Frans Mäyrä: "Finnish Fantasies: From Consumer to Pirate to Producer in Finnish Gaming Cultures"
Finnish Fantasies: From Consumer toPirate to Producer in Finnish Gaming Cultures Frans Mäyrä Professor, PhD Information Studies & Interactive Media firstname.lastname@example.org
Outline• Games, creativity, participation: variations• Game cultures in Finland• Demo scene• Birth of an industry• Fantasies: imaginary and real in Finnish game development• Tensions of ownership, cultural character• Conclusions
Participation in Games• Digital games belong to interactive media, but media is not central to all games• Playing games requires participation that goes beyond reception• Involvement & reconfiguration of the pre- designed contents within the gaming framework• But also: interpretation, construction (Raessens 2005)• Inter-activity in multiple different levels
Steps of Player Creativity1. Personal playing style, original strategies2. Creative uses of in-game resources3. Modifications of single game elements4. Level designs, full modifications5. Game designs
Personalstrategies• Rocket jumping (Quake 3)• ”Proximity mine climbing” exploit (Deus Ex)• Some games are designed for emergence (Juul 2002)• Steinkuehler (2006): games are a ’mangle’ or production & consumption; of human intentions, material constraints and affordances, evolving sociocultural practices and brute chance
From Mods to Game Designs• Player-created content that ranges from small patches and add-ons to ‘total conversions’• E.g. Counter-Strike, originally a Half-Life total conversion (scifi adventure tactical shooter)• Ambiguous role: copyright infringement, free labour or participatory culture? (Postigo 2004)
Curve of involvement?• Active agency tends to get positive valuation in research• Cf. Ito et al (2010): ‘hanging out’, ‘messing around’ and ‘geeking out’ represent trajectories of deepening involvement• Our study of Finnish gamers points that majority of game players are ‘non- intensive’ (casual) and primarily motivated by conditions social and personal life
A heuristic model of gaming mentalities: Intensity, Sociability, Games (InSoGa)Social Mentality ProfilesGaming with Kids Gaming with Mates Gaming for CompanyCasual Mentality ProfilesKilling Time Filling Gaps RelaxingCommitted MentalityProfilesHaving Fun Entertaining Immersing Kallio, Kirsi Pauliina, Frans Mäyrä, and Kirsikka Kaipainen. 2011. “At Least Nine Ways to Play: Approaching Gamer Mentalities.” Games and Culture 6 (4): 327–353.
Game cultures in Finland• History in Finnish folk culture, riddles, traditional games, oral and social playfulness• During 1970s the first electronic games arrived to Finland• In 1980s home computers (e.g. Commodore 64) and video game consoles (e.g. Nintendo NES) stimulated growth in digital game cultures• Involved ‘consumer culture’, ‘computer subculture’, ‘hacker culture’ and cultures that grew around certain game genres, gaming devices and gaming magazines
Demoscene• Already in the 1980s computer game hobbyists were actively communicating, sometimes gathering together• Particularly the shady activity of breaking copy-protection of commercial games and distributing them contributed to the sense of community• The practice of inserting personalized messages, ‘crack intros’ to cracked copies evolved into demo • Thousands of young people have gained scene, subculture of recognition for their skills in gaming and computer (game) art programming first in this subculture• Since 1992 there has been • “Game culture” is notable as a social one of the largest computer phenomenon in Finland, often mixing with festivals, Assembly, organised the active science fiction and fantasy annually in Finland fandom
Early game industry in Finland• Early games published as printed program code in computer hobbyist magazines• Games of the time could be designed, programmed and composed as one-man efforts (invitation for individual creativity – with significant personal risks)• Example: Jukka Tapanimäki (student of literature in University of Tampere), one of the earliest commercial game developers in Finland, self-trained while living on unemployment benefit• His games, e.g. Octapolis (1987), Netherworld (1988) can be read as transmedial game texts• Synthesis of space opera, science fiction cinema, and gameplay formulas/genre models from earlier video and computer games
Octapolis (1987)• By the year 3897, the Galactic Imperium was mightier than ever… They kidnapped innocent space pilots, and sent them inside the zone, and hoped that somehow, somewhere, they could find one who has immune to the immense mental power of Octapolis. If they could only reduce it just a little, then a gallant battle cruiser could get close enough to wipe out the planet. It took GIA 200 years to find such a pilot - YOU are that pilot!!• Gameplay: a hybrid of space-themed shooter game with platform jump game• An ambitious attempt to emulate, combine and surpass earlier games (e.g. the shoot’em’up Sanxion)• Fantasy: multi-mode space opera style science fiction – be a lonely space warrior, engaged in ambiguous task of destruction / survival struggle• Metaphor for the struggling lone developer?
