Markus Meschik runs the NGO Enter, a counselling centre for families and professionals dealing with digital media in Graz. He is a researcher and lecturer at the University of Graz, the University of Klagenfurt and the University of Applied Sciences Linz with a research focus on problematic gaming behaviour and financing models of digital games, as well as a reviewer and expert for the BuPP of the Federal Chancellery. His book “Game Over ? Digitale Spiele in Familien und der Kinder- und Jugendhilfe” (Digital Games in Families and Child and Youth Welfare) was published by Büchner Verlag as an open access edition in 2022.
Insert Coin to Continue: In-game spending by adolescents and the convergence of gaming and gambling
FROG 2023 – Keynote
From a monetization perspective, games as products seem to make up an increasingly smaller part of the gaming industry, in favor of the free-to-play business model – which in many cases is more lucrative in the long run. Critical research in this regard has long been limited to loot boxes or (pseudo-)randomly generated content in digital games, which are particularly reminiscent of classic gambling and have been the focus of research due to their potentially harmful effects in terms of pathological gambling behavior. Lootboxes, however, represent only the (admittedly particularly lucrative) tip of the iceberg of the free-to-play model and the dark patterns implemented in it.
“Insert Coin to Continue” is a mixed methods research project that addresses questions about the motives for spending money in games as well as the extent of spending among austrian youth between the ages of 11 and 25. It addresses the questions of who actually spends most money (players often referred to as „whales“), which mechanics seem to need potential regulation and the formulation of judicious regulatory frameworks. Based on the empirical findings, analogies between gaming and gambling are presented, which not only concern the audivisual appearance of the individual gaming offers, but also help shape the direct gaming practice of gamers. It is argued that the business models of free-to-play games are often distinct games in their own right, forcefully tied to the main game, but with a completely different goal. Furthermore, considerations of a sensible regulation are presented and put up for discussion.
Photo Credits: Nelson
Gabrielle Trépanier-Jobin is a professor in Game Studies at the School of Media of Université du Québec à Montréal and the Co-Director of the research group Homo Ludens. Her PhD thesis explores the possibility of using parodies as playful means to denaturalize gender stereotypes. During her postdoctoral fellowship at MIT, she pursued her work on gender parody in the field of game studies. She is currently conducting research on players’ immersion, on equality, diversity and inclusion in the video game industry, as well as on the potential of video and board games to raise awareness about social and environmental issues.
Hierarchy, Discrimination and Inequality in the Video Game Industry
FROG 2022 – Keynote
Despite the culture of informality that prevails in the video game industry, its structures remain highly hierarchical. Not all employees can evenly express their opinions, are equally heard, are granted the same creative freedom or are given the same opportunities. This talk will present the results of a survey on equality, diversity and inclusion, conducted among 1700 employees from the Quebec gaming industry, and of 20 semi-structured interviews made with women and racialized minorities who encountered problems in development teams. These results show that even though women, non-cisgender people, sexual and ethnic minorities, as well as people with mental or physical disabilities are generally satisfied by their working conditions in the video game industry, they face more obstacles and experience more problems than white heterosexual men. These obstacles and problems are even more pronounced for women and non-cisgender people. These results will be interpreted in light of concepts such as the glass ceiling, the glass slipper, the impostor syndrome, the stereotype threat, the signaling threat, as well as the ordinary/hostile/benevolent sexism to highlight the power relations at work in the video game industry.
Simone Kriglstein is an associate professor at Masaryk University, as well as a scientist at the Austrian Institute of Technology. She specializes in designing and evaluating user interfaces and interaction methods in different fields, including games. Her work has been published in international conference proceedings such as the Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems and journals like Computer & Graphics and Computers in Human Behavior.
Bullying Is NOT a Game – But Games Can Help Preventing It
FROG 2022 – Keynote
Unfortunately, many young people in today’s world are exposed to bullying, posing serious social problem at schools worldwide. Especially around the age of 11 to 12, when children try out different things and search for their identity, bullying arises very often from the fear of the unknown, e.g., the different thinking, looks, or backgrounds. Many of those who are affected have to deal with it on a daily basis with studies already confirming the negative impact of bullying on the psychological and academic development of young people. With the rise of the Internet bullying also shifted from the physical space towards a virtual one. In the past, bullying often took place in classrooms where teachers had the opportunity to intervene and find solutions. Nowadays, however, young people frequently use smartphones and social media which offer an increased degree of anonymity which, in turn, can contribute to bullying and cyberbullying. Therefore, prevention strategies as early as possible — such as workshops in schools – are essential to make children more sensitive to this topic. However, many initiatives against bullying in schools often only focus on theoretical facts. This talk will explore the question how can we give a more playful touch to such prevention efforts to make them more engaging to a young audience, for example, via serious games.
Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall (PhD, Stanford University) is Professor of History at California State University – San Marcos. Her newest book, Slave Revolt on Screen: The Haitian Revolution in Film and Video Games, was published in 2021 by the University Press of Mississippi and received the Honorable Mention for the Haitian Studies Association biennial Book Prize. Her previous works include The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution: The Making of Modern Universalism (UC Press, 2005; paperback, 2021); Haitian History: New Perspectives (Routledge, 2012) and numerous articles on French and Haitian history.
Slave Revolt on Screen: Video Games on Haitian Slave Resistance
FROG 2022 – Keynote
The Haitian Revolution (1791 – 1804) was a momentous occasion in world history, the first successful revolution by enslaved Africans in the Americas. But the Revolution’s memory was long suppressed in the US and Europe, prompted by fears among slaveholders that it would inspire copycat uprisings by enslaved people elsewhere.
One place where the Revolution’s memory has been revived is in video games. How well has this medium handled this sensitive topic, and has it mattered whether the developers were themselves descendants of enslaved people? This talk will introduce the Revolution and compare the ways that slave revolt in Haiti has been depicted in video games such as Assassin’s Creed Freedom Cry and Coktel’s Freedom: Rebels in the Darkness. In what ways, the talk will ask, do games like these help preserve the memory of slavery and of the courage of enslaved people fighting against an oppressive system? In what ways do they distort this history? How have players from different backgrounds responded to these games? What inequalities exist in who has the capital and know-how to make games about Haiti’s history? And how can developers with means to do so work to make more socially responsible games on this history?
Sonja Gabriel works as a professor for media literacy at University Teacher College Vienna/Krems (Austria) where she teaches pre-service and in-service teachers. Her primary focus of research is on digital game-based learning and using serious games for teaching different subjects at school and university as well as evaluation of various projects for learning with games and game-design approaches.
The magic of serious games for learning
FROG 2021 – Talk
When talking about serious games for teaching purposes, magic can be seen in two ways. First of all, magic is quite often used as narrative, to give a background or by equipping the player’s avatar with magic items or skills. The use of magic in storytelling has always been important for humans to explain phenomena which could not be explained in another way. For children, however, magic also is of educational value – although the themes used in stories (and games) might often be unrealistic, there are fundamental elements for children’s development. Many studies which had a look into fairy tales have proven the learning possibilities of these stories. Especially, digital games aiming at children (and also those that have been designed for learning purposes) use magic to engage children and to teach them – talking animals, towns made of candy and sugar or (nice) monsters being some characteristic examples. A second connection to magic and learning games for children can be made with the magic circle. Serious games wanting to teach players facts, change in behavior or attitude need to go beyond the magic circle. In order to make a game immersive, the three identities according to Gee have to be taken into account. However, that does not mean that knowledge or skills acquired within the game, will be taken beyond the game boundaries automatically. To enable transfer beyond the boundaries of the magic circle, additional measures (like classroom teaching) have to be taken. In the first part, the contribution will have a look at some children learning games and the role magic plays, whereas the second part will summarize major findings of studies related to digital game based learning and thus stress the fact that learning from games will show best results when it is accompanied with measures outside the game.
Ivo Antunic is a designer and publisher of the board game World Control (www.world-control.net). He received BSc in Architecture from the Technical University of Vienna and has become a student of Game Studies at Danube University Krems in 2021. World Control was introduced to him during an exchange year in the US by his host father, Michael Lee Cregger. After sailing the carribbean seas, the name of his boat – imago – lived on for his publishing venture when he crowdfunded WorldControl on Kickstarter in 2016 during the rise of the Trump-Phenomenon. Focusing on deeper, analog immersion, and themes that bridge over to current events with a Twitter-Bot, additional crowdfundings on StarNext took kept WorldControl a constant Work-In-Progress. The blurring of the real & the gaming world is what he calls „Playerism“.
Playerism – A broken Magic Circle, when the whole world is a game.
