Thursday, October 29, 2015

Play Entry 17 Victor Turner

Why didn't anyone tell me about Victor Turner?

And I mean that honestly, is there a reason I should stay away from his work? Because OH MY GOD social drama, metaphor, liminoid......

I think this might be super relevant to how tech workers create self identify and myth and maybe why they identify through play identities but I super feel like this might have something to do with the subversiveness of play in western culture if I can sit with it long enough ....

what are the problems with his work? Is there a strong dialouge with it I should look at?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Play Entry 16 who plays these "games"

The last few days are complicated and I need to process them to post about play but this is a thing that happenes

Friday, October 23, 2015

Play Entry 15 Qualisign

Mr. Rabbit reminds us that qualisigns must be embodied in something in parti- cular. But as soon as they do, they are actually, and often contingently (rather than by logical necessity), bound up with other qualities—redness in an apple comes along with spherical shape, light weight, and so forth. In practice, there is no way entirely to eliminate that factor of co-presence or what we might call ‘bundling.’ This points to one of the obvious, but important, effects of materiality: redness cannot be manifest without some embodiment that inescapably binds it to some other qualities as well, which can become contingent but real factors in its social life. Bundling is one of the conditions of possibility for what Kopytoff (1986) and Appadurai (1986) called the ‘biography’ of things, as qualisigns bundled together in any object will shift in their relative value, utility, and relevance across contexts.

W. Keane / Language & Communication 23 (2003) 409–425 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Play Entry 14

University of Leicester media professor Alison Harvey argues that “campaigns of abuse and harassment can be understood as the creation of value” on social media platforms, where “hate—like sex—sells.” 


A conversation I had with a friend about my work involved a discussion about how convention based fandom and coding were both women created/based spaces that were discovered by men as suddenly creating value and then colonized by men in performance positions but most of the labor is still done by women, their labor is then made invisible and perceived not only as a sole male domain that needs women to "break into" as opposed to "reclaiming" but gaming ( video, D&D, "mind-sports" ) was a male space that IS being broken into and settled by women.

This most likely makes a difference in the way the participation of women is received - minimizing women is necessary through the devaluation of the things they do that are still needed to make coding and conventions work. They were never not-there, they were never gone - its only that things men were willing to do now carried prestige and the men took over the visible spaces and visible women were assumed to be supports or attached-to the men.

When women brought female based expressions of fan enthusiasm ( crafts/cosplay) it was treated as new and outsider - as though the Costumers Guild and Masquerades had never been part of the female created fandom since it's inception. There have always been Hall costumes, there have always been costumers, there has always been interpretations of movies, book covers "reproduction" and original designs of costumes for characters. There has always been fanfic - the art shows were very different - more democratic - Deviant Art serves that space now.

The concept of "new" is age coded - I have heard women who found a place and don't consider themselves invisible deride "fake geek girls" on the fact that they meet the beauty standard and "real geek girls" don't care. that is complicated and I need to unpack it later - but the idea is that somehow it is "easier" for those girls in this world and that suffering or outsiderness in mainstream life is necessary for belonging to this group. But mostly it's generational because it listening to men their own age discuss these women that creates this concept - the women are perceived through the reaction and frankly the consumption of the women by the men and that consumption "cheapens" the experience of the woman willing to label another woman a "fake geek"

Before it was codified as specifically male in these spaces there was still that conflict but the terms and social positioning of those feelings were firmly rooted in the same kinds of social words that would be used outside of the genre play: a woman who traded on her looks to create male competition for her was marked out with derogatory comments that would be the same ones now used against Kim Kardashian by specfically mainstream moralizing. The conflict between standard arrangements of monogamy and the free-love non-monogomous movement that has always  been part of counter-cultures going back at least as far as the 1800s was always part and parcel of the convention circuit. Women being threatened by other women who do not agree to the same sexual-social rules has always been part of the social space to be navigated since the 70's - I would argue experientially it's more codified, there is an actual expectation of respect and etiquette as opposed to a more haphazard mashing together of interests under the unifying space of "fantasy/sf" appreciation.

To me it sometimes seems like bringing together all the people who like to drink milk with coffee and expecting them to somehow be different from non-milk with coffee drinkers and very, very similar to milk with coffee drinkers.

