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CFP – Replaying Japan 2020: University of Liège, Belgium

The Replaying Japan committee is glad to announce that the next conference will be held at the University of Liège, Belgium, in 2020, and hosted by the Liège Game Lab. The conference theme is “Ludolympics 2020”, reflecting the increasing interest in the development of e-sports in the light of the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. I am sharing the CFP, which you can also find at the official conference webpage.

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Replaying Japan 2020: The 8th International Japan Game Studies Conference

Conference theme: “Ludolympics 2020”

Date: August 10-12, 2020

Location: University of Liège (7 Place du 20-Août, 4000 Liège, Belgium)

Proposals in Japanese are most welcome! 日本語での発表要旨も受け付けます。

Call for Papers

Since 2012, the Replaying Japan conference has hosted researchers from various fields conducting research on Japanese game culture. The eighth conference is being organized by the Liège Game Lab (a research group specialized in the study of video games as a cultural objects in French-speaking Belgium) in collaboration with the Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies, the University of Alberta, the University of Delaware, Bath Spa University, Seijoh University and DiGRA Japan.

This year’s conference theme will be “Ludolympics 2020”. Particular attention will therefore be paid to the relationship between games and sport in Japan, to the Japanese esport scene and its cultural specificities (see Goto-Jones, 2016; Harper, 2014) and to competitive video game practices (Taylor, 2012 ; Hamari & Sjöblom, 2017 ; Witkowski, 2012 ; Besombes, 2016), but also, more generally, to the notion of video game performance and to the mediatization or spectacularization of this performance.

Through the prism of this theme, fundamental aspects of games and play will be questioned: the physicality of the playing practices, the place of competition in Japanese game culture, the role of rules and conventions in games and play (Salen and Zimmerman, 2004), as well as the possibilities of bypassing these rules (through cheating, for instance; Consalvo, 2009) or the spaces of appropriation that they allow (visible in the amateur practices, fan creations or doujin circles, among others).

Furthermore, esports are a common and robust entry point into the study of Japanese video games, their surrounding industry, their history, structuring, cultural variants (through the multiplicity of competitive game scenes, for example), and their surrounding economy. Competitive gaming has been an important vector for players’ professionalization and has led to the emergence of new figures in game culture: pro-players, commentators, streamers, video makers, speedrunners, specialized journalists, etc.

Beyond video game practices in the strict sense, the conference will thus focus on the different forms of mediatization of these practices inside and outside Japan. How are game performances commented, represented, transformed into spectacles? What media formats and discourses are being invented to promote them? What “paraludic” cultural practices are developing around these scenes and communities?

Lastly, the inclusion of (competitive) play in society and the many societal issues it raises must be questioned: the issue of the (in)accessibility of games (especially in the competitive field), the minority representation in this domain or the political tensions it harbors are topics that also deserve further attention.

Proposals that address these different issues are thus welcome, but these should not be understood in a restrictive sense. This conference focuses broadly on Japanese game culture, education, and industry. It aims to bring together a wide range of researchers and creators from many different countries to present and exchange their work. We therefore also invite papers on other topics relating to games, game culture, video games and education, and the Japanese game industry from the perspectives of humanities, social sciences, business, or education. We encourage poster/demonstration proposals of games or interactive projects related to these themes.

 

Submission Guidelines

Abstracts must be submitted through the platform EasyChair, following this link: <https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=rj2020>

Abstract registration deadline: February 3, 2020

Notification of Acceptance: April, 2020

All papers must be original. The following paper categories are welcome:

  • Full papers, posters/demos and short papers: please send anonymized abstracts (pdf) of no more than 500 words in English or Japanese
  • Panels: panel proposals should have a maximum length of 1500 words, including a description of each presentation and a short biography of each participant; they can be submitted in English or Japanese

Figures, tables and references do not count toward the word limit.

Proposals in Japanese are most welcome! 日本語の発表要旨はrcgs[a]st.ritsumei.ac.jpにご送付ください。詳しくはRCGSのウェブサイトをご覧ください

 

Contact Information

Fanny Barnabé <fanny.barnabe@uliege.be>

@LiegeGameLab

#replayingjapan

 

Works cited

Besombes N. (2016), Sport électronique, agressivité motrice et sociabilités, Doctoral thesis in Sports Sciences, Sorbonne Paris-Cité-University, France

Consalvo M. (2009), Cheating. Gaining Advantage in Videogames, Cambridge, MIT Press

Goto-Jones C. (2016), The Virtual Ninja Manifesto: Fighting Games, Martial Arts, and Gamic Orientalism, Lanham, Rowman & Littlefield