FROG 2021 – Talk
My entry into Game Studies stems from crowdfunding the board game “WorldControl” in 2016. It had been pieced together as a mashup of the board game classics “Risk” and “Monopoly” by Michael Lee Cregger in 1991, but remained unpublished. As an exchange student at the Cregger family in 2005 I got to know and love this forgotten game. Its story “in the future all governments have failed & a billionaire elite with corporate armies now plays for the world’s total ownership” seemed gloomy but visionary. So when a billionaire gameshow host started running for the highest office of the world’s most powerful army under a premise of “winning again”, it seemed the game of WorldControl was about to get real. The simple mixture of “Fight or Pay”, adding strategic elements to counter pure chance, gave the game a highly immersive gameplay compared to the known classics, while offering a familiar layout. But there was something about the original prototype that gave it that magic. A submerged central dice-rolling arena provided a feeling as if surrounded by James-Bond villains at Casino Royal. As a student of architecture I had always been fascinated by physical manifestations of these magic circles in the form of theaters, arenas and stadiums. It was not merely about the game, it was about making it bigger than life & immersing all of society into it. With permission to make something out of WorldControl, I poured all my love for design into carving an opulent board. Within 3 weeks a prototype and a campaign was set up without any advertisement, but since every friend called me crazy to believe that anyone would pay up to €230+ or more for a board game, I offered multiple versions. An overwhelming +75% of the backing eventually came from the design-editions. It was successfully funded on election-day 2016. The gameshow-host, trying to brake the rules of reality at every moment, became president & I was confronted with actually having to realize my modern Jumanji, with its immersive effect of braking into reality. The magic circle as a barrier seemed broken. This fusion of the real world and the simulated play world, is what I now call “Playerism”.
Tamer Aslan is a creative technologist and founder of City Games Vienna. He received BSc in Electronics Engineering from Sabancı University Istanbul and MA in Interaction Design from Domus Academy Milan. After working as a creative engineer and researcher in Ars Electronics Futurelab, he moved to Vienna to realise his vision of Playful City through City Games Vienna. He has received funding from aws, Vienna Business Agency and FFG, and produced games for Austrian Ministry of Tourism, UNODC, and BOKU. City Games Vienna currently has three Monster Hunts in local market and is developing a digital version to go international.
Blurring the Borders of Magic Circle: Urban Games as a Method for Fusing Game Worlds with the Real World
FROG 2021 – Talk
Urban games are an emerging form of play that derives from street games, location-based games, theatre performances and artistic happenings. They can be defined as pervasive games that are designed for urban context. They differentiate from other games in the sense that (1.) they are built upon cultural and technological heritage that can only be found in cities and (2.) they use real-life situations and locations as their magic circle. Two aspects form the base of the methodology in the design of the urban games: The Impact and the Container. The Impact is the aimed effect to be triggered in players participating in the games. The Container is the employed form housing the urban game. Three use cases will be explained within this structure, where urban games are used to blur the borders of the magic circle so that the skills acquired during gameplay can be translated and transferred into real life. Monster Hunts: Impact: Trigger awareness about the history and culture of Vienna. Form: Hybrid Card Game Using a city map, scratch-off riddle cards and web stories, players go around Vienna and catch “Monsters” with the help of Georgina II the Monster Huntress. The Monsters are sculptures or architectural elements that can be found in the city. CATRINA: Impact: inform and empower players on civil courage Form: Phone Game Players go to a public location and call a phone number where they listen through a scenario and decide on actions using keypad entries, to prevent the world from being destroyed by aliens. The actions provide handling options, so they can learn how to approach such situations in real life. Römerland Carnuntum 2040: Impact: Increase awareness of residents about the development of the region Form: Board Game Players role play four teenagers in an adventure game that takes place in Römerland Carnuntum. Trying to help a kid from the future, they go around the region and collect items. Depending on the items selected, the game ends with a different future scenario.
Jeremiah Diephuis (US/AT) was born in 1976 and grew up in the great arcades of the American Midwest. After studies in computational linguistics and communication and knowledge media, he turned his focus to the use of games for various purposes in the public sphere. He currently works as a lecturer and researcher in the Digital Media department at the Hagenberg Campus of the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria and is a founding member of the research group “Playful Interactive Environments”.
Playerism – A broken Magic Circle, when the whole world is a game.
