Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bibliophile: University of Calgary, the Gaming Mecca?

Could I just skip this whole thing and take a nap?

This is Bibliophile.

This week, we're going to the University of Calgary.  I looked through the archives, and I can't quite tell if we've done U of C before or not.  I'm going to go with "not," just to make everything seem new and exciting.  It's a bit of an odd system--I can find a new book list for their law library, for example, but not their main library.  Additionally, they've got a pretty extensive media lab and game console collection, available for booking.  That's impressive.  Well, we'll do what we usually do in these situations--search through the main list of books, but only look at those published in 2012.   ...Unfortunately, you can't search directly for that either--the best you can do is sort the general list in terms of newest to oldest. Fine.  But first, then, we'll look through what fits under the videogame subject heading.

First, and perhaps most notable, as you may expect from a university with a game console collection, there are videogames listed.  And there's a reasonable spread of systems covered: Bit.Trip Saga for the Nintendo 3DS.  (Although it does a have a "available soon" tag discretely applied.)  Harvey Birdman: attorney at law for the PSP. 

The video game industry : formation, present state, and future / Zackariasson, Peter, and Timothy L. Wilson, eds.
I'll note that Wilson is not on the library's information about the book: I had to look it up myself.  That happens quite a bit in digital library catalogs.  On the one hand, it seems a little unfair, as this line of text is going to be the only interaction some people have with the text, and for its creator to receive less than full credit means they'll never know his or her role.  On the other hand, it seems like a very small yet very time consuming problem to fix, from what I know about such systems.
At any rate, this book claims to be a collection of works not so much on games but on the games industry.  The text blurb draws on the old "defense  of gaming" routine, referring to how studies of the game industry are stigmatized as being frivolous and"only" game-oriented.  And then it goes on to describe games as mediums that are more than pinball or movies.  So there are two separate issues, here--defining what a study of games means, and defining what a study of game industry means.  Personally, I prefer an approach that does both, at least, when you're looking at the game industry side of things, but I recognize that game industry is an underdeveloped area, given the industry's size and scale.  Incidentally, the textbook is part of the Routledge Studies in Information, Orientation, and Technology series, which the inside cover helpfully points out is RIOT!  There's an acronym that won't help with the stigmatization thing.   The book consists of twelve chapters, and three parts.  There's The Nature of the Industry, Geographical Comparisons, and Effects of the Industry. I can't say I recognize any of the authors beyond Aphra Kerr, but that doesn't mean anything.  Essay topics in Part I are industry as more than software, industry of subculture, video game marketing, and the mobile gaming ecosysterm.  Part II looks at the North American industry, the UK and Irish industry (Kerr's essay), and the Swedish Industry. Part III looks at the Wii and console hardware, the ecological impact of electronic games, and gamification. Personally, I think you can't really do a discussion on global perspectives without centering on at least one Asian country for a chapter, but otherwise, it seems like a decent book.H, but it's currently been ordered, not yet available.

The library catalog at U of C also has the feature of automatically logging you out of a search if you take too long, which is a bit of annoyance.
 Best before: videogames, supersession and obsolescence by James A. Newman
Newman is one of those people who are a fairly big name in games studies, but I haven't actually read any of his work, beyond the stray essay.  This book is a timely discussion of the way the videogame industry and players treat its past, starting with the notion that the hardware has a tendency to corrode (with rather nasty environmental effects).  Then he goes a step deeper: the videogame industry actively pursues and manufactures this obsolescence, constantly retiring old games to make way for the new "Next Generation" system.  (See: Wii U, which I know some of my friends are looking forward to, but I'm not terribly interested in.)   So the book is essentially a study of game preservation, but one that knows exactly what's at stake.  I agree on the subject of companies pushing game obsolesence.  Some companies do make quite a lot out of pushing retro forms, whether it's older games or remake, but the focus on NEW AND IMPROVED is ultimately damaging.  It's necessary to keep up a revenue stream; if the players start valuing old games, they might stop buying new ones.  But it quickly becomes ridiculous. A $60 game is a $20 game six months later.  That doesn't sound like an economic model that's viable in the long term.  And players aren't any help--see the hype surrounding something like Dishonoured, and you'll see how eager we all are to pursue the new and shiny.  In a lot of ways, game marketing, like marketing in many tech fields, is the marketing of hope and style, which tend to be ephemeral, fleeting things.  It's not a very long book--160 pages, then the references, and the chapter headings don't inspire confidence in the depth of discussion: Videogames are disappearing, New Games, Old Games, Game(play) preservation.  But it's probably worth a look.  H.

