Nils Bühler

Nils Bühler is a media culture historian, currently researching the handling of mechanical, electrical and digital games by German media control institutions using a discourse analysis approach for his doctoral thesis at the University of Cologne. Other research interests comprise media control, game studies, and political philosophy. Bühler studied Media Cultural Studies, and English Studies. For his bachelor’s thesis, he examined representations of space in digital games. His master’s thesis analysed computer game regulation in 1980s Germany. He has been working on his dissertation since 2021 and is a scholarship holder at the a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne.

Game Regulation Between Oppressing and Facilitating Freedom

FROG 2022 – Talk

Just like other media, digital games are regulated, prohibited, observed, and rated by authorities all over the world. But how far can a society go in controlling a medium before youth protection, security, and the protection of personality rights become means of oppression? This question has been a hot topic for censorship and surveillance studies for centuries. Yet, digital games have a feature that poses this question anew: Reading about a murder or watching gruesome movies is bad enough in some eyes – but acting out illegal or undesired behaviour in a game seems to have an even more serious quality. Requiring the player’s activity, games seem to be more persuasive, more dangerous, and hence, in many eyes, should be under stricter control than less interactive media. Still, after the moral panic of the early days of digital gaming has subsided, many legal actions against games seem excessive and unsubstantiated in hindsight.
This paper discusses the thin ethical line of game regulation. From a historical perspective, the moral reasoning and legal basis behind some examples of game prohibitions in Germany will be briefly explored, based on my ongoing research. On this basis, game regulation will be discussed as a question of political philosophy: Can there be a form of game regulation that fosters freedom and fights oppression? How can the delicate balance between individual freedom and collective positive liberty be maintained? Both questions refuse simple answers, yet there are some things to be learned from looking at the past.

Rudolf Inderst

Rudolf Inderst

Rudolf Inderst enjoys video games since 1985 and is a professor for Game Design at IU. He received a master’s degree in political science, American cultural studies as well as contemporary and recent history from Ludwig-Maximilians-University, Munich and holds two PhDs in game studies.

A certain kind of “freedom” – the in-between-state of Game Studies in Germany

FROG 2022 – Talk

The state of German digital game studies can be described as a particular “in-between” one.

Yes, on the one hand, the general interest in academic game research has grown over the last two decades and certain cornerstones associated with classic disciplines in science and humanities could be observed – for instance the increase of conferences or publications (Paidia or Language at Play, just to name two). There’s also a local GSA DiGRA chapter and a subchapter within the Gesellschaft für Medienwissenschaften has been established. An increment of informal connections on social media (Discord, Facebook groups etc.) is also to be mentioned here. Circling back to my 2020 FROG talk, the argument can also be made that video game essayist combine questions of game research and game analysis on YouTube, although this is – looking at the data – not a significant German phenomenon.

On the other hand, as this talk argues, digital games studies in Germany have not yet entered the state of independent academic discipline. This aforementioned specific “in-between” condition is related to its degree of institutionalization within the landscape of tertiary education. Digital game studies have have been parked in two fields mainly: They are a interdisciplinary field of interest for other academic disciplines such as literary, film or media studies (one might dare to add: including “attempts” of “hostile take-overs”). Also, they have become part of practice-oriented private or university of applied science programs offering course content in game design, game engineering or game development.

Altogether, we are therefore talking about a particular state of “freedom”: One that allows research and scholarship with – frequently – only the mildest boundaries in course creation and conduction. But also one that makes it very challenging to build a career upon since the institutional background is mostly missing.

Ralph J. Moeller

Ralph J. Moeller was born in Vienna/Austria in 1969. He is the CEO of two independent software/service vendors and has been working in IT as consultant, software developer and trainer since 1991. His big interest in games led to a postgraduate study of Game Science which he finished in 2016, to be followed by a study in Game-based Media and Education. In the course of this study he developed a deep interest in Transmedia Storytelling which would also became the subject of his latest master-thesis.

Divergence: Incoherences in Transmedia Storytelling – The Gamer’s Perspective

FROG 2022 – Talk

Modern transmedia franchises like Star Wars or Star Trek contain a high amount of complexity, for the builders of those worlds as well as the consumers. Part of the complexity results from the versatility of the universes built within the franchises, the story worlds and characters created.

Divergence occurs when a Transmedia Storyworld becomes incoherent within itself. Recent developments in several storyworlds have shown this phenomenon to have a strong impact on the franchises and sometimes even caused notable changes in storytelling. Prominent examples shall be discussed during the presentation.
The gaming industry is affected by this just as the film and streaming industry is. The effect of Divergence on game perception and immersion can be negative, even more so if the franchise or game is still fresh and growing.

