33 Chapters
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1. Dreidels to Dante’s Inferno: Toward a Typology of Religious Games · Jason Anthony

HEIDI CAMPBELL Indiana University Press ePub

Jason Anthony

ITS HARD TO IMAGINE TWO MORE DIFFERENT ARENAS THAN games and religion. Games strike us as a pleasant distraction, a space where amiable conflicts play out to a conclusion which, tomorrow, won’t matter much. Religious activity is clearly quite different. It calls for utmost seriousness and a minimum of conflict, and our commitment will yield consequences that can last a lifetime – or longer, depending on the views we hold on eternity.

So goes the conventional wisdom. Yet games and religion share a long, rich, and intertwined history, even in the digital age. Consider a brief snapshot of the events at the 2011 Game Developers Conference. The world’s top designers, developers, and game studios have gathered to discuss the state of their art. Design guru and director of the NYU Game Center Frank Lantz steps up to the podium. In a highly anticipated talk, he advocates at length for the “sublime” in games. He explains that the venerable game of Go held a place in Confucian practice, and asks why poker and other complex games could not attain a similar stature: “Why can’t a video game be a spiritual discipline?” And he continues: “I want more video games that give me a space in which to entangle my mind with the mysterious infinite secrets of the universe. And this doesn’t have to be precious. Poker proves that it can have something vulgar and violent and dirty and shameful and dangerous and addictive. And if it’s deep enough, it can slingshot you all the way around to new orbits of insight and higher levels of consciousness.”1

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1. The Name of the Game Is Jocktronics: Sport and Masculinity in Early Video Games

Thomas P Oates Indiana University Press ePub

Michael Z. Newman

ALTHOUGH IT MAY NEVER BE SETTLED WHICH VIDEO GAME deserves to be called the first, it’s notable that two games based on racquet sports always come up in talk of the medium’s origins. Tennis for Two, a demonstration using an analog computer and an oscilloscope at Brookhaven National Laboratory (1958), and Pong, the first hit coin-operated game from Atari (1972), are in some ways quite similar.1 Both are competitions between two players given the ability to direct the movement of a ball, which bounces back and forth between them. Both are examples of sports games, a genre that would prove to be among the most enduring, enjoyable, and lucrative in the history of electronic play. And both can be placed within a tradition of masculine amusements adapted from professional athletics, which had already been popular in American society in penny arcades and around gaming tables for more than a half century when electronic games were new. We can regard Pong not just as an early and influential video game, but as part of a history of sports simulations and adaptations and as an electronic version of tavern and rec room amusements such as pool and Ping-Pong, from which it gets its name.

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10. Casey Hudson: Games and Emotion

David S. Heineman Indiana University Press ePub

THOSE FAMILIAR WITH THE ONTOLOGICAL DEBATES AROUND what kind of medium video games might be, what they offer that is distinct from other mediums, and what their relationship is to other digital texts are likely familiar with the suggestion that a defining aspect of video games is their ability to create a more intense emotional response than other media due to their representational and interactive qualities. This oft-repeated argument, offered with varying degrees of sophistication in both academic analyses in video game media outlets and online discussion forums, essentially contends that games create a kind of physiological investment that cannot be found in other media, thus amplifying the body and mind’s reaction.

Casey Hudson, former project director for Bioware’s Mass Effect series, has long had a guiding role in producing titles that push the edges of how video games function to generate a range of emotional responses by players. Games like Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic continue to be heralded for how they were able to bring together thoughtful science-fiction/fantasy writing with novel implementations of player-choice scenarios, believable relational interactions with NPCs, and, especially in the most recent Mass Effect games, believable animation and acting that take place in fully realized environments. Most recently, Bioware developed a strong reputation for fostering fan-based communities around their games and, importantly, forging ongoing dialogues with those communities to further improve the quality of the game components on which the studio built its reputation.

