33 Chapters
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9. The Importance of Playing in Earnest · Rachel Wagner

HEIDI CAMPBELL Indiana University Press ePub

Rachel Wagner

THE ERROR PEOPLE TEND TO MAKE THE MOST IN THINKING about games and religion is to assume that the primary opposition at work is the idea that religion is “serious” whereas games are “fun.” I propose that a more accurate distinction is between being earnest as opposed to being insincere in one’s engagement with the ordered world views that religions and games can evoke. The importance of constructing systems or worlds of order into which people may willingly enter is a key feature of both religions and games. The greatest offense in both experiences is to break the rules, that is, to become an apostate, an infidel, a cheater, or a trifler, to fail to uphold the principal expectations about how to inhabit that particular experience’s world view. To fail in being earnest in following the rules is to cause a disruption of order, a breach in the cosmos-crafting activity that both games and religion can provide. Of course, not all experiences of religious practice and gameplay will fit this definition, but many of them do. This, I propose, is a fundamental similarity between religion and games, generally speaking: both are, at root, order-making activities that offer a mode of escape from the vicissitudes of contemporary life, and both demand, at least temporarily, that practitioners give themselves over to a predetermined set of rules that shape a world view and offer a system of order and structure that is comforting for its very predictability. While it is true that games offer such ordered worlds on a temporary basis and religion attempts to make universal claims to such rule-based systems, the root impulse of entering into ordered space reveals a deep kinship between religion and games that is startling and evocative.

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5. Domesticating Sports: The Wii, the Mii, and Nintendo’s Postfeminist Subject

Thomas P Oates Indiana University Press ePub

Renee M. Powers and Robert Alan Brookey

IN 2005 NINTENDO BEGAN RELEASING INFORMATION ABOUT their next console, code-named “Revolution.” The reception from the video game press was rather mixed. Ryan Block, covering Nintendo’s introduction of the Revolution at the 2005 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) for the tech blog Engadget, had this to say: “The Revolution is a really unsexy device, all things considered – but it is a prototype, and [Nintendo] did hammer home that they want input from their adoring public. This may also just prove that Nintendo is serious when they say they don’t care about the hardware as much as they do about the gaming experience. They had to show something, and they did. It didn’t hurt them, it didn’t help them.” Mark Casamassina, writing for IGN, provided a more positive assessment: “At E3 2005, Nintendo unveiled the Revolution console. It is the company’s sleekest unit to date. The tiny-sized system is designed to be quiet and affordable. The revolutionary aspect of the machine – its input device – remains a secret.”1 Yet even Casamassina noted how the new console broke with industry tradition by not incorporating significant technological advances in graphic capability.

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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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3. Eugene Jarvis: Games and Design

David S. Heineman Indiana University Press ePub

AS LONG AS VIDEO GAMES HAVE BEEN A COMMERCIAL MEDIUM, they have appeared in arcades. Their success there has waxed and waned over the decades, and for much of the past fifteen years the arcade business has seen most game studios ceasing production of coin-op games, have witnessed more arcades shuttering their doors than opening them, and have seen their historical role as a primary driver of industry trends shifted toward a contemporary role as a niche part of the video game landscape.

Eugene Jarvis, for all intents and purposes, is the “last man standing” in the arcade business in the United States. Jarvis cut his teeth programming classic Williams arcade games like Defender and Robotron 2084 before working on popular titles like Smash TV and the Cruis’n series for Midway in the 1990s. The company he founded in 2001, Raw Thrills, Inc., is the only U.S. game developer regularly producing new arcade titles. In recent years they have produced arcade cabinets related to the Fast and Furious film franchise, the Terminator franchise, and the Batman films and have developed several original properties such as the Big Buck Hunter series. They have found success in placing their machines in Wal-Marts and truck stops and in bars and restaurants, as well as in many other locations outside of the traditional arcade space.

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12. They Kill Mystery: The Mechanistic Bias of Video Game Representations of Religion and Spirituality · Kevin Schut

HEIDI CAMPBELL Indiana University Press ePub

Kevin Schut

THE VIDEO GAME MEDIUM IS IDEALLY SUITED TO REPRESENT one aspect of religion: the experience of being a god. Game after game gifts players with supernatural powers. From Dust (Ubisoft, 2011) has players take the role of a Polynesian deity that protects The People mostly via reshaping entire islands. The title character of Bayonetta (Platinum Games, 2009) is a witch who can take on and destroy the forces of heaven. The Sims (Maxis, 2000) series of games goes small-scale and gives players the power of a local deity to micro-manage practically all aspects of an individual’s life. But such power fantasies, in the end, represent a rather limited engagement with religion. Imagining what it is like to be a god is an interesting thought experiment, but it does not really get to the heart of the meaning and practice of religion – at least from the perspective of religious adherents. Finding games that really deal with the internal experience of faith and its sociocultural impact is somewhat more difficult, but such games do exist. Historical simulations examine the role of religion in the building of empires, and narrative games engage religion on a wide range of levels. Books like Detweiler’s Halos and Avatars and Wagner’s Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality indicate that scholars are also starting to note the religious implications of both mainstream, big-budget video games and the smaller set of clearly religious games.

