Games Betwixt and Between

This panel focuses on some of the most interesting developments in games and playable media. More specifically it will look at the recent surge in making independent games or game-like media art and artifacts.
Thursday, 15 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Chair Person: 
Lynn Hughes
Chair Person: 
Heather Kelley
Cindy Poremba
Emma Westecott
Kokoromi’s Gamma4 event in San Francisco
Full body game tests in Montreal
the OhMiBod app for iPhone

Chair: Prof. Lynn Hughes
2nd Chair: Heather Kelley

This panel focuses on some of the most interesting developments in games and playable media. More specifically it will look at the recent surge in making independent games or game-like media art and artifacts. How does the indie moment in the games industry intersect with the rise of interest in playable media outside the industry (art games, game art, games as research, embodied play, new arcade games, lo-fi and retro games, diy....)?  Panelists will provide a broad overview of current “gaminess” but will also be drawing on examples of their own art/design work. Papers will address the following types of questions:
•    The relation between goal-based and free play models of games/playable media, as well examples of designing for appropriation. What is the relation between expressivity and rules? Whose expressivity? What does/could it mean to author playable media for appropriation? (Lynn Hughes)
•    The rise of lo-fi games in the light of V.W Turner's notions of the liminal & liminoid. Contemporary indie practice in the spaces between diy & artgames. (Emma Westecott)
•    How new arcade projects draw the play experience out into the exhibition environment. What are artists doing to re-imagine games for alternative social contexts? How can curators engage with the design of play -particularly in non-gallery spaces? (Cindy Poremba).
•    What kind of soft and hard ware contributes to a pleasure experience.? How can we make sure game goals and sensual “goals” are mutually reinforcing? How might sex games be a forerunner of other "gamification" efforts where the goal is more than self-referential entertainment? 
(Heather Kelley) 

Paper Abstracts

Lovely Bastards

by Prof. Lynn Hughes

It is high-time that the news that games are the post-cinematic cultural form was no longer news.  The question whether games are art is not the right question partly because, in the era of powerful accessible tools and internet enabled distribution, there are much broader questions about what and why (high?) art is. What is clear is that the increasingly broad field of games already includes everything from blockbuster entertainment through serious games to “games d’auteur” and art-and-other-games. What is the relation between expressivity and rules? Whose expressivity? What, for example, does/could it mean to author playable media for appropriation? 

This presentation considers examples of some of the most provocative, irreverent current approaches to the game form –from Ian Bogost’s “A Slow Year” to the deliberate cultivation of radically mixed modes- including hybrids between the digital and non-digital such as Cockfight Arena or B.U.T.T.O.N.  The presentation concludes by looking at two, very different, games being developed in Montreal with support from TAG, the Technoculture Art and Games Centre at Concordia and the related, Montreal Games Incubator.

Promiscuous Spaces

by Dr. Cindy Poremba

Somewhere in between the dingy mall arcade and the gallery performance space sits the new arcade. At experimental game spaces such as New York’s Babycastles, and arcade events such as Kokoromi’s Gamma, games by (and for) artists mingle with quirky auteur experiments; game industry hopefuls rub shoulders with DJs and musicians, electronic artists, and artistic voyeurs.

The design and curation of such games demands a holistic perspective on gameplay that acknowledges and encourages fluid movement between gameplay, spectatorship, and emergent collective experience. The result is a social and performative hybrid—aestheticized play. This paper contextualizes “art”-cade and performative public gaming, and explores how the new arcade engages casual and indiscriminant acts of ludic experience

The Eroticism of Gameplay

by Heather Kelley

From the seconds-long scale of a gimme in Farmville to the epic 70-hour hero quest in a massive RPG, games are our culture's most developed engines for creating and fulfilling desire.  And no matter the granularity, the similarity of the pattern across time scales is no coincidence.  This cycle of desire and temporary fulfillment is thoroughly familiar to westerners; it pervades our narrative media and our consumptive patterns, and has taken the forefront in nearly every aspect of human expression including music, writing, and film, as well as games.

The familiar curve of introduction, rising tension, climax, and denoument is of course strikingly similar to one of the other best-loved sensory cycles in human experience:  orgasmic build-up and release.   Heather Kelley will make her case for the orgasmic chemical and behavioral cycle as the structural basis for the power of narrative and gameplay.  Kelley proposes that linear and interactive media alike are experiental cognates of the biomechanical process of erotic gratification.

Liminoid Acts

by Prof. Emma Westecott

"Liminality is a temporal interface whose properties partially invert those of the already consolidated order which constitutes any specific cultural "cosmos"." (Turner: 41)

One works at the liminal, one plays with the liminoid    (Turner: 55).

The litany of the new drives the game economy forward as the glitter of Hollywood rubs off on the major studios. The big game dominates the traditional gaming zaibatsu yet in their shadow smaller more agile game-makers capture the hearts and minds of the game-playing public. There has long been an amateur game-making community from bedroom coders playingwith home computer technology onwards. Digital distribution has enabled these independent game-makers to release their games direct to players in a range of ways: from free-to-play to revenue generating this has grown amateur practice into independent development. The aesthetic impact of small development teams is significant, a wash of retro-imagery and lo-fi values break down expectations for the gloss of pro-productions. It may be too early to complete an art history of indie games but it is possible to trace strands of abstraction in many of these experiences.

Turner's notion of liminality as a core aspect of society offers a productive model from which to consider the movement of indie games into a creative centre ground. Limen (the Latin for "threshold") in this usage is interested in movements within society whether collective, functional and integrated ("liminal") as part of rites of passage within society or individual, critical, idiosyncratic and along the margins of society ("liminoid"). Using specific examples from independent game practice this paper explores these border experiments as one potential expressive future for game form.

Work cited: Turner, V. (1982) From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play.New York: PAJ Publications.

Bios of the Participants

Lynn Hughes

Lynn Hughes is Associate Dean for Research, Fine Arts, at Concordia University in Montreal. She was instrumental in the structuring and funding of the Hexagram, Institute for Media Arts and Technology, the largest and most productive New Media hub in Canada. More recently she co-founded the Technoculture Art and Games Research Centre at Concordia in order to promote collaborative, interdisciplinary games research. Her current project is the design and production of a gesture based full body game.

Cindy Poremba

Cindy Poremba is a digital media researcher, creator and curator, exploring the intersection of documentary, videogames and interactive art through Concordia University’s Doctoral Humanities program (Montréal, QC). She holds an MASc in Interactive Arts from Simon Fraser University, as well as a BA from the University of Waterloo in Rhetoric & Professional Writing.

Heather Kelley

Heather Kelley, also known as moboid, is a media artist, curator, andgame designer.  Currently Ms. Kelley heads her interaction andexperience design studio Perfect Plum.  She is co-founder of Kokoromi,an experimental game collective, with whom she has produced and curatedthe renowned GAMMA event promoting experimental games as creative expression in a social context.

Emma Westecott

Emma Westecott currently teaches at OCAD University in Toronto. She originally achieved recognition for working closely with Douglas Adams as programmer and producer for the best-selling Starship Titanic (1998, Simon & Schuster) and she has worked in and around the game industry for over fifteen years. She led the zerogame studio at The Interactive Institute in Sweden, was a core member of the Synergy games research group at The University of Wales, and organised Women in Games 2007 .