Designing Games to become a Cultural Phenomenon
This symposium brought together two presentations, one on Fortnite and one DOTA 2, in order to address the discourses of responsible game design and gamblification. In the case of Fortnite, much of the discourse focuses on the vulnerability of children, as opposed to the representation of DOTA 2 as premier Esport, supported by a robust community of responsible adult consumers. The overarching goal of this symposium is to contrast discussions of gamblification in games, scale and free to play event structure in order to highlight disjunctures in discussions concerning children, teens and adults.
Katherina Boucher | Fortnite: A critical Analysis
From 2018 to 2020, the videogame Fortnite by Epic Games gathered a lot of media attention, and a lot of this media attention was not particularly positive. From articles outlining how some children had spent incredible amounts of money on the game to how others had neglected going to the bathroom, the game was being depicted as problematic and addictive by many news outlets and celebrities. This paper analyzes the Fortnite phenomenon to try to find an answer as to why this game particularly became so popular, and what informs the discourse about addiction surrounding it. The paper specifically looks at the media panic theory and links it with Fortnite, but also looks at previous research that situated Fortnite as a space more than a game, and a space designed specifically for teenagers for whom children content is not quite suitable anymore, but for whom adult content is not yet for. Finally, it criticizes the lack of research around Fortnite, when the literature points a lot at the importance of knowledge around Fortnite for its players. This research examined play in the game, but also looked at its social media presence.
Andrei Zanescu | DOTA 2, the International & Mega-Event Design
Over the past few years, research on the gamblification of DOTA 2 (Zanescu, Lajeunesse & French, 2020) has been a starting point for the study of the imbrication of gambling from which to consider games more broadly. Theorization of gamblification has singled out battle passes (a recurring subscription model), found in games as service, as a key mechanism of these processes (Zanescu, French & Lajeunesse, 2021; Joseph, 2021). Although the battle pass subscription model has become a preferred mode of designing gamblified ecosystems, there is little written on how battle passes function in the larger context of organized esports. This presentation discusses the esports event structure of the International (the premier DOTA 2 competitive event), its production values and the state of exception which it brings about relative to the seasonal flow of the battle pass. This kind of state is found elsewhere, such as the Olympic games (Boyle, 2012), but it takes on a specific tone when it is scaffolded by habituation technologies like battle passes. Our aim here is to draw attention to the multiple temporal and social layers that constitute the free to play space in DOTA 2, which support and strengthen its platform features.
Feeling Risky?: Meaning, Embodiment, and Edgework in Gam(bl)ing Spaces
The talks by our team members Dr. Erin Lynch and Pierre-Olivier Jourdenais explored the concept of risk in relation to gaming and gambling, through the lenses of edgework and sensory ethnography.
Pierre-Olivier Jourdenais: This presentation examines how gamers describe their experiences of playing games in permadeath mode, where the death of their character effectively ends their game. These experiences will be theorized through the conceptual lens of edgework, noting some of its limitations as well as how it can be adapted to develop an understanding of permadeath play, and a critique of games user research literature. Edgework, defined by Stephen Lyng as when individuals engage in voluntary risk-taking as a form of boundary negotiation to gain emotional rewards, assumed risk to be tied to one’s physical reality; the risk in edgework was physical, or pertained to one’s material existence. But as our worlds move further online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the boundaries between physical and virtual reality find themselves blurred, and thus what is defined as dangerous or risky is as well. Through an analysis of screenshots, strategy guides and Reddit forum posts regarding some of the themes found in the turn-based tactics video game XCOM 2, I propose a critique of edgework both from the macro sociological theories of risk as well as from the psychological perceptions of risk prevalent in games user research literature. I suggest that what is deemed and perceived as being risky from the part of the gamer is the meaningfulness associated with the gaming experience, and not the type of risk at play. But, as games are constructed by game designers and game researchers to be maximally meaningful for players, this raises questions pertaining to the thin and ambiguous line between making meaningful versus addictive games, and whether edgework in the context of intense video game experiences can truly be deemed to be voluntary risk-taking threading the boundaries between order and chaos, or life and death.
Erin Lynch: There have been sensory murmurings in critical and cultural criminology for some time. An attention to the sensual has underpinned feminist criminologies on landscapes of fear, but it has also informed scholarship on risk-taking, where cultural criminologists have responded to the call for a “criminology of the skin” using the embodied practices of edgework. Notably, Jeff Ferrell (and other cultural criminologists) have also championed the notion of criminological verstehen, which embraces voluntary risk-taking as a method to “get inside” the immediacy and situated experience of crime – a kind of ethnography as edgework. The embodied experience of taking a risk has thus emerged as both object and ethos of some of cultural criminology’s more multisensuous offerings. I argue that taking a cue from cultural criminology’s embodied approach – and its insistence that the meanings we make around risk are both corporeal and co-produced – might help gambling studies better make sense of the fraught atmospherics of risky gameplay. After all, the sensory marketing of casinos and gambling spaces at once trades on the idea that gambling feels like taking a risk (with games designed to “keep you on the edge of your seat” or “reeling with excitement” as “your heart skips a beat”) while at the same time curating sensory atmospheres and interfaces in which the act of risk-taking may become routine and is often rebranded as “all part of the fun.” This talk will explore how a sensory ethnographic approach to gambling spaces can offer insight into both the playfulness and routinization of (techno-mediated) risk taking in these spaces. It will also examine the marketing and enduring allure of “feeling risky” as part of the broader experience economy.
Risky Times: Studying Risk Environments during COVID-19
Maraika Black, Rebecca Aberra and Dr. Colin Hastings discussed the challenges of conducting research amidst a global pandemic.
Rebecca Aberra presented her research about epigenetics, risk, risk profiling ant the sociological implications of genetic risk assessment, specifically for alcohol dependence.
Maraika Black shared her research about recreational gambling among elderly populations, and the methodological challenges that arose with the pandemic.
Colin Hastings presented his research on the treatment of health surveillance and criminal law and brought up questions about the classification of subjects as risky.