But once you put milk with coffee drinkers together they will share experiences - they will be told they are all equal but they will build structures, create value - like the element above - it will not be separated from the value creation and mores that the grown individuals bring to the table

So this seems important to me

"On an Internet built on the assumption that every contribution is equally valid, harassers are just as valuable as their victims. But as the harasser flames his victim into silence, he becomes more valuable than his target. In a recent essay, fantasy author Ferrett Steinmetz argued that, to a social media company’s “cold bottom line, a troll calling women names all day gets more advertising hits. He is a devoted user. And so they are loath to ban anyone, because these companies make money off of large user bases, and kicking someone off risks trouble.” By 2004, Barlow had recalibrated his brand of technolibertarianism to take aim at how corporations were co-opting digital culture for their own benefit. “Most libertarians are worried about government but not worried about business,” he told Reason. “I think we need to be worrying about business in exactly the same way we are worrying about government.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Play entry 13 Rules as Grammar - Play as Speech - House Rules as Resistance

From my Facebook Feed this morning 

From my Facebook Feed this evening

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Play Entry 12 - Parties: Leisure or Play

This play journal is still happening before lit review on play or leisure so that my experiences of it are still in the tactile embodied sense.

However in Karen Ho's Liquidated she describes the recruitment process for Wall Street and how the recruiters come to campus and basically invite undergrads to events that model the kind of socializing and life they would have access to if they become members of those companies.

The “vigorous college recruiting season” is usually capped off with elaborate “sell days” to encourage seniors to accept the job. Such perks include “ski trips to Utah and dinners at Lahiere’s” (Princeton’s four-star restaurant) (Easton 2006; Shapira 1998). Every junior and senior that I interviewed spoke about the allure of recruiting, the constant wining and dining, the fancy spreads at upscale hotels and
 According to the Daily Princetonian staff writer Alice Easton: After months of dressing up in suits and ties, making their way to New York or the Nassau Inn and trying to impress panels of interviewers with their technical and social skills, juniors applying for summer internships in finance and consulting can now reap the benefits of their work: elaborate “sell days” to convince them to accept the job.… “They paid for two nights at a fancy hotel in New York.… They rented out a museum and had a cocktail party, and then rented out the VIP room in a nightclub in Soho.”... The company later sent him chocolates in the mail.…[ They showed recruits] a whole lifestyle.
  (Easton 2006)
Ho, Karen (2009-06-22). Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street (a John Hope Franklin Center Book) (p. 50). Duke University Press. Kindle Edition.

So this is the thing I am thinking about parties as Leisure and why leisure is different than play.

Liesure is the time defined as not-paid I think. You are expected to do things and perhaps expected to consume but not necessarily create - creation of the party however may be play - you are crafting a social experience.

As the senior rep for the Anthropology Department together with my fellow rep we are in charge of putting together the Anthropology Tea. For me it is a party planning happy space - I love designing events and subverting serious things with unserious ones and vice versa - it is like writing.

Our tea will use our traditional theme of Halloween - because physical anthropology loves skeletons and Anthro 101 is usually in sessions and dealing with skull identification at that point. Our school recognizes the four fields method of teaching anthro and when I attended I wanted to understand or be engaged more in our recruiting process for those things - so the play for me was setting up a party for new and interested people that also tied into the four fields.

Cultural will be the Bryn Mawr Tea, Biological will have blood clot candies, DNA referecning injections and bones, Archeology will have a life sized chocolate skull we can serve using stone tools (hopefully) Linguistics will have grammatical notes and bookmarks,

Information will be provided on each table and we are hoping to have little table stands that say "ask Dr. ____ about _____" so potential majors and minors will be able use that question as ice-breakers for the profs.

the Planning for me was play - the party however will be networking - it's only two hours - there will be some speeches and presentations, the food and tables capes will be doing the events - there are no contests or games other than networking and eating an anatomically correct chocolate skull.

It is a party meant for information dissemination and maybe recruitment.

but I went to a birthday part last night  - we were gathered as disparate parts of my friend's life - we brought some of the people from our own to share - I brought food and a gift. - The birthday person was the host, alcohol, foodways, and networking were still done. 3/5 of our excecutive board was there. The realities of our weeklong break showed "break" for us really just meant "no classes were held but some deadline and assignment were still being submitted throughout the week.

The school held hearings, had work due on the monday and various institutional outside groups continued to have deadlines. In my support role I was still accessible to our constituency so most days either through kinship-support (the McBride or Anthro Major Kinship) or through "person needs real time help to deal with trouble" I ended up dealing with some school based admin focused issue daily. As much as I protected myself from adding work on my own while refocusing I did not achieve "escape from school/work" I simply didn't overload it. At the party - which was leisure we checked in and checked information - this does not mean we didn't have "fun" but it does mean that our off time is not separated from our on time.

