Introduction to Game Studies Summit

Benjamin Beil, Gundolf S. Freyermuth, Hanns Christian Schmidt

The aesthetic desire for the fusion of different media seems to be as old as modernity. Limited by its materiality, analog media could hardly fulfill this longing. Software, however, is by definition transmedial. Thus, with the transition from industrial to digital culture, the borders previously set by technology between media began to fade. Not surprisingly, digital games—as a new, genuinely digital form of expression and representation—realize the technological potential for transmediality more than any other cultural software. Games operate transmedially in that they utilize both a variety of media for their own design as well as incorporate works from other media, from paintings to radio shows to motion pictures. Furthermore, digital games are primed for integration into extensive transmedial contexts, both artistically and economically.

In 2016, the Game Studies Summit set out to develop a theoretical conception of digital games as ‘transmedia works of art’ and to determine their position in the evolving digital media dispositif. In his introductory overview “Transmedia Storytelling. Twelve Postulates,” Gundolf S. Freyermuth positions transmedia in the context of modern media history and then investigates contemporary procedures and effects of transmedia storytelling. The following contributions explore specific aspects of transmedia storytelling in and with digital games. Mark J. P. Wolf compares the imaginary worlds of video games with older analog imaginary worlds—such as dollhouses, model train sets, military simulations, and, of course, board games—with particular regard to detail and depth as well as embedded and explicit narratives and history (“Worlds Apart?: Game Worlds versus Other Imaginary Worlds”). James Newman, in “Playing with Star Wars,” gives a short history of transmedia projects in the Star Wars Universe and then focuses on the expanding transmedia world of Lego Star Wars.

While all storytelling requires the manipulation of time and space, the development and reception of transmedia worlds are characterized by specific intradiegetic as well as extra-diegetic considerations and implications. In her contribution “Time, Memory and Longing in Transmedial Storytelling,” Susana Tosca examines a dimension of transmedial time that transcends the individual components of transmedia worlds: the personal time of the recipients. Focusing on space, Hanns Christian Schmidt demonstrates three approaches related to the question of how to adapt a pre-existing story world to the interactive medium of the video game: a production aesthetic, a reception aesthetic, and a media aesthetic (“Playing with Stories, Playing in Worlds: Transmedia(l) Approaches to Video Games”).

Connecting the discussion of video games as an art form to the broader frame of transmedial phenomena, Andreas Rauscher, in “A Game of Playful Art,” outlines three perspectives—transmedia auteurs, genre settings, and the cineludic form—that expand the rather plot-orientated terminology of transmedia storytelling and combine the discourse on participatory culture with methods from film studies, genre theory, and cultural studies. Finally, Federico Alvarez takes a close look at the Resident Evil HD Remaster (2015) through the psychological lens of delayed gratification, time perspective, and temporal discounting, thereby providing a coherent framework to analyze how players interact with the survival horror genre specifically and video games in general.

The 2015 Game Studies Summit concerned itself with the question: How and in what ways can digital games find their place in lecture halls and seminar rooms? While the creative-artistic discipline of Game Design has been able to establish itself within the university system, the institutionalization of the theoretical-historical discipline of Game Studies in humanistic and cultural studies has been rudimentary at best. In several case studies, the speakers of this Summit took a closer look at successful (and less successful) interdisciplinary collaborations, the interaction of Game Studies and Game Design (Theory), and the varied influences from other Art and Media Art disciplines, like the studies of literature, art history, music, theater, film, and media in general.

Of particular interest was Frans Mäyrä’s case study “Experiences and Lessons from Tampere.” In his article, Mäyrä retraces the complex process of implementing (digital) games research in the curriculum of the University of Tampere (UTA), one of the largest universities in Finland. Based on a three-pronged approach featuring Game Analysis (Humanities), Player Research (Social Science), and Game Design Studies (Design Research), the UTA model of game education reflects the multiplicity and complexity of different kinds of games, play forms, and player motivations. At the same time, the UTA model illustrates the importance of interdisciplinary collaborations, which are, as Mäyrä emphasizes, the key to establishing the academic identity of Game Studies.

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