Paolo Ruffino: “Future Gaming: Creative Interventions in Video Game Culture” | Talks at Google
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Paolo Ruffino: “Future Gaming: Creative Interventions in Video Game Culture” | Talks at Google

August 26, 2019


[MUSIC PLAYING] PAULO RUFFINO: Yes, thank you. Thank you for inviting me here. So this talk is
essentially about the book, “Future of Gaming: Creative
Interventions in Video Game Culture,” which is a
summary of a long research. I started even before
joining academia. Actually, I started working
as a video journalist before doing a PhD
in media studies. Despite what the
title might suggest, the book is about anything
but the future of video games. Actually, it’s much more about
the present, or to say better, it’s about how the
future of video games is currently being
narrated and presented by a variety of actors
and institutions, from gamers, the industry,
game journalists, but also political, financial, and
marketing institutions. If you are familiar
with video game culture, you probably know
that game culture is almost obsessed with
narrating and talking about its own future. Game magazines, since their
inception around the ’80s, printed game
magazines were already having a very extensive
literature about the games that are expected to be
released in the following months or in the following year. So the previews is something
quite specific to kind of game journalism. It’s usually articles
written based on press releases by game
publishers, sometimes based on just a few screenshots, or
sometimes purely speculations. Sometimes these games don’t
really get released ever, so this is a very
extensive literature about the future
of games, and games that sometimes no one
really ever plays. The industry itself
is almost a frame around this obsession with
talking about its own future. Since 1995, the
game industry has its own trade show, the
Electronic Entertainment Expo, also known as E3, which
typically takes place around June in Los
Angeles in California. It’s a context where
game publishers present their upcoming games, the games
that are going to be released. It’s a very important event
along with other trade shows as well, because it
can make the difference in terms of how these products
are going to be received. But it’s not just
the game industry and gamers that talk about the
future of video games nowadays. There are also sort of
social political promises that are being made
around video games. You might be familiar with the
work of Jane McGonigal, who became famous around 2010
with a famous Ted talk where she brought her
vision, and her vision is that video games
can save the world. They’re going to fix the world
and solve every problem that we currently have from
global warming to the oil crisis to anything really. Her proposal is that
if game design is so good at attracting
people and involving them into solving complex tasks,
then if we can transform the problems that we currently
face as on our planet into a game, then
a lot of people will be engaged with these games
and they will work together to save our problems. So in her vision
games are something that is going to be important
for the future of humankind, they’re going to
frame, they’re going to shape the world
we’re going to live in. They’re going to
make us happier. They’re going to make us more
fit, more educated, and so on. Although Jane McGonigal
doesn’t usually explicitly talks about gamification, but
that’s a very similar approach. I’m going to talk more explicit
about gamification later on. Gamification is a
ongoing trend, if you like, sort of a technique mostly
by marketing consultants who try to promote their vision
on how game design could be used to solve
problems, to help people. So Nike fuel is an example. Nike has been
developing this app that you can use
on your smartphone or as a wearable
gadget, and the idea is that by setting goals and
quantifying your movement, you can get better and
kind of improve your life. So games are seen
as things that can make us transform us into
better people, better persons. So they’re good for
our future selves. In around 2013, Barack
Obama made a series of public presentations
where he was explicitly talking about video
games as a potential tool for the future of education
and the future of health. He was explicitly
addressing college students, and telling them that they
should be spending their lives and careers into designing
games, better games that are not just about shooting
aliens and monsters, but about educating people. These presentations usually
these narratives are not just presenting games as
something is good for us, but they also go hand in hand
with financial investments. So very often, these
narratives about how games are going to be
useful for our culture, they usually are also presented
as good business opportunities. In the UK, we had
something similar in 2012. The then British
chancellor, George Osborne, secured tax breaks
for the game industry after a very long negotiation,
and the representative of the trade body, TIGA, here
in the UK, Richard Wilson, reacted positively by
welcoming this announcement, and saying at the
same time that this means that now video
games can be considered an important cultural form
next to films and literature and so on, and also
that this will bring large investments,
which was at the time estimated around
188 million pounds. In the European Union as well,
if you look at the Horizon 2020 funding scheme, there are
explicit uses of the words games and gamification, which
are presented as solutions for education, health, for
solving problems essentially, and also for economic benefits. Also at the same
time as techniques that can be used to size
new business opportunities. So here games are seen
as a technology that can lead us into the future
and also help businesses on the same time. So as you can see, there
are not just investments from the side of
people who are already playing games and making
games, but there are also political interests into
gaming, and political interests that go next to financial
