Course: Cyberliterature

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I am about to close the books on my very first teaching experience as a principal instructor at the University of Alberta. This Cyberliterature class was a fantastic challenge, a great opportunity to expand my horizons on various forms of electronic literatures, as well as a chance to unpack some of the internet culture that we usually take for granted (memes, rage comics, fan fiction and so on). One of the objectives that I had for this particular incarnation of the class was to create a more culturally diverse corpus that previous years, and I think that the week dedicated to cell phone novels and visual novels worked great in this regard. I also experimented with integrating VR material as a text to be discussed in class, which was difficult a first to get going due to the technical requirements of this technology, but turned out to be well worth it.

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Thanks again to the staff in MLCS for their trust and this opportunity.

 

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CFP – Digital Narratives Around the World

Just a quick word to share the CFP of an upcoming symposium held at the University of Alberta on digital narratives. I have helped Prof. Astrid Ensslin putting this project together over the past few weeks, and I am looking forward to meet with the greater Albertan digital fiction community in May. Check it out if you are in the area, especially if you are doing research on digital fiction or game studies.

Here is an excerpt from the CFP.

“The University of Alberta, in association with the Kule Institute for Advanced Studies (KIAS), would like to acknowledge and help further develop this interest by creating the possibility of researchers and students across campus and beyond to join forces and create a scholarly network dedicated to the support and the dissemination of cross-disciplinary research on digital narratives around the world. A first step towards the implementation of this project is a one-day symposium that will bring together researchers from the University of Alberta along with external collaborators, where participants will share their research and ideas through individual or team presentations. The objectives of this event are to identify the University of Alberta’s strengths in the field and possible synergies between research groups, to establish a roadmap for the planning of future events and projects, as well as to investigate the needs and provisions for current and future graduate students in this area.”

(Re)Blog – Dynamics of Mobile Gaming

I have not posted anything original in a while, which I blame on a busy schedule. I recently came across an old blog that I used to maintain as part of Prof. Rockwell’s seminar on Japanese video game culture a few years back. Some of these posts still seem relevant today, so I though it could be worthwhile to share updated versions of them again on this platform. Enjoy!

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The practice of mobile gaming is a difficult subject to frame and situate since its platforms are meant to be very flexible. However, it is possible to make sense of this particular form of gaming through the framework presented by Ito in Mobilizing the Imagination in Everyday Play, specifically, through the concept of hyper-socialization, a form of socialization mediated by the formation of a knowledge economy based on media content and shared amongst its participants.

Cohen’s text was very informative as it brought forward case studies of mobile game design experiments that gives us a clearer idea of what elements to consider while designing a mobile game for the Japanese market. He identifies the terms Personal (space of intimacy), Portable (mobility of the device) and Pedestrian (nagara gaming) as the main concepts that frames the experience of mobile phone entertainment in Japan, and there is no reason why we shouldn’t look at portable console use in the same light. Indeed, from the dual-screen DS to the portable media device that was the PSP, mobile consoles in Japan have always been a save haven for gaming experiences that focus on the intimacy of the ludic experience, the imaginary creation of a restricted relationship with the screen. Those comprise of visual novels, brain training games and role-playing games. Interestingly, those seem to also be the experiences that define the PC as a gaming space. Visual novels are often released on PC first, and then ported on mobile consoles. The PC in Japan also hosts a number of long-running franchises of real-time strategy games that are mostly unknown in the West. However, the mobile consoles have also given momentum to completely different genre, one of those―the kyoutou games (coop games), sometimes called hunting games―requires repurposing the console as a vehicle for socialization in the same vein Ito talks about card games as tools for hyper-socialization.

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Summer 2013, Kyoutou Sensei promotes the joys of collaborative battle games in the first of many commercials.

On mobile devices, we have games like Monster Hunter, Soul Sacrifice, Valhalla Nights and others that inspire strong community of players who meet in cafés with groups or random strangers. Even games with very low level of communal engagement like Puzzles and Dragons (by far the most popular mobile game) integrate a lot of social elements: players must be connected with other users in order to lean their strength to overcome challenging bosses. Such games are very customizable themselves and mobile game communities like the one associated with Valkyria Chronicle D is very intricate where players have developed hierarchical relationship with rights and duties in relation to what the game requires users to do in order to achieve a communal goal. There is plenty of space for remix and mediated but meaningful social encounters through mobile gaming from its most intricate form (Monster Hunter) to its most nagara (Puzzles and Dragons). However, I must differ from Ito’s perspective when she identifies hyper-socialization with contestation, there just doesn’t seem to be actual rebellion against a given text in the media mix, only reinterpretation and adaptation.