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2. Madden Men: Masculinity, Race, and the Marketing of a Video Game Franchise

Thomas P Oates Indiana University Press ePub

Thomas P. Oates

IN AUGUST 2012, AS THE RELEASE OF EA SPORTSMADDEN NFL 13 video game approached, a months-long marketing blitz peaked with a series of advertisements featuring actor Paul Rudd and Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. In the campaign, the two are presented as close, lifelong friends, whose bond is cemented by periodic Madden NFL marathons. The ads are clearly presented with tongue firmly in cheek. The friendship between Rudd and Lewis is offered as a whimsical premise. Rudd is a recognizable film and television actor, best known for roles playing middle-class white professionals. While appearing to be reasonably fit, he would never be mistaken for an NFL player, and though his movies are frequently about masculine themes (see, for example, I Love You, Man; The 40-Year Old Virgin; and Forgetting Sarah Marshall), he has never played the role of an action hero. Lewis, meanwhile, is black, was raised in poverty by a single mother in Lakeland, Florida, and was a major NFL star at the time, and hence a visible representative of hegemonic masculinity. The joke turns on the premise that despite the seemingly unbridgeable gaps separating affluence from poverty, white from black, icons of masculinity from the average guy, Rudd and Lewis are improbably buddies. Their friendship goes back to the cradle, as Rudd explains in the first ad in the series: “Oh, man, Ray and I have known each other our whole lives. We grew up together. Best friends!” The rest of the campaign shows the two friends playing the video game, engaging in verbal dueling, boasting, and performing other acts that characterize a certain kind of friendly masculine competition.

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5. Ed Fries: The Economics and Politics of a Launch

David S. Heineman Indiana University Press ePub

THE YEARS BRIDGING THE VERY END OF THE TWENTIETH century and the very beginning of the twenty-first were an interesting time in the history of video games. A few years prior to the millennium, the video game industry experienced a gold rush the likes of which had not been seen since before the infamous crash of 1983. In the six years between the initial sale of the Atari Video Computer System and the year when millions of unsold Atari cartridges were buried in a desert landfill, no fewer than ten game consoles were put on the market, many backed by major tech-industry companies like General Electric and Magnavox or toy companies like Mattel and Milton Bradley. By comparison, between October 1992 and September 1996 at least twenty video game consoles or video game console add-ons were placed on the market. These included the Sega CD, Atari Jaguar, Sega 32X, 3DO, Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, Nintendo Virtual Boy, NEC PC-FX, Amiga CD32, FM Towns Marty, Apple Bandai Pippin, Atari Jaguar CD, Casio Loopy, Tiger R-Zone, Pioneer Laser Active, Playdia, Neo Geo CD and CDZ, Supervision, Mega Duck and Cougar Boy, and Nintendo Stellaview (among others). This was a staggering amount of new technology flooding the game market in a very short time, and as was the case when a similar phenomenon occurred in the early 1980s, the vast majority of these systems failed to find an audience. In fact, the millennial transition period is probably more notable for the number of companies that found themselves forced out of the game console industry (including household names like Sega and Atari) than those that got their start in the period.

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2. Locating the Pixelated Jew: A Multimodal Method for Exploring Judaism in The Shivah · Isamar Carrillo Masso and Nathan Abrams

HEIDI CAMPBELL Indiana University Press ePub

Isamar Carrillo Masso and Nathan Abrams

THE VIDEO GAME THE SHIVAH (WADJET EYE GAMES, 2006) opens with the epigraph: “A Goy [non-Jew] came up to Rabbi Moishe to ask, ‘Why do rabbis always answer with a question?’ to which Rabbi Moishe replied, ‘Why not?’ ” In a similar Talmudic style, this chapter opens with a question: “Where has the pixelated Jew gone?” In popular culture, images of the Jew have been examined over many formats – art, film, television, cartoons, comics, graphic novels, online, and so on – but to date, despite their prevalence, images of Jews in video games have yet to be fully explored. This is partly because, in general, representations of race and ethnicity in video games are relatively unexplored and thus undertheorized.1 Furthermore, given the volume of research dedicated to analyzing the Jewish contribution to American visual culture, such as film,2 it is surprising to note that comparatively little work has been done on Judaism as a distinctive set of religious practices, behaviors, beliefs, and values. As a consequence, it is possible to read entire books on these subjects that have almost no references to Judaism qua Judaism.