Mechademia 5, Fanthropologies / Lunning, Frenchy, ed.
I didn't even hear of Mechademia 1-4.  I hope I'm not utterly lost.   As a quick google search tells me, Mechademia is a series of books on subjects concerning manga and anime studies.  The remit of this particular volume is to focus on the way that otaku (that's passionate fans of anime and manga--sort of.  The term isn't quite that translatable.) appropriate and remix characters, narratives, imagery and more from anime that they consume.  The essays are not long, but they are numerous.  Sections include Sites of Transposition, Patterns of Consumption, Modes of Circulation, and Styles of Intervention, plus general reviews and commentary.  Altogether, we're talking over 350 pages of material, which is an almost unheard of size for an academic anthology.  Given the relative cheapness of the volume (18.96, list price of 24.95), I can only imagine that the pages are held together by spit--there's got to be something there to keep down the costs. (Okay, it's really more a journal than an anthology.  But still.)  The essays, judging by title, are impressively varied: "Speciesism, Part II: Tezuka OSamu and the Multispecies Ideal" by Thomas Lamarre. "Frenchness and Transformation in Japanese Subculture, 1972-2004" by Anne McKnight.  "Akihabara: Conditioning a Public 'Otaku' Image" by Patrick W. Galbraith. I consume a little bit of manga and anime, but, at best, I'm an interested dabbler.  It's impressive to see this level of commitment and scholarly devotion to the field.  ...Not sure what I'm seeing constitutes inclusion in a library's video game subject, though.  I mean, there are obviously connections between manga, anime, and videogames, but I'm not seeing any explicitly here.  H, in that our library has access to the journal.

Videogames and art / Andy Clarke and Grethe Mitchell
I think this is one of those titles that I come across every now and then (it's not a new book,as it was first minted in 2007) and think that I've already read it, before I realize that I'm thinking of Sicart's Videogame Ethics, or Tavinor's Art of Videogames, or Kirkpatrick's Aesthetic Theory and the Videogame (which I own, but haven't read yet).  But despite similarities in subject or title or both, this book is its own thing.  For one thing, it's an anthology, whereas the others are book-length single author studies of games. Topics include, well, the expected stuff: machinima, game console artwork, politicall oriented videogame art, production of digital art, interviews with videogame artists, critiques of the videogame industry.  I'm not seeing a mention of arguing that games themselves constitute art, which, for this subject, is an omission that speaks for itself--though some of the essay titles suggest that the book is addressing the issue.  The book is divided into three sections: Overviews, Artists on Art, and Games and Other Art Forms.  It's the first two sections that are offering something different, with chapters on videogames as literary devices and curating games, as well as interviews with game artists. But honestly, it's that final section I'm most interested in: Martin's "Should Vidogames be Viewed as Art?"; "Some Notes on Aesthetics in Japanese Videogames," by Huber; "Fan-Art as Function of Agency in Oddworld Fan-Culture"; (I love the Oddworld games, but man, that's an obscure topic)It would be interesting to read this book, and see if the situation in the industry at large has changed.  My library *still* doesn't have a copy.  C'mon, you've had five years now!  (Incidentally, there's also a second edition coming out, in 2013.)

Millennial monsters : Japanese toys and the global imagination / Anne Allison
Published 2006.  Considering the book has four Pokemon characters on the cover, it may have claim to its place in the "video game" subject than Mechademia.  On a first glance, anyway.  From the book's blurb, it's about the global popularity of Japanese youth goods, and argues that this popularity stems from the "polymorphous perversity" with which they scramble identity and character.  The first hundred pages or so of the book are on general topics: enchanted commodities, Japanese post-war reconstruction and the cyborg, millenial Japan.  Then we have several chapters that focus on specific franchies: Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Sailor Moon, Tamagotchi, and two on Pokemon.  But where's the Samurai Pizza Cats?  And as a complete nonsequitor, I'msuddenly struck by how much the Ninja Turtles property has "borrowed" from Asian culture and anime sensibilities over the years.  Anyway, I approve of a book that seems to be blending cultural analysis with a dash of industrial, global market awareness.  H.

