Modern Games: Institutions and the Colonization of Indeterminacy

The Department of Music, Art and Culture Studies and the Department of History and Ethnology at the University of Jyväskylä present

A lecture by Thomas Malaby (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)

Friday 12 April 2019, 11:00 am – 12:15 pm

University of Jyväskylä, Musica, Building M, Boombox, Seminaarinkatu 15, Finland 40014

Taking inspiration from Weber’s recognition of the relationship between fortune and meaning, in this talk I sketch the path of games under modernity, tracing how this cultural form has transformed from something quite unruly for modern institutions into something they have begun to domesticate. At the same time, I contemplate modernity itself as characterized by the rise of game-like systems, by the contrived and legitimate indeterminacy that characterizes games. On this view, the increased prominence and use of games, especially those that are digitally mediated, is consonant, I suggest, with a particular thread of classical liberal thought as well as raising ethical questions of governance. If any game is in important respects understandable as a domain of contrived contingency that, if done well, is compelling, then the creators and sponsors of games today are in a quite powerful position to architect contingent experiences for us that can generate meanings and subjectivities, and those in accordance with the interest of certain projects. In both familiar and new ways, then, digital games and game-like processes raise questions about ethics and public policy.

A picture of Thomas Malaby.

Thomas Malaby is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His research interest is in the ever-changing relationships among institutions, unpredictability, and technology, especially as they are realized through games and game-like processes. He has published numerous and widely cited works on the status of games in human experience. Dr. Malaby’s work suggests that the increasing use of digital games by institutions marks a fundamental transition in modern governance. His most recent book, Making Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life (2009, Cornell University Press), is an ethnographic examination of a San Francisco high tech firm.

The lecture will be followed by a seminar on “Ritual, Bureaucracy, and Games” with Dr. Malaby and researchers from the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies at 1 pm. Contact Dr. Aleena Chia at for details.

This is a free event and open to all – no registration required. Please feel free to share this with anyone who may be interested in attending.

The recorded lecture can be viewed online.

Resisting the perpetual update (new publication)

Jan Švelch, a postdoctoral researcher in CoE GameCult, has published article “Resisting the perpetual update: Struggles against protocological power in video games” in New Media & Society. Here’s the abstract:

This article explores the evolution of video game updates and patches from a mechanism of customer support to a tool of control over the way games are played in the ecosystem of digital gaming platforms. It charts a historical trajectory across various cultural industries, including literary publishing, screen industries, and music, to show a shift from multiplicity of editions to one perpetually updated contingent commodity. Focusing on the issues of power and control enabled by the always-online platforms, the analysis shows that previously updating was often voluntary. However, now players must actively resist patches if they wish to play the game on their own terms. As illustrated by three case studies of update resistance, developers, publishers, and platform holders wield protocological power, which can be successfully opposed—although the outcome often remains localized and tends to alter a specific iteration of protocol and not the underlying infrastructure.

More at: .

CoE presents OASIS Lunch Time Talk series

The CoE in Game Culture Studies proudly presents a series of OASIS Lunch Time Talks! These talks will take place in Tampere during the spring 2019.

See you in OASIS!


Thursdays, 12-13, Tampere University City Center Campus, OASIS (Pinni B, 2nd floor)

21.2. Tom Apperley, The Gamer Logic of “Selfies are Avatars”: Toxic Masculinity and James Franco’s Strategic Vulnerability

7.3. Sabine Harrer, Intimate Games: Queering the Conventional Mouse Controller for Cooperative Play

14.3. Jan Švelch, Resisting Patches & Updates: Struggles against Protocological Power in Video Games

28.3. Dale Leorke, Games and Play in the City (postponed to a future date)

4.4. Brendan Keogh (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane), Understanding the Australian Videogame Field through Formal, Informal, and Embedded Gamemakers

11.4. Jussi Holopainen (Games Computing, University of Lincoln) and Andrew Westerside (School of Fine and Performance Arts, University of Lincoln), Sense of Place in Videogames: Case Red Dead Redemption

25.4. Marleena Huuhka, Performing the Anthropocene in Video Games (canceled)

2.5 Pauliina Raento, Title to be added

People start playing Pokémon GO because of the franchise and fandom, but stay to catch ‘em all

Alha, K., Koskinen, E., Paavilainen, J., & Hamari, J. (2019) Why do people play location-based augmented reality games: A study on Pokémon GO. Computers in Human Behavior. 93, 114-122.

Pokémon GO’s unforeseen success brought location-based games into the attention of both media and the game industry. To understand why people play location-based games, specifically Pokémon GO, we created an online survey (n=2612) with open questions about the reasons to start, continue, and quit playing Pokémon GO, and composed categories of the answers through a thematic analysis.

