DiGRA in Dundee

No comments
I started writing this on my way to Heathrow Airport, having boarded a National Express bus that would take me there in ten hours. Enough time to reflect on and put down my thoughts on this year’s DiGRA. Five days have passed very quickly and while I would have loved to attend so many of those presentations, I had to make do with a far fewer number. What I heard, however, I liked very much. William Huber and his team (also including  Sonia Fizek and Darshana Jayemanne) have done a fabulous job with the organisation and I know that all of them will be looking forward to getting some of that well-earned sleep now. 

The Tay Bridge, Dundee

I will speak about the highlights of the conference for me. The first day’s workshop on videogames and history was one of them. Incidentally, my own paper  - on the representations of the Raj in videogames - was part of it. I loved Adam Chapman’s keynote talk on the role of history in videogames and vice versa. For those who haven’t read it yet, I’d recommend Adam’s book on the subject. Two other papers that I liked were one on how 80 Days  portrays history and another on the process of inclusivity and diversity in the history that videogames present. I spoke on how the counter-history created in empire games such as Empire: Total War , instead of being a postcolonial reaction, is one that co-opts the very logic of Empire that it claims to challenge. I also pointed out that the postcolonial reactions lay in the subaltern or the unexpressed and suppressed voices. This was a development on my article in Games and Culture (and earlier, a paper presented at Meaningful Play 2014).
Gandhi and games: me talking about the representation of Indian history in videogames

Speaking of postcolonialism, I’m not sure what made me do it, but I ended up doing a ‘micro-keynote’  on the need for postcolonial thinking in games. This was to fill the time of the scheduled keynote talk of Lev Manovich (who couldn’t make it because of visa issues, it seems) and I was among many others who did an impromptu talk about their work. There was a vote for the best and it seems some kind people voted for me (Adrienne Shaw was among them) leading to a signal event that made this DiGRA memorable for me. I, who never usually win anything, got a bottle of 12-year old Glenfiddich. As William Huber (I believe) rightly remarked to Richard Bartle, I didn’t have any problems with carting it back home. Because some kindred souls and I finished most of the whisky in the next two hours!

William Huber (centre) supervises the takeover of Guthrie Castle by game researchers at the Gala Dinner

Speaking of events and happy things,  I was very kindly invited to the gala dinner at Guthrie Castle and I came back with blurred but happy memories of Talisker, Dalwhinnie and Macallan (in addition to the abovementioned Glenfidditch). Somewhere, I remember playing Bagh Bakri (the ancient Indian game of tigers and goats) at dinner with the President of Abertay University who proved a very good player (much better than me when I play as the goats). I also got to say a brief hello to Jesper Juul and have a very short chat with William Huber. The bus-ride back to town was entertaining as some of the younger folk were singing the Pokemon song in a variety of accents and someone challenged them to sing the Japanese version.

Two other highlights for me were the panel on mapping and games and William Robinson’s talk on the game he has built to represent the history of Jewish labour in 1920s Montreal. In particular Sybille Lammes’s position paper about the relationship of maps and play and a fantastic paper on how the Metropolitan Police in London used a game to teach their officers how to control riots and how this game itself was based on practices previously not known in mainland Britain but common in the British colonies. As I saw how a mini Gravesend was created within the actual Gravesend as a game-board for the police to play at riot-control, all sorts of questions emerged in my head. Also, when I thought about maps and playing, I couldn’t help remarking about whose maps and who plays them - the surveying tools of colonialism that ostensibly kept the empire under the watchful eyes of its guardians, also were the playthings of Kim in Kipling’s eponymous novel. William’s talk opened up many avenues of thought and also raised many questions. His game is going to be an exhibit in Montreal’s Jewish Museum. I’m looking forward to hearing more from him. 

William Robinson demo-ing his Jewish Labour game.

