Under the Mask 2011

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I never buy mementoes. I'm not sure why but I always manage to forget that I should buy stuff when I visit new places until I reach the departure area of airports and have nowhere else to go barring duty-free shops. On my way back from Athens, however, I did buy something and yes, it was from a duty free shop. It was a t-shirt with some Greek text on it and the image of a ancient Greek theatre mask. Here's what it said:

The mask hides the man
Shut up inside it, he sees
everything as if through
two dark holes;
from the darkness of the mask
he contemplates
the universe with detachment like a god.
In a mask you feel an ancient strength;
in a mask you dare things that the mind
cannot conceive.

I felt I had to buy it. It would remind me of the many masks that I have to wear always. It reminded me of videogames where I take on a mask - my real-life character interacting complicatedly with the mask that tries to hide it. Previously, I have said in Ludus ex and elsewhere that I do not believe in immersion but rather see the game persona as a becoming and the mask as another plugging in to the assemblage. The whole process fascinates me and the mask works so well as a metaphor of me as a becoming-game, becoming-avatar and simply becoming. 

Which is why I think 'Under the Mask' is one of the coolest titles for a videogame conference. Readers will remember that I have been to all the iterations of this conference bar one. I'm going back again. Check out the link to the abstracts here (http://underthemask.wikidot.com/abstracts). I strongly recommend it if you are interested in videogames and can make it to Luton on 2nd June.

As for me, this is my last games conference in the UK and it will soon be time to pack my bags. Here's the abstract of my paper:

Souvik Mukherjee

Rewriting Unwritten Texts: After-action Reports and Videogames

Storytelling in videogames still remains a contentious issue and one that commentators have found difficult to agree on for over a decade. On the one hand, the multiplicity of possible events within the game narrative makes it difficult to employ traditional literary analysis and on the other, the stories themselves are often unfavourably compared to literary classics and criticised for lacking the depth and the significance. Despite these issues, however, players continue to enjoy playing videogames as a storytelling medium and the narrative exists, as it were, at an unstable and marginal level where it is recorded not only in the player’s memory but in walkthroughs, guides, wikis and the recent genre of fan-fiction based on actual gameplay instances and called ‘after-action report’ (referred to as AAR, hereafter). Studies of walkthroughs (Ashton and Newman 2010; Newman 2008) and cheat codes (Consalvo 2007) are slowly coming to the forefront; the after-action report or the game journal has, however, remained largely unnoticed in Game Studies. This paper explores after-action reports and the stories they tell.

Examples based on different game genres will be analysed here, such as the ‘Rise and Fall of the House of Jimius’, an AAR based on Rome: Total War (The Creative Assembly 2004), ‘The Amateur’, which is based on Hitman: Blood Money (Eidos 2006) and Ben Abraham’s ‘videogame-novelization’ called Permanent Death (Abraham 2009). The main aim here is to highlight the variety of the AARs, the creativity of their writers and to examine the conventions that the genre is building around itself. A comparison with older narrative media will be equally important. Indeed, the relationship between AARs and films based on videogames is worth investigating - the Hitman film and the AAR are cases in point. The same holds true for AARs and printed fan-fiction. With the combination of image, videos, game scores, strategy tips and imaginative rewriting of the game’s plot, the AAR combines many kinds of texts, ranging from the walkthrough to the graphic novel. It will also be argued here that the AAR is an important way of talking about stories in videogames.

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Ever since my job title changed to ‘impact research fellow’ in February, I’ve been asked many times what I have to do at work. Well, to the Ludus ex reader, impact probably means the ‘stopping-power’  of your latest gun in Call of Duty: Black Ops or the  thud when the racecar in Need for Speed bangs against a barrier. To me it means all that and also what has defined my role at De Montfort University in these last six months. It also means that I haven’t been playing too many videogames lately (honest).

So what do I do at work? I analyse ‘impact’ which the Research Excellence Framework (REF), UK,  defines as ‘all kinds of social, economic and cultural benefits and impacts beyond  academia’. I work on a series of very multiple projects about the application of social media to business practice and communities in Leicester. Mainly my work involves examining rich narrative data and survey data for observable trends and changes. So did you ever wonder whether your facebook and twitter usage improves your business practice? If you did, you might find my research to be of interest. How does social media affect cohesion in communities? Okay, enough hints. I’m presenting a paper on this at De Montfort University, on 8th June. If you are interested, here’s Professor Sue Thomas telling you more about it in her characteristically lucid way: http://travelsinvirtuality.typepad.com/suethomas/2011/05/mukherjee.html.

The talk will also focus on my experience of doing this impact analysis for REF  - something that might be of interest to academic colleagues in the UK who are engaged in similar exercises. Mainly, I will focus on the REF indicators of ‘reach’ and ‘significance’ in the light of their relevance to the projects that I have analysed and more broadly, to any kind of transdisciplinary research. Finally, my recommendations for the project will highlight how Humanities research can be seen as having an impact in the current REF contexts.

Apologies to Ludus ex readers for the delays in posting. May has been a very busy month and a strange one. I'm still reeling from the impact.

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