‘The Stories of Physical Games and Us‘ is a digital storytelling project by Angus Baillie conducted in collaboration with Claudia Blanche and Richard. It is meant to be evocative of the complex ways in which the lives of human beings are entangled with videogame media as it exists physically and digitally.
The project includes images, audio, and the written word. At some points in the story audio narration will be automatically triggered, so please be aware of this if you are experiencing this project in a public space or if you have your volume turned up.
My initial idea for the project was sparked when I was listening to an episode of Isometric – a videogame podcast I follow on a weekly basis. In episode 74 (titled ‘Bowser Has His Good Days’) the hosts discussed the merits and appeal of a new videogame system being crowd sourced on Indiegogo called the Retro VGS, which aims to revive cartridge-based gaming by allowing current developers to create cartridges for games that only currently exist digitally (McFerran 2015). In a discussion of why a console like this would matter in an environment where digital distribution is often celebrated, Isometric host Maddy Myers (2015) suggests that the Retro VGS console is less about the software elements games, but instead about viewing games as “art objects” and imagining how a game that exists in a purely digital form would look if it occupied a physical space in our homes, on our shelves; complete with box and sticker art, packaging, and a game manual.
There were limitations on conducting an ethnographic study on audience relationships with the Retro VGS. The console itself isn’t commercially available yet and the limited number of backers for the project are strangers on the internet with whom it would be find and conduct an interview in an ethical way within such a limited time frame. But I was interested in the idea that Maddy Myers had put forward and wanted to more closely examine the relationships people have with their physical, videogame media.
My initial process for the digital story was to conduct some broad background research on topics to do with physical videogame media and their relationships with audiences and culture. My research began with Alien Phenomenology by Ian Bogost, which is a book that attempts to define and explore a new posthuman, object-oriented philosophy. Although I never referred to the text directly within the digital story, Bogost’s (2012) work was most useful in my thinking about this project when he deconstructed the multiple ways in which the notoriously disastrous 1982 videogame adaptation of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari Video Computer System could be defined in terms of its specific hardware components, digital design, physical dimensions and presence, existence as a product, system of rules, experience, scarcity, historical and cultural context, etc.
Aside from Bogost’s work, I quickly found that the research of most relevance to my topic fell under the purview of researchers such as McDonough (2011), Newman (2009; 2012), and Guttenbrunner, Becker, and Rauber (2010); who are all interested in the practices and importance of archiving videogame media as historical, cultural artefacts, the unique challenges that come with preserving the contextually important peripheral objects and packaging, and the idea that digital videogames exist as unstable, constantly changing artefacts.
With a solid foundation of background research under my belt, I decided to use the #BCM240 hashtag to put the call out on Twitter for people who might be interesting in sharing their own, personal stories with physical games media. In an attempt to produce a more collaborative text, I wanted to allow the people I spoke with the chance to share the stories they wanted to tell in a way that they were both comfortable and able to do. Out of respect for both the subjects and the personal nature of the subject matter, I tried to work alongside participants without too much ‘directing’ or ‘prompting’ in the hope that it would foster the production of a collaborative text that will be of benefit to collaborators, demographics and researchers alike (Lassiter 2005).
Because of the approach I took, allowing contributors to tell the stories they want to tell on their own terms, I was presented with a range of digital multimedia to be used in my digital story. In order to best use this variety of media types in a single digital story, I decided that Prezi would have all the tools to allow me to fit these pieces together. Prezi works well in that it allows for the user to engage with the story at their own pace, whilst also connecting the dots for a range of media types in a way that is able to form a coherent whole and maintain a narrative arc (Zaharov-Reutt 2015).
Finally, upon completion I decided to share the digital story I made – along with the reflection – here on my blog along with my other university, creative, and critical video game writing. This was just a natural extension of the process I’ve been engaged with all semester; making my blog a hub for things that I have been involved in creating. This way of promoting myself and my work within a networked social media ecology (which includes my Twitter account) is meant as a simple way of best utilizing the networked audience paradigm we currently find ourselves working within in an online environment (Marwick and boyd 2011). It’s worth noting that in this project I managed to gather people interested in sharing their stories through my social media networks, meaning that my constant attempts at using Twitter and WordPress dynamically has largely done what I set out to achieve: the creation of an engaged writing community, consisting primarily of my immediate peers and any other interested parties who are of just one degree of separation (Jones 2012). These are points I largely covered in much more detail in another reflective post I published here a few weeks ago. By using what I learnt from this I was able to make this digital storytelling project an extension on these processes.
I just wish I could have gotten the blasted Prezi to embed in the blog properly!
Bogost, I 2012, ‘Alien Phenomenology’, Posthumanities, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
Guttenbrunner, M, Becker, C, and Rauber, A 2010, ‘Keeping the Game Alive: Evaluating Strategies for the Preservation of Console Video Games’, International Journal of Digital Curation, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 64-90, viewed 2 November 2015 <http://www.ijdc.net/index.php/ijdc/article/view/147>
Jones, SR 2012, ‘Digital Access’, Teaching Exceptional Children, 45, 2, pp. 16-23, Education Research Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 October 2015, <http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=e48b2e3f-9122-473b-bbd3-f39cfbf02bff@sessionmgr4001&vid=1&hid=4211>
Lassiter, L E 2005, ‘Defining Collaborative Ethnography’, in Lassiter (ed), The Chicago Guide to Collaborative Ethnography, University of Chicago Press, pp. 15-24, viewed 2 November 2015 <http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/468909.html>
McDonough, JP 2011, ‘Packaging videogames for long-term preservation: Integrating FRBR and the OAIS reference model’, Journal Of The American Society For Information Science & Technology, 62, 1, pp. 171-184, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 29 October 2015 <http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=5f92bb94-97db-4e52-b58e-f42dd2adf265@sessionmgr4003&vid=1&hid=4108>
McFerran, D 2015, ‘The Retro VGS Wants To Revive The Glory Days Of Cartridge-Based Home Consoles’, Nintendolife, 22 September, viewed 2 November <http://www.nintendolife.com/news/2015/09/the_retro_vgs_wants_to_revive_the_glory_days_of_cartridge-based_home_consoles>
Marwick, A, & Boyd, D 2011, ‘I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience’, New Media & Society, 13, 1, pp. 114-133, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 3 October 2015.
Myers, M 2015, ‘Bowser Has His Good Days’, in G Dow, M Myers, B Wu, and S Lubitz (eds), Isometric, Relay FM, 28 September, viewed 2 November 2015 <http://www.relay.fm/isometric/74>
Newman, J 2012, ‘Ports and patches: Digital games as unstable objects’, Convergence: The Journal Of Research Into New Media Technologies, 18, 2, pp. 135-142, Communication & Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 29 October 2015.
Newman, J 2009, ‘Save the Videogame! The National Videogame Archive: Preservation, Supersession and Obsolescence’, M/C Journal, 12.3, July, viewed 29 October 2015 <http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/view/167>.
Zaharov-Reutt, A 2015, ‘VIDEO: Prezi cracks Nutshell of fun and simple visual storytelling’, IT Wire, 11 February, viewed 2 November 2015 <http://www.itwire.com/your-it-news/home-it/66937-video-prezi-cracks-nutshell-of-fun-and-simple-visual-storytelling>