The reported reasons to adopt the game were categorized into previous experiences, interest, social influence, popularity, positivity, technology, situation, keeping up, social features, mechanics, and the nature of the game. The most common reasons from these were earlier experiences especially with the Pokémon franchise and fandom. The starting reasons were not associated with how much the players played the game after adoption.

Progression, situation, positivity, game mechanics, social features, social influence, interest, expectations, nature of the game, previous experiences, keeping up, and technology were the categorized reasons to continue playing the game. Progressing was clearly the most frequently reported reason to continue playing, whether trying to collect all of the Pokémon, advancing in the game, or reaching personal goals. Continuance reasons were more clearly associated with playing frequency than the reasons to start playing. Progressing in the game had the strongest correlation to playing frequency, whereas technology was negatively associated, indicating that the novelty of the technology might wear off quickly.

The player’s situation, various problems, shortcomings, poor game mechanics, slow or difficult progression, the nature of the game, changes, the company behind the game, and social influence were mentioned as reasons for quitting the game. From these, the player’s personal situation outside the game and playability problems as a whole were the most significant reasons to quit the game.

Based on our findings, utilizing well-known brands and IP in their games is important especially in location-based alternative reality games. Games that utilize novel technology usually have a higher threshold for adoption, hence familiar characters, themes, and concepts lower the barrier of entry. For retention purposes, focus on versatile progression mechanics is important, as it was the most common reason to continue playing. On the other hand, slow progression was the second most common reason to quit the game, further underlining the importance of good progression mechanics. Lastly, the design quality in the form of playability should be a high priority as problems related to functionality, usability, and gameplay mechanics were common reasons to quit the game.

Our study complements the earlier research on the topic, and found new, important motivations for playing or quitting the game. These reasons should be taken into account when further studying and designing location-based alternative reality games. After exploratory studies have revealed the key reasons for playing, these categories can now be transformed into variables, and used and verified through quantitative studies.

Want to read more? Go see:

Alha, K., Koskinen, E., Paavilainen, J., & Hamari, J. (2019) Why do people play location-based augmented reality games: A study on Pokémon GO. Computers in Human Behavior. 93, 114-122.

Vedonlyöjä riskinhallinnan asiantuntijana

Dosentti Pauliina Raento on johtavia rahapelikulttuurin tutkimuksen asiantuntijoita ja hän on aloittanut tammikuussa 2019 tutkimustyön Pelikulttuurien tutkimuksen huippuyksikössä. Hän esiintyi Tieteen päivät 2019 -tapahtumassa “Riippuvuuden rajalla” -sessiossa otsikolla “Vedonlyöjä riskinhallinnan asiantuntijana” – alustuksen tallenne on katsottavissa alta:

A novel method for measuring players’ gameplay preferences

Understanding why people play games and participate in different kinds of gameful and playful activities has been a major vein of research in the overlap of game studies, media psychology, computer science and information systems science. While many models have been developed for measuring motivations to play, only a few studies have focused on understanding why players choose a particular game instead of the other options, and what kind of tools could be developed for investigating and predicting players’ game choice.

In this study, we validated Gameplay Activity Inventory (GAIN), a short and psychometrically sound instrument for measuring players’ gameplay preferences and modeling player profiles. In Study 1, participants in Finland (N=879) responded to a 52-item version of GAIN. An exploratory factor analysis was used to identify five latent factors of gameplay activity appreciation: AggressionManagementExplorationCoordination, and Caretaking. In Study 2, respondents in Canada (N=1322) and Japan (N=1178) responded to GAIN, and the factor structure of a 15-item version was examined using a Confirmatory Factor Analysis. The results showed that the short version of GAIN has good construct validity, convergent validity, and discriminant validity in Japan and in Canada.

We demonstrated the usefulness of GAIN by conducting a cluster analysis to identify player types that differ in both demographics and game choice. As a result, we argued that GAIN can be used in research as a tool for investigating player profiles worldwide. The GAIN approach can inform player-centric game development by providing actionable data on what kinds of gameplay activities different player clusters prefer and what they dislike.  The model can also be used in targeted marketing and in generating personalized game recommendations for target player clusters.

Since GAIN can be used as a method for analyzing player segments, the model can inform us how to make games more inclusive and attractive to new and versatile player-audiences. It is important to note that the model is not as general as motivations to play models: the factors in players’ gameplay appreciation will change as game development takes new directions – much in the same way as new game genres emerge in gaming communities and discourses.

Our work continues next with a study on players’ challenge type preferences. We aim to understand better how challenge type preferences and gameplay activity type preferences are related to each other, and what new we can learn about the gameplay experience by considering these two dimensions of gameplay together.

Want to read more? Go see: Vahlo, J., Smed, J. & Koponen, A. User Model User-Adap Inter (2018).

Bang! Evolving Cultures of Gaming in Korea

Veli-Matti Karhulahti has been doing fieldwork in Korea since September. He is a visiting researcher at Yonsei University.