The pure joy is I managed to get some of my friends from school to meet one of my very important friends from outside of school- and they enjoyed each other  - this is story sharing. And for me it cements some of my school friendships as friendships I will stake outside the space of institution. By introducing one world to the other intentionally it makes them more likely to survive the institutions - they will know they are not conditional friends.

So what is a party for when it is a gathering like this? How are parties different than parties planned around actives - like when friends who play games have parties based around playing the game?

We talked about games yesterday - because if you ask about my work right now you are asking about games. And a guest who knows some magic "played a game" with me:

GWKSM: "So do you know any good places to get Magic cards in the city"
Me: "Well by University City there's a really good store called Redcaps and...."
GWKSM: "I know the owners of Redcaps, I was going to see if you mentioned them. "

In terms of playing at regular events, while many things happened in Philly Redcaps is the only place to draft and play Friday Night Magic in Center City. So the question was initially from "unknowing because lightly engaged" and when GWKSM flipped it into a test - unbeknownst to GWKSM it becomes a gatekeeper question the subtext being "do you REALLY know anything about playing Magic in the area" however GWKSM was lightly engaged in the community and doesn't know any activities that aren't Redcaps based. GWKSM is also unfamiliar with stores outside the area, and engaged in conversation about why GWKSM didn't enjoy playing Dungeons and Dragons because it was presented as analogous to video games like Final Fantasy, instead of a collaborative storytelling game - which this person would not be interested in.

The reason I'm inclined to see our exchanged about Redcaps as a game GWKSM was playing is because of the definition and lens of competition being used to frame all conversations about play and goals until I applied other analytic frameworks in our conversation. Interesting in light of the statement "limited is the only 'real' way to play competitively" and not knowing what Elo rankings were but automatically assuming they were accurate and superior to non-Elo rankings.

In that case what is the underlying competitive habitus of asking that question to "test" my answer? Assuming it's not "women don't play or know Magic" which I'm not inclined to believe as a conscious choice - then was it a game of establishing my credibility or a hide and seek discovery game where GWKSM's cultural capital is revealed?

A side note - at the part last night were 4 people who identified themselves as people who played magic with perhaps 20 people at the party - the host does not play magic.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Play Entry 11 - Shared Complaint

"And that’s okay! It’s okay that it’s a fun topic to read and think about. The same way that Mark Rosewater insists that One With Nothing is valuable to the game precisely because people can complain about it, it’s kind of fun to bitch with your friends about how fucking expensive the newest Jace already is. The same way that tourney grinders love to talk shop about how the new cards might perform in the new Standard, it’s really fun for finance grinders to talk shop about…how the new cards might perform in the new Standard."

The "fun" of shared complaint - it is different than sharing a burden.

Last night with my friend we played with the set where the "fun" is eluding me but using our favorite format where everything is usually more "fun" it blended in well with a more enjoyable set. Sharing the complaint of being unable to read the cards due to disability was not "fun" it was however bonding and exploratory - she is a person I can ask who does not have a disability what the cards look like to her - that could lead to problem solving for me. This is closer to "work" or "work for play".

Sharing the complaint of the muddy artwork and similar card visuals that was NOT disability related WAS a kind of fun - discovery of not aloneness, shared aesthetic, shared expertise (we are both alumnae of the same art school - different media) I think that shared complaint may only be "fun" but we were not "playing" and it was not "play"Interacting with each other and the cards however was "play" - the subjective quality would have been a kind of lightness - is there more of a discovery aspect? 

The method of play is based on surprise - sealed booster packs of cards are opened and only seen/discovered through gameplay. We have an expectation of finding something, the act of rules-based interaction (the strucutural aspect of the game which is vetted as enjoyable and repeatable) but comments made about art both positive and negative added to the "play" factor - we are sharing discoveries WITH personal subjective opinions - we discover the cards and more of each other.

This makes me think of how you keep your hamster healthy and happy by hiding food and treats for your hamster to discover. There are no "negative" discoveries in either system. Hamster treat finding is play for the human trying to balance the discoverability with the surprise for the hamster and what is it for the Hamster - who does not need the treat to survive - the idea of the treat as play or opportunity to play may be thought of here.


