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WHY AM I IN VIETNAM ? A COMPUTER GAME CASE STUDY ‘AESTHETICS OF PLAY’. 1. mixing the yellow with the pink Video clip - 10mb/3min (requires Windows Media Player 9 or later). How did this game come to be in the world? What pressures determined that it would be as it is?

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1 mixing the yellow with the pink video clip 10mb 3min requires windows media player 9 or later
1. mixing the yellow with the pink Video clip - 10mb/3min (requires Windows Media Player 9 or later)
How did this game come to be in the world?
  • What pressures determined that it would be as it is?
  • What kind of passions sustained the creative effort that goes into the production of any computer game?
  • How are my gameplay pleasures already structured by the decisions of the producers?
Pivotal Games’ Production case study Winter2003/4.
  • Pivotal – medium size studio (70 designers) – Bath UK.
  • Four days workplace observations
  • Ten, one hour long interviews with a cross section of the production team from game testers to the Managing Director.
Political economy and the margins of choice
  • Most producers, most of the time, in most cultural industries have very little margin of choice about what they make.
  • There is in fact very little space to exercise creative freedom in the decisions about what kind of products they work on.
  • The determinations of the market, financing your product and bringing it to consumers, exercise a powerful logic that takes its own particular shape in each studio.

POLITICAL ECONOMYPivotal Technical Director“Even if you have got a million pounds in the bank and that is very rare, you quite simply just can’t function. We used to create games with just sort of seven or ten people and now it genuinely is thirty to forty people plus and I don’t think we are particularly big. But the cost of the games hasn’t gone up by anything like the same amount, arguably it has gone down.


POLITICAL ECONOMYPlaystation 1 games used to cost thirty, forty pounds and that is what they cost today, ten years on. So the retailers are pretty much making the same margins as they used to. The publishers have got greater overheads,the market place has got bigger, it is more international, you have to distribute, sub-contract, so their costs have gone up.


POLITICAL ECONOMY So I really see it as being the developer that is being squeezed. So costs have gone up, number of people have gone up, cost to the consumer hasn’t gone up, something has got to give and it has been giving and that is why there has been an awful lot of consolidation in industries, a lot of companies going under.”

Tastes and Technicities
  • BUT … Knowing that a studio has to ship a million units and keep a staff of 70 on the payroll does not explain how it comes to produce a squad based military shooter set in Vietnam, as opposed to a racing game or a fantasy role play.
  • There is then still a space for an auteur’s input, for the generation of ideas that will fit the market but which are driven by designer’s pleasures and passions.
  • At Pivotal these tastes, pleasures and passions have originated with the Managing Director, the visionary and driving force who has pushed the studio forward from its earliest days.

TASTES AND TECHNICITIESA dominant ‘semiotic nexus’ around ‘war, conquest and combat’ which ‘focuses gaming culture on the subject-positions and discourses of what we term “militarized masculinities”.’ (Kline et al 2003:254) ‘This situation … tracks back to the military origins of interactive play. The game industry conjured into being by technologically adept and culturally militarized men, made games reflecting the interests of is creators.’ (2003:257)


TASTES AND TECHNICITIES“The MD is very, very war orientated, to make a game about something you need to know about that subject. It is easy to make something about fantasy because you can create your fantasy world. He has a very, very good background knowledge on military war through the ages, so therefore lets use that knowledge, that is certainly one of the elements which have pushed for it to be a semi-realistic environment.” (Conflict Vietnam: Producer)

Technicity (Dovey & Kennedy)
  • The significant aspect of our appropriation of the term ‘technicity’ is to encapsulate within it the connections between an identity based on certain types of attitude, practices, tastes and the deployment of technology and a technological ‘edge’ in the construction of that identity.
  • To be subjects within the privileged twenty-first century first world is to be increasingly caught up in a network of technically and mechanically mediated relationships with others who share the same attitude/tastes, pleasures and preferences.
  • ...Technicity therefore becomes the expression of particular tastes and affiliations through technological engagement.
  • The senior designers in our study did not become ‘technologically adept or culturally militarized’ through the ‘military origins of interactive play’.
  • Four of the ten respondents – significantly all senior figures within the company both in age and authority - expressed strong childhood and adolescent attachment to paper gaming, to the mathematically systematised past time of role play gaming, fantasy and Dungeons and Dragons.

TASTES & TECHNICITIES“I was about nine when I started playing Dungeons and Dragons. I mean I had been into fantasy stuff for quite a while which I think stemmed from the fact that both my parents were quite into Lord of the Rings and I used to get read The Hobbit as a bedtime story by my mum, …. so I’d always been really interested in that whole fantasy thing, and had you know, fantasy toys and soldiers and that. …I was really quite hooked on that sort of thing and absolutely loved it.


TASTES & TECHNICITIESThen I discovered the War Hammer stuff a bit later, probably when I was about twelve or thirteen and again got really into that, which some of my earliest ever attempts to write serious rule systems was for War Hammer Forty Thousand, which I sent into Games Workshop and they liked enough to send back release forms to say well we might use this, so sign the copyright over to us…. I read a lot of the Dungeons and Dragons sort of novels, a lot of the fantasy stuff.


