Video game studies have come a long way: from its dawn as an interdisciplinary field of research in the early 2000s to the recent €2 million research grant awarded to game researcher Espen Aarseth. In between, we have seen the establishing and consolidation of games research in the humanities, the social sciences, informatics, and many more. In Germany, however, game studies keep struggling for disciplinary and institutional independence with only a few dedicated game studies chairs and (under)graduate programs in place. In fact, studying video games is still most popular among the non-professorial teaching staff, Ph.D. students, and undergraduates. Against this backdrop, academic networking events for young game scholars are of particular importance for community-building and interdisciplinary discussion. One of the longest-standing events in this regard is the annual researching games BarCamp which I have attended since 2011 — since 2014 also as a member of the organizing team.
This year’s BarCamp, however, was special: having resided in Wiesbaden for four years, #resgames 2016 moved to Berlin as an official partner event of the International Games Week Berlin. This not only allowed us to partner up with the HTW Berlin and the A MAZE. / Berlin festival, but also raised the bar in terms of size: over the course of two days (April 22-23) 44 papers were presented by just as many participants. While both the venue — a pretty stylish art studio at the HTW — and the large attendance formed a contrast to Wiesbaden’s cozy hostel atmosphere, it wasn’t long before the distinctive BarCamp vibe began to emerge: young scholars engaging in casual, but passionate and informed discussion at eye level.
As in recent years, topics varied widely, just as participants’ disciplinary backgrounds did. While many subscribed to a media, literature, or cultural studies perspective, the social sciences were also represented, as were disciplines like informatics, philosophy, anthropology, musicology, and game design. Also, for the convenience of the international guests, we were quite happy to have an all English-language track on both days, thus taking a big step towards making #resgames a truly international event. Singling out specific papers cannot do justice to the breadth of topics discussed at the BarCamp, but I still want to highlight some common threads as well as a few presentations I had the chance to attend.
What struck me as soon as people started scheduling the sessions was the high number of presentations dealing with philosophy, ethics, and epistemology – but doing so in highly entertaining ways. Sebastian Möring‘s discussion of “what basil and computer games have in common,” for example, drew on existential philosophy to apply the notion of care to our engagement with video games: we play games (and some game genres in particular) to ‘keep them alive’. Also, (dead) German philosophers proved especially popular, being featured in papers like André Weßel’s “Moral Action in This War of Mine“, Denise Gühnemann‘s and Maike Groen‘s “Games and the Categorical Imperative”, Carolin Wendt‘s “Aristotle + Fallout = <3″, or Konstantin Kaminskij‘s “Hegel and Grand Theft Auto“. And indeed, the formula “[philosopher] + [your favorite game]” led to some pretty convincing analyses and interesting discussions that often spilled over to the breaks between sessions.
Other participant weren’t so much interested in the games themselves as in the culture surrounding them. Valerie Quade provided insights into the German eSports cosplay scene, Moritz Lehr discussed issues of diversity and gender representation in League of Legends, and Annegret Montag applied intersectional theory to the analysis of the fantasy action-platformer Trine. These were nicely complemented by Michael Heller’s and Andreas Pongratz’s ethnological perspectives on games, cheating, and eSport. In addition, many papers put a spotlight on technology and game design: Eike Langbehn, for example, discussed perceptual aspects of Locomotion in VR, Mario Schreiner talked about the influence of light on humans and how the emerging smart room lighting technologies could be harnessed by virtual media in the future, and Carsten Thomas in his paper “VR – The Next Big Thing or the Next Big Bullshit?” dealt a sweeping blow against (or for?) VR as a technological innovation and utopia. Of course, there were also such evergreens as location-based gaming (by Dea Svoboda), serious games (by Barbara Reichart), and artificial intelligence (by Fabian Schrodt).
While it is always worthwhile to have cross-disciplinary discussion and adopt new perspectives on one’s own object of study — and #resgames 2016 delivered that in spades —, for me it was equally nice to meet people and discuss topics close to my own research. For one, I was more than happy that Melanie Fritsch (Bayreuth), Tim Summers (Oxford), and Yvonne Stingel-Voigt (Berlin) all contributed research on video game sound and music – a topic that has long been underrepresented in media studies and musicology. Also, it was great to reunite with BarCamp veterans and friends like Christian Huberts, Sebastian Felzmann, Rudolf Inderst, Tobias Eder, and Maria Kutscherow who didn’t disappoint in delivering both exciting talks and entertaining chit-chat between and after the sessions. Speaking of which, …
… needless to say, #resgames 2016 was not only great talks and discussion, but also — as always — a fun community experience. Apart from the casual and relaxed atmosphere throughout the BarCamp, this year’s #resgames gaming night wasn’t confined to the (admittedly beautifully decorated) basement of a Wiesbaden youth hostel, but took place in the heart of Berlin (or rather: it’s liver?): Thanks to our cooperation with the A MAZE festival, all BarCamp participants could join the festival guests at the Urban Spree expo for a mild pre-summer night with indie games, drinks, and music.
From an organizational point of view, relocating #resgames to Berlin was no walk in the park. Everything had to be planned from scratch: from the BarCamp venue and equipment to drinks, food, and accommodation. This challenge, however, was met in the most spectacular way by Florian Berger, Christian Roth, and above all Steve Hoffmann – the best team of co-organizers one could wish for. All in all, #resgames 2016 was thus again an inspiring and entertaining experience and a promising kick-off for its (potential) Berlin future.