This talk shall give insight into the means created by the author to identify, isolate and, if desired, prevent divergence in transmedia franchises. I will present a proposal for a categorization of said phenomenon and focus on the reasons divergences within a franchise surface, how they can be identified and what kind of divergence can be isolated.
As supportive means for the categorization method, a graphical model will be presented to illustrate the methodology. Using this model, the method can be demonstrated on several examples from prominent transmedia franchises.

Daria Balakina

Daria Balakina is the CSR manager at EX CORP., a company developing technological solutions in the competitive gaming market. Her previous job positions were related to youth and academic publishing, culture and literature of indigenous peoples of the North, and science and technology studies. After being a programme director of the biggest pop science festival in the Post-Soviet space, she started working as a researcher and partnership manager to promote equality within IT and competitive gaming markets. Her main research interest is equitable access to opportunities in the spheres with a high level of inequality.

Alesha Serada is a PhD student and a researcher at the University of Vaasa, Finland. Their dissertation, supported by the Nissi Foundation, discusses construction of value in games and art on blockchain. Inspired by their Belarusian origin, their research interests revolve around exploitation, violence, horror, deception and other banal and non-banal evils in visual media.

Vicious Circles in Women’s CS:GO Scene: Tournament Economy and Professional Requirements

FROG 2022 – Talk

Since 2003, the primary goal of women-only CS tournaments has been to boost women’s esports and to encourage more women to play competitively. And yet, 20 years later, it has still not been achieved, despite the efforts of women pro players and other industry actors. Esports is still primarily perceived as a ‘boys’ thing’ by most of the industry stakeholders, and the number of women playing competitively is still incomparable to men. Why does the esports landscape remain hostile to women, despite the industry’s self-representation as meritocratic? Drawing on 13 qualitative interviews with women pro-players specializing in CS:GO from 5 countries, the analysis of prize pool data, and a systematic literature review, this paper argues that women are facing a variety of barriers preventing them from integration into the gaming community, thereby drastically reducing the opportunities of professionalization that are available to them. These barriers include: (1) internal struggle and community requirements; (2) toxicity of the gaming community; (3) unequal treatment and lack of emotional support; (4) insufficient financial means; (5) limited competitive opportunities; (6) distorted media representation. The paper concludes with some suggestions of how to overcome these barriers.

Juan Carlos Ponce Reyes

BMus by UNAM (National Autonomous Mexico’s University) in guitar performance receiving the Gabino Barreda Medal for his academic merit, and MMus with honors in musicology by the same institution. As a guitarist, he has participated in contemporary music projects and early music ensembles. As a researcher, he has presented his work at conferences in Mexico such as the Karl Bellinghausen Conference in CENIDIM (National Music Research Center) and the Musical Research Conference at Nayarit’s University; and in the international conference LUDO2022 at Royal Holloway University, England.

Agency and codephagy in video games, four study cases in the Mexican context

FROG 2022 – Talk

Through the study of four study cases, the present paper aims to observe in the Mexican context how are in play issues of cultural identity and how different actors put in motion distinct forms of agency. This agency can be understood as “codephagocy” (codigofagia), a concept coined by Mexican-Ecuatorian philosopher Bolívar Echeverría, which describes the relations in which cultural codes “devour” one another, and the dominant code is transformed from the inside due to the remains of the dominated “eaten” code. For the purposes of this paper, I “play” with the notion of code, both as informatical and cultural.

The four study cases selected are ones in which we can see different instances of cultural codes: the video game Mulaka, developed by the Mexican Studio Lienzo where the indigenous codes from the raramuri people (natives from the north region of Mexico) are “in play” with the codes of the game industry; the speedrunner and streamer The Mexican Runner and his NESmanía challenge, in which are used some stereotypical Mexican codes in conjunction with images from different video games; the Minecraft’s “Mexican Mod” that introduces through the informatical code textures, images, and music, elements from Mexican urban everyday life; and the piece 8 Bit Bolero Boom Box from the Mexican artist Arcángel Constantini, playing with the word bolero, the artist takes some golden age boleros and arrange them to 8-bit timbres. Each of these study cases explores different ways in which I identify agency–the capacity of individuals to exercise change in their everyday life–in the form of codephagocy, the interpenetration of cultural identities as a state of code in a domination relationship.

