Presider: Jeremy Antley (@jsantley)
Hashmod: Kate Miltner (@katemiltner)
This is one post in a series of Panel Previews for the upcoming Theorizing the Web conference (#TtW14) in NYC. The panel under review is titled Nations, Ideologies, and the Games They Play.
One of the best things about Theorizing the Web is its dedication to exploring topics that either sit on the fringe of mainstream consciousness or underlie, to a large extent, those forces that increasingly shape our augmented lives. This year, Theorizing the Web would like to discuss a topic that is rapidly increasing in both scope and relevance for daily life: games.
We invited three emerging scholars whose work explores and critiques the games we and others play; Catherine Goodfellow, Cameron Kunzelman, and Daniel Joseph. Below is a Q&A, conducted over email, between these panelists and TtW.
TtW: Can you summarize your presentation for TtW14?
Cameron: Videogames are not objects operated on by human subjects. Instead, they are giant living bodies of which humans are but one single organ.
Catherine: It’s a bit of an exploration of Russian games which are designed to – or inadvertently – promote Russian culture and history in Eastern Europe. I noticed during my doctoral research into Russian gamers that many of my respondents were Russian-speaking but not Russian. Russian-language games and resources were evidently a more natural fit for them than similar English-language material. There’s been a lot of work on games as vehicles for Western, American or capitalist ideologies, but regional power dynamics tend to go unexplored. That’s what I’m trying to do here; suggest ways in which Russian regional influence affects or even surpasses the dominance of American games worldwide.
Daniel: I would say that my presentation tries to get at the peculiarities at the heart of new virtual and digital spaces of capital accumulation and value production. The rise of legal and regulated commodity exchanges made possible through digital distribution services like Steam quite possibly prefigure commodity production in the still untouched parts of our lives.
TtW: How did the larger topic of games work itself into your research?
Cameron: Videogames didn’t work themselves into my research so much as they presented themselves as leviathans that had to be acknowledged, literal elephants in room that always seem to get reduced to interactions like play or work. What if those concepts aren’t sufficient, or rather, what if they only tell part of a giant, science fictional horror story about the uncaring and uncanny structures that we interact with on a consistent basis?
Catherine: The larger topic of games IS my research right now! I have a Russian studies background and have always maintained a strong interest in countercultural and subcultural or subversive youth cultures. In my doctoral research I’m mapping video game culture in Russia and the official and unofficial discourses which surround it.
Daniel: Games were always an object I wanted to study in the large context of history and politics. The rise of game studies over the past 10 years has given me a lot of room to stake out my place in that field while bringing the study of video games more into conversation with cultural studies, political economy and communication studies.
TtW: Why should people care about using a critical lens to study games?
Cameron: We are parasites on a giant, pulsing edifice, and criticism might be the only way to get perspective on that.
Catherine: I’m particularly interested in using regional or marginal case studies to challenge some of the assumptions we hold about gaming and gamers. Game studies often makes general claims about culture, socio-economic status, places and modes of play, power and ideology. Some of the best work on games and gaming that I’ve seen turns a critical eye on these claims and uncovers some amazing dynamics in gaming communities around the world.
Daniel: They should care about a critical lens on video games because games are everywhere and because of that increasingly prosaic – which is when culture is at its most reified. It is at these moments that a critical eye is most needed.
TtW: What game(s) are you playing/have been playing recently?
Cameron: I’ve been playing the Assassin’s Creed series for a longform research project. Also Spelunky.
Catherine: Banished and 2048 most recently, StarCraft, DOTA and Skyrim for a while.
Daniel: I go through two pretty strong currents in my video game playing. I oscillate between playing story heavy AAA single player games like the Assassin’s Creed franchise in marathon play-throughs and then binging on big budget online First Person Shooters like Counter-Strike or Titanfall. The games I’m most proud about playing aren’t even digital: my two year long running Dungeon’s and Dragon’s game and the card game Android: Netrunner.
TtW: Where can people go to find more of your work?
Daniel: If you want to go find my regular musings twitter is always the most updated, but my blog (http://dropouthangoutspaceout.tumblr.com/) is a good one stop shop for quotes of books I’m reading and the odd musings on Marxism, computers and video games.
Cameron, Catherine, and Daniel’s panel presentation, “Screenplay: Nations, Ideologies, and the Games They Play”, will be held during Session 2 (2:00-3:15pm) on Friday the 25th in Studio A.