FROG 2021 – Talk
Even a brief examination of the sacred tome of game design reveals a myriad of apparent contradictions: the mechanics of a game should be easy to learn, but difficult to master; interaction should be simple and intuitive, yet simultaneously challenging and foster problem-solving skills. Yet, perhaps the most elusive of all game design mysteries is the art of emergence, the phenomenon of players interacting in ways that a game’s rule system allows, but was not really intended, or at least not as a main objective. Emergence is often perceived as some form of the Philosopher’s Stone, whose ingredients are not entirely known, but could be the secret to achieving a higher level of play. However, emergent gameplay tends to be more of an ex post facto observation than an actual design methodology, despite a growing number of publications that would suggest it can be harnessed to achieve increased player agency and engagement. Although some basic principles can be addressed in a game’s design, emergence is heavily dependent both on the involved players’ individual creativity as well as the game’s actual setting. Particularly for co-located games, i.e. games played with others in the same physical environment, both Huizinga’s concept of the Magic Circle as well as Juul’s slightly extended metaphor of the Puzzle Piece can serve as useful theoretical models to understand some of the components that can contribute to emergence. In this talk, we will address some of the more-or-less intended as well as some truly surprising emergent gameplay that became part of co-located game installations developed for the Ars Electronica’s Deep Space over a period of seven years. The presentation will examine both encouraging examples of emergent behavior as well as potentially game-breaking — or at least gameplay-inhibiting — actions that were observed in the wilds of public exhibition. The talk aims to provide both an informative analysis of potential pitfalls for co-located game installations as well as postulate a few promising ingredients for the cauldron of emergence.
Markus Meschik is head of Enter, an NGO dedicated to the counselling of families and institutions on the topic of digital games in education in Graz, Austria. He is a lecturer in the fields of social pedagogy, counseling and digital games at the University of Graz, where he received his doctorate on the topic of digital games in the family, and at the FH Joanneum Graz. He is a reviewer and expert for the BuPP of the Federal Chancellery.
“And for my next trick, I’ll make your wallet disappear!” Adolescents’ use and perception of “free-to-play” games in Austria
FROG 2021 – Talk
Current financing models of digital games such as the “free-to-play” model are generating unprecedented revenues in the video game industry (Wijman 2018). Many games seem to be tailored to and deliberately appeal to an adolescent target group, be it through their audiovisual design or by their easily accessible game mechanics. Other game series have been established for many years and added said financing models later. Due to structural similarities of these financing models with traditional gambling, this poses challenges for legislators as well as educators and gamers themselves. Some aspects are perceived as particularly critical. Lootboxes, for example, have been under investigation for some time and are already regulated in some European countries (Close/Lloyd 2021). However, lootboxes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to financing models. “Pay-to-win” mechanisms and simulated gambling receive much less international attention, but like lootboxes, they exploit cognitive dissonances in gamers. These dissonances are similar to infantile magical thinking as described by Piaget (1926), where it is assumed that thoughts or actions can cause events that are causally unrelated. This contribution discusses how magical thinking by gamers can lead to increased spending in certain games, which cognitive distortions come into play in this process and how certain financing models take advantage of precisely this magical thinking. The contribution is based on the results of the author’s dissertation, in which 30 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 were surveyed about their video game behavior using a qualitative approach.
Dr.techn. Dipl.-Ing. Alexander K. Seewald has been active in research in the field of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and image analysis/pattern recognition for several decades. He has processed data with self-developed or modified learning algorithms, e.g. spam e-mails, handwritten numbers, biological research papers (from the BioMinT project), EEG data (from Prof. Weiss, Brain Research Institute, Vienna), binary TCP/IP data packets (from a honeypot system operated at the University of Vienna itself, image, audio and video data (various sources including stereo camera video recorded by his robot platform ToyCollect) and depth sensor data (practically all existing depth cameras)
Ten Years of Magic Mirror: I and My Avatar
FROG 2021 – Talk
Alexander Pfeiffer (Danube University Krems)
Since 2012 we have been building the augmented reality system Magic Mirror based on Kinect V1 and V2’s native API. It relies on the magic mirror metaphor, where a large screen shows a mirrored camera view with overlaid graphical elements. In our case, it shows a different face mesh over the person’s face which reliably tracks face poses in real time while leaving the eyes and mouth of the person visible for interaction and to improve immersion; replaces the background with images that may be changed, smoothly zoomed and dragged; and allows to take screenshots which are automatically printed out on photo cards with an unique QR code linking to its digital image. Control of the system is primarily via easily learned hand gestures very similar to multitouch screen gestures known from mobile phones and tablets. We have demonstrated the system to the public as well as in private (including at FROG conferences 2012, 2013 and 2014, albeit without presenting a paper) in a wide variety of settings, faces and backgrounds. Here, we explain the challenges inherent in creating high-quality face meshes and textures from 2D images, and how we solved them; describe the different versions of the system, how they differ and their limitations; and demonstrate the usefulness of our system in several applications from people counting and tracking to obtaining height measurements without storing or processing personal data.