TASTES & TECHNICITIESI used to read enormous amounts of comics, whatever I could get my hands on, Batman, Daredevil,, the Star Wars films, the usual. I was very into Battlestar Galactica and all that, all that kind of pop culture sci-fi and things like that I would read. But I was also, and I think it stems from my dad being in the army, I was very into sort of military stuff as well, very interested in military history, so I read an awful lot of that kind of thing as well.”

But, the boys who stayed at home reading fantasy literature and playing D&D weren’t the same guys who were on the football team, or who were out jacking cars, pulling birds or doing any other supposedly normal alpha male behaviours.
  • Trying to play games like this with guys like that was always a nightmare, their physical energy always won out over their powers of concentration and the tabletop would finish up on the floor or else the game would spin off into some real world pursuit.
  • No, this sensibility, these games, are actually the virtual revenge of the nerds on the jocks.
  • This is a place where bright boys with imagination and technical prowess get to design worlds where they don’t get sand kicked in their faces anymore, a world in which they can be in control and can kick ass for once (see eg Pargman 2003 for discussion of ‘controllable worlds’).

TASTES & TECHNICITIES“The fundamental mechanic is all down to numbers and probabilities, percentage chances of hitting and missing; all our vehicles are just a bunch of numbers, there is a 3D model there and there are 3D surfaces set, as a number value, hit point value and then something that says what happens when you penetrate and destroy that, is it catastrophic damage? That is stuff I played with for years, just on table tops or role playing and ditto with characters, movement speeds, hit points, actions you can do and it is all number based.” Pivotal MD

Storyworlds become franchises
  • ‘If Star Wars was a country, its $20bn would place it 70th in the World Bank’s rankings of countries according to Gross Domestic product.’ (Total revenue attributed to Star Wars products - British ‘Observer’ newspaper, Smith 2005).
  • Game Spy web site lists 21 PC games set in Vietnam, with three each for the PS2 (apart from Conflict, ShellShock: Nam '67 Eidos 2004 and Vietnam: The Tet Offensive Oxygen Interactive 2004) and three on the Xbox consoles. (Conflict plus Men of Valor Vivendi 2004 and ShellShock: Nam '67 Eidos 2004).
  • Vietnam becomes neither historical event nor media franchise but an intermedial setting for actions amenable to game play adaptation.

HISTORY AS STORYWORLD“This is where you are kind of aware of your market in the sense that, you know, …I would love to do a game set in the Spanish Civil War, but not many people know anything about the Spanish Civil War. So, there is no saying that a game set in the Spanish Civil War couldn’t be a hit, but you have got a lot more people to persuade…there are an inordinate number of wars that have happened in the world, but picking a war that the American market is going to be aware of then becomes the question. And I think really there are three wars that they, the majority, the industry considers they are aware of, World War 2 which is done a lot, the Vietnam event, which I think is a slightly more trickier setting for a game, and then the Gulf War, the two of them, because they happened most recently.” (Pivotal Level Designer 2003)


Henry Jenkins on Intermediality. ‘economic trends encouraging the flow of images, ideas, and narratives across multiple media channels and demanding more active modes of spectatorship.’.. altering ‘the way media consumers relate to each other,to media texts, and to media producers’. (Jenkins 2003)

What is it about ‘authenticity’ represented by particular in- game details that appeals to what kinds of player?
  • What does this order of ‘realism’ signify?
  • Do such games simply reflect and reinforce the pleasures of ‘militarized masculinity’?
  • There are ‘an inordinate number of wars in the world’ , however the post baby boomer generation of men in the West are probably one of the first generations of men ever for whom the threat of war has not been immediate.
  • Nevertheless, ‘Everyone rather fancies the idea that you know, if push came to shove they could get in there and take out the enemies with their gun.’ These games are ‘escapism’ , ‘role play’.

THE TROUBLE WITH AUTHENTICITY“Part of the appeal of the Conflict games is there is a degree of realism in it, you know they are not using laser guns, they are using M16’s, and I think because for us as developers it is important to get some of that right, there is obviously a degree within our audience that appreciate the effort that has gone to make that slightly more realistic.“Level Designer Pivotal Games.


THE TROUBLE WITH AUTHENTICITY“I think because the industry is still very male dominated there is a huge element, of it is still toy soldiers and people love the fact that it is soldiers. Everyone rather fancies the idea that, if push came to shove they could get in there and take out the enemies with their gun. Reality is completely different of course but people like doing that and it is role play, escapism and role play. People like contemporary settings because it is not too far away. It is conceivably close and they can kind of rather fancy themselves in that setting, whereas space setting, fantasy setting, the leap to imagine yourself there is not practical.” Pivotal Technical Director


“Play enables the exploration of that tissue boundary between fantasy and reality, between the real and imagined, between the self and the other. In play we have license to explore, both our selves and our society. In play we investigate culture, but we also create it.” (Silverstone 1999:64)