GI Members at the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences 2019

Friday, June 28, 2019
by Games Institute

Several GI members presented research and spoke on panels at the 2019 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences (Congress) from June 1-7 at the University of British Columbia. Congress is the largest annual academic conference in Canada, providing a venue for over 70 scholarly associations.

[Congress brings] together academics, researchers, policy-makers, and practitioners to share findings, refine ideas, and build partnerships that will help shape the Canada of tomorrow.

- Congress Mission Statement

The Canadian Games Association (CGSA), the Canadian Communication Association (CCA), and the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities (CSDH) are among the many groups that has conferences in conjunction with Congress. Becky Anderson and Jennifer Rickert presented papers at CGSA; John Yoon presented at CSDH conference; Betsy Bray presented at CGSA, chaired the "Narrative Structures" panel, and moderated "Narratives, in Theory"; Nicholas Hobin presented a paper for the CGSA panel "Animals and Nature"; and GI alum Steve Wilcox chaired the panel "Playing With Senses".

tweet by Steve Wilcox about being excited for Congress

Read on for more details about GI member research and panel discussions!

Betsy Brey, PhD candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature as well as Editor in Chief at First Person Scholar (FPS), examines the intersection between narratology and gameplay in role-playing games. She presented "'FNaF Can't Be Solved!': Para-Narrative Structure in Five Nights at Freddy's". In this paper, she explored why Five Nights at Freddy's (FNaF) receives very little academic attention despite being one of the most successful indie games with an enormous fan base and multiple transmedia adaptations.

The story is difficult to follow, hard to understand, indefinite, and contentious; curated, conjectured, and collected by fans on wikis and in fan games rather than cleanly created within the series and its spin-offs.

Brey argues that despite its convoluted narrative, what makes FNaF's narrative so successful is that it gives players room to create their own narratives within the storyline that's generated online communities who engage in the game's storytelling, and continues to fascinate players today. According to Brey, this narrative structure is best classified as a para-narrative--a story that seems completely removed from the main story, yet occurs somewhere within that story. The content doesn't necessarily need to connect logically to the main story but it has the power to impact its outcomes. Furthermore, para-narratives can be narrated alternatively such as through a different language, medium, etc.:

The para-narrative structure affords players the opportunity to take part in the collective plotting and replotting of the various presented events to better understand what really happened in the dangerous supernatural world of FNaF.

Jenn Rickert, PhD candidate in the Department of English Language and Literature, studies gender and power dynamics in role-playing games, such as World of Warcraft. Her paper "Cheating & Modding in Video Games: A Place of Social Liminality" explores the culture of cheating in games and how it has become a social construction.

If cheating is defined as any action which goes against the intended design, difficulty, or socially perceived ethos, how far can cheating or modification go before the player is no longer playing the same game?

"Cheating", as Rickert describes it, can be seen as "modification" and pushes the boundaries of games. In her discussion of cheating culture, she discusses games that encourage cheating with "cheat codes", games that people inevitably cheat at (such as monopoly), and gamers modifying games as a way to cheat (such as with Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim).

Cheating and modding are context dependent, specific to gaming communities, and either enhance or degrade the gaming experience.

Read more about Rickert's research on her blog "(Video)Games: A Need to Cheat".

tweet by Jenn Rickert about prepparing for congress

John Yoon, PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo in English Language and Literature, studies narratology, specifically within eSports. At CSDH, Yoon presented "The Phenomenology of Videogame Narrative", an exploration into the ever-present problem of analyzing narratology (narrative and plot) and ergodics (time spent playing) within video games and how modern day theory is still inadequate.

Yoon finds that traditional methods of analysis create a vertical system, whereas a horizontal representation of time flow is more accurate when looking at player experience within a game's chronological development. Yoon uses the games "Her Story" and "Night in the Woods" for his analysis as well as Wolfgang Iser's reader-response theory as a framework, since he approaches narrative as an interactive experience:

Within the context of narrative games then, a framework based on Iser’s phenomenology seeks not to privilege narration over ergodics, or vice versa, but take the player’s encounter with both ergodic and narrative components of a videogame equally as 'product[s] of this creative activity,' uniting play and narrative under the one umbrella of player phenomenology.

Nicholas Hobin, PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo in English Language and Literature, is interested in post humanism within game studies and digital environments. Recently, Hobin's research has explored the portrayal of animals within video games. At CGSA, on the "Animals and Nature" panel, Hobin presented his paper "Skin Deep: Getting to the Meat of Video Games" which explores animal meat in video games, particularly in Red Dead Redemption 2:

Digital animal meat is a reward from animals, a substance associated with animals, and a medium through which to know animals, while nevertheless being ontologically removed from the animals themselves.

Unlike other video games that erase any indication that the meat they find is from animals, Red Dead includes the uncanny act of players skinning animals they kill.