33 Chapters
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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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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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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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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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3. The Global Mediatization of Hinduism through Digital Games: Representation versus Simulation in Hanuman: Boy Warrior Xenia Zeiler

HEIDI CAMPBELL Indiana University Press ePub

Xenia Zeiler

RESEARCH ON DIGITAL GAMES AND RELIGION HAS PRIMARILY concentrated on European and U.S. settings. Asian developments, except the Muslim Middle Eastern contexts of Syria and Palestine, have long been nearly completely overlooked.1 This is even truer when it comes to digital games that are related to Hindu and Buddhist traditions, regions, and audiences. Though in the first decade of the twenty-first century, several aspects of Hindu and Buddhist religions and digital media, namely the internet, began to be increasingly researched, so far this research has not extended to digital games.2 This is surprising since surveys, statistics, and projections on the role and importance of digital games in Asia or for audiences with Asian Hindu or Buddhist backgrounds regularly describe an ever larger percentage of users, as well as rapidly growing markets in the near future.

In this chapter I analyze Hindu deities and narratives in Indian-produced digital games and focus on disclosing negotiations of Hindu authority and identity in gaming contexts. I do so by discussing the first entirely India-developed digital game based on Hindu mythology, Hanuman: Boy Warrior (Aurona Technologies Hyderbad for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, 2009), a console game produced for PlayStation 2. This game has caused heated debate on the appropriateness of incorporating Hindu deities in gaming environments. The debate surrounding the game has focused on the concepts of simulation and performance as opposed to the (pure) representation of Hindu deities, such as Hanuman, who is a major character in the Indian epic Ramayana and is mentioned in other important Hindu scriptures.

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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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7. Hardcore Christian Gamers: How Religion Shapes Evangelical Play · Shanny Luft

HEIDI CAMPBELL Indiana University Press ePub

Shanny Luft

ON THE WEBSITE HARDCORE CHRISTIAN GAMER (HCG), EVANgelicals share their faith as they deliberate over their favorite video games.1 Their religiosity is overt. Members engage in online Bible study, post prayer requests, and share spiritual testimonies with one another. For example, in a discussion forum designated for sharing spiritual testimony, someone wrote of contemplating suicide before finding spiritual and community support in a church. Someone else shared witnessing a church member’s broken leg healed through prayer, and yet another described his spiritual struggle upon learning his brother was gay. Alongside these sincere and personal testimonies of faith, members of HCG converse about their favorite video games, including action games like Assassin’s Creed (Ubisoft, 2007–), role-playing games like Elder Scrolls (Bethesda Softworks, 1994), and first-person military shooters like Halo (Bungie, 2001–2010; 343 Industries, 2011–) and Call of Duty (Activision, 2003–). What many, although not all, of the games discussed on these forums have in common is their overt depictions of violence. In Assassin’s Creed II, for example, the player controls an assassin slaughtering his way through sixteenth-century Italy, dispatching enemies by thrusting swords into their backs, plunging knives through heads, burying axes in skulls, slitting throats, and jamming spears into the spines of his adversaries.

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6. Citing the Medieval: Using Religion as World-Building Infrastructure in Fantasy MMORPGs · Rabia Gregory

HEIDI CAMPBELL Indiana University Press ePub

Rabia Gregory

A BETRAYAL. A CURSE. THE AGE OF STRIFE BEGINS. . . . WARRIORS, heroes, and adventurers begin the restoration. . . . What role will you play? Join the battle for supremacy or let chaos rule. Shadowbane.” This resonant baritone voiceover to the cinematic introduction to Wolfpack’s 2003 massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) lists dualistic clichés of fantasy role-playing games as the camera pans over scenes of armed three-dimensional male bodies engaged in combat, shooting arrows, casting spells, wielding siege engines, and arguing over strategy at campaign tables. As the only opportunity for cinematic narrative in the game, this opening video informs each new player that the game loading on their screen offers more than the realistic mechanics of premodern warfare. The conflict they are about to join is purposeful, each player a participant in a tragic battle originating in religious violence, which will frame their game experience as part of a war-torn world’s history. The cutscene’s camera slowly pans over the runes etched on the blade of a bloody sword thrust into the shattered trunk of a dying tree, capturing a moment of tragic betrayal when Cambruin, a mighty human king, was transfixed to the World Tree. As his blood ran down the tree’s trunk, the Shadowbane blade petrified the tree, shattering creation.

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2. Chris Melissinos: Art and Video Games

David S. Heineman Indiana University Press ePub

IN HIS YEARS AT SUN MICROSYSTEMS, CHRIS MELISSINOSS official title was, in part, that of an “evangelist,” a role associated with street preaching, door knocking, dogmatism, and conversion. Those who hired him for the position of “chief evangelist and chief gaming officer” were no doubt themselves initially taken aback by his infectious enthusiasm for technology and, specifically, for video games. Talking about his time at Sun some years later, in an interview addressing the opening of the exhibition The Art of Video Games that he curated for the Smithsonian Art Museum, Melissinos reflected on having the opportunity to express his hope for technology’s future while at a Java Developers conference in 2009. “I made the point that technology is wonderful, and it gives us the opportunity to do many things, however none of it matters if we don’t find the humanity in it” (Bednarz).

If The Art of Video Games attempted to argue one thing, it is that a productive route to finding the humanity in technology is to approach that technology as an art form. Melissinos’s exhibit made a strong case that video games in particular might be understood as the work of artists who skillfully write beautiful code on the constrained canvas of a particular platform, who design experiences that provoke complex thoughts and actions from their audiences, or who merge existing art forms (music, illustration, acting, and more) into a novel expression of humanity.

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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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1. Nolan Bushnell: Learning from the Past

David S. Heineman Indiana University Press ePub

NOLAN BUSHNELL IS THE PERSON MOST OFTEN ASSOCIATED with the origins of video games as a commercial enterprise. His list of “firsts” in the industry reads like an outline for the study of early gaming history: he created both the first commercial arcade game (Computer Space) and the first commercially successful one (Pong); he was a founding partner of the first wildly successful video game company, Atari; and he was instrumental in developing and curating content for arcades in both its “golden age” and in its “Chuck E. Cheese era,” named for the gaming-themed chain of family restaurants that he created. Though video games’ earliest beginnings would predate the launch of Atari by almost thirty years, their migration out of university computer laboratories and student unions coincided with Bushnell’s emergence as a shrewd evangelist of their potential to capture both a wider audience’s attention and, importantly, their coins.

Bushnell’s enthusiasm for games started early. He was one of the fortunate few who had the opportunity to play Spacewar! on the PDP-1 with the game’s creator, Steve Russell, an experience that Bushnell recalls as “mesmerizing.” “I spent every minute I could in that computer lab” (Bushnell in Melissinos and O’Rourke 24). He has been a longtime advocate of games that are centered on repayable, challenging mechanics over those that feature bloat, spectacle, and easy titillation.1 His influential perspective on game design was succinctly explained in 1971: “All the best games are easy to learn and difficult to master. They should reward the first quarter and the hundredth.” Recently, he has suggested that his “great hope” for such game design principles “is that video game methodology has an ability to communicate with young minds in an amazing way” (Bushnell in Melissinos and O’Rourke 25).

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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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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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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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