Wolfgang Rebernik

Wolfgang Rebernik studied documentary filmmaking and cinematography at “Zelig” School for Documentary, Television and New Media in Bolzano, Italy. Since his graduation in 1993 he has made documentary films all around the world and lectured seminars on „the language of audiovisual media“. To extend his storytelling-horizon he enrolled at Donau University Krems to study Medien | Spiel | Pädagogik in 2019. Through living in Asia (India & Vietnam) for more than 10 years Wolfgang developed a special interest in the history and impact of migration and colonialism.

Wherever I Go Is My Future

FROG 2022 – Talk

In my past work in documentary film, topics such as migration and flight already played a central role. Be it the film „Tara“, about a young Austrian woman who grow up in rural India, or when thousand’s of East-German refugees climbed over the fence of the West-German Embassy in Prague in autumn of 1989 and forced the GDR government to let them leave for the West, in the documentary „The Heros from Prague“. While the medium of documentary film is a wonderful tool for a general overview, it lacks the immersive engagement of the audience. So I had the idea to tell the life of a refugee through a multi-platform story to be able to pay respect to as many perspectives as possible.

„Wherever I Go Is My Future“ is the concept of a documentary trans-media story, based on the memoirs of the Austrian Jew, Ernst Frey. A documentary film, a graphic novel and a game retell his escape from Nazism to Vietnam and link it to historic circumstances. While the documentary highlights the historical background and introduces the main characters, the graphic novel tells the story trough the eyes of the main character, Ernst Frey, based on his 1200 pages of memoirs.

In the game players will then be confronted with the emotional reality of a refugee. They have to take the right decisions and face the immediate response. Their decisions have to be made spontaneously and are decisive for survival. The players are thus actively involved in the destiny of the protagonist and experience the consequences their actions have for the person escaping.

The idea behind this documentary trans-media story intends to give digital consumers new access to historical content, emotionally connect them with the characters and create an understanding for historic context. Through this concept of multi-level storytelling the recipients shall be enable to fully engage in the story. Further more it shall serve as a template for other historic portraits.

James Baillie

James Baillie is a historian who specialises on digital methods for the study of medieval history, on the history of the Caucasus region, and on the representation of history in games. He is also a game modder and developer whose work has been featured in Rock Paper Shotgun, the co-founder of the Exilian game development community, and the convenor of the Coding Medieval Worlds workshop series which builds connections and idea-sharing between medieval historians and game developers.

From Vardzia to Val Royeaux: Identity, Oppression and Power between Medieval Caucasia and Modern Games

FROG 2022 – Talk

Role-playing games tend, regardless of implied setting, to represent underlying dynamics of power and oppression that are familiar to modern audiences. This may mean importing analogous factions and beliefs, or othering problems of power and oppression to create a more fantastical setting where the player is discouraged from engaging with those societal dynamics. In the case of medieval and medieval-fantasy settings, this poses two risks: it risks absolving modernity of the horrors the player witnesses by reassuring them that they are engaging only with a distant past imaginary, and it can also risk portraying such dynamics as eternal and thus inevitable.

In this paper, I will unpack these problems by examining a real medieval society, that of the 12th century Caucasus. In doing so I will compare its historical dynamics of power and identity to those presented in modern medieval-fantasy games, both bringing in examples from major published CRPGs and using reflections from my own game design work. Through examining how people in its medieval past navigated their religiously and ethnically diverse world, the Caucasus can show us alternative ways that state and royal power, factionalism, and identity can function in our ludic imaginings of the medieval. These, in turn, potentially transform our play with the imagined past – reshaping medievalist games from systems that portray these dynamics as inevitable into routes through which they can be questioned and reimagined.

Hossein Mohammadzade

Hossein Mohammadzade has a master’s degree in English Language and Literature. He is currently an independent researcher, and he studies television and videogames. His main area of interest is the relationship between ideology, narrative, and videogames.

Atefe Najjar Mansoor (Independent Researcher)

Democracy or “Tyranny by Morons”? Oppression Through Exploiting the Undereducated

FROG 2022 – Talk

Oppression is not always direct or explicit. For instance, oppression by economic means and oppression by or through the majority are two strong forms of oppression. Rather than being openly taken away by one political power, people’s freedoms can either be made unaffordable and unimaginable through market policies or be taken away indirectly by creating an oppressive, undereducated majority incapable of dialogue even in the same socio-economic class. Moreover, gameworlds are capable of promoting oppression, criticizing it, or providing freedoms that cannot be experienced in the physical world – at least not without consequences. For example, two major videogames, Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto V, give the player various freedoms – which have clearly made them popular – and make implicit and explicit references to the aforementioned forms of oppression, certain neoliberal values, popular beliefs, and contemporary forms of democracy. Therefore, through a close reading of the two games, we try to see if and how these games criticize or promote each of these concepts. We also try to see if these games have their own way of oppressing the player. In addition, such an analysis can help discuss the relationship between ideology, oppression, and freedom in a democracy under neoliberal policies and capitalism, and discuss how such a system might have the potential to provide the means for oppression by economic policies and majorities – contrary to the popular “democracy versus oppression” dichotomy.