The quote above is from a site Hipsters of the Coast - they are a branded Magic content site that assumes it leans left their forays into MtG Finance are interesting as the echo many of the complaints for the people who want to play - but I still see very little self-knowledge about the justification of play through capitalist language /acts even though it saturates all the conversations

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Play Entry 10 - Friends/Catch up Play

I am trying to get back to playing Magic with enthusiasm but my enjoyment of the set is still minimal. The story doesn't move me, the cards are hard to read. If the cards are hard to read the play moves from "thing I like to do" to "thing I have to do"

This is made more complicated by the fact that it is my academic study for this year - there is no "putting down" this version of the game for me until I like the next release better.

I have called out to Twitter and let the field know I am having problems with the "fun" part asking for someone who loves this set to help.

I did notice that someone who joined me in the critique and feels the mechanics muddy also enjoys the play of the set. This is why this entry is here.

Is there a kind of "fun" in shared complaint? Is shared complaint an aspect of play.

For me it is a barrier that I have asked for help with - however is the fact that I asked for help rather than just say "oh I'm not feeling this set" a sign of something like "desire for play"?

My friend who I have not seen socially for a year is coming out - we will deal with my cards and spending time with her is part of the "recharge" I am attempting - she does remind me to play I remind her to play this game. They physical mass of my cards will be some of what we have to deal with. But we will also go shopping, get our nails done and bake.

This is one of the more interesting spaces - those activities are things that should be mundane or chores - but I do not have time for them so they are now defined as leisure - if I didn't have a friend coming to share them with I might not have made time for those things at all - even though except for baking they are needed.

Am I only defining them as leisure BECAUSE they are self-care based? Is some sense of play or leisure based in "selfishness" or is it gendered because focusing on self is so antithetical to "being a good X" that I have internalized it as "less important" and thus subliminally coded"less important as == leisure  || optional. Is play only that which is not "required"?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Play Entry 9 Play at Funerals

On Friday I attended the funeral of a family member of my spouse. Even thought I am an anthropologist and before that an actor so I tend not to "pre-judge" religious beliefs I am almost always at odds with the performances of Catholic rituals. But I think that stems more from a type of mask that is used in the formal performance of the ritual.

There is personal loss but that is not what this entry is about - this is about acts of play or references to play as I encounter them or struggle with them. And in this case it might be performance of the construction of whiteness.

My spouse and I met with a professor of mine during the mourning rituals and we stayed up far too late - part of the exchange was story-telling and my spouse likes to tell a story about my culture shock with one of the first "viewings" I attended - I encouraged him to tell this story because he comes from a storytelling culture, and because the people who were with us were people who deserved a story where I was not at my best and could be laughed at. It is, in the face of sudden loss a funny story.

This is the play thing. Most of the time with this professor, in this class I am playing with ideas - I am batting them around like a ballon waiting to see if they pop- or I am trying to pop them by sitting on them and they refuse to unmake themselves or explode. It is one of the few places where I do not have to temper or hide myself in order to engage in the act of exploration.

I am not uncomfortable with using the word "playing" with ideas here; I dress them in costumes and make them dance and play ping pong with them and it is mostly joy even when it's very, very serious. Ideas in this class are the things I play with in the manner closest to childhood play.

There is a catch, while I am doing this and am actually unselfconscious - I am "vulnerable" in the sense that I am known, and freely able to admit when I know nothing or am wrong, but I am powerful in the fact that I have command over all the things I am playing with, I am equal to the people who are playing with me. And if you play with that kind of whole self that you played with as a child but with grown things -it looks like a lot of power which on me - I have been told can be intimidating.

So the offer of a story I do not tell about myself where I am the source of the humor ( partially because of my powerlessness) becomes a form of offering or intimacy - My spouse then gets to play and spin out the story and my playmates (classmates/professor) get to share that intimacy from a place of exchange outside of me.

This idea that play is dangerous like sex is dangerous to the state or to society may be embedded in this post-viewing sharing. This is how we defied death that night and braced for the funeral the next morning. There was no one sitting at the table sharing stories that was completely "native" to white American culture underneath my spouse's responses and acts the veneer of Catholic ritual is very, very thin. You can feel that it's like a kind of constraint or power sink to keep the rest of the culture his family came from at bay. He himself is not Catholic. Neither am I.

So that was the play after the viewing.


