Archives for category: Videogames

My own writing on games is concerned with the encounter of the natural and the machine. I follow the logic of Leo Marx through Sean Cubitt and eventually Karen Barad to theorise an intra-action of machine and user. A part of this, however, has been playing games that have tested my ability to become one with the machine (or, as I prefer to think of it, to create a new two, together with the machine).

One of the major games that has helped me achieve this line of thinking is Terry Cavanagh’s, frankly, incredible “Super Hexagon” (iOS, 2012). It’s completely counter intuitive blend of non-euclidian space and simplistically linear user interface create an experience that clearly articulates the feeling of needing to change as a user – to “come up” to the level of the machine. This is not just practice and repetition (although I will admit that is a large part of it) as the game uses procedural generation for the levels. In truth, this is a shift in something beyond thinking – reaction times and perception. The game becomes a matter of “flow”; of entering into a space where you siphon off brain power from the top level of your cerebral cortex to the raw, processual cores of your brain and associated motor functions. In that, the game has changed how I think about gaming and how I see the world (of “Super Hexagon” at least).

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However, another game has forced me to this point in a similar and yet different way. The game is “Bitless” by Nicholas Rapp (iOS, 2013) whose title is derived from the feeling of being “scared shitless”. Whilst I’m yet to experience any sense of terror from the game, a terror I was assured in the comments at the App Store, the game has allowed me to engage with a sensory realm I was hitherto unaware of in ludic experience. The only way I can describe it is as the “surgeon’s touch” and I think it may be something entirely unique to a specific type of one-button casual game played on capacitive touch devices.

By “surgeon’s touch” I mean to imply that the game relies on a specificity of input control that goes beyond standard, touch the button to win, ideas of one button game. Everything is infinitely divisible, of course, but there is something to the playing of “Bitless” that I have not experienced before.

When playing (particularly in the Green level 12) the game forces the player to enact specific movements, often purely through a sense of rhythm, pre-empting what would be a logical action in line with what is visible on screen. One of the actions is a long jump to short jump manoeuvre used to traverse wide pits before overcoming tight spaces between two fatal obstacles. In these instances, the contact with the screen becomes less about “touching” and more about “removing” one’s finger from the screen. It is only the length of touch which decides the movement and in order to accommodate the precision of touch required, I found, my hold upon the device had shifted from the usual cumbersome press of touch-control, to a feather light engagement in which I could barely feel my iPad but was instead trusting that it would feel me.

Perhaps this feeling is exclusive to my engagement with this game and perhaps this has something to do with my I am still, as of writing, stuck on a fairly early level in a fairly simplistic game which I have no doubt, truly native game players would digest in a matter of hours rather than days (as I am). But I cannot deny that the experience is has imparted to me of the “surgeon’s touch” to my device has been truly remarkable, reminding me, at the least, of the sophistication of the capacitive touch interface.

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In truth, I feel that I have felt a much more organic engagement with my device while simultaneously I have felt my own organicness being stripped away in favour of incredibly exacting inputs that only machine could realise.

But then, for me, that is exactly the experience playing a videogame should impart as it is exactly what is happening.

Conor Mckeown
Univeristy of Glasgow

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I will be attending SCMS 2014 in Seattle presenting a paper on eco-assumptions in criticism relating to the films of Miyazaki Hayao. The paper is one I wrote quite a while ago, updated slightly to tackle ecocinema criticism rather than just criticism relating to Miyazaki in general. The very basic premise is that representations consumed as invoking Shinto by western critics should not be said to do so without further analysis into the complexity and syncretism that underlies this ancient system of practices (if not beliefs) in Japan. Furthermore, the assumption that Shinto in someway implies a connection to natural systems, a heightened ability to be of the planet, echoes with an orientalist sentiment that should have died out some time ago. Of course, the scholarship I am using to make my case is, in the most-part, commonly available anthropological studies of Japan and its complex religious-cultural background, so what I have to say on the subject is hardly groundbreaking. Then again, there’s a certain scientific certainty to be gained from the numerous accounts supporting my argument, and a deeper embarrassment that cinema studies scholars of the highest calibre still make those understandable but ultimately unfounded jumps. It’s been somewhat of a pet project of mine for some time, as a consumer of anime and Japanese videogames that tap into their nation’s religious historical narrative. Far from Shinto as a connection to the planet, I intend to illustrate Shinto as connected to the form of representation via the idea of ‘Kami’ but, more of that in Seattle.

