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Digital Games and Sociology Research Alex Burns ( aburns@swin.edu.au ) Smart Internet Technology CRC 13 September 2005 Industry & Government Partners Industry Partners Telstra Westpac Legalco Infoysys Tenix Pacific Knowledge Systems SME Consortium Partners

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digital games and sociology research

Digital Games and Sociology Research

Alex Burns (aburns@swin.edu.au)

Smart Internet Technology CRC

13 September 2005

industry government partners
Industry & Government Partners
  • Industry Partners
    • Telstra
    • Westpac
    • Legalco
    • Infoysys
    • Tenix
    • Pacific Knowledge Systems
  • SME Consortium Partners
    • ACT (The Distillery, Catalyst Interactive, Wizard & Epicorp)
    • NSW, Vic, Tas, Qld in progress
  • Government Partners
    • NSW State Government

Digital Games and Sociology

slide3

University Partners

  • University of New South Wales
  • University of Sydney
  • University of Wollongong
  • Australian Graduate School of Management
  • Australian National University
  • Swinburne University
  • Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
  • University of Melbourne
  • University of Adelaide
  • Griffith University
  • University of Tasmania

Digital Games and Sociology

agenda
Agenda
  • Computer Game History
  • Global and Australian Industry Context
  • Auteurs and Independents
  • Digital Game-Based Learning
  • Game Studies

Digital Games and Sociology

computer game history 1
Computer Game History 1
  • First videogame developed in 1958
  • DEC’s SpaceWar! (1961) and Atari’s Pong (1972)
  • ‘Golden Age’ of videogame arcades:
    • Space Invaders (1978), Asteroids (1979), Pac-Man (1980)
    • 1983 bubble due to over-supply in console market
  • Console industry:
    • 6-to-8 year technological cycle of new consoles
    • 32-bit (early 1990s) and 64-bit (late 1990s) machines
    • Sony and Microsoft emerged as key manufacturers in 2001

Digital Games and Sociology

computer game history 2
Computer Game History 2
  • Online market:
    • Has often overstated its market share (Stephen Poole)
    • Older audience and diverse demographics than youth market
    • Currently provides a niche for ‘hybrid’ games
  • ‘Retro’ games:
    • Archive the early history of videogames
    • ‘Abandonware’ and console ‘emulators’ solve digital continuity
    • May be bundled with mobile phones but are unlikely to be a profitable subscription-based revenue model

Digital Games and Sociology

global context 1
Global Context 1
  • Global industry revenues of $US30 billion annually
  • Four major markets:
    • Arcade, PC (IBM compatible, Apple), Handhelds Nintendo, Sony, mobiles) and Console (Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation)
  • Two tiers: game publishers and developers
  • Doom 3 sold 300,000 units in first week (August 2004)
  • New sales cycle in 2005:
    • Microsoft Xbox 360 (2005) and Sony PlayStation 3 (2006)

Digital Games and Sociology

global context 2
Global Context 2
  • Barriers To Entry
    • Dominated by large firms
    • Low profit margin: Of 3,000 games released in 2001, 100 were profitable, and 50 were mega-hits
    • Console industry controlled by licensing, publishing and software development kits (SDKs)
    • High cost of games development
    • Inter-firm competition for talent
    • Threat of government regulation (violent games debate)
    • Entertainment as threat of substitute products

Digital Games and Sociology

digital homes
Digital Homes
  • Rich Media school of thought
  • Digital Hollywood’s preferred vision
  • New Broadband-enabled entertainment console (Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3)
  • ‘Always connected, always personalized, and always in high-definition’ (Microsoft, GDCA, 2005)
  • Broader gamer demographics than ‘youthful’ stereotype

Digital Games and Sociology

australian industry context
Australian Industry Context
  • Generated $A100 million in exports (2002)
  • Game Developers’ Association forecasts:
    • $A500 million (2005) and $A1 billion (2010)
  • Potential for Digital Media/Games clusters
    • Victoria’s GamePlan (Multimedia Victoria)
    • QUT’s Creative Industries program
  • Australian firms have won international contracts for game development

Digital Games and Sociology

auteurs
Auteurs
  • Auteur’ coined by French New Wave theorists to honour Hollywood Studio System’s distinctive directors
  • Used by games publishers to describe influential designers:
    • Shigeru Miyamoto (Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros.)
    • Sid Meier (Civilization series)
    • John Carmack and John Romero (Doom 1 and 2)
  • Auteurs can be a risky strategy:
    • May create brand recognition and long-term franchises
    • Intensely personal vision may derail projects (Romero’s Daikatana project nearly bankrupted Eidos Interactive)

Digital Games and Sociology

independents 1
Independents 1
  • May take many different forms:
    • Hobbyists, amateur designers and political activists
    • Mainstream designers working on projects
  • Independent sector in Australia
    • Operates outside Government cluster models
    • Represented by Free Play conference (2004)
    • Training ground for designers and innovative projects
    • Potential entrepreneurial start-ups and new game publishers