I will not share the story he told - it's power partially lies in the fact that it's his to tell - however the next morning was the funeral itself - this is the other form of spaces and masks where I never know what to do or say because it feels both ritualized and like a ritual unraveling that was "fixed" for American protestant infused discomfort with large feelings. Unlike my own cultures' mourning rituals which are pragmatic and detached while also leaving spaces inside the ritual for extravagant emotions, this ritual is often about quiet.

And the act of showing the body in forms that mimic it's live state with none of the cultural embellishments that acknowledged the liminal absurdity that the body is there and the person is not. They types of wake that the family would  have had before they acculturated are discussed. The kind of wake they would have had for the departed but didn't and what would have happened at it is played out in a kind of whispered remnant of defiance - it quietly performs the acts that the full wakes would have done loudly - where you remember and honor the life spirit and the spirit of play.

They try but there is still the focus on the "accomplishments" in this case, in this funeral the woman is praised for her wifeness, her motherness. The actual woman is shared in asides between family members and cousins telling stories of trying to find sanitized photos, of the priest whose homily is borderline offensive telling a story of her as a "good mom" because she waited online overnight for tickets to her daughter's favorite band.

The acts of the religion do not fully fit the families' needs past making sure that respect and honor is performed. It feels truncated not simply compared to my own culture, but to its own.

It is during the homily that seems exactly the opposite of the comfort that has been claimed for that religion for this specific circumstance that I focused on the presence of the single small child  approximately age 3 at play in this very serious space, where this relatively young woman was being mourned.

She had with her two items that were used in play - a clear plastic crystal flattened egg item that acted as a wand, a key, a steering wheel, a playmate and a sandwich.

There was also a purple stuffed animal that resembled an elephant of some sort - that toy acted more as either a source of comfort or a pillow. The child did not get moderated for speaking to the stuffed animal, but in her play when the crystal was embodied her voice pitched high and she was quite talkative.

The two adults monitoring her would not do much more than poke at her and tell her to shush but did very little to keep her movement low, they did not try to get her to be serious, there was only one kneeling prayer where they encouraged her to participate. The service, and the discomfiting homily went on for an hour. The adults were getting more concerned about the presence of an exuberant child as the people around them were getting more emotionally laden and the poking and shushing increased until the child started poking back.

The child playing is completely unaware of the nature of the event she is at, the adults around her- both those responsible for her and those simply nearby and related protected the circle of her emotional being as not related to the surrounding space within the space.

Later at an extended familial gathering that was also formal in a way I wasn't expecting (also because I wasn't expecting that gathering at all ) we sat with the child at the same seated table. The adults were all pleased that she had done so well. No one begrudged her presence or her play. The day was a long one and the free play expressed in the church did not present itself at the table where she was interact with.

In my culture the funeral happens within 24 hours - its not unusual for close family to not be able to get to the burial before it is done. We have a month of family ritual and a week of public being invited into private space. The form of interaction with age, play, family literally could not happen there. When we as adults think of play or use the words of play they are defined almost always as "not work"

But the thing I do in that class is work, and the thing the child at the funeral did in church has no relation to work unless that relationship is lovingly and elaborately constructed by academics trying to convince adults that it has "eventual value"

Is my idea-play - which in that class is "free play" and this child's free play in constrained space a similar play?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Play Entry 8 - Subversion Quote:


"Sutton-Smith suggested that as soon as you define play, someone will begin playing with your definition (1997, p. 213). In other words, play will be created from the activities or states of mind that were previously identified as not-play. This notion that play is both play and not-play is important, but more important is the subtler point made by SuttonSmith on the subversive nature of play. Play can be done within the rules, but it is also done without them, and the act of play can be culturally subversive as well. Geertz provides an example of this in his essay on Balinese cock fights. Geertz identifies several ways in which "playing" at the cock fights represents a clear subversion of traditional Balinese culture (p. 420). Balinese culture is generally gender neutral, but the cock fights are male-dominated. Balinese culture is highly controlled where cock fights are wild. Perhaps most importantly, cock fights provide an opportunity to embrace animal aspects of the self in a culture where that animal nature is so abhorrent that many file off their canine teeth to lessen their animal look (p. 420). This subversive play is included in this work for two reasons. First, subversive play is a crucial aspect of play and should be considered in any holistic study of play or games. Second, because this work examines cultural forces and their effect on meaning-making, we must also examine both the reinforcing of those forces or the bending to them as well as the resistance to them."

