DiGRA 2020 and History of Games 2020
As of this past weekend, I’ve had the good fortune to have been accepted into two conferences this summer. I’m super excited, but of course the more things I’m accepted to, the more work there is to do, so I have a busy few months ahead of me.
I have three presentations to give over the course of these two conferences, which are conveniently close enough date-wise that I can go straight from one to the other. Giving talks like this is still extremely nerve-wracking for me, but ultimately really fulfilling. And it’s fantastic to meet so many great people and hear so many interesting talks.
Plus, these two conferences are both not only in cities I’ve never been to, but countries I’ve also never been to, so that’s fantastic.
Assuming Coronavirus doesn’t ruin everything. Fingers crossed.
History of Games 2020, Kraków, Poland (27–29 May)
That Old School Feeling: Processes of Mythmaking in Old School RuneScape
History is not really my comfort zone, but this a topic I’m really interested in and that I really felt someone should write about. The unexpected long-term success of Old School RuneScape arguably set the precedent for games like World of Warcraft Classic and may be seen as the start of a new paradigm in MMORPGs. Its development history is also quite unique: weekly Q&As with the developers, new updates requiring a 75% supermajority of members’ agreement, an explicit disavowal of microtransaction models, and so on, all in a company which has released essentially a competitor to its own game.
In this presentation, I examine the growing trend of long-running MMORPGs releasing ‘classic’ servers alongside the primary, current game. Specifically, I look at the successful example of Old School RuneScape, originally a 2007 backup of RuneScape released in 2013. Despite now having an abundance of new content unfamiliar to the main game, RuneScape 3, to the Old School RuneScape of 2013, and to the 2007 backup of RuneScape 2, Old School RuneScape still centres itself on a notion of being ‘old school’. What does it mean for Old School RuneScape to be ‘old school’? Here, I analyse how players and developers talk about the notion of old school-ness, and how that is embedded into the game’s production practices.
DiGRA 2020, Tampere, Finland (2–6 June)
Can Play Be Mythic?
For this one, I’m jumping into the deep end. ‘Mythic play’ is a concept I’m bouncing around right now, which may form the core of my PhD thesis. Essentially: if we talk about the mythic in games, then what is the role of play?
So this is a very exploratory talk with the intention of throwing this idea out there and seeing what sticks.
What would it mean for play to be ‘mythic’? In this paper, I argue for myth as a framework through which to better understand how games can create meaning in a way that incorporates both constative and performative elements. Within this, the role of play within the process of meaning-making is crucial. Therefore, I advance a notion of ‘mythic play’ as a way of provoking a discussion on this topic. What is play’s relation to myth? I also consider that ritual is often used to bridge this gap between myth and play, and suggest that ritual, rich as a concept though it is, may not be sufficient to understanding the role of play in this frame.
Techno-Giants: The Giant, the Machine and the Human
I wrote my MSc thesis on giants in games, so this paper represents a reworked version of one of those chapters which I think works as a standalone paper.
The relationship between humankind and technology is one that is fundamental to our species. But, for just as long, it has been a source of anxiety and unease. Particularly as it becomes ever more intimate and irrevocable, this relationship questions the limits of humanity. In recent decades, the battleground for these dilemmas has been in robots, cyborgs, androids and so on. In this paper, I draw these threads into conversation with the giant: an age-old figure intertwined with similarly ancient questions on the limits and boundaries of humanity and the ideals of societies. I focus on two examples: the Human-Reaper larva in Mass Effect 2 (BioWare 2010) and Liberty Prime in Fallout 3 and 4 (Bethesda Game Studios 2008; 2015). Although very different in approach, these examples find interesting points of convergence alongside instructive distinctions, while both engaging in a confluence of the giant–human and human–technology relationships.