Digital Games and Sociology

independents 2
Independents 2
  • Small ‘indie’ firms:
    • Likely to use Internet distribution rather than sell-through
    • Operate on an ‘arthouse’ model (parallels Miramax ‘four-wall’ distribution in mid-1970s) and
    • Small teams that echo games development in early 1980s
    • Goes beyond binary-oppositional model (Eric Zimmerman)
  • Wild Cards:
    • ‘Indie’ designers may innovate features for future best-sellers
    • Unorthodox R&D practices (Hacking the Xbox) which drives technological innovation in consoles market

Digital Games and Sociology

digital game based learning
Digital Game-Based Learning
  • Precursors:
    • AI cognition, LOGO, Seymour Papert’s exploration of microworlds
    • Studies of Generation X (1965-82) and computers in education
  • Digital Game Based Learning:
    • Draws on collaborative action learning and knowledge management
    • Simulations with non-linearity to teach about uncertainty
    • Marc Prensky’s Digital Game-Based Learning (2001)
    • Applications in custom-based training and higher education
    • Mark Pesce’s Playful World (2000) surveys consumer applications

Digital Games and Sociology

sherry turkle
Sherry Turkle
  • Director, MIT Initiative on the Self
  • Paralleled Howard Rheingold’s research on ‘virtual communities’
  • The Second Self (1984) examines user identities via Freudian psychoanalysis and sociology
  • Life On The Screen (1995) investigated MOOs and MUDs
  • Dotcom era example of ‘immersive’ field research
  • Attacked by critics as ‘postmodern’

Digital Games and Sociology

mark dery
Mark Dery
  • Cultural critic and Professor at New York University
  • Popularised ‘culture jamming’ (1992)
  • Escape Velocity (1995) was an important study of subcultures: industrial and cyberculture
  • The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium (1999) examined pre-millennialist and conspiracy subcultures online

Digital Games and Sociology

slide17

Siva Vaidhyanathan

  • Associate Professor at New York University
  • Author of The Anarchist In The Library (2004)
  • Influenced by political philosopher Robert Nozick
  • Coevolutionary model of technology and users
  • Warns of ‘bleed-through’ when online debates have serious ‘offline’ implications (legal precedents, social norms)
  • Useful to understand post-Dotcom era debates

Digital Games and Sociology

games studies 1
Games Studies 1
  • A new academic discipline in Cultural/Media Studies:
    • Draws on Cinema Studies and Literary Theory
    • ‘Year Zero’ was 2001: emergence of ‘Ludology’ school
    • Game Studies journal
    • Eric Zimmerman’s Rules of Play (2004), James Newman’s Videogames (2004), Michael J.P. Wolf’s Videogame Reader (2004)
  • Game development courses are creating industry links:
    • Swinburne University BA in Games course
    • Postgraduate research in Games Studies
    • Focus on game physics and programming skills

Digital Games and Sociology

games studies 2
Games Studies 2
  • Emerging academic discipline that studies videogames on their own terms
  • Provides rich insights and design philosophies for games developers
  • ‘Year One’ was 2001
  • Key theorists: Michael J.P. Wolf, Eric Zimmerman, Katie Salen, Espen Aarseth
  • Some theorists write for Games Studies journal (www.gamestudies.org)
  • Perspectives include aesthetics, narratology, ludology (the study of game-play), political economy and user centred design

Digital Games and Sociology

games studies and sociology
Games Studies and Sociology
  • Game Studies scholars have a potential role to play:
    • Game Studies counter-balances the techno-determinist School of Thought with alternate viewpoints
    • Game designers (Chris Crawford, Andrew Rollings, Ernest Adams) document their insights, philosophy and post-mortems
    • Academic researchers can provide strategic advice about the epistemology, frameworks and worldviews used to construct game characters and worlds
    • Socially legitimates videogames as a medium rather than its media portrayal as mindless youth entertainment
    • Can provide public testimony to counter the ‘moral panics’

Digital Games and Sociology

regulation 1 the violent videogames debate
Regulation 1: The ‘Violent Videogames’ Debate
  • Censorship began with the arcade game Death Race (1976)
  • Parallels the cyclical emergence of ‘moral panics’:
    • ‘Video nasties’ in Great Britain (early 1980s)
    • PMRC music hearings in United States (mid-1980s)
    • Key themes: Juvenile delinquency, poor IQ scores, gang violence
  • 1998 Australian Government study found:
    • Differences along gender development lines
    • Interviewees were self-critical of videogame violence
    • Videogames perceived differently to film and television violence

