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.
Each Monster Has Its Own Voice: Creativity, Alienation and My Singing Monsters
FROG 2021 – Talk
Music has been connected to magic and spirituality, most likely, since its beginning in human society (Morley 2013). The magical powers of music are the main theme in many so-called music video games that mimic and gamify various activities related to composing and performing music (Austin 2016). The game that I analyze here is a mobile and desktop casual game called My Singing Monsters (Big Blue Bubble, 2012). It was developed in Canada in 2012 at an early stage of explosive growth of free-to-play games in the West and is still enjoyed by millions in 2021. The game offers a fun and user friendly music editor, as well as the possibility to share one’s compositions with other players – a unique feature that is adored by the core player base. However, the mechanics of the game that takes most of the player’s time is removed from the process of making music. I suggest that, to keep up with the free-to-play business logic, the game playfully introduces techniques of quantification and reification (Lukacs, 1972) of labour, which results in alienation from the results of one’s potentially creative input. Does the attention economy of this game kill the magic of its creativity? I conclude that the liberating potential of the game can still be found in its monstrosity, which puts it apart from the typical, and potentially exploitative aesthetic of ‘cuteness’ (Page, 2016) in free-to-play games. Selected references Austin, M. (2016). Music Video Games: Performance, Politics, and Play. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. Lukacs, G. (1972). History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics. MIT Press. Morley, I. (2013). The Prehistory of Music: Human Evolution, Archaeology, and the Origins of Musicality. OUP Oxford. My Singing Monsters: Dawn of Fire. (2015). Big Blue Bubble. Page, A. (2016). “This Baby Sloth Will Inspire You to Keep Going”: Capital, Labor, and the Affective Power of Cute Animal Videos. In The Aesthetics and Affects of Cuteness (pp. 75–94). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315658520-9
Dr Mark R Johnson is a Lecturer in Digital Cultures in the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney. His research focuses on live streaming and Twitch.tv, esports, game consumption and production, and gamification and gamblification. He has published in journals including “Information, Communication and Society”, “New Media and Society”, “Games and Culture”, and “Convergence”. Outside academia he is also an independent game designer best known for the roguelike “Ultima Ratio Regum”, a regular games blogger, podcaster, and commentator in newspapers, television, and on the radio.
Procedural Content Generation and Game World Immersion
FROG 2021 – Talk
Procedural content generation (PCG) is a method for game design that generates distinctive or even unique game elements on each new playthrough. It has become well-known through highly successful “indie” games such as “No Man’s Sky”, “Dwarf Fortress”, “FTL”, “The Binding of Isaac” and “Slay the Spire”, as well as having smaller roles in blockbuster games including 2018’s “God of War”, “Bloodborne”, and “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim”. However, it has generally been limited to the design of physical spaces and the placement of important game elements (e.g. enemies, items, NPCs, etc) within those worlds. In “Ultima Ratio Regum”, a work I have been building incrementally for the past ten years, the game instead procedurally generates almost everything, from political beliefs of civilizations to the appearance of individual books within the game world, often with billions of possible permutations. One of the core design goals here has been to mimic reality – especially in a roughly ~1700s fictional setting, largely before the precise mass-production of products – and give everything in the game a sense of uniqueness and distinctiveness. Drawing on examples from the game and examining practices and the history of procedural content generation more broadly, the talk will explore how PCG techniques can be used to create a deep sense of immersion in a game world, a sense that the game world is “lived in” beyond the actions of the player, and the – accurate! – perception that a player’s world is genuinely unique, and will never be produced or seen again. I will conclude with a number of design suggestions for game makers looking to capture this sort of “magic”, and a number of academic research directions in this area which merit further exploration.