Hollywood gamers : digital convergence in the film and video game industries / Robert Alan Brookey
Published 2010.  Movie-based games are almost universally reviled.  Movies based on games are almost always box-office tanks.  Tell a game scholar that games are like films, and you're gearing up for a fight.  And yet we can't seem to stop continually comparing the two, can we?   As the title suggests, Brookey's spin on the subject to delve into how these differences are handled, managed and sometimes ignored in the videogame industry side of things.  With the book proper ending at 140 pages, it's a rather slight investigation, but, going from the introduction, it's a good start.  One of the major problems with the game development is that it's often seen as ancillary to the movie. If the whole shebang is viewed as one giant franchise, things sometimes turn out a little better: Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings both have some decent videogames behind them, and I think that's because, in part, there wasn't the same pressure to have the game releases match the films; both properties started in other places, and they didn't have to match the movies exactly. This book will examine, specifically, Lord of the Rings, Godfather, Spider-Man and Iron Man.  (It seems like skipping the Potter franchise is a big oversight, but there you go.  It also says a lot about what Hollywood thinks about games and game audiences that there weren't any major videogames for Twilight.)  H.

Game invaders: The Theory and Understanding of Computer Games / Clive Fencott, Jo Clay, Mike Lockyer, Paul Massey
Every now and then, someone newly interested in game studies tells me they're attracted to the field because there's not a lot written about it.  I think of the consant onslaught of text books and, depending on my mood, I laugh at them, or my eye starts twitching.  Anyway, this is more of a nuts and bolts textbook designed for undergraduates: "Game Invaders fully integrates genre theory, new media aesthetics, perceptual opportunities and semiotics into a practical DIY toolkit for games analysis--offering detailed guidance for how to conduct in-depth critiques of game content and gameplay."  I'm not a huge fan of the Apply Theory X to Artifact Y method of teaching criticism--though I've actually taught that way myself.  It's a very good way--and maybe even the ideal way-- to familiarize undergraduates with variety of options available to them.  If they never move beyond that into something better tailored to their own style--or at least better hybridized to look like something new--then it's a problem, but it's not a bad starting point.  Might be something to check in on if I ever get that game studies dream course I've always wanted to teach.  What I really want is an updated version of Salen and Zimmerman's Rules of Play, but this could be an adequate substitute.  It's got a whole chapter on Shenmue, which I appreciate, though games a little more accessible to contemporary players may be a better fit.  
And more games: WSC Real 11, Rugby Challenge, Motorstorm Apocalypse, FIA World Rally Championship, Top Spin for the PS3.  Major League Baseball 2K11 for the PSP.  Saints Row the Third for the Xbox 360.  Rio for the DS.  Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 for the 3DS.  It's a very eclectic mix. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Rayman Origins, Pro Evolution Soccer 2012, Michael Jackson: The Experience, FIFA 2012, FIFA 2011, Assasin's Creed: Revelations, Major league baseball 2K11 , Dance Central 2, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon,Motionsports: Adrenaline, Dead Island, Red Faction: Armageddon,Hunted: the Demon Forge, for the Xbox 360. Virtua Tennis 4, Rayman Origins, Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 , The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, FIFA 2012, Captain America Super Soldier, NBA 2K12, Go Vacation, NASCAR 2011, Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhuners  for the Wii.  Viruta Tennis 4, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 4, Saints row the third, Rayman origins, MotoGP 10/11, Michael Jackson the Experience, Green Lantern: rise of the Manhunters, FIFA 2012, F1 2011, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, Warhammer 40000: Space Marine , Bleach: Soul Resurrection, for the PS3.  Pro evolution soccer 2012, Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky,  NBA 2K12 for the PSP.  Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell , Rabbids: Travel in time, Deca sports Extreme, combat of giants: Dinosaurs, Brunswick pro bowling (really?), F1 2011, Major League Baseball 2K11, Call of Duty: MW3 Defiance, Punch Time Explosion,Green Lantern: rise of the Manhunters for the 3DS.  ... There's more, but that's enough to illustrate the point.  I don't think they have an eclectic collector, really--I think they have a standard order to just purchase all console games as they come out. Which: nice work if you can get it, right?  The fun part is trying to figure out why some games have multiple copies available.  Why  three copies of Crysis 2?  Is it expected to be that popular? Even Arkham City only has 2. 

..Okay, I think that's it for the day.  I know this is a much smaller review number than normal, but the nature of the books means that I have to go into greater detail, so I think it balances out.  And I've got enough other titles to fill out a second part of the videogame theory cavalcade next week.  Whew.

Later Days.

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