Conor Mckeown
University of Glasgow

Well, here is it is… 

http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/Funding-Opportunities/Documents/AHRC-Video-Games-Research-Networking-guidance-document.pdf

A call for funding for institutions in the UK to become more actively engaged with research and development into Videogames. It seems like something I should have just instinctively known about. I’m fairly annoyed that I didn’t…

But then, it goes to show two conflicting things: 

Firstly, the AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom) are taking an active interest in games from a production and reception standpoint. This is great news for myself and my peers working on videogames across the departments in the UK where the term is no longer a dirty word. Of course, there have been funded (and well funded) initiatives to produce games and and game makers from UK institutions before, but this new call showed a focus on the cultural aspect that is, relatively, new. 

Secondly, the fact I didn’t hear about it, shows how little the AHRC actively filters down into the academia they have so much influence over. There is a lot of room for innovation, simply getting the word out to the relevant parties to get a more varied and interesting response to such calls beyond the standard pleas for more high end equipment with which to create the next big commercial splash. Of course, that’s important, but it seems like too many years have gone by without the substantiation of a reliable body of thought in the UK dedicated to the most important cultural development of the last 50 years. 

All in all, this shows me that for myself and other scholars dedicated to games, there is more ahead: I was worried when the last issue of Gamestudies.org was released with merely 4 article (after taking substantially longer to produce as well); it seems like rather than the final gasping breaths, this is merely the calm before the storm. I think ecovideogame studies could really stand to initiate a new interest into game studies. I think this could be just the right time for everything to fall into place. 

Conor Mckeown
University of Glasgow

Hello,

My name is Conor Mckeown.

I’m a PhD student at The University of Glasgow. My thesis is focusing on Videogames and Ecology using a variety of Post-human approaches to analysis. Over the next three years I hope to post the majority of my thoughts and activity here by way of generating a small following and also creating an additional way of gaining fresh perspectives on my own work.

Before studying in Glasgow I completed an MPhil in Cambridge studying Media Ecology (very different from Ecology proper), Cinema and Videogame theory. Before that, I studied in St Andrews and completed my undergraduate thesis on (you guessed it) a study of Videogames. I’ll get around to posting that in its submitted form on the website in the hopes of eventually tidying it up and attempting to publish it somewhere (maybe on the increasingly dwindling Videogamestudies.org journal…).

I created this page to go along with a 16/02/2013 talk I gave at The Mays creative writing group in Cambridge on Videogames and the great things you can do with them. To tell people ‘Videogame Studies is Dead’ may seem an odd topic to enthuse people into working more with videogames but, to be honest, I decided to go with my gut and tell people what I think is true rather than what I think they might want to hear. It seemed to work pretty well.

The main motion of this page (and the accompanying talk) was that Game Studies or Ludology (specifically the study of videogames – I’m not commenting on the other varied studies of sports or games) has had almost 16 years to get its act together and become something worth being a part of – instead, it’s become a discipline of being a discipline. There remains no unified methodology, no working definition of the media to be analysed, no declared sub-fields which would help to articulate the interests of its various contributors and no sense of any of these things appearing in the near future.

While this is kind of great given that interdisciplinarity allows a single study to borrow all the strongest ideas from various bodies of scholarly work, I believe that it is still worth investigating the idea of a more unified (or at least clearly defined) discipline of Game Studies.

I have kept the walkthrough of the talk on site in an attempt to keep things clear (and in case I’m ever able to give the talk in the future and need to remind myself where I am coming from).

Feel free to comment on the site and please do accept a link request (I’m good for it, I swear).

Conor Mckeown
University of Glasgow