Clio Em (Clio Montrey) is a composer, writer/game maker, opera singer and multi-instrumentalist who weaves imaginary worlds out of words and sound. She has received numerous awards for her creative work, including several competitive composition grants from the Austrian Government. Clio sings opera at Theater an der Wien in Vienna, Austria with the award-winning Arnold Schoenberg Chor in addition to her work as a contemporary soloist. She was on the research team of Barbara Lüneburg’s participatory art project TransCoding/What if?, based at the Kunstuni Graz, and is an alumna of McGill University, MUK, and MDW.
Building Fantasy Worlds Through Music
FROG 2021 – Talk
Music and video games are symbiotic creatures. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fantasy genre, with its magic-infused themes and tropes. Worldbuilding – the creation of imaginary worlds – is often perceived as a visual and narrative undertaking, but it can be accomplished through various other, complementary means – especially music. Whether in-world melodies performed by characters like in Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda titles, or atmospheric soundscapes that provide a backdrop for the game’s adventure such as the stunning soundtracks of the Final Fantasy series, music renders gameplay more immersive and fosters a sense of escape from everyday life. Within the fantasy genre it can even function as a narrative or descriptive device, acting as aural representation of literal magical elements. In this talk I introduce the concept of fantasy worldbuilding through music and explain key concepts of dramatic development through music, such as the use of primary and secondary themes, leitmotifs, diegetic music, soundscapes, sound design and foley, and so forth. I the connect these concept back to musical dramaturgy in genres such as opera and other forms of music theatre, in order to create parallels to classical formats where worldbuilding through sound was first exploited. To close the talk, I perform a short original composition built specifically to illustrate each concept discussed.
Christin Reisenhofer is an educational scientist and a passionate gamer, so it came as a logical consequence that she would focus on game studies in the context of educational science. She is employed as a Praedoc University Assistant at the Department of Psychoanalytic Pedagogy at the University of Vienna and as an external lecturer for media pedagogy and didactics at the University of Krems. She is currently conducting an empirical study with co-author Andreas Gruber on the question of how adolescents experienced the Corona crisis and the significance of computer games in this context.
Andreas Gruber (University of Vienna) is a social pedagogue, BA student, and a passionate gamer as well. He studies educational science at the University of Vienna and has designed and directed (social) media training courses for children and teenagers as part of his work in socio-educational residential communities. Based on his bachelor thesis, which was developed under the guidance of seminar leader Christin Reisenhofer, he co-authored the study below.
“But without games it would have been somehow even grayer”. About computer games, adolescents, and the question of opportunities for magic in the corona crisis.
FROG 2021 – Talk
Adolescents are considered to be especially affected by negative effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Multiple stressors and challenges associated with the pandemic can impact both the psychological and physical well-being of adolescents and young adults. Above all, the challenges that arose from the pandemic, such as limited social interactions and agency, as well as severely restricted access to education and leisure time activities, led to hardships for adolescents. It is all the more interesting that initial findings from empirical studies suggest that adolescents’ gaming increased during the pandemic. Digital gaming worlds provide a wide range of experiences and interactions, potentially substituting the lack of real-life access in a way. Agency, digital relationship building, and escapism may provide relief for players, especially in times of a pandemic. But to what extent can digital games counteract the challenges experienced in the COVId-19 period through their inherent immersion and provide opportunities to form and maintain relationships? How do adolescents experience computer gaming during this time – as magical or harrowing? This talk focuses on the initial findings of the qualitative-empirical study “Ich Zocke” (I play), in which a total of 15 gamers from Austria and Germany talk about their experience of the pandemic in terms of perceived stress, challenges, and their gaming behavior. The primary focus of the presentation will be on how the adolescents express and interpret their desire, ability, and necessity to immerse in digital gaming worlds. The secondary focus will then be on how adolescents evaluate computer games in terms of digital relationships in times of social distancing. Finally, we will shed further light on which games in particular were discussed by the interviewees and also on the basis upon which the game choice has been made, especially in times of crisis.