investments as well. We’re almost presented
with a narrative where it seems that games
need to be supported by political and
financial institutions in order to unleash their
potential, to become finally fulfill what they are
expected to become. The interest from
political organizations to our video games actually
dates much back then what we’re kind of seeing now. In a paper by Jennifer Whitson
and Bart Simon published in 2014, we know the NSA,
the National Security Agency, here taken in one of the photos
by the artist, Trevor Paglen, the NSA has been
looking at video games as instruments for
massive surveillance and political propaganda. As I’m sure you know,
in December of 2013, Edward Snowden released
leaked documents from the NSA, and some of them revealed
that around 2007 and 2008, the NSA was explicitly
looking at video games as technologies for
massive surveillance, and there were explicit
directions for security agencies on how to
look at games and how to use them for these purposes. It’s quite interesting
actually to look at how the NSA was interested
in video games at the time. Some of their conclusions are
actually surprisingly banal, and that’s I think what
makes it so interesting. So they are seen as becoming
more and more popular thanks to these new tools of
production that are making game design more easily accessible. They’re also popular,
as they were saying, in the 18, 35 years
old male audience, and they’re also
very easily malleable for political propaganda. They can easily use to
influence public opinion. So from the perspective of many
of these political institutions and the NSA in particular,
the future of gaming does not look very playful. OK? It’s actually quite
disheartening. It’s filled with the same forms
of inequalities and injustice that is currently
shaping the present. So video games are becoming
an instrumental medium. Instrumental for a specific
financial, marketing, political, and military power. The crucial aspects in the ways
in which the future of games is currently presented
is that there is this rhetorical gesture of
speaking the truth, of telling the truth about what games
are, what they can do, and what they’re
going to do to us, and what we can do with them. Truth is very often presented
through data, numbers, facts, evidence, statistics
that are presented to support and justify
these true vision of the future of gaming. Jane McGonigal, for instance,
uses numbers, a lot of numbers, to present her
vision of how games can make us better people. She even has an estimate
of how many minutes we should play video games
in order to save the world. The game industry produces
numbers all the time through agencies. They usually produce
statistics and info graphics that explain how big it
is and how important it is and how relevant it is. They’re not just saying this. They’re also supporting
this vision with stats, with numbers. Now, coming from a humanities
perspective myself, my main question when
I look at these numbers is, I mean, who cares. I mean this in a not
rhetorical fashion. Why there is so much
interest from so many different institutions, from
so many different contexts, and speaking so profoundly about
the potential of video games, and not just talking
about it as presenting a personal perspective,
but presenting this as a truthful description
of what games can do and where they’re
going to lead us. So in the work of
Katherine Hayles where she writes about the
metaphors used in the studies around artificial intelligence
and artificial life, she can posed this
quite well in saying that even a scientific
truth when it is presented as being the same
everywhere and whoever says it needs to be
presented by some one, needs to be framed by a specific
subject who is, of course, embodied. That it is not a transcendental. So truth, as always, has to
do with power and authority, and power and
authority that we grant to those so that we believe
as being sources of truth. In this particular
case, the truth about the future of video
games is, I believe, very instrumental. So these claims about
what video games can do and what they’re going
to do, they’re not just presented to be
celebrating the medium, but they are used to claim
that position of power, the position of power by a
specific institution that claim for themselves
the authority to say what our games are going to be. I have a problem
with that mostly because these institutions
are also framing the present. As their visions
of the future tend to be very repetitive
of what we’re already seeing now, and therefore,
the future of gaming from their perspective,
it’s quite boring, I think. So to address this problem,
I’ve come up with a solution. Well, it’s not a solution
really, an alternative, which I’ve here defined as
creative game studies, which is the sort of methodology that
I tried to use in this book. The creativity of this
method has nothing to do with the creativity
of the creative industries, for instance, which are very
much interested in competition between individuals, thus being
very consistent with the now liberal ideology. The creativity
that the I use here is actually in reference to
the work of Henri Bergson, and the [INAUDIBLE]
interpretation of the work of Henri Bergson. I’ve presented it through
six keywords, if you like. So it is an approach to
the writing narratives around games that
is intuitive rather than just being intellectual. It tries to join in the
duration and the flow of time and tries to participate in
the things and the world that surround us. It would be performative
in the sense that it acknowledges that
the things that we say are not just descriptive
of the world, but they are world making. They make the world. They make things happen. This is very obvious if
you look, for instance, at how political and
financial institutions are talking about video games. They’re not just
describing the reality. They’re describing it for
the sake of changing it, of calling for more investments
and more business opportunities and so on. So I take this performative
potential also in my method. It is ethical in
the sense it tries to take into
