Jens' Blog Roll

As I'm still working on my Ph.D. dealing with videogame perception in Germany and Australia my blogroll naturally differs from Parker's: It's pretty game heavy probably not as surprising or original. Anyway, here're some of my regularly frequented blogs: Gamepolitics: "Where politics and video games collide". The essential source for legal matters, censorship debates, game legislation issues, politicians' stand on digital games, all things Jack Thomspon and games trying to bring across a message. Well written and easily accessible despite the sometimes demanding subject matter.

Destructoid: Founded by hardcore gaming fans for hardcore gaming fans. Taking itself and the industry not too seriously yet surprisingly insightful, they are not afraid to advance unpopular opinions – out of conviction and not for the attention. Also features a community that is actually able to exchange interesting thoughts without adding too many insults. (One of the few sites whose users didn't threaten to kill my old lecturer and friend Jason Nelson after his project "Game, game, game and again game" got covered)

Screenplay: The Australian authority on digital games and my main resource for Australia related gaming news. Offers good interviews with those involved in the (Australian) industry and keeps a close eye on policy developments. Best enjoyed in combination with Tsumea, one of the main resources for Australian and New Zealand game developers.

Popurls: Technically not a blog but a feed aggregator collecting the latest stories from digg, delicious, reddit, metafiler, stumbleupon, slashdot, wired… Incredibly addictive yet also a great social graph of the web.

Twitter: a whole bunch of microblogs by a whole bunch of smart people.

Since I spend the longest part of my day either reading or writing I try and relate some of the stuff I come across in old-fashioned books to issues that are relevant to blogcampaigning, especially since whatever occurs in the tech/PR/game world are not isolated incidents but imbedded into a social frame, e.g. a post I still would like to work on is how social shopping is an expression of the aesthetization of everyday life caused by a shift of the fundamental semantic of society away from an economic paradigm towards a psycho-physical one… (Parker's note: I'm only letting you write that post if you use regular words)


Digital Games as Social Commentary on Migration

Gamepolitics brought my attention to this interesting PBS website maintaining a collection of games dealing with immigration. I think games are the perfect medium to explore this issue due to the similarities between playing a game and negotiating one's way in a new, alien society: In both cases it's about trying to figure out the rules and stick to them in order to succeed. If you fail you won't be able to finish or enjoy the game respectively slip into the role of a social outcast – with the difference that games will in most cases give you another chance. An arcade game in this connection can even serve as a metaphor for bribery or the fact that money helps to gain social acceptance: As long as you feed the machine with quarters you're allowed to stay.

Due to their simulational nature and their reliance on rules as their core mechanic and defining criterion, games offer fascinating possibilities for cross cultural training and they can also serve to highlight the prejudices migrants or minorities feel in a new environment. Let's say statistics found that the chances of dark skinned emigrants finding a job are 40% lower compared to white people despite them having the same qualifications. This result now could be included as a arbitrary rule in a game dealing with finding a job in their new environment. Arbitrary because not only because it would reflect the different real-life attitudes of people living in this society (prejudiced/ not prejudiced/ not too sure etc.) but also because it can help to built up the frustration a migrant might feel while on the job hunt.

Also it made me think about the assumption that we won't play a game differently just because the tokens changed. Take chess for example, you can play it with the figurines of king and queens but you might as well just play it with different piles of mud. Will this change your overall goal or your style of play? Probably not. But imagine a game of Space Invaders where you as some border patrol officer have to shoot illegal immigrants instead of aliens. Due to the meta-text and intertextuality of the game and the representations in it you might more consciously think about your style of playing (meta-text and intertetuality = the marketing, box art, references to other media, the way the player's character and NPCs are presented and what that entitles etc. – it basically it means games don't exist in a vacuum but within discursive formations of the society they're played in). This of course always depends on your political beliefs and attitudes. Do you see these migrants as intruders who just want your piece of the cake or poor, disadvantaged people who contribute valuable services to society by doing the jobs no one wants to?


