Technoculture, Art and Games (TAG) is an interdisciplinary centre for research/ creation in game studies and design, digital culture and interactive art


Jun 04, 2013 - Jun 05, 2013


This years CGSA in Victoria BC will be quite exciting for TAG members – many of us will be there including Jen Whitson, Adam Van Sertima, Will Robinson, Dominic Arsenault, Thorsten Busch and Lynn Hughes!  Here are the titles of what they are presenting… For schedule go here… full abstracts (if provided) on the events page…

Jen Whitson  – The core vs casual battle over metrics-driven design

Adam Van Sertima – Individuals of Play

William Robinson – On The Necessity of Player Competency: How to Play Games Well, Even if it Means Losing

Dominic Arsenault will be presenting with Pierre-Marc Côté – Beyond Pixels and Polygons: The Visible Edge of Technological Innovation

Thorston Busch – How to regulate “toxic gamer culture”? Online gaming platforms and corporate responsibility

Lynn Hughes will be presenting – Paris Plays Along: Curating a major exhibition on contemporary game culture.



Jen Whitson

The core vs casual battle over metrics-driven design


This paper is structured into two parts. The first part defines metrics: providing examples of how metrics are used in the game industry; tracing their evolution across multiple game sectors; and, highlighting the increasing precision of metrics as both governance and marketing tools. In the game industry, metrics-driven design currently occupies a crossroads between Casual and Core game developers. Ultimately, there are two competing discourses on what metrics are. Those arising from the Casual sectors focus on leveraging player data to support novel monetization strategies, thus providing financial stability and attracting investors to the high-risk industry. Those arising from Core sectors are more inward facing – helping developers improve players’ in-game experiences and streamline internal production processes. While metrics in Core games is rooted in a history of playability testing, the discourse surrounding Casual metrics practices – especially those employed in social games- resonates with a history of web-design and marketing. Despite vociferous opposition from developers who oppose the metrics-driven design popularized by social game publishers, these discourses have converged as the Core industry adapts the financially lucrative metrics tools utilized in Casual sectors.

The second half of this paper asks: Where does the increasing dependence on metrics leave developers? It details how a reliance on metrics changes developers’ relationships with players, shifting from dealing with sometimes recalcitrant and unreliable forum users, to addressing the more tractable dividuals that are monitored through increasingly sophisticated data-collection processes. While rationalized in terms of economic efficiency, this increasing dependence on metrics-driven design challenges developers’ autonomy as essential creative forces behind game design; reshaping successful game design from an art to a craft molded via the scientific method. Accordingly, two prevalent themes interweave through this paper: the first is the increasing emphasis on quantitative and thus objective player data, and the belief that this data will pinpoint more tractable and profitable players. The second theme is the increasing rationalization of game design.

Drawing from ethnographic data, I ultimately argue that metrics-driven design facilitates the “designing out designers”, or at least the paidic, creative freedom that we (game studies academics, players, and developers themselves) feel characterize great design. In contrast to the iterative development outlined in O’Donnell’s developer ethnographies (O’Donnell 2009, 2008), with metrics-driven design, the time developers need to play with and learn technical systems and the time needed to experiment with different iterations of a game is deemed wasteful and inefficient. Spontaneity, freedom, and autonomy are seen as risks to be avoided. Paidia is left along the wayside, while ludus and efficient, rational, goal driven behaviours are embraced and rewarded. As the popularity and profits of the game industry increase due to free-to-play mobile and social games, developers, publishers and platform holders lock themselves into a path that is dependent on the increasing precision of metrics as both monetization and governance tools. Consequently, we can only expect the commodification and instrumentalization of play to increase unless developers start thinking of how to play with metrics rather than simply profit from them.


Adam Van Sertima

Individuals of Play


The notion of play as an individualizing phenomena, that acts somehow  as a liberating force that activates development in individuals.   is worth examining.The accounts of play offered by Huizinga and Caillois as well as Eugen Fink and Hans-Georg Gadamer all suggest play as an ontological category that underlies human individuals and others.Several authors including Wittgenstein, Gadamer and Fink argue various forms of expression that collectively are characterized as art represent forms of play.  I argue that individuals, including human individuals are created out of play, and human play is a particular manifestation of play as an ontological category. Thus we can reconsider certain category problems, in the semantic sense, when we discuss games, art and narrative.


William Robinson

On The Necessity of Player Competency: How to Play Games Well, Even if it Means Losing


It is regularly argued by game scholars that games are capable of communicating in unique and valuable ways. This medium specific quality is often referred to as their procedurality. That is, games deploy rules and goals to create systems which are powerfully rhetorical. What is often forgotten is that games which attempt to generate procedural rhetoric require competent players. This should not be surprising, as there are competencies for nearly all media appreciation. The nature of this competency for critical play is currently vague and often critiqued. The reasoning goes: if people are told to play a certain way, it is assumed that their creativity will negatively affected. By analyzing the rules of a specific game, specifically my own “Gets It Better,” it will be demonstrated that certain games must have highly competent players who play in a specific way in order to appreciate playing. In addition to applying generous and critical readings (something seen in most art appreciation), game players require the ability to rationally determine optimal play and a socially constructed etiquette to act on their determinations. The goal in showing this much is to argue for a “literacy” of games that requires three cognitive capacities to be further developed: rationality, generosity and etiquette. In order to do all of this work, an understanding of emergent rule driven events will be provided. A by-product of this framework will be a developed explanation of how it is possible to design games to generate fictions of friendship, betrayal and overwhelming sadness. While this reasoning applies to video games, it is more acutely felt in board games for reasons which will be become obvious. Firstly, it will be shown how games with falsifiable information, unattainable goals and/or asymmetrical positions can force a need for trust. It will then be shown has this is only the case when players play optimally, where the designed experience is more apparent the more optimally they play. This need for rational play will be further complicated by paradoxes which arise from a demonstration of the necessity of betrayal in these games. For instance, how can players trust one another in subsequent games, even after repeat betrayals in previous ones? How can friendly players betray one another at all? I will argue that certain kinds of etiquette must be deployed in order to disassociate played out fictions from real events. It is this final point which requires the closest attention. Surely one of the great benefits to storytelling that these games offer is the intense mimicry of emotion that players feel. Watching or reading about a character betraying another does not produce the same emotion as ‘puppetting’ the one who betrays. Some part of betraying one’s friends is real and must be felt, but at the same time must be understood as fictional. To unpack and defend this final point, theories of the porous magic circle, will be used to explain why games matter as unique forms of communication.