account what others, other people, other
games, other narratives, other ways of approaching video
games and playing with them. It is anti-authoritarian
in a sense it tries to challenge given
structures of discourse, and tries to approach them
by kind of reframing that through different differences. It is anxious, and
anxiety here is actually a key element of this approach
to thinking and writing about video games, because
most of these narratives around the future of games
are very self-confident. They have a sort of certitude
about what is going to happen. They present it as something
very clear to them. So I try and get back to a much
more unstable and much more problematic way of looking at
the many troubles and problems that we’re actually kind of
not considering when presenting these conflicting narratives. So in a sense, it’s not very
much obsessed with the truth around video games, but it’s
much more interested about the many things that we do not
to know and maybe we cannot possibly know about video
games and their players. So I’m going to give
you two examples that are taken from two of a
the chapters of the book, and one of them it’s actually
a very personal story, a very kind of intimate story. The story of a
failed relationship, of a time I broke up,
maybe it’s something you’re kind of familiar with. After a two years long
relationship, I had a breakup. My partner, at the time,
was not another person, was my quantified other,
was my quantified self. So I’ve been using for a couple
of years the Nike Fuel wearable gadget, which is a gadget that
you can wear on your wrist and quantifies your
movement on a daily basis and gives you indications
on how much you’re moving. So therefore, giving
you encouragements to move more and be more
fit and be a better person, more generally. So this relationship that was
supposed to be about movement was not really going anywhere. So at some point, I
decided to break up. So gamification,
Nike Fuel is seen as an example of gamification. If you like, it kind of belongs
to the broader phenomenon of the quantified self,
which became popular thanks to the pages of Wired magazine. Gary Wolf, one of the
directors of Wired magazine, is also one of the leaders of
the quantified self movement. Here it is presented by
also Gary Wolf himself as self-knowledge to numbers. So it’s the idea that a
reader than having unreliable personal perspectives
and feelings, we get numbers that are going
to tell us how exactly we are and what we can be,
and what we can become. So we are kind of getting back
to these, right, so this idea that the truth about the self
can be said and articulated through data, through
numbers, and statistics. We are also getting back
to that, that other thing, the surveillance and
self surveillance. So very often, these
technologies, these gadgets, are also used to take data
from the individual, while not necessarily willingly
accepting to release this data to other companies
that are not necessarily those that are sold the
original product. I’m sure you know what
I’m talking about. So this happens to be
presented to a game aesthetics. So gamification takes the
aesthetics of video games to create, to offer
leaderboards, rankings, goals, and to appropriate some of the
jargon maybe of game design in order to give us incentives
to get better and improve our health. If you look at the literature
around gamification, for instance, the book by
Zichermann and Cunningham, “Gamification by Design,”
there is one keyword that is very often used to
define that complex feeling of getting attached to your
kind of quantified other and that word is engagement. Now engagement in
gamification means essentially getting attached too and
feeling a sort of affect towards your scores, the very
idea of improving yourself, so that you want to keep
playing essentially. Engagement, as Zichermann
and Cunningham already notice in their book, it
also means a special period in a romantic relationship
where two people are kind of promising to each
other to get married, to have a more
binding relationship. So I search the
meaning of engagement on my favorite search engine,
AskJeeves.com, and engagement is a very polysemic word. It can mean very
different things, right? In general, if you
want to summarize these different
meanings, it means that it’s a promise between
two subjects, two things, to go somewhere, to
do something together, and that movement is
supposed to change, to have a drastic
change at some point. So in the case of a
romantic relationship, that would be getting married. In other circumstances, that
promise of a drastic change can be different things. That’s probably
the problem that we are getting with gamification,
and it’s not only me. Many people at the moment
are quitting, dropping their wearable technologies. There are drops in
sales apparently even like Fitbit,
which is supposed to be one of the major producers
of wearable technology. They’re actually experiencing
less gadgets being sold. Also many users who are
buying these gadgets, usually after six months, from what
we know from various sources, from buyers, around
six months is the time that people stop
using these things. I guess the problem is that
the kind of engagement that is promised there. It’s a promise to go
somewhere, to do something, but that something
never really happens. So in a sense, it’s the problem
that we are seeing here, it’s similar to what
Zeno [INAUDIBLE] more than 2000 years ago,
already conceptualized throughout his
philosophical paradoxes. So Zeno, a philosopher, argued
that movement is impossible. To explain this sort of
counter-intuitive conclusion, he was presenting a series
of fictional settings, fictional narratives to make
us imagine how and why movement is not possible. So one of them is the
famous paradox of Achilles and the tortoise who
are engaging in a race. Achilles is, of course,
this mythological hero. He’s supposed to be very
fast, very athletic, so he’s definitely
going to win the race. But Zeno says, well, if we gave
the tortoise a certain margin of advantage, let’s
say a few meters, by the time Achilles