Playing with progression, immersion, and sociality: Developing a framework for studying meaning in APPMMAGs, a case study
Bouchard, MattJournal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology6.1 (Summer 2015): 3-25

Monday, October 5, 2015

Play Entry 7 - Game as assumed Virtual

  There are several reasons I am having trouble explaining my research to out-group individuals and anthropologists - but this one is happening pretty repeatedly - which is that people who do not know the game DEFAULT assume that is it virtual and computer based as opposed to physical.

I do not know if this is simply because of the name of the game or because unless you now preface the word "game" with a descriptor

"board game"
"table top game"
but even "card game" is now assumed to be virtual - the opening paragraph of my "research" paragraph contains this:

"Magic itself is a strategic collectable card game that is played in organized settings. Each player has a deck of cards and the game is completed though card interactions, with rule-sets updates every three months by Wizards of the Coast (WotC). Methods of playing the game, accessory sets for the game and the locations where the game is played vary widely"

so there are cards, there are decks, there are accessory sets and there are multiple locations:

"There is nothing that indicated to me this was a physical game"

There was a lot of working going on in the class to attempt to define the mechanics of the game as opposed to the culture or the questions.

Interestingly on top of the description above being not considered enough - ( or simply not creating the right associations when read to be understood)  the enthusiastic description by a student who plays was put in identity terms "you're a wizard who's fighting other wizards and you're building an army"

"Say that!"

Actually no,  I cannot say that - that is what the game is for that one person -  but has almost nothing to do with a description of the game or the game mechanics....

Other suggestions for "describing the game" also put the game in specific contexts that are coded as very specific other types of games that all end up being male-coded-video game spaces and there was resistance to my attempts to define it more in sports term - even though the community culture is more in line with sports cultures than the things attempting to define it:

"Poker with Dragons" was accepted by the room but "chess" and "football" were not.

basically unless I fed into the concept of something that aligned with a concept that kept it separate from "mainstream" concepts by adding the fantastic element the room did not accept my own definitions and insisted that people who were not me define it in a way they can access.

I eventually managed to regain the narrative by saying that "focusing on the mechanics of the game for this study is like saying you need to understand the operation of fallopian tubes to define motherhood in a culture"

This is the most feminine space I could inhabit to stop the conversational cycle.  "How can it be like a sport" when I described the rules changes were met again with resistance "sports don't change rules" but there were enough student athletes in the room so I wasn't alone in pushing back on that - in organized sports there are adjustments to the rules every few months, those rules are the responsibility of coaches to communicate to players. Because there is no specifically defined role like coaching in Magic - dissemination of those rules shifts is one of the instigators for communities to emerge.

I fought hard agains the game and the community being defined exclusively by the visual fantasy aspect first of all because it is not the way players and community members identify themselves in-group and secondly because they had already created cultural bias by distancing themselves from the act of participating in this game "I don't understand how it works" was not brought up for anyone else's study.

This is important. They don't need to understand it any more than "playing a game" - they might not individually understand brass player, gardening, computer programming, seal fishing, rabbinical ritual but no one else would be asked to explain how the ACTION of the thing worked, they would then focus on the community and questions -

I had assumed I had screwed up the writing - it is on review to write this entry that I realized the paragraph does the work they would rather have described as a form of identification through markers that separate it as "fantasy" which is the work of making it "othered" and marking it as such.

Even though I was the only person in the room who has both done the work, and is a community member - my attempts to define it were immediately ignored in favor of someone else and then I was pressed to accept that person's description as a universal placeholder.

I believe that unconscious bias and policing of that description is in play when attempting to define it. The identity narrative "we're wizards and we're battling with armies" SOUNDS like a video game so it can be understood as a video game - this is in effected coded as both white male space and as "not something ____ does"

I think I was watching the process by which game play is systemically made "less" or policed into less ""respectable" niches and I think it is entirely unconscious on the part of the class, and myself because I accepted the fact that I didn't "explain the game" until I reviewed my own work.

I did - but I didn't mark it as what they were already expecting it to be. And I will not be accepting the invitation to mark it through it's fantasy aspects unless they are relevant.

I need to think hard about this - this isn't a group of people trying to police others. And I reacted defensively because I this type of policing is one of the reasons that community of activity is getting corralled into "fandom" studies instead of more accurate descriptions of community and identity through acts instead of through consumption.

That's a super strong impulse to define it through things that carry cultural weight that has a lot of different values and social capital attached to them.

