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Power Ups: Wishing Upon Stars

I’ll be presenting as part of a panel at DiGRA’s DeFragging Game Studies conference at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, August 26-29, 2013. The panel will host other interesting folks like Shira Chess, Braxton Soderman and Roger Altizer. Here are the details on the panel:

Panel Title:
Power Ups: Iconography in Digital Games

Panel Abstract:
The iconography present in digital games remains significantly understudied. While significant work has been done on specific games or genres of games, considering how factors such as game mechanics, narratives, and heads-up display affect how we play and how we understand that play (Bogost, 2010; Consalvo, 2009; Sicart, 2011; Taylor, 2009) little research has been done on how game icons transgress the boundaries of single games. This panel proposes a symbolic approach to understanding iconography within videogames. Iconography has been pursed in other fields such as art history–heavily influenced by the work of Erwin Panofsky (1996/1927)—and more recently in media studies. For example, recent media archaeological work of Erkki Huhtamo (2011) proposes to study various topoi, or topics, which appear throughout the history of media forms.

Traditional Iconography traces and maps the use of similar images or ideas across history and throughout different instances where the icon appears, thus helping scholars understand a media form across platforms and genres. Similarly, by reading the multiple meanings of symbols across games (and gaming categories) our analysis hopes to uncover both universality and points of differentiation. The papers in this panel will analyze (1) hearts, (2) stars, (3) clouds, and (4) coins in a variety of games, analyzing large (and small) meanings of each of these symbols and how they affect meaning in the games in which they are used. It is because of the ubiquity of these symbols, as well as their abstraction, that we are able to consider how they might affect meaning and functionality within gaming spaces. Certainly the use of these “iconic” symbols carry with them prior signification which they import into the videogame medium while also creating new meanings which might be embedded within the rubric of signification that the icon transports through history and culture.

The impetus for the iconographic turn through the analysis of various icons in videogames is to recover the importance of representational analysis in games which has often been devalued in comparison to the study of game play mechanics or procedural meanings. In order to “defrag game studies” we suggest this as a new mode of understanding intertextuality within gaming spaces. While it is certainly essential to understand how game mechanics make meaning, clearly there are other more traditional forms of signification that still operate within the videogame medium. When players encounter familiar icons within games it not only assists them in understanding game conventions and strengthening the intertextuality of the videogame medium, but it produces meaningful resonances that add to the interpretative possibilities of game analysis more generally.

Bogost, I. (2010). Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Consalvo, M. (2009). Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Huhtamo, E. (2011). Media Archeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Panofsky, E. (1996). Perspective as Symbolic Form. New York: Zone Books. Original work published in 1927.
Sicart, M. (2011). The Ethics of Computer Games. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Taylor, TL. (2009). The Assemblage of Play. Games & Culture 4(4), pp. 331-339.

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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