will have reached the tortoise, the tortoise will
have moved slightly farther, of course, assuming that they’re
moving at constant speeds, different, but constant speeds. So then by the
time Achilles tries to reach the
tortoise again, then there is again another margin
of advantage for the tortoise, because the tortoise
keeps moving. So even though the margin of
distance keeps decreasing, it’s never less than zero. So it’s always
decreasing, but it can be divided infinitely, in
infinitely smaller fragments. So Achilles will never reach
the tortoise according to Zeno. Thus, reaching the conclusion
that movement is impossible. So this paradox has been
troubling philosophers for centuries, and
among the many solutions to it, the one Henri
Bergson, I think it’s one of the most
useful for us here. So in a sense,
Bergson was saying, well, what is Zeno
taking out of this story is duration, and assuming
that space and movement, space and time can be divided
in the same way. So if we can divide the
space separating Achilles and the tortoise in
infinitely smaller fragments, we cannot divide the movements
that Achilles performs. So that is of a different
kind than the movement of the tortoise. So for that reason,
Achilles will definitely come to reach the tortoise. So if space can be divided,
motion cannot be divided in the same way. So getting back to a more
contemporary problem, getting back to Nike and
Nike Fuel and gamification. So what happens here is
the movement is divided in infinitely smaller fragments,
but this puts the user always behind the goal, and
that goal is never really going to be reached. There’s never going to be
a finishing line, a moment of definite victory, let’s
say, of radical change of the subject. So the kind of engagement
of this [INAUDIBLE] in gamification is necessarily
freezing the possibility of change and movement, because
it is applying the same vision that Zeno was
paradoxically presenting in the race of Achilles
and the tortoise. That’s why at some
point gamification becomes very boring,
and that’s why we are getting many
people also stop using wearable technologies. Now, of course, this does not
mean that self-tracking is stopping, is no longer in use. Actually, it’s more important
and pervasive than ever, even more than
how it was before. We know from the study of
Deborah Lupton on self-tracking that there are very different
ways in which self-tracking can take place, and not all of
them are necessarily voluntary. So even though maybe
we are seeing a drop in the number of
people who decide to buy a gadget
for self-tracking, we are seeing many more
examples of invisible forms of self-tracking. So it’s interesting
to see that Nike, Fitbit, and many other companies
are now spending their energies into software rather
than hardware, things that can be installed
on your smartphone. Possibly you’re going
to forget about them, but they were going to
still take your data, as Apple, for instance, has been
doing with the Health app that keeps working in the
background of your iPhone even though you decide to
delete it from the main screen. So in short, gamification
is another aspect of contemporary game
culture that is often presented and
advertised as leading us towards a future better self,
bringing us to the future. We’re told that gamification
will make players better people and the world a
better place, but what it is doing in the present is
actually much more problematic and worrying. It is using games in
an instrumental fashion to promote usually consultancies
through digital companies, often based on the sort
of false impression that are applying a sort
of futuristic approach to technologies. So from this point
of view, I think it’s Ian Bogost is correct
when he says with reference to the philosophical
treaties of Harry Frankfurt, that gamification is bullshit,
because it is spreading technologies of
self surveillance by using this keyword,
games, in order to kind of make it look
like more policing. But it is effectively
using these technologies to spread technologies of
self surveillance, that are essentially making
the future much more similar to the present
than what we are probably willing to accept. There is also another
event of game culture that I write about in my
book, which it similarly has to do with the
future, but its also a lot to do with the present. That’s the unfortunate campaign
of harassment against women in gaming that goes by
the name of Gamergate, which started
around August 2014. Many commentators
have seen this to be a possible kind of precursor of
the Brexit and Trump campaign, because of its use
of social media and social network to spread
very quickly a massive hate campaign. So Gamergate, to kind of
summarize it in a few words, it’s been a campaign started
mostly by male gamers trying to attack women. The idea, because of
the idea that they are kind of spreading a
feminist liberal agenda that is trying to manipulate
the game industry. It generated thousands
uncountable number of memes and ongoing online
conversations, and, of course, not everyone who has been
accused by the Gamergate campaign was a woman, and most
of them were, in fact, women. That key question
around Gamergate was who is in control
of game culture? Who is able to say what
games are going to be? According to gamers, it’s them. It’s the people who
hone these thing. So there shouldn’t
be other influences coming from the outside. At the highest and
most horrible peak, Gamergate generated
also life threats against game designer
such as Zoe Quinn, for instance, who was
accused of gaining popularity by manipulating
game journalists. Of course, evidence
of this was not there, but it was not needed. It was essentially
a campaign that was using any sort of
even false evidence to spread very toxic hate
against female game designers, but also commentators such
as Anita Sarkeesian who has been curating a YouTube
channel, Feminist Frequency, where she explicitly
analyzes and announces games for their
misrepresentation of women. She has also, of course, being
targeted by the Gamergate. Of course, this is
not the first time that something similar happens,
particularly in game culture. Game culture is notoriously
in a male dominated context has been very doing
its best to protect itself from influences
from the outside. It never really happened
to such an extended level. It never happened
in a way that really became a sort of paradigm for
similar hate campaigns that happened immediately afterwards. At some point, it also
involved academia. That was similarly being seen
as another elite that was trying to control game culture. In my research at
the time, I’d been reading an uncountable number
of threads and comments left on Reddit, on Twitter, and
so on around Gamergate, and one of them, at some point,
really caught my attention. It was published on the
10th of March, 2015. The thread was people are
now claiming that Gamergate is killing gaming archiving. There was this line
that was explicitly making a commentary about the
role of academia in relation to game culture. It was saying academia is
like a parasite to gaming at the moment. They produce nothing. They just try to make
money and favors, prestige off other
people’s work usually by trying to shred it through
a bias perspective that is not real application in real life. The thing is that
I don’t necessarily disagree with this comment. So I think the tone is,
of course, something I don’t agree with, but
the concept actually I think it’s a good description
of what I do, for instance. So I don’t really produce
anything tangible, if not maybe those printed
books that you are holding now. I don’t really produce anything
tangible in that sense. I do definitely use
other people’s ideas, unless you believe in
the myth of originality, there is no escape from this. I’m biased. If that means having an
opinion, I’m definitely biased. I don’t think that my work
has evident applications in real life. Although, the work
of academics might have applications
in real life that might inspire other people. I don’t think I really
am here to make money. I would be doing something
else, but let’s say that I kind of like this general
description of what I’m doing. I particularly like
the word parasite. I think it’s an excellent
description of what I do. So probably the author of
this comment didn’t know that, but the parasite is
actually a concept that has been used
in philosophy, particularly in the philosophy
of Michel Serres, who in 1982, we have the English
publication of “The Parasite,” which is trying to
reevaluate this character, the parasitical organism
as a metaphor for noise and interruptions in
communications systems. As the author of
the introduction of the English version
says, the parasite is a microbe, an
insidious infection that takes without giving,
and weakens without killing, and the parasite
is also a guest who exchanges his thought,
praise, and flattery for food. The parasite is also the noise
is the static in a system or of interference in a channel. It is the outcome of evolution
in the production of change in its relation. Now in English, we also have
the word symbiotic systems where organisms
are not necessarily exploiting the organism,
but they’re actually contributing to its life,
but if we take parasite as a general word
to identify organism that live in depending
on other organisms, I think we do have
an excellent metaphor for the academic at least. The parasite is both
host and the guest. It is at the margins. It is at the boundaries. It is never fully an
insider, but is never completely an outsider. In a sense, everyone
is in a sense. We’re not really
ever a literal kind of closed circle of game
culture that you’re either in or you’re out. They’re always partly
contributing to it, exploiting it, taking
something, and giving something. So the Gamergate, I think, could
be much more of interesting be re-interpreted if we look
at this figure of the parasite. The ways in which Gamergate
has been denounced immediately after it started, and actually
a very explicit accusations about gamers, and I fully, of
course, agree with the ways in which, for instance, of Dan
Golding and Leigh Alexander in August 2014 framed
their accusation of what was happening at the time. Their claim was essentially
that gamers are dead, that this category of the main
game consumer is no longer. Our reality is no longer the
majority of game culture. So it’s entitlement to speak
is just a reaction to it before its completely
disappeared. Now while I do agree with
the idea of defending those who had been attacked
by Gamergate, something that I find
is likely disagree with the ways in which this
defense had been presented, because it is essentially
re-using the same argument that has been used in these
perspectives that try to have a truthful
description of what game culture it. It is not a
coincidence, I think, that these articles were using
a lot of statistics and numbers to explain game consumers and
how game consumers really are. So from these statistics,
we know that now women are maybe the majority, maybe
its no longer just that 18, 35 male consumers
that the NSA was so interested in manipulating. It’s more and more people
and more diverse people. I mean, fair enough, but, of
course, this is not the reason why we should be
defending others from being part of game culture. It’s not that being
a majority or being a minority gives you
or takes out from you the entitlement to speak. So there is no need, I think,
to support this with numbers. So in a sense I think
what is the problem here is that from
different sides there was an approach
to this story that was trying to speak for
the sake of being right, to explain how
things really are. We can talk about it in
different ways, I think. So one of the kind of
dualism and categories that I’ve been
trying to introduce in these stories on
Gamergate is to talk maybe less about
people, including women, who are in game culture,
and talking more about women and games, or different
kinds of people and how they approach
games in different ways from different perspectives. So being in game culture as kind
of assumes that there is an in and out, there is
a gatekeeper that has the legitimacy
and the authority to decide who is part of it