Most of those who are interested in esports, global gaming, or just modern Asian culture in general are likely familiar with the PC bang that has been fundamental for the development of Korean ludic identity in particular. Roughly speaking, PC bangs remind one of internet cafés where customers (instead of buying coffee) rent a computer spot, typically for the purpose of playing online videogames. While the visit to a PC bang is usually measured by hours, the spaces tend to be open around the clock and overnight gaming marathons are not uncommon either.

By today, the PC bang is a relatively aged topic of study. Already over 15 years ago Kym Stewart and Hyewon Park Choi (2003) observed the emerging popularity of the phenomenon and speculated whether possible future trends such as increased home computer use would soon displace the PC bang. Now, a decade and a half later, it is easy to say that the PC bang is still alive and thriving. Nevertheless, the recent changes in the transnational gaming industries have had an effect on the PC bang culture too – perhaps reflecting not only the evolution of Korean gaming habits but also the emergence of more general ludic developments.

A PC Bang in Korea.Whereas the PC bang concept is somewhat well-known also outside Korea, few are aware of its lineages deriving from other commercial bangs (“rooms”, 방) that have provided Koreans with diverse non-computerized services for a long while. For example, since the beginning of the 1990s, jjimjilbangs (찜질방) have functioned as rentable spaces with modern spa features, whereas manhwabangs (만화방) have offered local comics (graphic novel) readers major book collections with private reading rooms for their consumption.Manhwabang (a place to read books/manga) in Korea.As jjimjilbangs, manhwabangs, and many of their adaptations (café bangs, multibangs, etc.) still maintain their respective identities, the effects of ludic mobile cultures are strongly visible in their use. While jjimjilbang visitors surely enter the rooms primarily for their unique services, the coziness of the public-private space design combined with stable Wi-Fi connections also invites individuals to add mobile gaming sessions to their “bang cocktails” (often enhanced with drinks, foods, and other hedonistic stimuli). Likewise, where the manhwabang remains first and foremost as a space for consuming physical (printed) literature, the most popular current titles are adaptations or derivatives of readable/playable webtoons that the individuals access also via their smartphones.

The hype (and slow progress) of the latest generation virtual reality technology is real, and the Korean bang culture makes a fine mirror of that: next to PC bangs, the local streets are nowadays enriched also by VR bangs. As the high requirements of apparatus investment, computing power, and physical space keep home VR play as a luxury activity for the few, this also makes it a perfect bang machine even to a degree that many Western cities (that never had prominent internet cafés similar to Korea) are nowadays enriched by such enterprises.VR Bang in Korea

It is too early to make fruitful generalizations about the idiosyncratic development of the VR bang in Korea (contra other regional sectors), yet a couple of pointers hint at some future directions. Firstly, the Korean VR bang tends to be designed not only to give a test ride of what some already have at home, but goes beyond that by using enhanced technology. Full-body capsules, shooting rooms, and alike instances that demand (even) higher financial and spatial requirements provide visitors experiences that are hard to access elsewhere. Secondly, the Korean VR bang is often designed with various social elements in mind and many of the provided experiences are based on simultaneous multiplayer features. It is not uncommon for the bang staff to join the activity too – which further enhances the feeling of mutual presence and may also add to the sociality of the activity.

One of the ongoing trends in the gaming industry is the reinvention (and modification) of analog play. This can be seen in the substantial blooming of board/card games, role-playing, and toys, all of which are currently experimenting with analog-digital hybridization. Evidently, the bang space provides a natural environment for such ludic (re)developments as well.

In the aforementioned study by Steward and Choi (2003), the two argue that PC bangs came to replace analog play spaces like billiard rooms in the late 1990s. While billiard rooms still exist, new types of analog bangs have appeared over the years; a present popular example being the strike bang, which comes close to the classic arcade with the caveat that digital gaming machines have been replaced by various mechanical playthings and especially “claw cranes.” Here the claw crane has a special role as an interaction medium for couples: inviting players of all genders to enter bang spaces with winnable plush toys as advertisement both inside and outside the machine. The naivety, nostalgia, and the traditional aesthetic of this machine-toy coheres well with the soft representations of the Korean Wave – the growing international popularity of Korean TV dramas and music – that is yet to break through within mainstream gaming cultures, hence possibly foreseeing one future in the erratically shifting worldwide ludic trends.A strike bang in Korea.

Visiting lecture: Jaroslav Švelch

Jaroslav Švelch (picture)

Jaroslav Švelch, pictured in OASIS

A visiting CoE-GameCult scholar lecture took place in 14th November in OASIS at the University of Tampere. The talk was by Jaroslav Švelch, titled “Amateur adaptations of ‘professional’ games: Manic Miner and Flappy in 1980s Czechoslovakia”. Dr Švelch currently works in the University of Bergen, and he has a book coming our in The MIT Press: Gaming the Iron Curtain (see more here: