RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017

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76 Geographies of digital games (1)
Affiliation Digital Geographies Working Group
Convenor(s) Nick Rush-Cooper (Durham University, UK)
Chair(s) Nick Rush-Cooper (Durham University, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 30 August 2017, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 119
Session abstract Computer, video, mobile and digital games are fundamentally geographical: They are sites of social relation, spaces of exploration and agency, affective experiences and are developed through globalised and globalising technologies and networks. This session seeks to stimulate debate on digital games as sites and objects of geographical enquiry by bringing together papers that examine games, players and the games industry by asking ‘how are games geographical’? These sessions offer a broad approach to games as sites, objects, experiences and flows. Key questions covered include: How might we attend to the embodied, affective and non-representational aspects of games and game playing (Ash 2012)? How might games be understood as social spaces & how might we understand agency and subjectivity in game-playing? What are the global economic and labour geographies of the games industry? Often aligned with colonial, militarised geopolitics (Graham 2010, Shaw 2010) yet also used for critique and contestation, how might we understand games as sites of political representation and agency? By bringing together diverse empirical and theoretical responses focused on games as objects and sites of enquiry, this session will offer a consideration of digital games in their specificity and the challenges and opportunities they present for geographical study.
Linked Sessions Geographies of digital games (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2017@rgs.org
Nick Rush-Cooper (Durham University, UK)
Heroes without organs? A Deleuze-Guattarian approach to understanding digital corporeality in computer games
Carl Olsson (Lund University, Sweden)
Adequate theorisation of the nature of digital space is vital to the emerging geographies of games. However, questions concerning the status and identity of digital corporeality – the body being one of the principal scales of geographic inquiry – has been insufficiently theorised within the discipline. I attend to this by examining the morphogenesis and identity of player character bodies in themselves, drawing on Action Role-Playing Games. The analysis is informed by a conceptual framework derived from the joint work of Deleuze and Guattari in the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1984; 1988), and DeLanda’s (2002; 2006) formulation of a systematic ‘assemblage theory’. Departing from a comparison of character creation and progression systems between several Action Role-Playing Game titles from the past two decades, player characters are shown to be comprised of heterogeneous elements working in conjunction. The body is conceived as a site of identity formation on which functions stemming from abilities, attributes, and equipment are inscribed as a character is reshaped through gradual progression. I suggest that characters can be suitably theorised by employing Deleuze’s concept of a ‘Body without Organs’ (1990), elucidating how they are composed of diverse, stratified systems joined together in an open-ended totality. Finally, I argue that a Deleuze-Guattarian framework may further our understanding of digital bodies and spaces in general, as we face rapid developments in virtual reality technologies.
Real cities, imagined ruins: encounters with abandoned places in video games
Emma Fraser (The University of Manchester, UK)
Clancy Wilmott (The University of Manchester, UK)
Based upon fieldwork conducted in 2015, this paper discusses the ways in which game geographies produce space - through the image and embodied or affective encounters, especially in relation to urban ruinscapes in games.

The urban geographies of The Last of Us, and Fallout 3 and 4, though digital or virtual in nature (Ash et al. 2016), are charted from their everyday, material forms. The re-imagined cities are oriented along the axes of buildings and city blocks, notable landmarks and transport hubs – much like the cities upon which they are modeled. As three dimensional game spaces based on real-world architectures, such games engage in a feedback between the gameworld (Gazzard 2011; Giddings 2014) and the cities themselves.

Conversely, exploration through gameplay facilitates the demarcation and navigation of an imagined territory, structuring in-game spatiality through the performative potential of “the spaces that images themselves produce”, and the affective materiality of that space (Ash 2009 p. 2105-2106). Further, urban ruination subverts everyday urban experience through disrupting normative spatial orders (Edensor 2005). Thus, guided by in-game experience, a player/walker can explore real-world cities, in real time, encountering them in a revolutionary form through the spatially produced, yet ruinous, counter-spectacle of the game (Debord 1970).

Using short examples from Boston, Washington and Pittsburg, this paper gives an account of knowing a city through its imagined digital ruins, understanding the gameworld through the spatiality of the ruin-image, and considering the methodological and theoretical challenges of play between real and virtual, between image and space.
Playbour and the Cuteness Factor
Joyce Goggin (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
It is often assumed that videogames offer a sensation of “complete freedom of movement” (Die By the Sword, 1998), or a ludic experience that affords players a hiatus from the drudgery and boredom of work. In game studies, however, the concept of “playbour” has been coined to describe the practice of earning one’s living in videogames as well as the merging of play and labour in gameplay. This paper addresses the progressive erosion of the division between work and play in videogames, and the increasing permeability of what has previously been conceptualized as a sharp distinction between play/work, leisure/labour and the sensorial experience thereof. In doing so, I will draw particularly on the emerging field of cuteness studies and suggest ways in which various games rely on the capacity of cuteness to act as what ethologist Konrad Lorenz called an “innate releasing mechanism” (1943) or an instinctive desire in human beings to care for cute objects and beings with neotenous features. I will also draw on the work of César Albarrán Torres to discuss the role of cuteness in inducing sensory engagement in players, which in turn often becomes a sort of laborious addiction in and of itself.
Towards a Virtual Sense of Place: Exploring ‘Walking Simulator’ Video Games
Jack Lowe (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
Over the past five years, a trend in the design of narrative video games has developed whereby gameplay is based on the purposeful exploration of intricate virtual environments. Commonly termed ‘walking simulators’, these games avoid many traditional game mechanics – such as win/loss conditions and complex control systems – in favour of presenting worlds that evoke emotionally impactful stories when navigated. According to Carbó-Mascarell (2016), walking simulators represent a digitisation of the Romantic and psychogeographical traditions of exploration as aesthetic practice, in which walking is said to foster a sense of place by inducing a mindful connection with the (hi)stories and affective potentials of locations. Yet the subjective relationships between people and locations that are associated with the notion of place in geography have eluded conceptualisation in virtual settings. Using insights from the autoethnographic playing of 12 video games tagged as ‘walking simulators’, and semi-structured interviews with game developers involved in their production, this presentation discusses the extent to which practices of design and play can enable a sense of place to be experienced in walking simulator games. Invoking post-structural, non-representational and psychogeographical approaches to understanding place, this discussion charts how the interactive, embodied and aesthetic qualities of designing and playing walking simulators can create hybrid, contingent moments of meaning-making in virtual worlds. I use these observations to point towards the conception of a post-phenomenological sense of place in video game environments: an emergent intersubjectivity of human and technological agents through which affects and percepts assemble to generate meaning.