and who is not part of it. I don’t think that game culture,
or any culture or subculture, for that matter, really
works in that way or should be
working in that way. So there should be no one
that grants for themselves the legitimacy to say
who is entitled to speak and who is not
entitled to speak. Unless, of course,
their speech is trying to prevent
other people’s freedom. Talking about women and
games, for instance, allows us to look from
a better perspective at some of the things that
are currently happening. So just to mention one example,
the work of Anna Anthropy, I think it’s quite brilliant. As a woman who is working with
games and making her own games, she’s also working on archival
of games and game material that kind of presents a
different history of game culture. She’s not seeking legitimacy
to be part of the official, so to speak, of game culture. She’s writing her own history. She’s doing her own games. She’s playing with game
culture in her own way, and approaching it as a prolific
parasite by taking and giving and reshaping game
culture in her own way. I also agree with
the perspective of [INAUDIBLE] who is
sort of a historian, was looking at how women
have been presented in the history of
games and how come they’ve been so absent in
the official accounts of game culture so far. Of course, it’s not that
women were not present and just happened at some point. This is definitely not the case. There have been moments when
they have been constructed as a subject by others
mostly who have been framing this character of the
woman in game culture according to criteria that were
maybe not necessarily those that these subjects really
wanted to be represented with. A couple of years ago, I gave
a presentation on game culture at a conference, the DiGRA
conference in Scotland, and then one year
later in 2017, I found that the abstract
of my talk was on Reddit. It was presentation when I
was talking about this Reddit comments, I was going
back into Reddit. My abstract was taken on this
social justice warrior thread by, and, of course,
they were kind of attacking my and
accusing me of trying to reshape game culture from
the perspective of an academic. So there is one
comment actually I found to be quite significant. One of the Reddit
user was saying gamers don’t want to give
their biological organisms new shapes. So they were responding to
my idea of the parasite. I think that’s, again, another
effective summary of what I was trying to say. That’s precisely the problem. Biological organisms
change shape even if they don’t want to. There are always processes
of change and modification that happen in time. Trying to freeze that
shape is precisely the sort of
authoritarian gesture that has been
underlying Gamergate, but also other attempts
to truthfully describe the future of gaming and what
it is and what is going to be. There are numerous, I
mean, there is a multitude of parasites in game culture. There are many in betweeners
and examples of people who are in between different
aspects of game culture and reshape it in different
ways from different capacities, even as I’m doing right
now with this talk, which is describing game culture,
but also becoming part of it in a sense. There are multiple attempts
from different subjects at the moment to claim
how the future of gaming should be and must be
like, but there are also countless parasitical
organisms that are reshaping these narratives
of temporal progression. In my book, I also look at
many other events and phenomena of game culture, including the
hacking of Playstation network, the unburial of E.T. Atari’s
E.T. the extra-terrestrial, and the phenomenon
of independent gaming to look at different ways in
which gamers and non-gamers relate with video games and
become passionate about games sometimes in an
obsessive manner, how they claim for themselves
the freedom and right to change video games and
game consoles, different ways of relating to games
and game culture, and of writing
different histories, different imaginations
about the past, present, and future of video games. So in conclusion, that’s
the sort of contribution that I am trying to bring
mythological and philosophical tool to look at how players
and games change in time, the potential of new narratives
in framing alternative visions or what games can
do, and what we can do with games, to look
at the many others that are involved in these stories,
to challenge the existing categories that are currently
framing the present of game culture, but also to challenge
the reassuring and calm narratives that give us a safe
perspective of data analysis. I try to replace these stories
with something much more unstable and much more anxious. I think that the interesting
thing about game culture and game studies is
that it is apparently a sort of trivial medium. It is supposed to be
for mere entertainment, but there are many
ways to play with it and to play with game culture by
writing alternative narratives and introducing new troubles
in a cultural sector that maybe we consider
to be simply playful. There are many different
modes of playing and writing about the past, present,
and future of gaming. In my contribution
I’ve been trying to present some of them,
some possibilities. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] SPEAKER: Thank you
very much, Paulo. That was enlightening. I think we have 13
minutes for questions. PAULO RUFFINO: OK. SPEAKER: If you’d like
to ask a question, I’ll bring the mic over and
we’ll get it for the recording. AUDIENCE: OK. I’ve read on the
one side of a book that at least this
series of books is presented like alternative
to that and to that thinking. So I think I can talk to you
as a presenter of this idea as well. OK, you’re saying that we
need some alternative to that, but first you’re
presenting an example. One example from death
and second example from a person who is speculative
by default, a politic. So you’re saying that
he is speculative, but what do you expect? He is a politic. He is a president. Second, what I
actually wanted to ask, you’re saying about
