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My talk at #IGC15

IGC15 Logo

IGC15 Logo

I recently gave a talk at the Indie Games Conference in London. First proper full length speaking engagement! I’ve done a couple of small panels and micro-talks before, but nothing like this – 45 minute slot including Q&A!

Title was “Open Your Heart: Thinking About Emotions in Games”. Thanks to the wonderful efforts of James Coote and his videography you can watch my talk on YouTube (see embedded link below). Rather useful to watch yourself afterwards as well and see how you looked – not an option you often get!

I think it went really well actually. Lots of people came up to discuss what I spoke about at the end – some with similar opinions and shared ideas, some not! But that’s exactly what I wanted really – I don’t think any of us really improve until we’re challenged, and it either means your thinking is off or that you need to communicate your message better the next time you talk about it.

For those who weren’t at IGC15, it was a great conference (that I sadly could only make one day of – it was 2 days) with an interesting and diverse line-up of strong speakers on a wide array of topics. I learnt a lot! Thanks to Byron and Jake for organising it and here’s looking forward to next time.

‘The Art of Videogames’ by Grant Travinor

Grant Travinor’s volume is a welcome addition to the literature on videogames.

There are very few volumes (and very few scholars) that attempt to bring a philosophical analysis and method to the realm of videogames – many people are often writing from the point of view of cultural theory or film studies. I enjoyed reading Travinor’s detailed treatment of games because it was painstaking, detailed and conveyed a lot of love for the medium.


However, I had two big problems with it. The first is that reads more like a volume for older philosophers who think that all games still look and play like Pong or early Mario games from the 70s and 80s. Depsite the frequent references to up to date titles and very clear evidence of his extensive and deep knowledge of the art form, ‘The Art of Videogames’ always feels like a desperate defense against ignoramuses who are out of touch with modern culture. For someone who is very much engaged with them, there is little here of note.

The other thing that bugs me about his account is his focus on visuals and technological advancement. You cannot argue that these have been, and still are, major drivers for the industry and a major part of the appeal of games. But that’s not all that they are. It feels like Travinor has skipped over the key quality of games that makes them interesting and different to other art forms in the first place – interactivity. There is little discussion of rules, systems and mechanics and this feels like a missed opportunity; surely this is what makes games more philosophically interesting in the first place? The implications for identity, and therefore for epistemology and virtual-ontology must be mind-boggling and fascinating for philosophers.

Hand in hand with this is the strongly implied (and made partly explicit at points) argument that technological advancement = improvement, which should be obvious is entirely false. Does a painting have more artistic merit or financial value because it’s painted with acrylics rather than water-colours? Is a film automatically better because it has CG effects and colour rather than black-and-white film with actors only? The answer, of course, is no. Whilst spectacle is indeed a major part of the enjoyment for some games, it isn’t for all, and often isn’t for those games that endure. Spectacle is relative – what is amazing this year becomes ‘de rigueur’ the next, and out-dated the next (at least, if photo-realism is the goal).

Having said that ‘The Art of Videogames’ is very readable (there aren’t many philosophical volumes that are this easy to read) and Travinors writing style is excellent and clear cut. It’s also nice to get a little diversification amongst the scholarly literature out there in games studies, but there’s a lot of room for improvement here and, whilst it may convince some of the ‘philosophical old guard’ that videogames merit intense study in and of themselves, it less to those of us who have already decided that they’re worth our time and attention.