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9. Ideology, It’s in the Game: Selective Simulation in EA Sports’ NCAA Football

Thomas P Oates Indiana University Press ePub

Meredith M. Bagley and Ian Summers

ON JULY 9, 2013, THE LEADING SPORTS STORY IN TUSCALOOSA, Alabama, a college town obsessed with its university’s football team, was not predictions for a third straight national championship, not news of yet another five-star recruit, nor updates on injuries and summer training sessions. Instead, inch-high headlines announced “GAME ON: EA Sports Releases NCAA Football 14.”1 Above the text, a color screen shot from the game featured an offensive player in the familiar crimson-and-white jersey breaking tackles on the way to a presumed touchdown. The would-be tacklers happened to be in white and maroon, the colors of Texas A&M, the only team to hand Alabama a loss in its 2012 national championship season. Though completely digital, fabricated, and based on advanced computational formulas, the video game redemption offered by the photo perfectly illustrates the power of simulation-based digital games such as EA Sports’ NCAA Football.

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8. Edward Castronova: Games, Economics, and Policies

David S. Heineman Indiana University Press ePub

EDWARD CASTRONOVA BEGINS HIS BOOK EXODUS TO THE Virtual World with a discussion of Star Trek’s holodeck that, at first glance, seems very similar to Eugene Jarvis’s discussion of that fictional technology in chapter 3 of this book. Castronova explains that it is a “perfect simulation room” that “allows users to enter into a deeply accurate simulation of any environment, from the Wild West to the surface of Pluto” (3). He begins that book with a discussion of the holodeck because, like Jarvis, he sees in it a model for where games might go and what they might do to and for the people who play them. Castronova’s perspective, however, offers a kind of cautionary reply to Jarvis’s enthusiasm. If the holodeck was ubiquitous, he offers, “no starship would do anything at all” (3). Instead, there would be a dramatic shift in what people did with their time, where they did these things, and what the value of that time was considered to be. Simulation, in the form of games, would introduce dramatic social change.

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4. The Social and Gender in Fantasy Sports Leagues

Thomas P Oates Indiana University Press ePub

Luke Howie and Perri Campbell

Since the mid-1990s, fantasy sports participation has grown at a significant rate. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, just under thirty-two million people over twelve years old play fantasy sports in North America (including Canada). In the United Kingdom, two million people participate in fantasy Premier League soccer games.1 The financial impact of fantasy sports is measured in billions of euros and dollars.2 Most people cite early 1980s rotisserie baseball leagues as the precursors to the contemporary online fantasy sports experience, but there is some evidence that rudimentary forms of fantasy sports have existed since the mid-1950s.3

In this chapter we provide an account of ongoing research being conducted with the members of a long-running fantasy NBA league based in Australia and their wives and partners. The league began in the late 1990s as a hobby for ten friends who had attended high school or college together, and all played competitive basketball, some to professional and semiprofessional levels. It is played online but features many offline supplementary activities, including a live offline draft party, elaborate mechanisms for choosing the draft order (referred to by participants as the “lottery”), and detailed, ongoing discussions about strategies, statistics, and trades taking place year-round. There are benefits to understanding fantasy sports as a site for advertising and marketing, as gambling, and as a problematic regulatory field.4 We are studying fantasy sports leagues as a social occurrence that takes place in online and offline realms where gender matters and takes various hegemonic forms.

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11. Ian Bogost: Anxieties, Procedures, and Game Studies

David S. Heineman Indiana University Press ePub

IN LATE 2012, IAN BOGOST PRESENTED A PUBLIC LECTURE AND exhibited some of his work at the University of North Florida’s Museum of Contemporary Art. The museum’s director, Marcelle Polednik, in a press release advertising the event, described Bogost as “one of the foremost scholars and designers of games and game theory. . . . [His work is used to] both reflect on and deploy the media of today to highlight timely topics and issues to a wider audience.” Most who have had occasion to read Bogost’s writing or listen to him speak would probably recognize that, in Polednik’s description, there is a lot of truth. Bogost’s work is widely read and cited both inside and outside academic circles, he is a coeditor of an influential series in game studies (MIT Press’s Platform Studies series), and he has produced thought-provoking video games that model how we might think about design itself as a kind of critical practice.

