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DiGRA 2014 Report

Posted by wbarobinson


When I was a child, I heard that the athletes attending the Mexico City Olympics opted to move months earlier to adapt the high altitude’s lack of available oxygen. No one told me about the Olympics in Salt Lake. At DiGRA 2014, in the illustrious Cliff Lodge at Snowbird, approximately 100 game scholars gave talks over three days. Many comically running out of breath while doing so.

The theme of this year’s DiGRA was [active verb] THE [noun] OF GAME [plural noun]. My presentation was “graphing the data of game reviews,” although that is a poor description of what appears to be a multi-faceted project that I want to turn into a paper.

With three to four tracks depending on the day, I missed several talks. What follows is a series of interesting talks briefly described and reflected upon.

Paolo Ruffino’s paper, “Game Arthritis: physical deformations and other video game diseases,” was startling. He and Mateo Bittanti created a series of images depicting players as subjects of a medical gaze, suffering from different types of bodily harm. These images were inspired by the peer reviewed medical journals, which have, in the past three decades, proposed different potential and actual damage done to humans by games. I would argue that the photographs made by Ruffino and Bittanti act as delayed critical reviews of the medical papers. Perhaps positionable as interdisciplinary peer review. The paper brought up many ideas, but it was hard for many of the audience members outside of fine arts to address the core points of the paper, with several questions out of left field.

Thomas Rousse’s presentation appeared in the well-played track, alongside other close analyses of games. The game he chose was Ian Bogost’s “A Slow Year,” where Bogost anachronistically programs his game about seasons for the Atari 2600. Rousse read from Bogost’s associated set of haikus while having four volunteers try each of the seasonal games. While I am fond of close analysis and game playing as methods, it is still difficult for me to feel the stakes of well-played, as a mode of academic enquiry. What do we get from a series of curated titles examined for aesthetic content? With Bogost’s work, there is likely an intellectual payoff, that is, an exploration of meaning in his philosophical carpentry. With other works, I am not quite sure.

Finally, games producer Jon Dean gave a presentation on his work with peripherals and physical components in games. While it was something of an extended biography, Dean offered several insights into the political economy of games. He struck a chord with me when he exclaimed, “You have to design the purchase model into the mechanics themselves.” This has been central to my thinking lately, particularly as I play Hearthstone and Dota 2. Both of these are free-to-play games with different design patterns suggesting different ways of playing, as well as spending.

The conference on the whole went off without a hitch. It was much smaller than previous DiGRA’s and still I did not get to chat with everyone I wanted to and every session had something I wanted to see, so no harm there. The Center for Technoculture, Art and Games was well represented, with Carolyn Jong, Joachim Desplands, Skot Deeming, Jason Begy, Pierson Browne, Jen Whitson, and Mia Consalvo. At the end of the conference, an election was to be held, for I and Jessika Weber had put our names in to be student officer. The DiGRA board, suggested we both take on the role so now I am co-Student Officer of DiGRA.