Geek Love: Technical Expertise as a Source of Computer Game Pleasure

Curator's Note

One of the notable not to mention praiseworthy things about Haloid—and indeed Monty Oum’s work in general (see for more)—is its painstaking and precise construction. Indeed, not only is Oum routinely recognized as a metteur en scène in fan reviews (of which there are many), but actually released a behind-the-scenes series in which Oum generously shares some of his creative secrets and workarounds. This kind of popular appreciation of the technical competency involved in developing a mise en scène may in fact point to one of the defining characteristics of games and game-based media. That is, an understanding and valuation of the tremendous and intricate technical work involved in this particular kind of storytelling are often integral to the evocation of its aesthetic and narrative pleasures. To put it another way, when was the last time you read a fan review or saw a promotional piece on Lost or a Harry Potter film that explicitly extolled that artifact’s particle effects, sophisticated editing software manipulation, or sly collision-detection mimicry and camouflaging?


Yes Judd - there is a clear recognition and respect for the labor and literacies involved in the production process in the way that gamers and people engaging extensively in immersive online social lives. For those of us who research these texts and producer/users (or "prodiences" to use Toby Miller's term from a recent ICA conference presentation) then it becomes all the more important to get beyond the examination of visual representations (which still remain useful and important) and images as they appear in the end-text and start to examine the practices of embedding meaning in the visual re-presentations. Thus the online/offline, in-text and around the text activities and practices of meaning making need to be examined carefully and contextually. Similarly, those producing these online texts will have to encounter the fact that technologies they are using are not "transparent". What I am trying to say is that we all need to examine HOW bias in relation to race, gender and class may be inbuilt in the artifact in ways that are more than just the obvious visual re-presentation. More on this some other time... r

I agree that certain discussions of film and television have moved away from their aesthetic principles (TV barely touched upon this) toward thematic/narrative conventions. Of course, for those of us that listen to director's commentaries on DVD's, the world of aesthetics is alive and well. What I wonder is if there is a correlation between the user-driven narrative-thrust of the videogame world, where players can essentially choose their own adventures within a structured storyworld, and conversations about technical expertise that reassert a kind of overarching authorship/management/artistic vision that unites (and supersedes) user play?

I really like Avi's question, but I'll leave that for more of the gamers out there. Coming at this much more from the world of cinema studies, I felt that Judd's main point about technical expertise is a large part of the consumption and reception of movies, especially special effects in film. When I was watching the video, I was reminded how many DVDs for Hollywood movies have similar tributes to technical wizardy and craft. The Matrix series, Star Wars Franchise and Lord of the Rings emphasize technical expertise of the filmmakers (and showcase it in DVD extras) as much as any of the other elements of cinematic storytelling. There are few fans of the Matrix who don't know about bullet time camera work, and yet that is a deeply technical process. Furthermore, I think in terms of prodiences, an interesting analogue to Judd's video is the work of comic books, where very similar discourses flourish, and it strikes me that one way to discuss this topic about technical mastery (production) and pleasure (both at the point of production and reception) is in terms of prodiences. Especially the linkage between cultural identity (gamer, comic book geek, sci fi fan) and prosumer-based media (games, comics, digital video).

If I understand Avi’s question correctly, it seems that Ian Bogost’s notion of “procedural rhetoric” in video games might offer one useful way of uniting traditional notions of authorship with the open-endedness of video gameplay. In other words, what artistic and rhetorical strategies do video game designers build into these interactive texts to persuade gamers to play in a particular manner?

By Anonymous

As a gamer, and in response to Avi's question: Most commercial games actually cede far less control over the overarching narrative to the player than one might think. While the gameplay is user-driven, often the story (particularly in games that stress their narrative component over other features) is either stringently linear or allows for player interaction only at critical narrative points – whether to kill or spare a major character, for example. Not to get into a long discussion about player, designer, and social authorship, but the anecdotal stories that all players create in the moment of playing the game rarely have a major effect on the pre-designed narrative structure, at least for the particular genres represented here. In the case of Haloid, I think the desire on the creator's part is more akin to fan fiction – wanting to create one's own narrative around particular worlds and characters that can be explored but not changed or personalized in the games themselves. Both the Halo and Metroid series contain linear, non-interactive stories, regardless of their highly interactive and changeable gameplay. (The“female Master Chief” in particular is an interesting reference to the surprise ending of the original Metroid, in which Samus' gender is revealed.) As far as technical expertise, I think there is at least a practical correlation. This piece took a great amount of dedication, not to mention technical ability and resources. Perhaps the player's drive to interact with the games' narratives, frustrated in the individual titles, was redirected into external creations such as this one.

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