Hamari J. and Sjöblom M. (2017), “What is eSports and why do people watch it?”, Internet research, vol. 27, n° 2, pp. 211-232

Harper T. (2014), The Culture of Digital Fighting Games: Performance and Practice, New York, Routledge

Salen K. and Zimmerman E. (2004), Rules of Play. Game Design Fundamentals, Cambridge, MIT Press

Taylor T.L. (2012), Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer Gaming. Cambridge, The MIT Press

Witkowski E. (2012), “On the Digital Playing Field How We ‘Do Sport’ with Networked Computer Games”, Games and Culture, vol. 7, n° 5, pp. 349-374

New Position: Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at UQÀM

I have once again been neglecting this outlet for quite a while now despite a few major changes to my situation as a researcher. My last blog post was dedicated to announcing the successful defence of my PhD dissertation. However, at around the same time, I had received news that my funding application to secure a postdoctoral research fellowship position at UQÀM to the Fonds de recherche du Québec was approved by the agency. I forgot to officially announce the good news here, so I wanted to take some time to properly introduce the orientation of my second major research project.

Since my arrival in Montréal two years ago, I have been working closely with the Homo Ludens research group on a variety of projects, but with no clear agenda of my own beyond adapting to a new research environment and agenda. However, Prof. Maude Bonenfant and I made plans to make my presence in the research group more concrete with tangible research outcomes by supporting a research fellowship application at UQÀM though which I could further my specialization in data-driven game analysis, as well as share my expertise with the group. Fast forward a year or so, and a successful funding application for a two-year research position, and I now have my own office and the chance to spend a considerable amount of time research text mining applications to game studies projects and, excitingly, make use of them for a concrete long-term project with fellow graduate students.

The core objective of my research fellowship is to provide a comprehensive overview of the different text mining tools and methods that can be used in the machine-assisted study of video games and video game culture. This is somewhat of a fresh subfield as data-driven work in game studies is as prominent as it has the potential to be considering to extent to which digital game is made of primarily born-digital texts and database structures. The main project in which our methodology will be tested will be an analysis of the reception of the upcoming Pokémon Sword and Shield games for Nintendo Switch based on data gathered from Twitter from the perspective of gameplay mechanics, a topic aligned with this year’s overall theme of the Homo Ludens research group.

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One of the promotional events for the release of Pokémon Sword and Shield

I started the position in June, but a mix of conference travel, institutional strike, and the need tie up a few loose ends prevented me from starting to dedicate most of my time to furthering the objectives of my mandate. Consequently, the project is still in its early phase, but I plan to share information about it in a more timely fashion from now on.

As a final note, I just want to reach out to all text mining researchers out there who might want to share ideas or insights about the specifics on conducting research that bridges between game studies and digital humanities. I would like to report on the progress of the project on this platform as often as possible, and possibly use it as a way to discuss issues and the various roadblocks that we will run into. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you feel that any aspects explored here speak to you!

The End of a Journey: Thesis Officially Deposited

As I am traveling back to Japan to attend the 2019 Replaying Japan and DiGRA conferences in early August, I want to take a moment to official announce that my journey as a graduate student came to an end last week when my thesis deposit was officially accepted by the University of Alberta. This marks the culmination of a seven year-long adventure that started by discovering the fascinating world of Japanese arcades when I was living in Japan in 2012. Little did I know when I started my initial research on this topic that this world would occupy the main part of my intellectual life for almost a decade. I feel grateful for my institution, the University of Alberta, my thesis supervisor, Prof. Geoffrey Rockwell, and for the support provided by the many agencies (MEXT, SSHRC, and GRAND) that funded the project along the way. But as I enjoy this weight being lifted off my shoulders, still feel that I am leaving a project that still has many more facets lefts to explore. As I am reflecting on these past years I wonder, is this really the end? Are there really ends to this type of endeavor?

Many meaningful observations and pages of notes did not make it into the final version of my dissertation. While a part of me longs to engage them in complementary projects, I also feel the desire to explore entirely different topics as a junior academic. The field of game studies changes drastically in the space of ten years. The GamerGate controversy shook the foundation of game culture, virtual reality is bringing a new aesthetic paradigm to the market, and, most importantly for me, Japanese game studies is more visible than it has ever been. On a personal note, I am also much more involved in the exploration of the potential of text mining techniques in the study of games and gaming communities. I would seem that, for the time being, work on the spatiality and material conditions of game centers will have to wait until an opportunity to reexamine my ideas arises.