Of all the keynotes I’ve heard, I always enjoy Richard Bartle’s and it was the same this time. I didn’t expect such a lucid and thought-provoking parallel between theology and game design. Richard’s talk also created an excellent pathway for our panel on religion and games, led by the young and enthusiastic Lars de Wildt. I particularly liked Frank Bosman’s attempt to categorise the religious experience in games and Lars’s work featuring comments from players re: religion. To the latter, I thought of recommending my little post on player’s responses to the Govinda! experience in Grand Theft Auto   but I guess I was too carried away thinking about my own paper on karma and gyan chaupar. As a very initial draft of a longer work that I plan to present at a conference in the U.S., I was happy with the responses. The usual question about the statistical possibilities of snakes and ladders was asked and I explained that gyan chaupar with its possibilities of a zero progression move and of overshooting the final point was somewhat  different from snakes and ladders. And what people don’t seem to get is that the purpose of playing it wasn’t to finish a race - it was to be playing it again and again to figure out the meaning of life and karma. Chris Bateman highlighted all the key points that I made in his tweets, so I know that at least some people ‘got’ what I was saying. I am grateful to the people who attended my talk and gave me feedback. Thank you.

I spoke about Gyan Chaupar and karma in games. This was a draft of a paper I am writing at the moment.

On the last day of the conference, I had to  visit the Howff Cemetery and once again, I met up with Tomasz Majkowski and his group. We had an extremely interesting cemetery visit and a long chat on narratives in games. I also got learn about a Polish theatre-director who uses digital media - must look him up. By the by, I am a keynote speaker at the Literary Theory and Games conference in Kracow this year and I so look forward to meeting this fantastic bunch of researchers again. Soon, we ended up at the conference venue and the keynote session was on the British games scene. I was impressed that the Brit game designers get tax breaks from the government and overall, the UKIE’s efforts in bringing the industry together has a lot of similarities with NASSCOM’s efforts in India. I’m surprised though that the UKIE hasn't focused much on ties with the Indian gaming industry. The DiGRA discussion that followed announced next year’s event in Melbourne (the Aussie’s won’t have to talk about jet lag and we get to meet Brendan Keogh, yay!) by the inimitable Marcus Carter and Dan Golding. Everyone joined in their thanks to William Huber and his team for making the first DiGRA-FDG a success. Some other notable presentations for me were Mathias Fuchs on the ruin-desire in games, Sonia Fizek on playbour, Gerald Farca on Wolfgang Iser and games and Rene Glas on paratextuality.

The Howff, Dundee. The name means 'meeting place'.

After the event, I had an excellent chat with peeps on plans for a diversity in games workshop in next year’s DiGRA. I've written a little note of dissonance on post-colonialism and diversity but you can always skip on past it to the end, where I talk of rainbows. We also chatted on whether we need to actually play the games we are writing about or whether watching Let’s Plays is enough. This connects to what I have written earlier in my chapter on paratexts (in my book) and there is much scope to extend my previous research from the discussion we had. Another blog post from me on this, perhaps. I also had a brief chat with Sian Beavers (do watch out for her work) on her empirical studies of player-experiences with the history games. And wonder of wonders, I found out that one can get Irn-Bru ice-cream and deep fried Mars bars together in this cafe we were at. Interesting culinary experience for the adventurous. If you don’t know what either of this is, I don’t blame you. A visit to wikipedia is recommended. 

'Oor Wullie' can be seen everywhere in Dundee

Soon it was time to leave the city with its ancient and grim buildings and its very bright Oor Wullie (a local comic strip character) statues. I had arrived to the welcome of a full rainbow and my gracious host, Theresa Lynn (whose hospitality and local knowledge is ever admirable), commented that Dundee was indeed nice to me as it bid goodbye with yet another rainbow.

Jute: Calcutta's link with Dundee.

The rest of the journey is a tired blur. I am back in Calcutta now, preparing for other journeys.

There's a Calcutta Lane in Dundee!

No comments :