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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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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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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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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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9. Jamie Dillion: Gamers, Community, and Charity

David S. Heineman Indiana University Press ePub

SINCE 2003, THE CHILDS PLAY CHARITY HAS RAISED MORE than twenty-five million dollars in efforts to purchase new video games, game consoles, and other toys for patients in children’s hospitals. The organization was founded by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, the creators of the wildly popular Penny Arcade webcomic, a three-day-a-week strip that is primarily based on skewering tabletop and video games, game culture, and related topics. The organization’s press kit explains its origins: “In response to the media’s negative portrayal of gamers, the pair called for the gaming community to donate to Seattle Children’s Hospital during the holiday season” (Child’s Play). The charity’s program coordinator and developer is Jamie Dillion, who oversees many of the day-to-day operations for the organization and often represents it in the press.

Though Child’s Play is not the first charitable organization created primarily for gamers, it is certainly the most successful. Every year the organization engages in Web-based holiday-season fund-raising efforts, holds memorabilia auctions and other fund-raising events, offers workshops and presentations at the various Penny Arcade Expos, and otherwise raises the profile of the charity through efforts at publicity. The 501(c)(3) organization is relatively small in its actual staffing and organization, but it has a large amount of leaders in hundreds of “local” game communities (mostly online instead of geographically situated) that it works with to best coordinate fund-raising efforts. This means that Dillion is in a somewhat unique position of being able to observe the similarities and differences in how various pockets of game culture (and various gaming communities) approach a similar objective: fund-raising.

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4. Silent Hill and Fatal Frame: Finding Transcendent Horror in and beyond the Haunted Magic Circle · Brenda S. Gardenour Walter

HEIDI CAMPBELL Indiana University Press ePub

Brenda S. Gardenour Walter

ON A RAINY AFTERNOON IN A SLEEPY, MIDDLE-CLASS AMERICAN town, seventeen-year-old Heather Mason visits an aging shopping mall on an errand for her father. Walking through the main entrance, Heather is transported to the horrifying town of Silent Hill, where the mall has become a monster-infested and blood-soaked nightmare. Descending through the strange worlds of Silent Hill, Heather crosses through several haunted circles, including a derelict hospital with a filthy, mirrored storeroom where she sees herself invaded by bloody tendrils and consumed by decomposing walls. Her consciousness raw from terror, she finally reaches Silent Hill’s rotten core where she must master the perverse rituals of a religious cult called “the Order” and use them in battle against their unholy and half-formed god. Thousands of miles away, a young woman named Miku Hinasaki searches for her brother in the fabled Himuro mansion high in the hills above Tokyo. Stepping across its decrepit threshold, she enters a haunted sphere, a foggy realm ruled by the angry dead, ancient curses, and long-forgotten Shinto rituals for the binding and loosening of hell. As a horrified Miku performs each arcane rite, she descends to Himuro’s most sacred circle, that of the Strangling Ritual. There, she not only witnesses the dismembering of the Shrine Maiden, but also faces the maiden’s vengeful ghost in a battle for her sanity and her brother’s freedom. In this chapter, I will explore supernatural horror in the ritualistic game worlds of Silent Hill and Fatal Frame and argue that by entering these horrific magic circles, both Western and Japanese players experience terror, abjection, and ultimately, religious transcendence.

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7. Keeping It Real: Sports Video Game Advertising and the Fan-Consumer

Thomas P Oates Indiana University Press ePub

Cory Hillman and Michael L. Butterworth

IN THE UNITED STATES, FEW, IF ANY, CULTURAL ACTIVITIES, products, or experiences are immune to the often unrestrained hands of commercialism, marketing, and advertising in the ambitious and overzealous pursuit of audiences and consumers. Sports are especially subject to these conditions, evidenced by the following examples: advertisers spent approximately $10.9 billion on national sports broadcasts between the final quarter of 2010 through September 2011; NBC paid the International Olympic Committee $2.2 billion to broadcast the 2010 and 2012 Winter and Summer Olympics; CBS and Turner Broadcasting agreed to pay nearly $11 billion to the NCAA for the rights to the annual men’s college basketball tournament. Divisional realignment in college football has also been stimulated by the desire to create “megaconferences” in the chase for lucrative television packages with major networks, and the NCAA’s decision to determine its national champion of college football’s Football Bowl Subdivision with a four-team playoff beginning in 2014 came with estimates that the tournament could be worth as much as $6 billion.1 Meanwhile, fans spent $3.2 billion on Major League Baseball (MLB) team merchandise in 2011, marking an 8.1 percent increase from the previous season, and the typical NFL fan spends approximately $60 on apparel, snacks, and other merchandise during the week of the Super Bowl.2

