The Canadian conferences

I am back from Canada, where I participated in two conferences: 4S Annual Meeting (Montréal) and Internet Research 8.0: Let’s Play (a.o.i.r) (Vancouver). It has been a very interesting experience, both academically and personally – I will focus on the academic highlights here. 🙂

At 4S, the best sessions I went to were ones on game studies, virtual ethnography and… food! To begin with the last, there was a great, entertaining session with presenters who had done (mostly) ethnographic fieldwork and studies on food practices and discourses around different foods such as foie gras and artisan cheese. We were offered tastings from an artisan cheesemaker in Vermont and were shown a wonderful video recording of an American-born woman (with a very Woody Allen-type old New York accent) who had lived on a small Greek island with her husband and mother for many years and was cooking dinner for the family. The presenters in this session were: Heather Paxson, Deborah Heath and Anne Meneley, Amy Trubek, Wendy Leynse and David Sutton.

The game studies session had presentations on conceptual blending in virtual worlds, military games, the game industry envisioned as a game, translation of games, feminism and gaming, and the institutional and architectural surroundings around the development of “America’s Army”. All very interesting stuff. I especially liked Shira Chess’ entertaining rant about women and games, and about reclaiming notions of play in feminism. The presenters were: Hector Postigo and Sean Lawson, Casey O’Donnell, Rebecca Carlson and Jonathan Corliss, Shira Chess and Robertson Allen.

Then there was a really interesting session on network ethnography with a very good discussion on how – but also if and why – to reconceptualize the field of ethnography in the digital age. The presenters were: Anne Beaulieu, Danah Boyd, T.L. Taylor, Sally Wyatt and Nina Wakeford, and Bart Simon was discussant. Conference program and abstracts can be found here.

All in all, it was a good conference with many brilliant people presenting, though not too much games stuff. And although I only got to see a little of Montréal, I liked what I did see – great atmosphere, shops and cafés. The neighbourhood we explored (Mont Royal, Plateau, I think they were) reminded me of Brooklyn – only with a French accent :-).

Anyway, next stop was Vancouver for the a.o.i.r. conference Internet Research 8.0: Let’s Play. Another big conference with many game studies sessions (and, by the way, good food and a nice venue at the Harbour Centre/Simon Fraser University). Highlights for me were the sessions on games, of course:

I attended an interesting session on language play and language norms in games and computer mediated discourse. The presentations were very detailed linguistic studies, and since I have a soft spot for linguistic analysis, I quite enjoyed the session. For example, Josh Iorio gave an interesting perspective on language attitudes and their influence on social practice in an online role playing game. The presenters were: Lauren Squires, Josh Iorio, Anupam Das and Kris Markman.

There was a really good session on game studies with topics such as race, sex and gender representation in EverQuest, game modding, MMO machinima and community regulation and status ranking in MMOs. I especially liked Cassandra van Buren’s presentation on machinima through the perspective of posthuman theory. She talked about the possibilities of machinima to push boundaries in both cinema and games. T.L. Taylor did a very interesting talk on how modding in WoW changes the game in a very deep way, and how mods act as tools for management and regulation for online game communities. The presenters were: Keith Massie, Casey O’Donnell, Hector Postigo, Cassandra van Buren and T.L. Taylor.

Ian Bogost was supposed to present at the “Serious games” session – but did not show up. However, the two remaining presentations were really good. Daniel Ashton gave a talk on the potentials of MMOs as “boundary objects” for learning, and Ingrid Hoofd gave a very interesting and critical presentation on the ethical issues in serious gaming, highly theoretical (Virilio, Derrida etc.) and well argued. There was really some food for thought to take home from this session, as well as from the two conferences in general.

And then, of course, I enjoyed and was impressed by the presentations of my (different kinds of) “associates”: Anders Albrechtslund, Malene Charlotte Larsen, Søren Mørk Petersen and Michael Zimmer on topics such as surveillance, youth and social networking and critical perspectives on web 2.0. And Vancouver is a lovely city – sort of like a mini-Manhattan with breathtaking natural surroundings.

Online version of program can be found here.


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