Towards a genealogy of ludic practices and computing artifacts
The "Confoederatio Ludens" project and the GameLab UNIL-EPFL are organizing a conference titled Leisure electronics and the emergence of video games: Towards a genealogy of ludic practices and computing artifacts. This interdisciplinary conference invites abstract and panel propositions on the relationship of early video game history and its material and cultural contexts.
Since the early 1980s, a wide range of objects and activities from different cultural, material, and geographical contexts have been subsumed under the term « video games ». These emerged in and from settings such as universities, electronics clubs, amusement arcades, cafés, restaurants, schools and workplaces. The aim of this conference is to look into the origins of video game culture and encourage research into the ludic practices and artifacts that accompanied this unfolding development. To travel these uncharted areas, we must assemble heterogeneous pieces of knowledge on the history of computers and video games, while also digging for past practices related to programming, tinkering and playing. This inquiry requires an understanding of local contexts: how did individuals learn to create games? Game development was not a globalised practice as it is presented today, with online tools and tutorials available from almost anywhere in the world. When did we start to see recurring practices, and which ones? How did they spread, and which ones never took off? With this conference, the Confoederatio Ludens project and GameLab UNIL-EPFL invite the scientific community to investigate the emergence of video game cultures, fostering interdisciplinary discussions that encompass aesthetic, material and discursive studies, as well as investigations into the sociology of ludic practices, regional histories, and more.
Place: Lausanne, Switzerland
Time: May 2 and 3, 2024 Keynote speakers : Maria Garda (University of Turku - Finland)
Alex Wade (School of Education and Social Work – Birmingham City University - UK)
Call for contributions:
Proposals for abstracts should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by 15 January 2024
Full description of the conference theme
The (local) electronic roots of video games Most authors of video games histories have written diverse but significantly overlapping chronologies on «successful» platforms and games. These narratives often find themselves trapped in a history of precursors and tend towards techno-industrial glorification (Blanchet & Montagnon, 2020). Moreover, they carry dominant, ethno- and androcentric discourses (Trépanier-Jobin, 2021). Eventually, they reproduce the apparent self-evidence of video game chronologies based on contemporary definitions, artificially establishing straightforward lineages coherent with their framework (Wolf, 2014; Therrien and Picard, 2016). Hopefully, academia and journalists today are more aware of these issues and take them into account while conducting their research. In particular, video game studies have been recently driven by an interest in local game histories (Blanchet et al., 2020; Švelch, 2018; Swalwell, 2021), which enables us to deepen our understanding of the genealogy of forms of play (Wade 2016). These initiatives consider video game production and consumption within regional contexts, avoiding nationalistic narratives. They document overlooked heritages, provide a counterweight to discourses dominated by the industry and teleological press coverage, and consider transnational approaches (Navarro-Remesal and Pérez-Latorre, 2021). Genealogical approaches attempt both to reintegrate forgotten elements of video game history, and to reveal the « power relations that led to their erasure in the first place » (Trépanier-Jobin, 2021). Research in local game histories has indicated that video game cultures emerging in the early 80s in different places were already involved in electronic leisure and playful activities. In the UK, Haddon was probably one of the first to underline the roots of computing in consumer electronics (Haddon 1988). It is commonly accepted that the first home computer was the Altair 8800 (1974), and that it came as a do-it-yourself kit. Its influence was not limited to the US, as this computer was for example imported to the Netherlands, as shown by Veraart (2014). Meanwhile, several chapters of « Hacking Europe » (Alberts and Oldenziel 2014) report on the importance of electronics shops and magazines in Yugoslavia, Poland or Greece to document the early home computer users. Švelch (2018) analyses the particular context of amateur clubs in Czechoslovakia, then under Soviet influence. Moreover, Blanchet and Montagnon (2020) expose how, through their corporate press, retailers of electromechanical amusement devices paved the way to the first imports of video games in France. Furthermore, Swalwell (2021) notes the importance of DIY culture of personal computers and conceived it as part of early video game practices in Australia and New-Zealand. Cultural context, remediations, and the birth of a culture Nonetheless, these works addressed the genealogy between electronics and video games only in passing. We suggest making it the focus of the discussion, to deepen our understanding of the following questions: Who were the people experimenting during this era? How did they proceed? How did the different contexts frame practices and artworks? Did leisure electronics prefigure video games? Moreover, we would like to bring together these different approaches and the specific cultural settings they reveal, such as clubs, bar games, arcade rooms, domestic activities, associations, or specialised shops. This means focusing on the roots of « proto-games » (Kirkpatrick, 2021), i.e looking at the first video games, before the globalised interconnectedness of the video game ecosystem as we experience it today. Walking this path implies exploring a proliferation of terms, gestures, contents, and practices through local and highly contextualised approaches. To get an overview of the various modes of relationship between video games and leisure electronics, we propose to structure the conference around three distinct strands. These three aspects can be explored from a variety of perspectives and academic methods and disciplines, and we welcome contributions from all of them. Some examples include the study of gaming practices, material analysis, content analysis, gender studies, post-colonial studies, media archaeology, discourse analysis, archival studies, and more. Leisure electronics as a cultural context for the emergence of video games During the second half of the 20th Century, the development of the electronics industry led, (at least in the Global North) to the massive deployment, circulation and domestication of new materials and energies, such as metal, plastic and electricity. These products of industrial modernity spread along the growth of audiovisual cultures and amateur practices (Maigret, 2015). To what extent did the development of electronic entertainment accompany the adoption of these techniques and materials? Also, to what extent did it contribute to the creation of a playful and technical culture conducive to the production and reception of the first forms of video games? For example, what role have video games played in electronic leisure clubs and the specialised press? Are the games produced in this way nourished by specific imaginaries? Video games as simulations, remediations and continuities of previous games What we call « video games » today intersects, mixes or gathers pre-existing ludic forms, whether electromechanical or analogue, such as sports, board games, role-playing games, bar games or educational media. With the help of ancillary disciplines, game studies need to reflect on the coexistence and entanglements of these older ludic forms with the video games that they inspired. For example, is there any relationship between the imagery developed by pinball machines and the first video games? Did pinball machines help shape the narratives developed by the first video games, and if so, how? What about other electromechanical games and the techno-ludic imaginaries of model-making and electronic tinkering? Can we perhaps find practices of electronic tinkering and infrastructural management of model train systems in video games? What about automating text-based games? The birth of a culture: Have videogames became autonomous from previous practices and cultures? Once the genealogies between electronic leisure activities and video games are traced and refined, would it be possible to draw on this new level of cultural exchange to establish to what extent, and how video games have emancipated themselves from their (electronic) roots? Some might agree that today’s video games are largely built on cultural codes that have become specifically based on video games. If so, how and when did this happen? From an opposite perspective, would it be possible to highlight the legacy of pre-video games in contemporary creations? For example, should train driving simulation games be seen as a break with the continuity of modelling clubs?