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VR or Bust: A TAG Shinposium – Sept 24, 1-3ish pm

Posted by Bart

pond hockeyWhat do you get when you combine an academic symposium with good old Canadian Shinny? A Shinposium!


Shinny (or hockey improvisé) is a name for pick-up or pond hockey for those who don’t know.  A shinposium is an impromptu,  improvised, pick up session for the serious bandying about of ideas, insights and questions.  Shinny, unlike Hockey, meets most of the criteria we might have for gaminess, and competition is absolutely irrelevant to the ebb and flow of conversational play, along with the pleasure of exhaustion.  I could go on but you get the idea…

The Oculus Rift headset is tested by attendees at the Eurogamer Expo at Earls Court in London.Our first Shinposium will be on Thursday September 24 in the TAGlab from 1 to 3ish (Shinny always uses “ish” time) and we will focus on the topic of nextgen VR in anticipation of the hypefest that will give us the commercial release of several new VR gadgets in 2016 (all suitably scifi sounding like Oculus, Morpheus, Vive but not the Samsung Gear or Google Cardboard…).  The premise goes like this…


old vrWe have been here before with VR. Do you remember Dactyl Nightmare from 1991?  Do you remember Jaron Lanier or the early days of Wired?  Do you remember the military funding?  Anyone remember Ken Hillis’ fantastic 1999 book, ‘Digital Sensations’?  That old VR died didn’t it?

In social movement theory we have this term called an ‘abeyance movement’ which refers to a kind of social organization that hovers below the surface of perceptibility only to emerge at multiple points of time and in multiple forms.  I wonder if VR is abeyance technology?  The military projects never stopped of course… it gave us this. The artists and computer scientists also kept working…  it should be an interesting story one day but whatever the case we are coming around again.  2016 is the year of the commercial release of a slew of new of home and personal VR gadgets.  What is different this time around?

It’s not the hype that is for sure. As with all gadget tech from cell phones to game consoles to 3D TVs to wearables to VR there is an abundant supply of prognostication about the transformation of life itself along with appropriate sales projections.Piper-Jaffray-VR-Headset-Sales The day the old VR died they said a few things. First, the technological determinist objection, the tech wasn’t ready; the headsets too cumbersome, the graphics/stereoscopic vision system too crude, the system lag too high. Second, the culturalist objection, there was nothing to do with the stuff. It was about entertainment but the viable tracks for content creation were limited to pseudo arcade experiences that were not suited to arcade economics. Third, the corporate economics objection, the stuff was rolled out all wrong.


viveTimes are supposed to be different now. They say the tech “works” and by tying the development of the new devices to the video game and film industries they say there will be no content crunch. The corporate distribution model has also shifted in our era of multimedia multiplatform MNCs.  We are not dealing with Californian startups like Virtuality so much as Sony, Valve/HTC, Facebook/Oculus, Microsoft and the rest.  Finally they say our homes have changed and the family TV is increasingly becoming the site for mini-arcades in the wake of gestural technologies like the Wii and the Kinect (and even 3D TV although I don’t know why they mention that at all).

Of course for game studies and design this is a platform studies argument/challenge in the making. This is why we need a shinposium on the topic. What does the new VR (its tech, culture and economics) mean for game design both as a budding profession but also in terms of experimental, indie and alt game development?   What does the new VR mean for game studies?  A few years ago a few of us at TAG we’re mean into gestural gaming and I was rather taken with the idea that the cultural space created around the Wii helped to turn our analytic and critical gaze onto the bodies and spaces of players in a way that purely screen based/button controller game studies never could. Might the cultural spaces of VR present us with new research trajectories and new ways of thinking through our object?

For this shinposium I don’t propose that we engage in the game of prognostication (although it is fun to be able to say we told you so) rather I propose a moment of critical reflection to fine tune our ability to quickly consume and reflect on the cultural deluge that is only starting to take place. If the history of technocultures can be any guide then the critical moments and aporias will come in a heartbeat and far too fast for any normal academic analytic process. You gotta be primed if you don’t want to just be taken along for the ride.

So that’s it — come out for our 1st TAG shinposium Thursday Sept 24th at 1pm. We will evolve our format for discussion when we get there but anyone who knows they would like to take 5 or 10mins to stick-handle a little something for us (I think we can have support for images and stuff) then just let me know.  It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.  Oh and you don’t have to know anything special about VR or Shinny to come along for this event.

p.s. I also just can’t resist this little give away… anyone who has to teach or talk about Deleuze and Guattari might try comparing Shinny to Hockey for thinking about smooth and striated space.  Jus’ sayin’…