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5. From Kuma\War to Quraish: Representation of Islam in Arab and American Video Games · Vít Šisler

HEIDI CAMPBELL Indiana University Press ePub

Vít Šisler

VIDEO GAMES INCREASINGLY RECREATE REAL-WORLD EVENTS and spaces, making tangible connections to the outside world. In doing so, they use real people, places, and cultures as their referents, opening new forms of representation.1 Since 9/11 there has been an increase in video games, mainly first-person shooters, produced in the United States and dealing with the representation of the Middle East, Islam, and Muslims.2 For example, in the popular Kuma\War (Kuma Reality Games, 2004), players can “replay” missions from the real military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. These missions navigate players through Iraqi and Afghani cities, including many Muslim holy sites and mosques. They also feature Sunni and Shia Muslim characters, who are portrayed mostly as enemies in the narrative framework of insurgency, international terrorism, and religious fundamentalism.3

Simultaneously, many video game producers in the Muslim world have started to produce their own games dealing directly with the representation of Islam and Muslims. By doing so, they attempt, first, to provide their audiences with more culturally relevant representations and, second, to educate the outside world about Islam and Muslim culture.4 For example, the Syrian real-time strategy game Quraish (Afkar Media, 2007) allows the player to witness the origin of Islam and “replay” key battles from its early history, including the defeats of the Iranian Sassanid Empire and the Byzantine Empire. Although Quraish and Kuma\War similarly use what Ian Bogost in Persuasive Games calls the “expressive power of video game[s],” the images of Islam and Muslims these games offer are significantly different.5

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8. Filtering Cultural Feedback: Religion, Censorship, and Localization in Actraiser and Other Mainstream Video Games · Peter Likarish

HEIDI CAMPBELL Indiana University Press ePub

Peter Likarish

USERS DONT ALWAYS PLAY THE SAME GAME. TWO GAMERS rush home with copies of a recent entry in their favorite fighting game series, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi (Atari, 2007). One lives in Japan, the other in the United States. Both tear open the packaging, choose their favorite character, and start fighting others from the television series. In numerous bouts with Vegita, Goku, and other popular characters, the game experience is nearly identical aside from the language displayed on the screen. Then, a strange thing happens. Both recognize their next opponent from the Dragon Ball Z television series, but the U.S. player faces off against Hercule, while the Japanese player fights Mr. Satan. Or the two may be adventuring in the classic role-playing game Earthbound (Nintendo, 1995). Their characters have been gravely wounded and both head toward a big white building with numerous windows. The Japanese player sees the nearly universal Red Cross symbol next to the Japanese kanji for hospital. The American’s character approaches the same building in the same location. The word “Hospital” is still emblazoned on the building, but the cross is gone. In each case, the two purchased the same game. The vast majority of the content is the same. What accounts for the differences?

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6. Kellee Santiago: Independent Game Development

David S. Heineman Indiana University Press ePub

THE LAST DECADE OF VIDEO GAMING HAS BEEN MARKED BY THE rise of the “independent,” or “indie,” game. Enabled by the broader penetration of broadband into homes and by the creation of digital distribution networks on major gaming platforms (for example, Valve’s Steam on the PC, Sony’s PlayStation Network, Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade, Nintendo’s eShop, and others), game developers who work alone or in small teams have found new audiences and revenue sources for their work. Though most of these games have been relatively modest in their origins, some of them have found widespread commercial and critical success, success that has often prompted large publishers to scoop up promising or proven independent studios.1 Such was the case with thatgamecompany, a studio founded by USC alums Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago that was contracted with Sony Computer Entertainment to develop games exclusively for their platform.

In Santiago’s time with the studio (she left in 2012), the game that was probably thatgamecompany’s crowning achievement was Journey, a PlayStation Network title that received widespread critical acclaim (winning multiple “game of the year” awards from various press outlets and industry panels) and offered an emotional experience that many found both compelling and novel. In fact, in a brief review of the game I wrote for a game-related webzine, I suggested that the game “stands as a testament to the potential of the medium of gaming to produce something remarkable, artistic, universal, and beautiful.” Like many other commentators on the game, I attributed its success in large part to the creative freedom that came from developing a game with a small, independent team.

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