Digital Games and Sociology

regulation 2 the violent videogames debate
Regulation 2: The ‘Violent Videogames’ Debate
  • Columbine ‘massacre’ (1999):
    • Killers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were Doom players
    • id Software and Marilyn Manson blamed by Republicans
    • US Army Lt. Col. (ret) Dave Grossman becomes prominent critic, after he compares videogames to desensitization training
    • Charles Tilly counter-argues that violence is a socialized act
  • Implications for Australia:
    • OFLC has not issued ‘R’ classification for overseas games
    • Players use Internet downloads to bypass national censorship
    • Lobby groups may have regulatory impact on Australian industry

Digital Games and Sociology

regulation 3 the violent videogames debate
Regulation 3: The ‘Violent Videogames’ Debate
  • Criticisms of the debate and sociological research:
    • Usually relies on a Functionalist interpretation
    • Media will frame the debate as a ‘moral panic’
    • Definition and labelling problems
    • Methodological problems in online research
    • Research can influence policymaking networks unexpectedly
    • Researchers can be used for political agendas
    • Steven Johnson’s counter-argument in Everything Bad Is Good For You (2005) about Digital Culture’s positive impacts

Digital Games and Sociology

social networks 1
Social Networks 1
  • Crucial to the early success of ADVENT and SpaceWar!
  • Underpins the growth of RPG and MMRPGs
  • Doom pioneered user-created levels and features (‘mods’)
  • South Korea’s Counter-Strike became one of the most highly successful games due to player communities
  • Innovative designers in player communities are often hired by game publishers/developers

Digital Games and Sociology

social networks 2
Social Networks 2
  • The ‘cultural infrastructure’ for MMOGs (Sony)
  • Many MMOGs feature ‘clans’ of regular players
  • The challenge of developing a sustainable culture for an MMOG remains ‘uncharted territory’
  • ‘Virtual economies’ are an unforeseen effect
  • Insights from anthroplogy (Clifford Geertz), sociology (Anthony Giddens, Ulrich Beck) and complexity (Duncan Watts) may provide solutions for MMOGs

Digital Games and Sociology

future games hybrid games
Future Games: Hybrid Games
  • Influenced by cross-genre experiments and films
  • Underpins the success of MMRPGs
  • Strategy to create diverse and loyal audience
  • ‘Stealth-Action’ games:
    • Thief (2004) and Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (2003)
  • ‘Action Role-Playing’ games:
    • Deus Ex Machina (2002)
    • Ultima Online (2002) and Everquest (2002)

Digital Games and Sociology

multi civilizational games 1
Multi-Civilizational Games 1
  • Many computer games have a Cold War logic:
    • Missile Command (1980) evokes Mutually Assured Destruction
    • Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell series uses mercenaries and spies
    • Full Spectrum Warrior (2004) based on US Army simulation
  • These games are part of a broader culture:
    • ‘keeps alive the idea of the Cold War whilst avoiding its reality’ (Mary Kaldor)
    • ‘entailed vast covert operations and nuclear weapons systems’ (Robert Kaplan)

Digital Games and Sociology

multi civilizational games 2
Multi-Civilizational Games 2
  • Multi-Civilizational Games posits an alternate future:
    • Recognizes the civilization (Judeo-Christian, Muslim, Indian, Sinic) as a post-Cold War unit of analysis
    • Disagrees with Samuel P. Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis
  • A ‘multi-civilizational’ world (Ziauddin Sardar):
    • Is a blueprint for the post-War on Terror
    • Goes beyond ethnic and nationalist identities
    • Shaped by epistemology, historiography and philosophy of life
    • Emerges from demographic, geopolitical and religious trends

Digital Games and Sociology

multi civilizational games 3
Multi-Civilizational Games 3
  • Multi-Civilizational Games:
    • Forerunners in Japanese arcade hits and Russia’s Tetris
    • Makes explicit its assumptions, norms and values
    • Closer to ‘sub-altern’ narratives in post-colonial studies
    • Draws on Macrohistory (‘study of the histories of social systems, along separate trajectories, in search of patterns’)
  • Case Study: Sid Meier’s Civilization III (2002)
    • Influenced by William MacLean’s Rise of the West (1965)
    • Can be ‘modded’ using writings by Jared Diamond, Howard Bloom Riane Eisler, Manuel De Landa and Robert Wright

Digital Games and Sociology

ea s majestic experiment 2001
EA’s Majestic Experiment (2001)
  • Electronic Arts (EA) was an innovator in MMOGs
  • Majestic was a Live-Action Roleplay Gaming experiment
  • Altered players’ perceptions of what the Internet was:
    • AOL IM chats with game characters: ‘the game that plays you.’
    • ‘Fake’ newscasts / Infiltrated online conspiracy subcultures
  • EA shutdown Majestic after the September 11 attacks
  • Lessons:
    • X-Files style plotline split the online subcultures and community
    • Many players not ready for ‘meta-fictional’ elements
    • Has influenced Doom 3 (2004) and Sociolotron (2004)

Digital Games and Sociology

further sources
Further Sources

Digital Games and Sociology