Benjamin Hanussek has a degree in archaeology (focus: archaeogaming) and is currently doing his MA in Game Studies & Engineering at the Alpen-Adria University, Klagenfurt. He leads a project on “Moral Complexity in Videogames” and functions as tutor of the Klagenfurt Critical Game Lab. Besides that, he co-develops indie titles under the banner of “CtrlZ”.
Dis/enchanted by Moral Complexity: The Magic of Moral Engagement in Videogames
FROG 2021 – Talk
Co-Author: Tom Tucek (Klagenfurt Critical Game Lab, Alpen-Adria University)
Moral dilemmas have become an integral part of many videogame narratives nowadays. Games such as Frostpunk engage players with carefully crafted experiences that encourage players to apply their moral principles. Such an approach grants an additional, philosophical dimension to the architecture of game design, thus allowing players a more intimate, intellectual engagement with the medium. However, the phenomenon of morality remains an abstract and unactionable concept in game studies, which might provide interesting perspectives, but lacks a closer comprehension of how videogames operationalise morality to enchant or disenchant players. We argue, that at the core of this dis/enchantment is the notion of moral complexity, defined here as the degree to which a game provides alternatives and/or commentary to violence and deceit. Moral complexity engages players in different ways according to their individual moral competence – the ability to translate one’s moral principles into action. If moral complexity of a game correlates properly to moral competence, players become enchanted, which lets them experience engagement comparable to Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of flow. If they do not correlate, players become disenchanted and potentially disengage from the experience. In order to exhibit the dis/enchanting function of moral complexity in videogames, we intend to present the game Frostpunk as a state-of-the-art example. Moreover, Georg Lind’s notion of moral competence is used as a device to understand a player’s ability to engage with moral encounters. Furthermore, our concept of moral complexity is presented as a device to operationalise the phenomenon of morality in videogames. On the basis of our theoretical framework, we explain how we implemented moral complexity in a prototype game, designed for a study that tests for correlations between moral complexity, moral competence, and enjoyment of a game. In the end, we will elaborate on the difficulties we encountered in our design process and open up the room for critical discussion.
Alexis Ibarra Ibarra holds a BA in International Relations by the Mexico’s Autonomous Institute of Technology (ITAM), where she also completed advanced studies in Economics and Applied Mathematics. She also holds a MA in Communication oriented to New Media and Global Processes by the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). She specialized in Videogames, Hermeneutics, and representation of national values. Currently, she is a student at the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master’s Degree in Media Arts Cultures Programme. Besides being a researcher, she is an artist and writer. Her main interests are Videogames, Art, Politics, Economics, Physics, and Clinical Psychopathology.
The Magic of Videogame Art Curation: Remediating Videogames to Physical Exhibitions
FROG 2021 – Talk
The ‘Videogame’ is a medium, with very particular aesthetic characteristics, that can be used to create artworks despite some voices that still reject that idea. The aesthetic of videogames, in short, is composed by representational and symbolic aspects, mechanics, feedback systems, interactivity and participation, and, of course, the generation of the magic called immersion. They are both digital and analogue (i.e., devices, controllers, screens): ignoring the latter is disregarding an important element of their materiality. Since videogames are complex works, curating them is particularly challenging but also exciting. Some curation strategies rely on the digital nature of them (i.e., digital archives) while others dedicate to the preservation of hardware; however, these approaches make it hard to (re)create the magical sense of immersion. The curation of videogames for physical spaces such as museums, galleries, and exhibitions could help to (re)create that magic. In that regard, (re)mediation is a valuable tool that should be used to translate the magical world of videogames to the physical world. Traditional and new media approaches, installation art, Augmented Reality, as well as Virtual Reality, are strategies available for the curator. Curators should go beyond their traditional roles and offer interactive and immersive experiences that encompass the whole videogame aesthetics, even if that poses the difficult question of differentiating spaces created for pure entertainment and those created for culture and art appreciation. Therefore, the job of a curator is not only having to deal with Academia, preservation, documentation, and theory: just as videogames create magic, the curator has to create magic too.