Volume 13, 2008

Games and Metamateriality

Guest Editors: Christian McCrea, Darshana Jayemanne, Tom Apperley

Contents

1. Deviant Materials: Reflecting Surfaces and Hollow Bodies in CSI
– Zach Whalen

2. Rez: An Evolving Analysis –
Douglas Brown

3. Meaningless Play: The Psychological Experience of Shame in Computer Gameplay
Glen Spoors

4. The Paradigmatic Shift of Interactive Theatre into Aleatory, Tribal Playspaces
Lori Shyba

5. Notes On SuperFlat and Its Expression in Videogames
David Surman

6. The Eighth Wonder of the World Meets the Eighth Art: Some Thoughts on Medium Specificity and Experience in King Kong and Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie
Terence McSweeney

7. Conceptual Vertigo
Holly Willis

8. Narrative Production and Interactive Storytelling
Alex Mitchell

9. Authorship, Environment and Mediation in Role-Playing Games
Mike Skolnik

10. Digital Games and the Anamorphic Subject
Eugénie Shinkle

11. Rape and the Memex
Laurie Johnson

12. Affective Game Topologies: Any-Space-Whatevers
Felicity Colman

13. Playing for Keeps: A Game of Marbles and the Materiality of Gameplay
Peter Eric Bayliss

Editorial Statement

Refraction occurs when light travels from one medium to another, changing speed and bending relative to its original angle – it’s why the straw in your glass looked kinked. Each material through which light can travel has a refractive index, and it is this which determines how much the light bends at the interface. In 2002 researchers synthesised ‘metamaterials’: artificial substances with negative refractive indices. In 2007 a version was developed for the optical spectrum. Such a metamaterial causes light to bend in the opposite direction from natural materials, reversing the phenomenon of refraction. If the positive index of a natural material and the negative index of a metamaterial are matched, there is the possibility of total refraction – the straw ends up looking straight.

The Refractory journal’s title calls attention to the transformations that take place when a work is adapted or remediated. If we take a lead from Walter Benjamin and consider a medium as a certain organisation of perception, however, it is possible to further ask in what ways a given medium represents not just the content of a given work, but another medium as such – that is, how the organisation of perception by one medium is adapted to another. In such a process, some comment on the material underpinnings of the refracted medium may be made, or perhaps an attempt to modify those materialities to suit the codes, histories and effects of the new form. In a sense, a negative refraction. What is revealed in such crossings is a ‘metamateriality’ of media – the material as an event, as both limit to and facilitator of remediation.

The metaphors of metamateriality and negative refraction are particularly salient for digital media, which is often viewed as having the potential to represent all media forms and in so doing to gather disparate temporal schemes under one overarching framework. Such desires are a dream of total refraction. Sometimes material effects from other media will be incorporated to add a sense of contemporaneity, such as when lens flare or cinematic interludes are used in a videogame. On other occasions the embedded medium will appear as an archaism, an unrepresentable absence or a nostalgic super-presence. By appending the concept of metamateriality to the Refractory’s ongoing concerns, this issue invited writers to respond to some of the pressing cultural and critical issues raised by new media, games and the digital.

 

Deviant Materials: Reflecting Surfaces and Hollow Bodies in CSI – Zach Whalen

Abstract: In Deviant Materialities: Reflecting Surfaces and Hollow Bodies in CSI, Zach Whalen examines the simulation of two kinds of gaze – the surface reflection of the mirror and the penetration of forensic and surgical procedures. The ‘CSI shot’, a signature of the television series, is specifically reconstructed in the videogame context around the exigencies of player input.

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Meaningless Play: The Psychological Experience of Shame in Computer Gameplay – Glen Spoors

Abstract: This article draws an analogy to Sartre’s (1943/1993) existentialism to describe qualities of “meaningless” computer gameplay. Silvan Tomkins’ (1962, 1963, 1992) work is used to argue that disjunctive moments of gameplay may elicit an affect of shame that possess an existential tone, and Donald Nathanson’s (1992) “compass of shame” is adapted to identify four different ways of experiencing this shame. However, these experiences may be aesthetically recuperated when games represent existential experiences and/or players employ a Sartrean strategy of confronting such experiences with an attitude of humour and resolve.

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The Paradigmatic Shift of Interactive Theatre into Aleatory, Tribal Playspaces – Lori Shyba

Abstract: As a way of envisioning futuristically appropriate player experiences, this paper speculates on the emergence of participatory virtual environments as a metamaterial phenomena resulting from the confluence of aleatory, tribal playspaces and human-computer interaction (HCI). Using a set of revolutionary influences from 1960s, namely Thomas Kuhn, Marshall McLuhan, Victor Turner, and John Cage, the stage is set for virtual playspaces and postulations are made about the ability of these influences to affect theatre’s core axioms. Reflections are made on the resistance that might occur, notably in the form of audience reticence, and requisite conditions are laid out for the emergence of a new paradigm in the landscape of theatre.

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Notes On SuperFlat and Its Expression in Videogames – David Surman

Abstract: In this exploratory essay the author describes the shared context of Sculptor turned Games Designer Keita Takahashi, best known for his PS2 title Katamari Damacy, and superstar contemporary artist Takashi Murakami. The author argues that Takahashi’s videogame is an expression of the technical, aesthetic and cultural values Murakami describes as SuperFlat, and as such expresses continuity between the popular culture and contemporary art of two of Japan’s best-known international creative practitioners.

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The Eighth Wonder of the World Meets the Eighth Art: Some Thoughts on Medium Specificity and Experience in King Kong and Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie – Terence McSweeney

Abstract: Terence McSweeney investigates the evocation of emotional response in two recent remediations of the King Kong story: cinematic and ludic. Drawing together a number of streams – gameplay, cinematic techniques, celebrity culture, cross-media storytelling and the overarching directorial signifier ‘Peter Jackson’, the King Kong franchise is presented as a complex cultural object.

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Conceptual Vertigo – Holly Willis

Abstract: Exploring the notion of the literary imagination, Holly Wills examines how several major works of videogame art invite the viewer/participant to imagine the world differently through their deployment of gamic tropes. Relations open up and expand under some aesthetic conditions; contract and distort under others. Wills offers a compelling trajectory of aesthetic concern over digitality itself, the site of a persistent anxiety of being which underscores the artists surveyed.

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Narrative Production and Interactive Storytelling – Alex Mitchell

Abstract: Many different approaches have been suggested for how stories can be told using interactive media. Forms have emerged which range from the collections of text fragments and links that one finds in hypertext fiction, the adventure-game-like experience of interactive fiction, the story-driven gameplay of Half-Life 2 (Valve Corporation, 2004), through to the one-act-play drama of Façade (Procedural Arts LLC, 2005). All of these forms suggest different underlying models as to what makes a story “interactive”. This paper will explore the ways in which the materiality of the tools used to create an interactive story influence the form of the resulting work, with reference to works created using two different authoring tools: Flash (Adobe Systems Incorporated, 2007), and the NeverWinter Nights Aurora Toolkit (Bioware Corporation, 2002). A comparison of these works will be used to reflect upon the various forms of storytelling that may be possible within interactive media.

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Authorship, Environment and Mediation in Role-Playing Games – Michael Ryan Skolnik

Abstract: Mike Skolnik’s Authorship, Environment and Mediation in Role-Playing Games takes up a classificatory and evaluative task regarding analog and digital role-playing environments. Utilising Murray’s procedural authorship and Mackay’s account of mediation in games, Skolnik explores the methods which role-players construct and disseminate meaning and narrative potentials across various contexts.

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