'm all for a diverse industry, it just isn't there. Marketing in the entire industry is very poor. Games either make it or don't, then copy the ones that do.» - M, 28, USA

    • «I don't think workforce diversity has anything to do with making great games. Hiring should be based solely on skills, work ethic and personality. Race, gender, sexual orientation and ethnic background have NO bearing on hiring policy.»

    • M, 35, White, USA

    • «The most qualified person should be hired, beyond that I don't care what sexual preference, color, creed or any other pop culture label they are.» - M, 26, White, disabled, USA


  • “Qualified”?

  • Encoded to exclude experience in related areas, such as educational software, HCI, and other fields which have better female representation

  • Playtesting is usually where designers get their start; because most frequently “gamers” are hired, few of these are women

  • The game workplace requires excessive hours and promotes a “locker-room” ethos which makes the environment

  • The types of games being produced are of less interest to women

  • Representation of women in games is often a turn-off


  • Early “Girl Game Movement”

  • “There’s a six billion dollar business with an empty lot next door.” Liddle and Laurel

  • Question had all the hallmarks of “a good research problem—puzzling, consequential and complex.” (Laurel 2001)

  • Purple Moon came out of a research lab, not a commercial game company

  • Now used as the failure that proves the rule, in spite of other successes such as Barbie.


  • The struggle

  • Once women do make it into the game industry, they often have to battle with sexist attitudes about design and content

  • Female designer Nour Polloni insisted that the female leading character in a new game she was developing wear baggy pants, but the the all-male creative team wanted her to dress her in a string bikini

  • Women in the IGDA comments supplement complain of the “boys-only” ethos, and other practices that are alienating to women, e.g.: “Booth babes” at industry expos; excessive overtime; lack of work/life balance; a general locker-room attitude that pervades the workplace


  • The Reality

  • In spite of blatant exclusion and discrimination, the ESA estimates that 38% of all gamers are women

  • Women over forty are the fastest-growing gaming demographic; the game industry often dismisses these as only playing “casual” games, which is untrue

  • The best-selling games historically have been those played by women (Pac-Man, Myst, The Sims)

  • Given these figures, what would happen if women and girls were marketed to instead of against?


Technologies of Play


  • Historical Modes of Play

  • Prior to the advent of the computer game, game rules were adjudicated by players themselves, e.g., playground rules, “house rules,” etc.

  • Digital games introduced machine-adjudication and the notion that the player must “beat” the game

  • Players must now prove they are “good enough for the game” (DeKoven 1978)

  • Computer controllers create a barrier of entry

  • FPS games, for instance, favor spatial rotation skills that are cognitively harder for girls and women


  • The 19th Century Board Game Industry as a Model for the Future?

  • The printing press shifted the “folk” nature of games

  • Board games in 19th Century America:

    • First form of “home entertainment”

    • Leveraged emerging leisure time of middle class families

    • Marketing strategies provide unique insight into the cultural concerns of the day


  • The Market

  • Much is made of $7 billion a year in game software revenue

  • Yet this pales in comparison with the board game industry, e.g.

    • The Sims: 60 million units worldwide

    • Monopoly: 750 million units worldwide

  • This begs the question:

    • Why don’t video games sell more?


  • Early Board Games

  • First board game published in the U.S., Mansion of Happiness, was designed by a woman (Parker Bros., 1894).

  • A “serious” game whose goal was to lead a good life


  • Early Board Games

  • First board game to be patented: Lizzie Magie’s The Landlord Game (1924), designed to teach the iniquity of rental

  • Later bought by Parker Bros. to make way for Monopoly


Commerce (Ottoman & Lith 1900)

Images from Liman Collection, New York Historical Society; used with permission

Pillow Dex (Parker Bros.)


Round the World with Nelly Bly

Elite Conversation Cards

(courtship genre)

Images from Liman Collection, New York Historical Society; used with permission

Sewing Game


  • Some Discoveries about the Early Board Game Industry

  • Games were designed for families; less gender stratification

  • Both game advertising and game packaging showed players: males and females across generations; focus was on playing together, enhancing family relations

  • Women are seen in engaged in a variety of active roles

  • Other discoveries:

    • The Sociable Telephone, featuring a female player

    • Department Store, where you play shop owner

    • Women’s Basketball; in a search on Moby Games were were able to find 0 video games on this theme


  • The ‘Pastime Girls’

  • Early board games were manufactured by women, drawn from the garment and shoe industries

  • As a result, most games were tested with primarily female players

George Parker conducting a playtest with the ‘Pastime Girls’


The Cultural Positioning of Players and Play


  • The Third Gender

  • “Hardcore gamer” has become ground zero in digital games

  • Characterized by an adolescent male sensibility that transcends physical age, embraces highly stylized graphical violence, male fantasies of power and domination, hyper-sexualized, objectified depictions of women, and rampant racial stereotyping and discrimination

  • Fullerton: “The Third Gender”

  • New fictional variation of De Beauvoir’s subjective male; male position normative and central

  • Game industry:

  • “Our job is to take lunch money away from 14-year old boys.”


Representations of Masculinity

Nina Huntemann has pointed out that these stereotypes are just as damaging to males:

“These games, which utilize the cutting edge of computer technology, send very particular messages about what it means to be a man. Significantly, the overwhelming lesson about masculinity is that violence is the preferred means for accomplishing goals, resolving conflict and even for creating and maintaining interpersonal relationship with women.”

—Nina Huntemann, Play Like a Man


Gender in Video Game Advertising


Hope for the Future


  • Nintendo

  • With the rebranding of the Gameboy and the introduction of the Wii, Nintendo is returning to the tradition of 19th Century Board Games:

    • Family-oriented

    • Gender-inclusive

    • Multi-generational


  • So far, so good

  • Nintendo featured the Wii at the annual conference of the American Association of Retuired Persons (AARP); Wii is now becoming a standard feature in senior centers

  • Since writing this paper, the Wii has become the top-selling console


Digital Arts and Culture 2007

Perth, Australia

Tracy Fullerton: tfullerton@cinema.usc.edu

www.ludica.org.uk

Tracy Fullerton

tfullerton@cinema.usc.edu

Celia Pearce

celia.pearce@lcc.gatech.edu

Jacquelyn Ford Morie

morie@ict.usc.edu

Janine Fron

Janine@ludica.org.uk


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