Works Cited

Ito, Mizuko. ¨Mobilizing the Imagination of Everyday Play: The Case of Japanese Media Mixes¨ in International Handbook of Children, Media and Culture. Edited by Sonia Livingstone and Kirsten Drotner. SAGE Publishing,  2008.

Cohen, Einat. ¨Portable Gaming in Japan: Redefining Urban Play Space and Changing Gameplay¨. University of Haifa, 2010.

 

 

CFP – Replaying Japan 2017: The Strong Museum of Play, USA

The CFP for the next Replaying Japan conference is out. This time, the event will be held at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester (USA), and will be themed around the concept of “Transmedia and Story in Japanese Games”. Here is the call for paper, which you can also find at the official conference webpage.

If you are interested in Japanese video game studies and you are based in North America, please consider sending an abstract (in either English or Japanese).

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Replaying Japan 2017: 5th International Japan Game Studies Conference

“Transmedia and Story in Japanese Games”

The 5th International Conference on Japan Game Studies will be held at The Strong National Museum of Play, Rochester, USA, from August 21 to 23 2017.

Proposals in Japanese are most welcome! <日本語での発表要旨も受け付けます。>
This conference, co-hosted by The Strong and Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Interactive Games and Media and MAGIC Center, is organized in collaboration with the Institute of East Asian Studies at Leipzig University, the Ritsumeikan Center for Game Studies, the University of Alberta and DiGRA Japan. This conference, the fifth collaboratively organized event, 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.

The main theme of the conference this year will be Transmedia and Story in Japanese Games.

We invite researchers and students to submit paper proposals related to this theme. We also invite papers on other topics relating to games, game culture, education, and the Japanese game industry from the perspectives of humanities, social sciences, business, or education. We also encourage poster/demonstration proposals of games or interactive projects related to these themes. For previous approaches related to these topics, see the 2016 program:http://home.uni-leipzig.de/jgames/replayingjapan2016/program/.

Please send anonymized abstracts of no more than 500 words in English or Japanese via email to <replayingjapan@gmail.com> before January 15, 2017. Figures, tables and references, which do not count towards the 500 words, may be included on a second page. The following information should be in the accompanying email message:

Type of submission (poster/demonstration or paper):
Title of submission:
Name of author(s):
Affiliation(s):
Address(es):
Email address(es):

Notification of acceptance will be sent out by March 3, 2017.
While the language of this conference will be English, limited communication assistance will be available for those who cannot present in English.

For more information about Replaying Japan 2017, visit the conference home page (replaying.jp) or write to replayingjapan@gmail.com.

Feels Bad Man – Pepe the Frog on The Gateway

I was recently interviewed for The Gateway in related to a piece about the recent transformation of the meme Pepe the Frog into a white supremacist symbol. It garnered some level of interest on their websites, take a look if you are interested in the vast world of memes.

The Sound of the Switch – Raising the Curtain on Nintendo’s New Console

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Nintendo unveiled their upcoming home/handheld console this week, a machine that put versatility at the forefront. While presented primarily as a home console, it is clear that the Switch (previously known as NX) is also meant for a variety of other uses through its detachable controllers that can accommodate single or multiplayer experiences. In addition, by featuring the logo multiple times over the duration of the unveiling video, Nintendo is making sure that the name “Switch” is fully penetrating market consciousness a long time before its release (unlike what they did with the Wii U). In fact, the rhythm of the video is very much dictated by appearances of the logo, and the later is itself punctuated by a sonic hook embodied in the sound of the hyōshigi. Tchak!

My first thought watching this video was to speculate as to the link between the console itself and this traditional Japanese musical instrument. While the hyōshigi is used for music and religious ceremonies, it is primarily used in traditional theater performance to signal the beginning of a play. Its use thus evokes traditional arts and crafts, from both the classical and popular sides of Japanese culture. Drawing from such elements is not completely surprising in the case of Nintendo. The company is, after all, firmly rooted in Kyoto, the traditional arts capital of the country.