Perhaps a research project can never be over, but should be voluntarily halted for others to evaluate its contributions and suggest new paths of investigations. It is important to remind oneself that research is not conducted in a vacuum. Punctual releases of the status of one’s thoughts in the form of papers and, in this case, a dissertation, be them imperfect or incomplete to the eyes of its author, is an important step towards the production of knowledge. Perhaps this realization is the only way to cope with my current feeling of leaving a whole range of questions unexamined.

Sakura Taisen in the time of Reiwa

Two historic announcements were made in Japan during the past week. Both are completely unrelated, but I nevertheless decided to force them into a comparative framework. Let’s see how well that works.

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Image CNN

Japan is right on schedule with the plan of turning the page on the 30 years of the Heisei era by announcing the new gengo, or era name, much to the delight of twitter users and idea-starved food conglomerates. Commemorative potato chips anyone? The new era name, starting May 1, 2019, is set to be Reiwa, or “auspicious peace” if we refer to Abe’s press conference. Other, probably more concrete meanings based on the characters’ common understanding, would point at a translation closer to “commanding peace” or “commanding harmony”. In both cases, the new era name seems to translate the current administration’s tendency towards a stronger right-wing national affirmation in the face of contemporary challenges and conflicting international relationships in the East Asia region. Considering that Heisei could be, in retrospect, defined by the two major natural disasters that bookend the era, major epoch-defining terrorist attacks, both foreign and domestic, as well as the more tangible aging crisis and the spectre of unruly North Korea, the choice is probably meant to inspire optimism in Japanese society. A new emperor will not solve any of these problems, but might breathe some much-needed vitality to Japanese public life.

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Image Zerochan

The second announcement does not quite have as much gravity as the first. Indeed, SEGA is set on breathing new life to Sakura Taisen, a franchise that, for all instances and purposes, had been lying dormant since 2005.  Shin Sakura Taisen, the announced project’s name, is still very short of specifics since the only available information released about the game is but a single two minute-long promotional video, but already certain elements are worth a closer look for fans of the series. No gameplay elements have been revealed, but it is already clear that recent developments in the Japanese VR design principles are bleeding into more mainstream products. Looking at the first images of the game, it seems obvious that SEGA is taking account of Summer Lessons’ camera work and the sense of scale that characterize VR products so as to renew bishōjo games’ old formula. More than anything, it is the first-person perspective and the focus on eye contact that reminds me the most of Summer Lessons.

However, one should not forget that, primarily, this game as always banked on feelings generated by its unabashed nostalgic national affirmation through the reinterpretation of Japan’s pre-war prosperity that eschews issues of colonialism, war of expansion and fascism. Themes of the series have focused on the domestic struggle between tradition/modernity and mysticism/science in an era of transition. In Sakura Taisen, Japan is at the centre of the Asian world, and “commands” a form of harmony between colonial territories under the auspices of the Empire that the fighting maidens of the game protect against domestic demons. The visual identify of Sakura Taisen is rife with flags, military uniforms, and other symbols that echoes the national and military mobilization of social life that emerged in the Taisho era.

Shin Sakura Taisen is announced at a time when Abe’s government is taking steps to direct the country’s symbolic direction, as opposed to a constitutional one, towards a stronger affirmation of nationalism that could be characterized as more authoritarian. It is because of the insistence of fans’ desire to re-actualize the series’ cleaned-up depiction of the Taisho period, perhaps in need of some empowering representation of Japan, that SEGA has finally decided to approve the project after a hiatus of fifteen years. Taking into consideration that Sakura Taisen originally came out in 1996 in the middle of the ¨lost decade¨ where optimism was at a very low point after the financial crash, its runaway success as a social phenomenon could be read in conjunction with the catharsis that its worldview provided to gamers, a demographic that has often expressed sympathy for nationalist right-wing politics. It offered an imagined window on the Taisho era, a time when Japan could confidently compete with Western nations for global influence, without considering its darker moments.  The series lost its purpose when its characters started to travel to France and the United States in the fourth and fifth opuses, but a return to Japan, set chronologically in 1940 just before the start of the Pacific War when the Empire of Japan was arguably at its most authoritative, signals that SEGA finally understands the appeal of this series of games and its broader media mix: its function as a device for positive national representation relying on a rewriting of history. It presents a fantasy of what a Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere could have been.

It is still unclear if this new game represents the desire to recapture this untamed national affirmation and positivity for Japan’s future made possible by an authoritarian leadership, but it raises enough few time-sensitive questions that justifies keeping an eye open on it in the coming year. Indeed, newsworthy events sometimes echo one another in revealing ways. Will Shin Sakura Taisen be the first significant gaming product of the Reiwa era? In any case, it is time to dust off my Sega Saturn and Dreamcast to do justice to the series’ previous entries that I have yet to play and, at the same time, see how much of the ideas presented here hold up.