Dominic Arsenault and Pierre-Marc Côté

Beyond Pixels and Polygons: The Visible Edge of Technological Innovation


While technological innovation is important in the games industry, it only leads to success in an indirect and limited way. Investigating the transition from 2D to 3D graphics during the 1990s through a research project funded by the FQRSC, we argue that video game graphics stand as the visible representation of hidden computing processes that can be understood as a conceptual interface linking consumers with the underlying, invisible technologies, much like the visible edge joining different surfaces. These technologies appeal to consumers because they bring about a certain promise of novelty (Raynauld, 2003), but the visual complexity of new graphical technologies is not self-sufficient to guarantee success (hence the failures of systems and games that end up being slandered as “eye candy”): we must also integrate the usages that are made of these technologies. This paper argues that new graphical technologies may delimit a certain technological trajectory (Nelson and Winter, 1982) whose proponents will explore by continually reiterating on the original novelty they brought, or may have a significant and lasting impact through the establishment of a trajectory of innovation, wherein they are taken up in bold new directions by game developers who experiment on game form and create new play experiences.

Mark J.P. Wolf observed that « game graphics were, and to a large extent still are, the main criteria by which advancing video game technology is benchmarked » (2003, p.53). But we must keep in mind that game imagery (the “video” part of video games) is never produced for contemplation alone, as “graphical configurations must be read for the player to understand what options and what kind of interactivity are available at any given moment during gameplay” (Wolf 2012, p.518-519). Accordingly, we believe that the essential feature of new graphical technologies is to facilitate and cement innovative ways of viewing and – more importantly – of playing. To this end, we would like to propose a new distinction into the model of relationships between innovation, technology and graphics: the concept ofgraphical regime.

The graphical regime is to be understood as the junction point between gameplay and graphics: it is defined as the imaging of gameplay and the gameplay of the image, independently of technical graphical capabilities or limitations. This paper will situate the concept and exemplify it through a range of historically relevant technologies and singular games. In this light, graphical regimes are a way of transcending the question of technological innovation in order to build a history of video games centered on aesthetic innovation and player experience. It is particularly important in understanding the successful transition from 2D to 3D graphics, which on the surface seemed to amount to a move from lush and vibrant 2D graphics to blocky, untextured and jaggy polygons. Below the visible edge, though, gamers were collectively sacrificing the material, visual quality of graphics (often seen by hardcore gamers as purely cosmetic “bullshot” marketing) for the versatility and new gameplay opportunities afforded by polygonal 3D.


Thorston Busch

How to regulate “toxic gamer culture”? Online gaming platforms and corporate responsibility

Full abstract to come:
Thorsten will discuss several ethical issues that permeate the games industry today, such as questionable human resources practices, dubious marketing, the industry’s environmental impact, problems with digital distribution, privacy, and toxic gamer culture.


Lynn Hughes

Paris Plays Along: Curating a major exhibition on contemporary game culture.


For two months last summer (2012) la Gaîté lyrique in Paris hosted a landmark playable exhibition on contemporary game culture. Rather than representing games through the lens of nostalgia, or as a series of technical breakthroughs that prefigure the AAA blockbuster industry, Joue le jeu / Play Along set out to position games as the broad, diversified, exceedingly dynamic and evolving cultural field it now is, and to suggest bridges and connections between games and the media arts/design.

The mission and philosophy of the Gaîté lyrique were closely allied to the spirit of this particular exhibition. This cultural venue focuses explicitly on current and digital culture and defines digital culture generously precisely because it now touches almost every aspect of our lives and crosses many traditional media boundaries. Even the divide between the visual arts and the performing arts is blurring as interactive technologies turn images and objects into situations that call for participation and performance. Perhaps even more radically, the boundaries between high art and popular culture are also being challenged. The digital, at its most powerful, has the potential to stitch back together things that have drifted apart.

The curators of this exhibition, Lynn Hughes, Heather Kelley and Cindy Poremba saw the world through these same lenses. The field of contemporary play is creatively inclusive and culturally central. The game form is now being recognized as a broad way of structuring interactive experiences so that they are meaningful. Games can therefore have many shapes depending on the kind of experience and meaning the designer/artists want to convey. Visitors to the exhibition were able to play games ranging from highly polished, full-featured games, to five-minute, experimental games specifically designed to be played in social contexts. There were games with traditional (sometimes hacked or repurposed) game controllers, and others where the players’ own bodies are the controllers. Last but not least, “giant games” (very large scale commissioned installations) encouraged the public to interact directly with the spaces of the building itself. The show also featured sub-curated spaces, including an elaborate cat town conceived by the New-York based collective Babycastles, a board game section, a selection presented by Brandon Boyer/Venus Patrol, and other events including workshops and a drawing-talk by Keita Takahashi.