Conflicts of commerce and culture• Games of Tapanimäki & co were popular, but mostly commercial failures• Both Tapanimäki and Stavros Fasoulas were forced/decided to leave game development• Continuous problems in marketing, distribution and monetization of Finnish games• Often the games were heavily pirated even before commercially available• Crack and demo scenes started to suggest refraining from copying “colleagues’” games only later in the 1990s
Finnish game fantasies• ‘Fantasy’ signifies both a pool of genre conventions, as well as an impulse, pursuit of transgression & otherworldliness (cf. Jackson 1981; Mendlesohn 2008)• Finnish games embody both dimensions: attempts to ‘escape the everyday’, as well as conformity to established conventions• Information technology in general is loaded with ‘fantastic’ promise (e.g. Sherry Turkle (1984) has recorded experiences of computers as windows to ‘other worlds’)
1990s: demoscene-based industry• The form of digital game has evolved fast• Combinations of wide-ranging visual, auditive and interactive art quickly required extensive teams of artists to collaborate• Professionalization linked with specialization (yet even today formal design training background is rare in game industry)• Distribution of games became the bottleneck for small countries: how to reach global audiences?• The first Finnish game companies were established in 1993 by demoscene ‘producer-consumers’ (Bloodhouse, Terramarque; cf. Saarikoski & Suominen 2009)• In 1999 Housemarque published the first Finnish digital game to surpass one million in sales: Supreme Snowboarding
Supreme Snowboarding (1999)• A snowboard simulation, aimed to showcase the technical and artistic excellence of Finnish developers• Winter sports game that is focused on technical virtuosity• Theme and the graphics exploited certain Nordic exoticism• Fantasy: become a master snowboarder, reach a spectacular skill level – but as a virtual simulation (relation to real snowboarding skills ambiguous)• Theme of virtuosity is mirrored in the game being chosen as the showcase for a 3D accelerator card manufacturer
Habbo Hotel (Sulake, 2000)• Internet applied to gaming, user creativity, online social playground• Habbo by Sulake became a successful social virtual world with retro, 8-bit style visual identity• Play on sub-cultural sensibilities that had become mainstream fashion statements for the young• Focused on chats, small games, user created rooms and playful activities• Fantasy: participate in real human interactions in a ‘toy version’ of a fantasy hotel (ambiguous release from ‘real identity’, as well as an extension of it)
Max Payne (Remedy Entertainment, 2001)• A film-noire styled third-person shooter game with a storytelling emphasis (graphic novel cut scenes)• Cultural influences include Hong Kong action films (for the bullet time special game mode), hard boiled detective novels and Norse mythology • Fantasy: become a hero/victim in an ‘interactive action movie’ (storytelling and gameplay in ambiguous tension) • Reflects how digital games have become situated within global popular culture, competing and interlinking with novels, comics and cinema
Angry Birds (Rovio Entertainment, 2009)• Skill-based physics puzzle game where player slings birds on top of the various fortifications the green pigs have built• Direct digital download has allowed the game to spread fast (over one billion downloads so far)• Fantasy: master the skills needed to bring down buildings of class and stone alike (humour that involves skilful release of aggression, infantile pleasure of breaking)• Tensions in franchising, e.g. ‘Angry Birds’ amusement parks (unofficial in China, vs. official in Finland), pirated merchandise etc.• Not taking legal action, as piracy is seen to grow the fanbase
Tensions in ownership• As games have expanded into social arenas, creative work within games has grown• Chinese gold farmers create a secondary market inside/alongside gaming fantasy• User-created levels form the mainstream of content for many games that are open for editing and sharing• Calls for democratization of ownership meets the views of rejectionists, reformers & radicals (Coleman & Dyer-Witheford 2007)
Tensions of global and local• Finnish game industry aims for global acceptance and generally avoids culturally specific references (cf. e.g. the indie game Heroes of Kalevala)• Search for specific ‘Finnish’ sensibility in games may lead to the use of myths, humour, technical virtuosity, mixtures of multiple genres…• Professionalism has eradicated much of the cultural distinctions, the ‘demo skills’ function in high abstraction level• In contrast, the low-tech, non-commercial culture of (live) role-playing games holds more subversive themes, experiments drawing from drama and Nordic cultural references are thriving• The book, Nordic Larp (Stenros & Montola, eds., 2010) showcases some of this artistic work
Conclusions• Agency related to game cultures is complex, and partially deconstructs the user/producer distinction of media industry• Several tensions nevertheless remain: within shifting commercial, social, expressive rationales, allegiances change• Games as ‘endogenous systems of meaning’ (Costikyan 2002) live as embedded and challenged within other frames (of the mundane everyday, of commercial production, etc.)• Game cultures are open for examining the conditions for gaming fantasy/reality, agency, and their multi-layered interaction
Literature• Coleman, Sarah, and Nick Dyer-Witheford. 2007. “Playing on the Digital Commons: Collectivities, Capital and Contestation in Videogame Culture.” Media Culture & Society 29 (6): 934–953.• Costikyan, Greg. 2002. “I Have No Words & I Must Design: Toward a Critical Vocabulary for Games” presented at the Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference, Tampere. http://www.digra.org/dl/db/05164.51146.pdf.• Itō, Mizuko, ed. 2010. Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.• Juul. 2002. “The Open and the Closed: Games of Emergence and Games of Progression.” Computer Games and Digital Cultures Conference Proceedings. http://www.digra.org/dl/db/05164.10096.pdf.• Kallio, Kirsi Pauliina, Frans Mäyrä, and Kirsikka Kaipainen. 2011. “At Least Nine Ways to Play: Approaching Gamer Mentalities.” Games and Culture 6 (4): 327–353.• Postigo, Hector. 2010. “Modding to the Big Leagues: Exploring the Space Between Modders and the Game Industry.” First Monday 15 (5).• Raessens, Joost. 2005. “Computer Games as Participatory Media Culture.” In Handbook of Computer Game Studies, ed. Joost Raessens and Jeffrey Goldstein, 373–388. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.• Saarikoski, Petri, and Jaakko Suominen. 2009. “Computer Hobbyists and the Gaming Industry in Finland.” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 31 (3): 20–33.• Steinkuehler, Constance. 2006. “The Mangle of Play.” Games and Culture 1 (3): 199–213.• Stenros, Jaakko, and Markus Montola, eds. 2010. Nordic Larp. Stockholm: Fea Livia.