Arcadecraft – “Hangers”, espace et obsolescence

J’ai pris le temps de me lancer dans un des jeux que j’ai acheté il y a trop longtemps déjà sur Steam: Arcadecraft. Le jeu propose la simulation de l’exploitation d’une salle d’arcade au cours des années 1980s aux États-Unis, objectif plus ou moins réussi, car l’expérience demeure assez minimaliste. On y représente une certaine conception nostalgique de ce qu’étaient les salles d’arcades durant leur âge d’or. On comprend très vite que l’arcade est ici comprise comme un espace qui s’articule uniquement autour de la consommation économiquement viable de l’expérience ludique et non comme espace de vie. Chaque joueur/consommateur apparaît soudainement aux machines pour disparaître aussitôt sa séance de jeu terminé sans circuler dans l’établissement virtuel. Pour paraphraser Samuel Tobin, la figure du “hanger”, le non-joueur préférant se déplacer d’une machine à l’autre en observant d’autres joueurs, est complètement évacuée de cette simulation alors qu’elle est essentiellement à la compréhension des dynamiques qui structuraient ces espaces durant les années 1980s. Le jeu est donc en phase avec le discours dominant de l’histoire de l’arcade qui met l’accent principalement sur l’activité économique qui s’y déroulait.

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La façon dont l’espace est traité dans le jeu est aussi symptomatique de cette interprétation. Placer les machines en groupe est important afin de maximiser leurs revenus, mais la circulation des joueurs dans l’espace n’est pas prise en compte, ce qui peut aboutir à des situations assez absurdes, mais économiquement viables. Résultat, l’espace se réduit à une fonction utilitaire: une surface sur laquelle les machines sont posées.

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Ces mêmes machines font aussi la démonstration d’un problème d’obsolescence inévitable des jeux dans un contexte de salle d’arcade. Au fil du temps, chaque machine perdra de sa valeur jusqu’à ne plus rien rapporter de considérable si le joueur doit la vendre. Il s’agit donc de cerner le moment parfait où la machine est au zénith de sa popularité avant de la vendre pour en acheter une autre plus récente… Le roulement des machines est donc bien implémenté dans les mécaniques de jeux, mais force est d’admettre que cette dynamique semble faire abstraction du fait que, même à l’époque, il était aussi possible d’interchanger les circuits imprimés des machines afin de diminuer les frais de renouvellement de l’offre ludique. Considérant que l’existence cette fonction demeure un des facteurs importants expliquant le succès de Space Invaders au Japon en 1978, il est curieux qu’elle soit omise entièrement dans Arcadecraft.

Ofuro+ramen+game center=?

The Asahi Journal publicized this week the opening of the first location of a new ramen restaurant chain called Nintama Ramen that aims to merge together three of Japan’s best gifts to the world: public baths, game centres, and ramen noodles. The establishment, demonstrating the constant transformation of the style of game centre operations in the country, is situated at one of the trucker stops of national highway 51 nearby Tokyo. It is primarily targeting a clientele of travellers and weary drivers looking for a short rejuvenating break on a long-distance trip. While arcade games have always been part of the broader leisure strategy employed by hotels and hot spring resorts to attract and retain customers, this seems to be a first example of a venue that combines these three seemingly disconnect services in this fashion.

Creative projects using Twine for C LIT 243: Fairy Tales and Folk Tales

 

 

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was introducing a special assignment for the summer version of the course C LIT:243 – Fairy Tales and Folk Tales. The term is almost over, and now is the time to share the works of some of my students with the internet at large.

These stories are meant to be contemporary reinterpretations of classic fairy tales themes, characters or storylines. Student integrated both the themes we analyzed in class, as well as some coding techniques allowing them to join story passages together, create branching paths (either arborescent, axial or networked narratives), as well as integrating some amount of macros and variables. We analyzes a few fairy tales-inspired Twine stories as part the in-class time dedicated to this project, and perhaps these stories could be used by other instructors in classes with a similar interest on interactive reinterpretations of classic fairy tales.

 

The Big Bad Wolf

Written by Ashley Bray, Breana Walsh and Steeven Jobin

 

Miss-education of Snow White

Written by Aaron Brown, Todd Pelan and Janina Graham

 

Hannan Takes New York

Written by Anonymous

 

Grandpa’s Fireplace

Written by Lynsey Stewart and Iliana Pappas

 

Out of the Cind

Written by Anonymous