Week 8 Discussion: Political Metagames

Tuesday 27th February
15.00-16.00: Documentary screening (optional)
16.00-18.00: Main discussion
Learning Centre UG07


This week’s discussion is something of a sequel to last week’s, in which we considered how a videogame can represent and visualize theoretical concepts—particularly those that interrogate twenty-first century capitalist modes of production. This time, we’ll be focusing on what happens outside the supposed ‘magic circle’ of a videogame: the labour practices that go into assembling hardware and designing videogames, as well as the creative responses of fan cultures and modding communities.

Out first reading is Chapter 8 from Nick Dyer-Witherford and Greig de Peuter’s oft-cited work Games of Empire (2009), which apply concepts from Hardt and Nergi’s work to consider the situation of videogames and gaming culture in global capitalism. They write that videogames are a product of the post-Fordist economy and military research & development, yet also incubate collective processes of creativity that might point to a means of withdrawing from this regime.

Our second reading is the Introduction to Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux’s important new book Metagaming (2017), which examines the games ‘within, around, outside, and about the videogame’. Boluk and LeMieux revise the popular concept of the ‘metagame’, using it to describe everything involved in the ‘contextual, site-specific, and historical attributes of human (and nonhuman play)’. They further ague that it is only through our metagames that we can be said to play in any meaningful sense with the rigid ideological procedures of the videogame.

What is the difference between play and gaming? Can we ever truly ‘play’ a videogame at all? What might it mean to include the global market in our idea of play? Can our metagames offer a mode of resistance, or do they simply generate more material for future capital accumulation?

Links to the readings:

This week’s seminar will be preceded by an optional screening of James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot’s 2012 documentary Indie Game: The Movie, which is discussed at some length in a later chapter of Metagaming. Boluk and LeMieux write that the documentary marks ‘a historical moment in which the term indie game ceased to function solely as a label for a particular mode of independent production or digital distribution and became the common designator for a genre of videogames with a shared history and common aesthetic’. Not being the documentary’s biggest fans, they further argue that it ‘mirrors the logic of the marketplace by deploying the term indie game as a way to valorize only certain kinds of precarious labor practices—the ones that paid off.’

Hope to see you there!

Rich, Vicki and Becky


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