Bogost often discusses the subjects he critiques – games, academia, business, and so on – with a pervasive cynicism and a seemingly entrenched skepticism. His work tends to favor clarity and directness over hyperbole and obfuscation, a characteristic that makes it hard to believe he would be comfortable accepting the kinds of accolades that Polednik’s statement ascribes to him. In the interview in this chapter, for example, he is somewhat blasé about the success he has had in a relatively short period of time, suggesting that “someone would have made similar observations at that time if it hadn’t been me.”

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3. Neoliberal Masculinity: The Government of Play and Masculinity in E-Sports

Thomas P Oates Indiana University Press ePub

Gerald Voorhees

We’re at a point where only about forty people in the U.S. can make a living playing video games. I’d like to get it to a hundred. I think we’re a year or two away from that.

SUNDANCE DIGIOVANNI, quoted in Richard Nieva,
“Video Gaming on the Pro Tour for Glory but Little
Gold,” New York Times, November 28, 2012

While scholars have begun to investigate the professionalization of gaming, I take it on only to the extent that it is an exemplary site for thinking about the sportification of digital games, a broader sociocultural phenomenon that emerges at the juncture of neoliberal rationality and distinct – often competing – constructions of masculinity circulating in contemporary Western culture. Indeed, the sportification of digital games has led to the creation of national leagues, international tournaments, and corporate-sponsored teams of professional cyberathletes, but it is not rooted in these institutions or in the professionalization of players; rather, they are both effects of the hegemony of the sportive mentality. The games are objective things defined by protocological affordances and constrains, but their status as sport and the practices constituting the process of sportification are a result of the meaning attributed to them by player and fan communities.1 In this chapter I examine the cultural implications of the figuration of digital games as sports, often called e-sports, focusing on the production of an intelligible subject position at the nexus of neoliberalism and masculinity.

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8. Exploiting Nationalism and Banal Cosmopolitanism: EA’s FIFA World Cup 2010

Thomas P Oates Indiana University Press ePub

Andrew Baerg

SPORT AND ITS REPRESENTATION IN MEDIA HAVE LONG BEEN A site for the communication and perpetuation of national identity. International mediated sporting events such as the Olympics and World Cup have tended to become sites allowing for the expression of myths about collective, national identities. As such, it might be expected that this tight relationship between sport and the nation-state would continue in the comparatively new medium of the sports video game, especially one representing a competition between nations.

This chapter addresses this argument by performing a textual analysis of Electronic Arts’ soccer video game 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa (hereafter FIFA WC10) in order to learn how it positions its users. By working through and applying cosmopolitan theory and then applying this theory to the text, the chapter argues that FIFA WC10 departs from a traditionally national orientation to the mediation of world soccer toward a cosmopolitan mediation of the sport. As such, rather than position players as national subjects, FIFA WC10’s various gameplay options position its users as global, cosmopolitan subjects.

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10. “God Modes” and “God Moods”: What Does a Digital Game Need to Be Spiritually Effective? · Oliver Steffen

HEIDI CAMPBELL Indiana University Press ePub

Oliver Steffen

IM NOT SURE HOW MUCH RELIGION YOULL FIND IN THE PATH,” writes Michaël Samyn, director of the Belgian independent studio Tale of Tales, in response to an inquiry.1 After all, The Path “is a short horror game inspired by older versions of Little Red Riding Hood, set in modern day.”2 Six sisters, aged nine to nineteen, are sent on an errand to their sick and bedridden grandmother. Mother tells them to stay on the path that leads through a thick and dangerous forest. The woods, however, promise adventures that can hardly be resisted by the girls. In the forest, they find strange areas and objects related to their characters and life situation. Most important, they find their personal wolf – a traumatic encounter, after which grandmother’s house becomes a place of surreal nightmares that end with the death of each girl.

The Path, which won awards for innovative game design, shows little overt religious symbolism, apart from some Christian crosses at the graveyard and the girls’ reflections about death. However, a glance at the developer’s forum reveals that players relatively often tie their play experiences to religious themes.3 Therefore, the game might be an example, on one hand, of the suggestion of William Sims Bainbridge and Wilma Alice Bainbridge that it is “possible that certain categories of games satisfy some of the same psychological needs satisfied by religion,”4 and on the other hand, of game researcher and designer Ian Bogost’s approach that games may have a spiritually relevant persuasive effect through their procedural representations and interactions rather than through their contents.5 In this chapter, I suggest a ludologically influenced religious studies approach to digital games.6 I am interested in the basic structural elements of games that generate religiously or spiritually relevant experiences in players. As a start, I examine a number of scientific and journalistic publications that, in their discussion of digital games’ effects, not only refer to religious terms, metaphors, and themes, but also provide details about the characteristics of the corresponding ludological structure. I offer a list of criteria to compare the spiritual efficacy of digital games – an essential aspect of the implicit religious potential of games. I then show that this efficacy may be understood and compared in terms of flow, meditation, empowerment, disempowerment, and morality. This catalog becomes the basis for my analysis of The Path, which is followed by a discussion from a religious studies perspective.

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4. Henry Lowood: Archiving and Games

David S. Heineman Indiana University Press ePub

HENRY LOWOOD IS CURATOR FOR THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE & Technology Collections and Film & Media Collections in the Stanford University Libraries and a leading member of the Preserving Digital Worlds initiative funded by the Library of Congress. He has long been an instigator and an innovator in the emerging area of archiving games for historical analysis and has both produced prominent scholarship and taken part in groundbreaking archiving projects that continue to shape how we understand the historical importance of video games.

In 2011 Barwick, Dearnley, and Muir published an essay in Games and Culture that offered an overview and analysis of the most recent efforts in digital game preservation, wherein they concluded, “The preservation of computer games at present is based on imperfect solutions – the collection, storage, and display of computer games and paraphernalia, with arguably the more important issue of preserving gameplay being beset by legal ramifications” (387). These problems persist, they suggest, despite efforts by academic institutions, private and public museums, and state apparatuses to overcome them. Lowood’s work is largely directed toward proposing solutions for these obstacles, something he has accomplished by modeling preservationist and historical research that productively interrogates and successfully navigates a variety of academic, legal, and material concerns.

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6. Avastars: The Encoding of Fame within Sport Digital Games

Thomas P Oates Indiana University Press ePub

Steven Conway

LIONEL MESSI HAS DEVELOPED WELL DURING HIS TIME AS Surreal Madrid’s star striker. He has an overall rating of 98, with an attack and shot accuracy of 99, dribble accuracy and dribble speed of 98, and explosive power of 97. Allied to this are eleven special abilities, such as “incisive run,” “long-range drive,” and “roulette skills” (this refers not to the casino game, but to the skill of pirouetting over a soccer ball to avoid an opponent’s incoming challenge). He has evolved into the definitive “game changer,” as we say in common managerial parlance. My other striker, the 1961 iteration of Brazil’s Pelé, has a host of attributes in the high ’90s with eighteen special abilities. The latest boot technology from Adidas’s Predator range accentuates my strikers’ already extraordinary proficiency; I chose the Predator for its high shot power and swerve ratings over the adiZero’s high acceleration and top speed. After much careful tinkering with my squad’s formation and tactics, I take to the pitch, prematch nerves building in the tunnel. Following a sublime performance, we have annihilated FC Barcelona 4–0 in the semifinal of the Champions League. The intense rivalry between the clubs is well documented by the press, and I am informed postmatch that Surreal Madrid’s loyal fan base is distinctly pleased with the result; we are now an S (super) grade in popularity. This is particularly gratifying news for my scouts, who know that this rating may finally be the key to attracting Cristiano Ronaldo to put pen to paper for Surreal Madrid.

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