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Friday, August 10 • 9:00am - 10:00am
Keynote: The Games (Other) People Play. What Does Gameplay Spectating Tell Us About What It Means To Play A Videogame? (James Newman)

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The games (other) people play. What does gameplay spectating tell us about what it means to play a videogame?

“To me, watching another person play video games is like going to a restaurant and having someone eat your food for you.” (Jimmy Kimmel Live, 27 August 2015)

If there is one thing that distinguishes videogames from other media forms surely it is their interactivity. To play a videogame is to directly effect change on the course of events whether by manoeuvring a character or avatar or by manipulating a set of variables in a simulation. For all their diversity of format, structure and interface, the unifying feature of videogames is their focus on participation, being, and doing.

Quite rightly, academic game studies has spent many years honing analyses and methods that accommodate these facets of videogames. As Consalvo, Mitgutsch and Stein (2013: 4) note in their Sports Videogames collection, ‘...although audiences of all types are “active” in the many ways delineated by Fiske (1987), players—or perhaps the play position—is unique in that the player must work to (co-)construct the object of interest—the videogame.’ Indeed, we might argue that the field has defined itself through its placement of players and their experiences at its heart. More than a decade on, Aarseth’s (2003) crucial discussion of the obligation to understand gameplay in order to do game studies remains most easily tackled by grasping a controller and seeking to attain at least some degree of expertise as a player.
Today, however, quite what it means to be a ‘player’, or what constitutes the distinctive ‘play position’, has never been more complicated, contested and confusing – so much so that it need not involve touching a controller at all, far less becoming an accomplished performer. And this is, at least in part, because gameplay spectatorship — ‘watching another person play video games’ as Jimmy Kimmel joked — is such an incontestably mainstream part of videogame culture.
The emergence of new technologies, platforms and services for sharing gameplay experience draws into sharp relief the narrowness of our current definitions of play and demands a fundamental reconsideration of our methods and approaches. However, although Twitch, the recent boom in livestreaming and personal gameplay archiving, and the increased visibility of e-sports make the phenomenon of gameplay spectatorship harder to ignore (and certainly each has a transformative effect on modes of watching and performing), the presentation argues that spectatorship has always been a fundamental yet under-appreciated part of gaming.
Aarseth, E. (2003) ‘Playing Research: Methodological approaches to game analysis’, DAC, Melbourne (RMIT).
Consalvo, M., Mitgutsch, K., and Stein, A. (Eds) (2013) Sports Videogames, Abingdon: Routledge.
Fiske, J. (1987) Television Culture. London: Routledge.

James Newman is Research Professor at Bath Spa University and curator at the National Videogame Foundation where he works on game preservation, exhibition and interpretation. Over the past 20 years, James has written widely on aspects of videogames, fandom and the cultures of play, media histories and game preservation and has spoken across the world at events for academics, policy-makers, game developers and players. James’ books on games and gaming include Videogames; Playing with Videogames; and Best Before: Videogames, Supersession and Obsolescence (for Routledge); and 100 Videogames and Teaching Videogames (for BFI Publishing). Most recently, he co-authored A History of Videogames 14 consoles, 5 computers, 2 arcade cabinets ... and an Ocarina of Time (Carlton, 2018) which draws on the collections of the UK’s National Videogame Arcade; and a White Paper on international videogame preservation practice and policy funded by British Academy and Leverhulme Trust. James is currently writing books on videogame spectatorship and on the histories of early videogame sound and music.
With colleagues from the National Media Museum, James co-founded the National Videogame Archive in 2007 and in 2017 founded the Game Sound Archive which is a collaboration with the British Library. In addition to working on the GameCity international games festival since its launch in 2006, James is director of the All Your Bass videogame music festival. He is an avid collector of synthesisers and an enthusiastic, but not very good, keyboard player.

avatar for James Newman

James Newman

Research Professor, Bath Spa University

Friday August 10, 2018 9:00am - 10:00am CEST
C0E11 (Lecture Hall), Malmö University Niagara Building Nordenskiöldsgatan 1A, 211 19 Malmö, Sweden
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