engagement, engagement period with some fitness
devices and so on, and that people are not OK with
this [INAUDIBLE] and so on, but don’t you connect it just
with usual attention speech, motivation speech, because do
you see a lot of people who are trying to go to
their goal six months and they’re all without
motivational and so on. Like, OK, I’m using this device
to achieve some of my goals, because I’m using Nike Plus
to prepare for half marathon, but I understand that
after run in half marathon, I will drop it, because I don’t
want to do it all the time. Why presenting it as these
all people breaking up with, how do you say, self
quantification model and so on? Why not to see maybe there
are other reasons as well? The second question,
small question, you presented the statistics
about women and men on one side. PAULO RUFFINO: Mm-hmm. AUDIENCE: That was bit funny. A group of women
who are 18 and older is bigger than the group of
men who are 18 and younger. It’s a little bit
strange comparison, because there’s a
different groups and that’s pretty much,
OK, you have teenagers boy and you have adult
women playing, so why to compare them? PAULO RUFFINO: OK. I mean, starting maybe from
your last question and comment. Yeah, I think that’s
precisely the point. I mean, OK, I started
researching and writing about video games
when I was a teenager, so that was like 20 years ago. Numbers about the supposed
consumers of video games have always been
published, always been kind of
contradicting themselves. The thing about these
numbers is that, as I was saying before,
I mean, who cares. I mean, I’m not
necessarily interested in what they are telling us
about the current condition of game culture, but much more
interested in why they are presented in the first place. So for instance, these
numbers and statistics, they’re very often used
in an instrumental way. There are many inconsistencies
that you can probably find in these studies,
as is in all studies. I think that’s not the point. I think what’s interesting is
the sort of rhetorical power that they have. So it doesn’t really matter
what exactly they’re saying and how they have been made,
but why they’re presented by whom and for what purposes. That’s the sort of stuff
I’m interested about. When you’re mentoring about
the people not using wearable gadgets and
self-tracking, of course, there are uncountable
reasons, which I have no idea of, but that’s, again, what I’m
trying to talk about is this idea that in the end, there
are so many things that we don’t know and we cannot
possibly know about gamers and the things that
they do with games. At the same time, there are
many reassuring narratives that tell us what
games can do to us. Gamification I think is an
excellent example of these. Promoters of gamification
usually sell their apps, for instance, by giving
a very clear vision of the effects of their
technologies and their apps. Of course, the effects
of these things are unpredictable
most of the time. Sometimes they generate
completely awkward situations, or they become
intrusive in your life. You never know. You also said something
at the very beginning about what do I expect
from some of the people I presented at the– AUDIENCE: I mean,
how are you different from that in this case, because
you’re a tech alternative. How you’re different from
tech presenting examples by a person who is
not like really, how to say, again,
from a president who is speculative by default,
from a person who is from tech, and from your personal example. Yeah. How are they different? PAULO RUFFINO: Yeah. Well, I don’t consider them
necessarily the alternative to tech. It’s not that. I think what you
are reading there in the presentation
of the series actually is that we are trying
to, also with this book, to have a different way of
thinking about the things that we can say
about technologies and the technologies that
we use on an everyday basis. So if that thinking as a sort
of solution is, if you like, to problems, this
is more for trouble making rather than
problem solving. OK? So that’s the kind
of difference maybe. So if we are
presented by thinkers with very reassuring
narratives about what can be done with
technologies, and I am trying to invent
a new troubles, invent, well, to find
new troubles into things that appear to be very safe. OK. AUDIENCE: Hey,
thanks for the talk. I was curious. When do you think the gaming
journalism and academia is going to, what’s
it called, grow up? When we talk about dance, we
don’t just talk about ballet. We talk about lots of
different types of dance. When we talk about
music, we don’t just talk about R&B. There’s lots of
different genres of R&B, music. Go on, sport is not just
football, American football, or whatever. There’s lots of
different separations. But when people talk about
gaming and journalism, they usually assume
that everyone’s talking about that piece
they’re talking about, that everyone uses the
same term of gaming, whether you are a
mobile phone gamer, whether you’re a
strategy game gamer, whether you’re a console
gamer, whether you’re a gamification type gamer. What’s your opinion on that
sort of level in journalism? PAULO RUFFINO: Yeah,
the problem with game journalism, it’s an ongoing
problem, if you like. To put it short is that this
sort of self-reflexive moment when game journalists
acknowledge that much of what they write
tends to be very stupid and tends to present
games in a very simplified manner as commercial
products for entertainment. The question has been going
on for a long time is, is it possible to talk about
games in a way that is a bit more mature,
as some people say. The only thing I can say about
it is that this idea of getting mature, I think it doesn’t
really go lead anywhere. It’s not like a
piece of cheese that needs to be put
there for 30 years, and then it becomes mature. No. It needs different kinds of
people and different kinds of way of approaching games. There is no reason why
game journalism has not been looking at film criticism
in the last 20 years. I mean, there is no
reason why they’re not looking at art
criticism and the sort of concepts and ways of