Post a Comment

The Buddha Does Not Play Dice

No comments
Einstein, unhappy about claims of an uncertain universe, famously said 'God does not play dice.' The scientist, later proved wrong, was referring to dice as an aleatory game that he certainly could not see God playing. Moving over from monotheism to the Hindu pantheon, the story is different. Apparently, the universe and everything in it is the product of the divine game of dice that paintings all over India depict Shiva and his consort, Parvati, playing. Here's an extreme contrast, however: the Buddha not only does not play dice, he is against playing almost anything at all. A while ago now, Jesper Juul, who has been besides an authority on many aspects of game studies, a very perceptive thinker on the history of games, raised the question about why the Buddha took such a stand. Way back in 2007, Juul asked the following question in his blog, The Ludologist:
Why wouldn’t he play them? Without going into theology I know nothing about (and without offending anyone), my understanding is that Buddha could not have been a sore loser, so it must have to do with the more formal properties of the games themselves. Neither rules ( board games sized 8 or 10), fiction (toy windmills), nor ilinx escape criticism.
So this I’d like to know: which games would he play, and why?
I met Jesper for the second time shortly afterwards while I was presenting a paper on Indic philosophy's treatment of Karma and how it relates to videogames. He asked me about the roots of ancient Indian games and I realised that I knew very little about my own culture, courtesy my very  colonial education. The Buddha's attitude to games was something that I stumbled upon in Juul's blog and it has bothered me since. Today, after Paolo Pedercini tweeted the same question  nine years later, there are many posts on my Facebook feed about the Buddha and games. Some are flippant and some are genuinely curious. After all, it is difficult to imagine the 'cool' notion of the ever-tolerant Buddha (whether  depicted as laughing or sombre) to be against the very principle of play. Look on the discussion forums and you are certain to come across Buddhists asking whether it is wrong for them to play videogames because of the violence in some of them (that is against the Buddhist Ahimsa or non-violence). To stop play altogether, though? Now that's a tough one. 

[Buddhas Playing a Game by Willie Kendrick III, http://www.digitalartistdaily.com/image/11160/buddhas_playing_a_game]

To answer Juul's question (and everyone else's), the key thing to consider the full import of what the Buddha says. The writer of an article on this in Wikipedia quotes the Brahmajjala Sutta (Sutras are the holy and philosophical texts of Buddhism - the  Heart Sutra is one of the more commonly discussed ones in the West). The Buddha states the following about boardgames:
"Or he might say: "Whereas some honorable recluses and brahmins, while living on food offered by the faithful, indulge in the following games that are a basis for negligence:[1]aṭṭhapada (a game played on an eight-row chess-board); dasapada (a game played on a ten-row chess-board); ākāsa (a game of the same type played by imagining a board in the air); parihārapatha ("hopscotch," a diagram is drawn on the ground and one has to jump in the allowable spaces avoiding the lines); santika ("spellicans," assembling the pieces in a pile, removing and returning them without disturbing the pile); khalika (dice games); ghaṭika(hitting a short stick with a long stick); salākahattha (a game played by dipping the hand in paint or dye, striking the ground or a wall, and requiring the participants to show the figure of an elephant, a horse etc.); akkha (ball games); paṅgacīra (blowing through toy pipes made of leaves); vaṅkaka (ploughing with miniature ploughs); mokkhacika (turning somersaults); ciṅgulika (playing with paper windmills); pattāḷaka (playing with toy measures); rathaka (playing with toy chariots); dhanuka (playing with toy bows); akkharika(guessing at letters written in the air or on one's back); manesika (guessing others' thoughts); yathāvajja (games involving mimicry of deformities) — the recluse Gotama abstains from such games and recreations.'
That's a long list of games, everyone has commented. So why does he not like them? The truth is that the Wikipedia list does a half-job of it all. What the Buddha says is more like this:

It is, monks, for elementary, inferior matters of moral practice   that the worldling would praise the Tathágata. And what are these elementary, inferior matters for which the worldling would praise him? [...] Whereas some ascetics and Brahmins … remain addicted to attending such shows as dancing,  singing,  music, displays, recitations, hand-music, cymbals and drums, fairy-shows,  acrobatic and conjuring tricks, combats of elephants, buffaloes, bulls, goats, rams, cocks and quail, fighting with staves, boxing, wrestling, sham-fights, parades, maneuvers and military reviews, the ascetic Gotama refrains from attending such displays. Whereas some ascetics and Brahmins remain addicted to such games and idle pursuits as eight- or ten-row chess, chess in the air,  hopscotch, spillikins, dicing, hitting sticks, 'hand-pictures', ball-games, blowing through toy pipes, playing with toy ploughs, turning somersaults, playing with toy windmills, measures, carriages, and bows, guessing letters,  guessing thoughts,  mimicking deformities, the ascetic Gotama refrains from such idle pursuits.
Whereas some ascetics and Brahmins remain addicted to high and wide beds and long chairs, couches adorned with animal figures,  fleecy or variegated coverlets, coverlets with hair on both sides or one side, silk coverlets, embroidered with gems or without, elephant-, horse- or chariot-rugs, choice spreads of antelope-hide, couches with awnings, or with red cushions at both ends, the ascetic Gotama refrains from such high and wide beds. [...] There are, monks, other matters, profound, hard to see, hard to understand, peaceful, excellent, beyond mere thought, subtle, to be experienced by the wise, which the Tathágata, having realized them by his own super-knowledge, proclaims, and about which those who would truthfully praise the Tathágata would rightly speak. (My italics)
The full comment is often ignored. The Buddha isn't talking about hating a few games and listing them; he's saying that it is worldly people who praise him from abstaining from these games just as they praise him for not going to dances or boxing matches. Let's get one thing clear. The Buddha doesn't have a special grudge against board-games. As the prince Siddhartha in Kapilavastu (in modern Nepal), we know that he did let loose an arrow in an archery contest (something he has purportedly criticised in his list of games). What he is saying something very different. 