Between Paranoia and Discrimination: Racism in Videogames

Via Gamepolitics I came across this piece on the liberal website Alternet. It seems that not only is the upcoming Resident Evil 5 is causing controversy due to being set in some Haitian village where the player has to gun down hordes of black zombies, but now also the almost three year old predecessor is stirring politically correct minds. Writing about the latest movie installment of the game – Resident Evil: Extinction – author Roberto Lovato explains:

As they pack into theaters to watch the blockbuster Resident Evil: Extinction this weekend, moviegoers may first want to play one of the many blockbuster video games on which the film is based. Those that do will likely enter a world… increasingly populated with very dangerous depictions of non-whites.

…last year’s smash-hit Resident Evil 4… places players in the position of fighting parasitically-controlled Spaniards (called “Los Ganados” or “the cattle”) with stereotypical Mexican accents…

And, in what looks like it could be a training video for a white supremacist race war… players of the soon-to-be-released Resident Evil 5 video game are placed in what could be an African country or Haiti as they blow up armies of black zombies.

Where to begin? With the fact that the game was developed in Asia (minorities suppressing minorities – how postmodern!)? That the majority of enemies of the entire franchise are actually white? Etc Etc. Stuff like this is the reason why San Francisco one day will disappear up its own asshole.

On the other hand one shouldn't trifle with the study Lovato cites. While being the only one of this kind, which just shows the inadequate data situation, it nevertheless reveals some interesting facts:

– More than half (56%) of all human characters in this study were white – Nearly every video game hero was white (87%)
– 83% of African American males were cast as competitors in sports-oriented games while most African American females were non-action characters – African American characters were least likely to have realistic responses to violence, only a fraction (15%) exhibited both pain and physical harm – African American characters used the most verbal aggression, screaming, ridicule and insults – In sports games African Americans were most likely to display aggressive behaviours. Nearly eight out of ten African Americans competitors engaged in physical and verbal aggression. African American competitors were the only racial group to use verbal aggression on the field (Glaubke et al., 2001: 25-26).

While stereotypical representation might be problematic I think that messages conveyed via game rules are more troublesome. Think of GTA San Andreas for example. C.J. is at no point forced to engage in a life of crime, but he might as well become a taxi driver to satisfy his everyday needs in forms of food or undertake other adventures such as firefighting, exploring the city by riding his bicycle or just working out at the beach. Though if the player wants to enjoy all the features of the game and explore every bit of its vast landscapes, there‘s no alternative to the mission structure of the overarching plot, seeing the rise of C.J. and his gang through violent means in an environment that doesn‘t offer any alternative to a criminal biography and seems like the fantasy of a white suburban middleclass, where underprivileged blacks lead a far more exciting life due to their “high-risk social status as endangered species“ (Perry).

But then again the GTA-series is also a good example of postmodern enlightenment. Even though it doesn't have any immediate goal or agenda it still shows the individual his place in a totalitarian world. There's always a critical attitude shining through and everything is held together by an anti-authoritarian streak – kind of like the popular, critical social science the Simpsons were committed to before Homer became some sort of crash test dummy.

Also every videogame, or every game for that matter, involves some sort of artificial conflict. Without it there wouldn't be a game and CJ has to necessarily engage in it. If he rose through the ranks of society respectively to the end of the "game" without any sort of (exciting) conflict we would have the world's most boring "entertainment" product at our hands.

So: If minorities are the protagonists of a game the nature of a game itself can easily lend itself to racism (through an artificial conflict and the rules to solve it which is supposed to make an entertaining product), if they're not their representations might be labelled racist (just by the fact that they are depicted as victims) and if they're not in the game at all it's also racist since the composition of society isn't reflected and certain discourses are left out.

Of course they're still more nuances to this problem, e.g. black sport stars swearing more in games etc. which just shows the complexity of the issue. Whatever possible solutions look like it would be desirable to see more diversity in games in the future and more minorities involved in the production of games – which lean themselves trough their simulation nature towards enlightenment about social issues and suppression.