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Extending Play: Institutionalizing Secrecy

Extending Play

Extending Play

I’ll be presenting as part of panel at Extending Play on April 20th, 2013. I’m speaking as part of a panel along with Hector Postigo, Greg Lastowka, and T.L. Taylor. Here are the details of that panel:

Panel Title:
Play Between Structures: Exploring the Professionalization of Video Games

Panel Abstract:
In this panel we undertake analysis and exposition of video game players, developers, institutions, and platforms that bridge both playful and often decidedly professional orientations. While for many computer games remain simply hobby and leisure activities, for a growing number of participants gaming is serious business. At the same time, developers themselves carefully balance the increasingly professionalized nature of their work against an always present specter of play. These are not dichotomous stances. Indeed one of the angles we explore in this panel is the flow between play and labor, between the pleasures of sharing one’s gaming and the work of doing so, between the formalization of development processes and the “dark arts” of game creation. Moving beyond simple arguments about user-generated content (UGC) or the dichotomy of work and play, this panel explores what happens when players and 3rd parties push at the bounds of “fair use” and begin monetizing their practices, capitalizing on their play. It explores the relationship between technology and emerging forms of professional possibilities. On the flip side we explore how the process of game development, while continually undergoing the process of professionalization and formalization, simultaneously exceeds that frame. The format for the panel will involve several modes; original video, pecha kucha, and mobile app (iOS and Android).

My Contribution Title:
Institutionalizing Secrecy: Professionalizing of the ‘Dark Art’ of Game Development

My Contribution Abstract:
Game development has long been characterized as a “dark art,” a strange brew of art and engineering. Yet, as the video game industry has professionalized, this characterization has not waned. This presentation returns to a handful of ethnographic narratives, collected over more than eight years. This material is put into conversation with the rich anthropological literature examining communities of witchcraft and sorcery. To better understand how the mystique of game development work has been maintained, this material is combined with research on games and play, to see how they converge to encourage a continually policed culture of secrecy in the game industry and beyond.

About Casey O'Donnell

Casey O'Donnell is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Information at Michigan State University. He is part of the games faculty and Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) lab at MSU. He is also part of the game development collective Affinity Games. His research examines the creative collaborative work of videogame design and development. This research examines the cultural and collaborative dynamics that occur in both professional "AAA" organizations and formal and informal "independent" game development communities. His research has spanned game development companies from the United States to India. His research examines issues of work, production, copyright, as well as third world and postcolonial aspects of the videogame development workplace.

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