writing about games that they are using there. So there is no justification
from that other than that they are just fine
with what we got at the moment, because it works with the sort
of readership that they have. There are many people who
work on the writing of games in much more original ways. That might be a bit less
prominent in the game culture, but there are many examples. It is becoming much more
widespread and a bit more interesting than how it
was until a few years ago. AUDIENCE: Hi. Thank you very
much for the talk. I haven’t quite figured
out how to articulate this as a coherent question,
so please bear with me. I was really interested
in your ideas around parasitic and
symbiotic relationships between, pardon me, game
development practitioners. I’m a game designer, and my
relationship with academics and then critics and then fans. There’s lots of ups and downs
in all those relationships I suppose. In your description
of this person criticizing the
role of academics, that hasn’t been my
experience as a game designer, and I wanted to get some more of
your thoughts on that, I guess. To me, these different
academic perspectives being generated by
folks like yourself have been invaluable to
me as a game designer in terms of informing my
practice and shaping it. So while you may not be
producing a game directly, academic study of games
has a huge influence on the types of games
that get produced in my experience both directly
and other game designers. I don’t think I’m
alone in that regard. Same with critics, like
Anita Sarkeesian’s work is incredibly valuable. I don’t see a lot of game
designers wanting less of that. I mostly see it
coming from, quote unquote, “gamers,” game fans. I was just curious as well to
hear your thoughts on that, and the other bit that
you mentioned of somebody criticizing mentioning that,
oh, we’re not parasites because you’re trying to have
some shape on what happens with the future of games,
whereas we aren’t. I guess, I was interpreting
that as game players. Game fans aren’t trying to do
that, but they clearly are, right? It’s like Gamergate is. It’s a conservative
movement in that they’re trying to do all
this gate keeping and prevent these
other voices, but that is an influence on
the types of they’re trying to influence
the host organism. Quote unquote. So it just seemed like
a strange argument. I was curious your thought. PAULO RUFFINO: No. Absolutely. You know, actually, the
point is that everyone is a parasite in
one way or another. So even gamers are parasite
in their own way in the sense that they are not
like the insiders who are deciding if the outsiders
can get in or get out, but the parasite is
a interesting figure because it makes us think
about the many ways in which we are always in between. So it is that academics,
gamers, however you decide to identify yourself, and
of course these identifications are always going to change. I’m also maybe a
gamer sometimes, but I’m also an academic. I can be many different things. So looking at instead of
the many ways in which we are in between different forms
of relating to game culture, it’s I think a bit
more complex maybe, but it’s, I think, a
better way of looking at how others can contribute
to game culture as well. We don’t necessarily
think in terms of insiders and outsiders,
or by seeking legitimacy through market analysis,
market statistics, which I don’t think it’s the point. SPEAKER: I think we have
time for one more question. AUDIENCE: I actually
want to comment as well on I hate studies when
they say we compare people who play two hours a day, like
doing gaming two hours a day without quantifying
what the gaming is and what exactly
they’re talking about. The question is I
just wanted to ask have you watched the series
called “Westworld,” and is it the future of gaming? PAULO RUFFINO: Sorry. “Westworld”? AUDIENCE: Yeah. If you haven’t seen, then
probably question is not. PAULO RUFFINO:
“Westworld,” the series? AUDIENCE: Yeah. The series. PAULO RUFFINO: If
that’s the future? Well, I hope not. I’ve seen the first episode. Are you talking about
the television series? It’s very horrific. It’s terrible. AUDIENCE: Yeah. That’s what I’m asking. PAULO RUFFINO: Why should
that be the future? I hope is not the future. I hop the future is a bit
more, I mean, less dangerous. No. I have no idea what
the future of– maybe I have no idea
what “Westworld” is them. No. I don’t know what the future
of gaming is going to be, and that’s maybe precisely
what this book is about. SPEAKER: All right. That’s all we have time for. Thank you very much, Paulo. PAULO RUFFINO: Thank you. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE]

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  1. Gamergate is such a polysemous word, depending who’s talking. One group uses the term as shorthand for “that mouth breathing boys club that’s scared of women appropriating their culture,” another for “those immoral misogynists that swarmed Quinn on Twitter,” another for “a ragtag collection of people trying to point out the market failures of game journalists,” and so on—exactly what you’d expect from a movement born out of a hashtag with no entry exams or membership cards. And so I think a lot of the confusion this salad of usages creates could be avoided by simply learning to taboo-your-words when polysemous terms arise—by avoiding the terms altogether. "A tree falling in a deserted forest makes a sound." > "A tree falling in a deserted forest generates acoustic vibrations." "A tree falling in a deserted forest does not make a sound." > "A tree falling in a deserted forest generates auditory experiences." I think Ruffino’s summary of Gamergate is a classic case of the motte-and-bailey switcheroo (sorry), and largely unfalsifiable, but props for detailing exactly what he thinks the term means anyway. That said, shaming and branding people for appearing even tangentially sympathetic to [a collection of people earnestly trying to point out ethical failings in the media] is no way to shape the gaming culture in a positive way.

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