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Hyōshigi

The hyōshigi is played by smashing two blocks of wood together to generate a single sharp note. The rhythm at which one hits the blocks together is what turns these blocks into a usually short musical performance. But beyond music, it is striking how similar the design of the console’s controllers is to that of this musical instrument: two blocks of plastic equipment with various buttons (Joy-Con) that can be attached to either a main controller unit (Joy-Con Grip) or a tablet, thus turning the devices into either a potent home console controller or a handheld machine.

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I might be reading too much into this, but there seems to be a connection between the hyōshigi’s as a instrument that signals the beginning of a performance and the  Nintendo Switch’s signature controller. As a an object designer, Nintendo is most likely consciously creating this marketing narrative around the metaphor of the Switch’s controller (or the action of attaching them to another device) as the start of the gamic performance. Doesn’t the video end with the glorification of the idea e-sport, which is itself a large-scale performance in front of an audience? Perhaps a message that consumers outside Japan will not catch on, but a metaphor that could be efficient locally.

 

 

Games of our Lives: Pac-Man

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I am attending Replaying Japan 2016 held in Lepzig at the moment. This year, the conference puts emphasis on Pac-Man, Toru Iwatani’s legendary arcade video game from 1981. While I won’t be speaking directly about the game this year (my paper is about JRPG instead), I still wanted to express a few of my memories and thoughts about this important game. There is no better platform that this blog to communicate these ideas to the attendants of the conference, but also beyond to anyone interested.

When I was around 10 years old, my parents sent me to summer camp in a remote corner of rural Quebec, probably as a way to get some vacations of their own, but also to broaden my horizons beyond the monotonous everyday life of June-July-August vacation time period as a kid. There, we would do all kinds of activities, playing in the woods, at the lake or playing variations of Dungeons and Dragons. There was also a crafting session taking place in a shed in the middle of the woods, and I remember trying my hand at a papier-mâché workshop where kids had to come up with a project involving a round wireframe structure around which we had to creatively put the said piece of paper-mâché around, hopefully turning out into a ball/head structure. I ended up making a spherical structure, on which I put two eyes and a big mouth. When I declared the project done, the workshop supervisor walked towards me and said: “Oh, you made a Pac-Man!”. A what? I cannot remember the color of the whole thing, but let us say for the purpose of this story that it was a big yellow.

Of course being born in 1986, the post Pac-Man era, I had no idea what character that person was referring, and, by 1996 or so, Pac-Man was no longer a household figure. The Pac-Man fever had come and go a long time ago. I was living in Gaspésie, and had virtually no access to video games, and, besides, the killer app of the NES was the more fledged out Mario Bros. I remember, however, that eventually we inherited from a Colecovision console form my grandmother, and one of the cartridge would turn out to be the famous porting of Pac-Man, the Colecovision’s own killer app over the Atari 2600, of which the Pac-Man port was a disastrous mess. I had no idea of what Pac-Man was at the time, but it soon slowly creeped into my life.

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So the fever had come and go, but in its wake, it left of an entire generation with a rough understanding of what video games were, but most importantly, a familiar face. Pac-Man’s success was to reach a new layer of people to engage with video games for the first time. While Nishikado captured the space-themed zeitgeist of the late 1970s through Space Invaders, Iwatani created its own by providing gamers with a very different ludic metaphor, one that was easy to understand for anyone, anywhere.

Eat.

Eat.

Eat.

The game was popular in Japan, but it was in the United States that the game turned into a form of culture of its own brought forward by an endless amount of paraphernalia produced for fans wanting to bring home the spirit of the game. This was certainly instrumental into turning Pac-Man into the recognizable figure that it is still today. It amazes me that my first contact with Pac-Man was not with the game itself, but through its character that I “copy” in an art project in a cabin in the Gaspésie woods.

The question now become to what extend is Pac-Man still influencing game culture these days? What does Pac-Man mean to the younger generation now that Pac-Man is featured in many other games which often have nothing to do with the original game gameplay-wise. I am thinking of Super Smash Bros for example. We might not come up with all answers at this year’s conference, but I hope the event will trigger the community to ponder on these issues in years to come.