Gaming’s Midway Point: Games and Game Culture in Chicago at SCMS 2017


I am very happy to announce that the panel I organized, “Gaming’s Midway Point: Games and Game Culture in Chicago,” has been accepted into the Society for Cinema and Media Studies’ 2017 annual conference in Chicago, IL. The panel includes papers by Chris Carloy, Julianne Grasso, and Daniel Johnson. Abstract below the fold:

Gaming’s Midway Point: Games and Game Culture in Chicago

In recent years, Chicago has experienced a boom in cinema and television production, with its skyline becoming a familiar sight on both the silver screen (in films such as The Dark Knight, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and the Divergent series) and on the small screen (in NBC’s Chicago P.D., Chicago Fire, and Chicago Med). Its game design scene, meanwhile, has remained relatively niche. Following the closure of publishers Midway Games in 2010, the city’s main contributions to the gaming world have been in the independent scene, acting as a home to small videogame developers such as Cardboard Computer (developers of Kentucky Route Zero) and analogue game designers such as the Cards Against Humanity team, as well as groups and events such as Indie City Games and Bit Bash. Far removed from the industry centers of Seattle and Santa Monica—as well as the centers of gaming fan culture, such as the exuberant YouTube “Let’s Play” culture in Los Angeles—game development and gaming culture in Chicago have largely been content to remain in the smaller-scale margins.

This panel’s papers turn to these margins—or, more accurately, midway points—as a way of teasing apart the multifaceted relationships between game design and game culture in Chicago. First, we take a tour of Chicago’s music venues, from concert halls to bars, which serve as a battleground for the cultural status of videogame music, a repository for memory and a marker of generational identity. From there, we take a trip from the city to the suburbs, and from game culture to game design, for a historical and theoretical look at the emergence of hybrid 3D map design in tabletop gaming, and the local innovators who pioneered it. Switching from game designers to high-level players, we head back into the city to examine the cultural forces aligning and clashing as one local university attempts to integrate eSports into its athletic scholarship program, landing in the intersection of a diverse range of debates. Finally, we depart the real Chicago and head to a virtual Chicago, for an examination of how the city’s geography is altered as it is translated to fit the needs of level design in the open world game Watch_Dogs. Blending together game studies with fan studies, history with theory, and formal analysis with ethnographic investigations, our panelists’ methodologies are as diverse as their subject matter, with an aim towards productively plumbing unexpected intersections.

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