Katrina HB Keefer

Katrina Keefer is a scholar of African identity and slavery with particular interest in how individuals situate themselves within broader communities and groups. Her major research projects are in the digital humanities, and she has developed a method of discerning the origins of enslaved individuals by ‘reading’ the body and facial marks they were given in the continent. Keefer presently leads an international team which is reconstructing a visual catalogue of known slave brands to understand the complex economic relationships which drove the slave trade. Keefer is also a game developer– she is fascinated by how Africa and its past are represented within virtual worlds, and works to develop games which challenge stereotypes.

Freedom and Slavery: Navigating Player Experiences in the 18th century Sierra Leone Estuary

FROG 2022 – Talk

Bunce Island: Through the Mirror is set during the 18th century in the Sierra Leone estuary at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade within the region. Developed to bring players into a carefully reconstructed historical past, we have been developing the project to meet multiple audience needs through a process of collaborative co-authorship. Through this process, two major drives have become apparent based on audience: the desire to learn more about the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the desire to foreground precolonial African nations and systems. For stakeholders within Africa, the conflation of the African continent and the trans-Atlantic slave trade can be grating and a reduction of complex heritages into one major trauma, while for the descendants of that trade, the desire to reconnect with the courage of their ancestors who survived the trade is central. This binary has shaped our process of development and decision making as we build branching narratives and broad story arcs. This paper will explore that process and the ramifications around it, offering a case study into development and scholarly inquiry around freedom within a game’s narrative. With a game which so explicitly revolves around a period of intense slave trading, managing these two major audience pressures is complex. This paper will discuss strategies to allow players a sense of perceived autonomy and decision-making within the game space, facilitating both exploration and narrative. We will also explore the approaches we are bringing to prohibit bad faith users from enacting violence against enslaved characters while balancing player immersion and historical accuracy. The topic of this game is one which evokes strong emotions and engages with a complex past of oppression and resilience – how we engage with the freedom of our players is the foundation of a dignified representation of a painful history.

Samuel Poirier-Poulin

Samuel Poirier-Poulin is a PhD candidate in film studies at the Université de Montréal, Canada. His doctoral research investigates trauma in horror video games and draws on affect theory and phenomenology of media. His other research interests include sexuality studies, queer desires, and autoethnography. His work has appeared in the journals Loading… and Synoptique, and in the anthology Video Games and Comedy. Samuel is also the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Press Start.

Trust, Confidence, and Hope in A Summer’s End—Hong Kong 1986

FROG 2022 – Talk

Building on Eve Sedgwick’s (1997) reparative reading, this paper offers an analysis of the theme of trust and its variations (reluctance, confidence, intimacy) in the visual novel A Summer’s End—Hong Kong 1986 (ASE hereafter; Oracle & Bone, 2020). More specifically, this paper examines how trust takes place (1) between the game characters, (2) between the player and the characters, and (3) between the queer player and the video game medium. ASE tells the unlikely love story between Michelle Fong Ha Cheung, a disciplined office lady who lives with her mother, and Sam Ka Yan Wong, an independent and free-spirited woman who owns a video store. The story is set in Hong Kong, in the summer of 1986, two years after the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed. ASE offers a reflection on the difficulties of being a queer woman in uncertain times. It explores themes of desires, freedom, and hope in a time and space “where Asian traditional values and Western idealism clash and converge” (Oracle & Bone, 2019, para. 2).

My analysis starts from the premise that video games, like literature or cinema, provide an ideal opportunity to study trust—its formation and its fragility—and to broaden our knowledge on the subject (Leboyer & Vincent, 2019). As noted by philosopher Michaela Marzano (2010), trust is closely tied to human existence. It creates strong relationships where dependence and vulnerability meet; it changes our relationship to the world and to ourselves, and makes us realize that we are never completely independent (Marzano, 2010). Trust is in opposition with fear, and more precisely with the fear of the future, “reintroducing into the world the possibility of hope, [and] pushing everyone to bet again on oneself, on others and, more generally, on the future” (Marzano, 2010, p. 61, my translation). ASE ultimately provides an interesting case for studying trust from a humanities perspective, a theme underexplored in game studies and in English-language scholarship in general.