The world may think that the Buddha doesn't play games because they are immoral and cause people to neglect their work but the Buddha is not everyone else. That much we can agree to, certainly, right? In fact, the moral rectitude that the worldly people might praise him for is the least of their problems that the Buddha points out. They also wonder about the mutability of the self, the finiteness and the infiniteness of the world and things thought to be profounder than whether not playing games also means not neglecting your work and being morally correct. 

What the Buddha is all about is what he states at the end of the long and complex discourse in the sutra
There are, monks, other matters, profound, hard to see, hard to understand, peaceful, excellent, beyond mere thought, subtle, to be experienced by the wise, which the Tathágata, having realized them by his own super-knowledge, proclaims, and about which those who would truthfully praise the Tathágata would rightly speak.
In the beginning of the text, he hears two of his monks defending him against the fierce criticism of someone who does not believe in his teachings. In this long and detailed answer, the Buddha expresses the nature of Buddhahood: something that is beyond thought and part of his own super-knowledge. The understanding of the Buddha or the Tathagata (literally 'he who has come' or 'he who has gone', the name the Buddha refers to himself by) transcends all of these. The Buddha is at perfect peace and 'having understood as they really are the origin and the passing away of feelings, their satisfaction, their unsatisfactoriness, and the escape from them, the Tathāgata, bhikkhus, is emancipated through non-clinging.'

The Buddha, or the Enlightened One, is beyond games but only because he is beyond anything worldly. There are accounts where boardgames are a major part of Buddhist learning. Consider, for example, the Buddhist monk Sakya Pandit's creation of the Tibetan Game of Liberation to teach the notion of karma to his co-religionists. Jens Schlieter has an essay on the game that I'd strongly recommend. 

In a recent talk that I plan to turn into a paper, I plan to explore this with a few discoveries that will potentially add to Schlieter's research and make clearer links with game studies. For that, I will have to tell you about my adventures in Rochester - in the next blog post, perhaps. 

* I've been a bit lazy with the citations but the quotes have been taken from the translation (from Pali) by Bhikkhu Bodhi (available here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.01.0.bodh.html) and another translation that is available here; http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.01.0.bodh.html
** I am grateful to Annika Waern and Mohini Freya Dutta for raising this in their respective Facebook posts.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Article in Games and Culture: Videogames and the Subaltern

No comments
My article 'Playing Subaltern: Video Games and Postcolonialism' has been published in Games and Culture. Here's the abstract:

The postcolonial has still remained on the margins of Game Studies, which has now incorporated at length, contemporary debates of race, gender, and other areas that challenge the canon. It is difficult to believe, however, that it has not defined the way in which video games are perceived; the effect, it can be argued, is subtle. For the millions of Indians playing games such as Empire: Total War or East India Company, their encounter with colonial history is direct and unavoidable, especially given the pervasiveness of postcolonial reactions in everything from academia to day-to-day conversation around them. The ways in which games construct conceptions of spatiality, political systems, ethics, and society are often deeply imbued with a notion of the colonial and therefore also with the questioning of colonialism. This article aims to examine the complexities that the postcolonial undertones in video games bring to the ways in which we read them.

No comments :

Post a Comment