Thursday, October 12, 2017
Grucci Room, 102 Burrowes Building
On Thursday, October 12, 2017, Stephanie Boluk (University of California, Davis) delivered a lecture titled “From Metagames to Moneygames.”
Description of presentation
Metagames, simply put, are games about games. They are the games we play in, on, around, and through videogames. And although the word “metagame” has a long history—from Nigel Howard’s game theory in which he proposed a solution to the Prisoner’s Dilemma during the Cold War to Richard Garfield’s game design philosophy for Magic: The Gathering in the 1990s—since the turn of the millennium and especially with the emergence of social media and streaming services like Steam and Twitch, the term has become a common label for diverse forms of play occurring not only around videogames but around all forms of digital technology. After reviewing what “metagaming” means within various player communities, this talk will focus specifically on the movement from metagame to moneygame in the emerging economic ecology surrounding e-sports and livestreaming.
I will analyze the ways in which players have not “gamified” but “gamblified” their livestreams in order to produce a complex network of betting games that suture together Steam and Twitch. From thousands of dollars being gambled in virtual blackjack using live video feedback of Panamanian dealers to online poker games streaming from private yachts in the Pacific to subscriber chat lotteries giving away Counter-Strike skins obtained through grey market economies, this talk examines the flows of affective, informatic, and racialized labour of moneygames that do not evade surveillance technologies but flourish precisely as a result of the presence of ubiquitous real-time cameras and networked spectatorship. As players wager that their activity will result in a wage, money is not simply the outcome but the main game mechanic driving this massive multiplayer game.
Stephanie Boluk is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and the Department of Cinema and Digital Media at the University of California at Davis. With Patrick LeMieux, she is the author of Playing, Competing, Spectating, Cheating, Trading, Making, and Breaking Videogames (University of Minnesota Press, 2017). She is also a co-editor of The Electronic Literature Collection Vol. 3 (2016).
The greatest trick the videogame industry ever pulled was convincing the world that videogames were games rather than a medium for making metagames. Elegantly defined as “games about games,” metagames implicate a diverse range of practices that stray outside the boundaries and bend the rules: from technical glitches and forbidden strategies to Renaissance painting, algorithmic trading, professional sports, and the War on Terror. In Metagaming, Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux demonstrate how games always extend beyond the screen, and how modders, mappers, streamers, spectators, analysts, and artists are changing the way we play.
Metagaming uncovers these alternative histories of play by exploring the strange experiences and unexpected effects that emerge in, on, around, and through videogames. Players puzzle through the problems of perspectival rendering in Portal, perform clandestine acts of electronic espionage in EVE Online, compete and commentate in Korean StarCraft, and speedrun The Legend of Zelda in record times (with or without the use of vision). Companies like Valve attempt to capture the metagame through international e-sports and online marketplaces while the corporate history of Super Mario Bros. is undermined by the endless levels of Infinite Mario, the frustrating pranks of Asshole Mario, and even Super Mario Clouds, a ROM hack exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
One of the only books to include original software alongside each chapter, Metagaming transforms videogames from packaged products into instruments, equipment, tools, and toys for intervening in the sensory and political economies of everyday life. And although videogames conflate the creativity, criticality, and craft of play with the act of consumption, we don’t simply play videogames—we make metagames.