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Play's the Thing: A Framework to Study Videogames as Performance

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Performance studies deals with human action in context, as well as the process of making meaning between the performers and the audience. This paper presents a framework to study videogames as a performative medium, applying terms from performance studies to videogames both as software and as games. This performance framework for videogames allows us to understand how videogames relate to other performance activities, as well as understand how they are a structured experience that can be designed. Theatrical performance is the basis of the framework, because it is the activity that has the most in common with games. Rather than explaining games in terms of 'interactive drama,' the parallels with theatre help us understand the role of players both as performers and as audience, as well as how the game design shapes the experience. The theatrical model also accounts for how videogames can have a spectatorship, and how the audience may have an effect on gameplay. Author Keywords performance, rules, framework, software, theatre,
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... The last feature is particularly important in the context of my paper, and Caillois says of make-believe in reference to play that it is 'accompanied by a special awareness of a second reality or of a free unreality, as against real life' [2]. These definitional qualities are similar to Clara Fernández-Vara's definition of video games as performance, proposing five basic features: 6 'a special ordering of time, a special value attached to objects, non-productivity in terms of goods, rules, and performance spaces' [7]. That games are essential parts of culture is not only true of "traditional" games as identified by Huizinga and Caillois but, I would argue, also of video games: they are, after all, simulations of aspects of reality, such as social relationships, negotiating skills, or economic strategies. ...
... Games create illusions of a world that might be close to or utterly different from the world we perceive as real. 7 This illusion is not a negatively connoted deception, but an aesthetic process. While non-aesthetic illusion is mainly interpreted in negative terms and concerned with uncovering deceptive modes, fictional or aesthetic illusion wants to intensify the ability to create a world that differs from reality outside the game [5]. ...
... These five features are shared by play, games, sports, theatre, and rituals[7]. As Fernández-Vara notes, there are exceptions to this definition, such as, for example, online poker, which includes monetary gain and, hence, productivity.7 ...
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Video games that incorporate other games in their game-world create interlacing fictional levels. These can be used to engage with concepts of “gameness” from within the game itself without abandoning the aesthetic illusion created by the macrogame, in which the minigame is embedded. In my paper, I delve into the question why we are willing to immerse ourselves in video game worlds even if they contain elements that overtly emphasise the fictionality of these games. I explore concepts of illusion as well as interlacing fictional levels from a theoretical perspective before I research various modes of games within games with or without an impact on the gameplay of the macrogame as well as their relationship to illusion. The outcome of my paper will be a comprehensive study of the critical potential of minigames, which is accomplished by discussing a large corpus of different video games.
... In our approach to games and play, we follow Fernández-Vara [19], who views play as a performance and the player as both a spectator and a performer. She explains that "The role of the player […] is just one element that straddles between the role of the audience and the interactor", and thus, "the performance of the player is a negotiation between scripted behaviours and improvisation based on the system". ...
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This paper aims to offer a critical analysis of recent games by and/or about refugees, with a strong focus on the narration and reconstruction of personal experiences and biographies. We have selected three European (French and German) productions and a global one (created by UNHCR), describing the journeys refugees fleeing their country: Finding Home (UNHCR, 2017), Bury Me, My Love (Playdius Entertainment, 2017), and Path Out (Causa Creations, 2017). We also consider a fourth game: North (Outlands, 2016), an experimental cyberpunk indie game that presents well-known bureaucratic and systemic obstacles for refugees. This paper contextualizes the media representations of refugees and studies these selected games first by describing their conditions of production and communicative aims, including their intended effect on players and their calls to action (if any) beyond the act of playing. Secondly, we consider the narrative design choices they employ, in particular, their narrators and focalizers, paying attention to if and how they give voice to actual refugees. Lastly, we study the genres, goal structure, and mechanics of interaction they use, separating them in three main ludonarrative strategies: interface-based newsgames, reality-inspired interface games, lost phone newsgames, autobiographical JRPG-like, and experimental cyberpunk first person adventure. In this, we observe how these works apply the language of videogames to bridge their ludofictions to the real world stories behind them.
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Performing arts and playing video games are both forms of human creativity. They are also a form of leisure, a way of expression and a part of economic structures. They offer a position for both the performer and the audience.
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Challenge is an intrinsic part of play. From the academy it is presented as one of the basic elements of its language, as a set of obstacles that oppose the player’s advancement and, at the same time, as a motivator to achieve personal triumph. In this sense, the domination of the ludic system is related to the set of rules that make it up and the mechanics that give agency to the player. But challenge can also be shown differently, as an hermeneutic obstacle or ethical decisions, such as narrative puzzles, disempowerment fantasies or the feeling of vertigo. All these elements are fundamental pieces of the challenge in a broad sense and constitute the ludic difficulty aesthetics. This phenomenological study of video game addresses the question of ludic difficulty from personal perception and experience, that is, of every significant element for the construction of the game aesthetics. From this perspective, the ludic difficulty aesthetics consists of the rules system, the player’s performance, and the fictional elements that contextualize the gameplay. As a result, we present the aesthetic and phenomenological MPF framework for the analysis of ludic difficulty and challenge, which is divided into three different and interconnected patterns: mechanics, performance and fiction.
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