Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Vetenskapsfestivalen — The Festival of Science

Last Monday I was in Gothenburg attending the Festival of Science, an annual event that this year focused on games. Unfortunately I was only able to be there the first day, but it was nevertheless a full day with several interesting talks. The organizer, Jonas Linderoth, began by discussing the wellknown question of immersion in games(as defined by Janet Murray in "Hamlet on the Holodeck" where technology was seen as a tool for immersion) and he turned things around saying that gamers are actually rather immersed in their game-play despite of the technology.

T.L. Taylor from ITU Copenhagen talked about whether computer games can be defined as sports. She highlighted the fact that there is an institutionalization of play at the moment; there are tournaments (that get broadcasted), players have managers agents agents, there are referees and rules, and even sponsors, live audiences and fandom. She pointed out that there is a transformation from leisure to work and a professionalization of players, referees, sponsors, commentators etc.

Peter Zackariasson was the next speaker and he talked about how the virtual was replicating or mimicking the real, and described virtual worlds as social systems, using Second Life and Anarchy Online as examples. He highlighted the importance of the choices of the developers (drawing on McDonough) and divided online worlds into two categories: Detention Worlds (World of Warcraft, Anarchy Online, Warhammer Online) and Extention Worlds (such as Second Life and Project Entropia).

Staffan Björk from Chalmers problematizes the context of computers and gaming when he begins from a pervasive games angle and shows how these can be disturbing or irritating in an everyday context. He proposes the use of "socially adaptable games" characteristics and formulates guidelines to minimize the impact of pervasive games on the surroundings.

Mikael Jakobsson from Umeå University discusses "the achievement machine," where he highlights the scoring points in the Xbox Live Meta Game. He has noticed how some players are ashamed of playing easy games that give them a higher score, since they, as a result, are seen as "achievement whores." He asks whether game experience or scores are the most important feature of game-play, and raises the issue of integrity. Moreover, not only are the gamers gathering scoring points for themselves, they can also be considered to be cogs in a giant game machinery

Ulrika Bennerstedt, Louise Peterson and Björn Sjöblom (the last talk of the day) focus on methodology in game research. Their preferred method is video capturing (relying on Goffman and Goodwin) and the pros and cons of this method are discussed.

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