I also need to figure out how to push back against that typing to keep the "fill in the blank" nature of defining play and games and "gamers" from defining the study. Those things are involved but they aren't the focus - but maybe they will be :-(

Also I need to be clear - the enthusiastic player who defined it through identity in the game ( as opposed to actual play of the game) saw that description as a net positive and actively disagrees with the idea that it can/is identified differently by others. That player was surprised to find out there were people who were highly engaged who play that couldn't care less about the fantasy aspects or the story.

That player also is not someone who is engaged in the forms of community activity that are labeled Vorthos and Melvin. The person is enthusiastic but not universally representative. (Trick category the only thing "universal" in the Magic Community is that they all interact with the cards in some way.)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Play Entry 6- "unhappy" play -emotional engagement and the Battle for Zendikar Pre-Release

During this week more than others I have encountered play by participating in it in the dual spaces that are my "fun" and my "work". It is also not surprising in retrospect that is was also impossible to make time for updating this journal.

On Sunday a week ago it was Pre-Release for the newest version of Magic the Gathering - the site through activity that ultimately is the field for my anthropological work. Pre-releases are the ones most geared by the corporation to be welcoming and fun, this is also the beginning of a new attempt to have non-gameplay aspects of the design be communicated and integrated into the design of the gameplay and unified through the other means of communication owned and organized by the corporation.

In previous pre-releases aspects of things that felt/looked-like "play" were pretty high for me from a subjective standpoint - I'm a native participant observer, I always go to pre-release events - its part of my personal habit and tradition and it's one of the places where I feel "safe" to learn and make mistakes - the crowds are different for pre-releases even at my home store.

I was stressing over a paper and writing in general - part of the journal is a self created requirement it's taken effort to write at all since I've returned from the UK. In the stress of sorting my thoughts and figuring out if I could write them at all, I over-produced for the assignment and wrote something different than the expectation - so three days of writing eight pages of a thing that required probably a day of sorting thoughts to write two pages instead. I did not spend those three days playing the game.

I also did not spend any of the time I allocate "for myself" doing any of the things I consider "not work" which I and still not sure is the same as "play"

Things I would normally do would have let me read the fiction that underpins the game release. So I know the outline of the story only from the things prior to the corporate approved ramp -up to pre-release.

In previous pre-releases the game created events that allowed you to self identify and provided tools inside the games themselves. You chose a color, picked a guild, got involved with dragons or clans that were led by distinct personalities - there was a sense of joining AND identity that made me engage with these things whether or not I fully agreed with them - and this is an interesting part - affected me even if I never found a clan. There was emotional investment in NOT finding a space.

So in the Ravnica expansion I ended up identifying with Azorius and being disappointed that it never pulled through on the aspects of what Azorius were that made it appealing to me - but this time 3 years ago my girlfriends and I represented our guilds with pride and spent the year examining whether or not the game design reflected our guilds "fairly" - remember the design team made our guilds in the first place

I would just like to point out that in true Azorius fashion my manicure matched regulatory guild color schemes down to the pantone number.
In the Theros release the colors that make up one of the aspects of game environment were all given "Paths" or philosophies - you chose you colors and used that path to play against a Hydra with a group at the end of the pre-release event. Personal identification with a group was not a part of this play environment but uniting against an entity collaboratively was and the element of choice meant that you also "chose" your play experience. In MtG players frequently identify themselves by something best understood as "core color values"

"I'm mostly a blue mage" means the person speaking to you plays decks and cards that are usually about counterplay and controlling the actions of the board state. "I'm a red mage" means they will play strategies that involve direct damage spells, fast small creatures and then big finishers that are fast. the other three colors also have associated strategies - combining the colors is also strategic but not relevant to this discussion of "play" and identity. What IS important is by choosing a color you are also tilting the chances of being able to participate in the way you most enjoy "playing" the game - these pre-releases are all made from sealed packs and random chance. The cards you get might not support your favorite style of play. That doesn't mean you won't enjoy playing it but it does mean you declare an identity or preference or idea of what you like BEFORE settling on the best deck to build out of your cards.

So this is the idea of Theros - you are the hero - the entire block is based around the Hero's Journey complete with underworld. The color is just one of many tools you might use to be there, the event allowed you (if you wanted to) to participate in a way that allowed you to build your own hero milestones while working with others in the community. I played five events to try each of the colors. I "had fun" and also enjoyed the play based design of this expansion as well. I knew what was going on and felt connected to the art.

Remember this is a journal entry not a formal critique of either game design or the event design - this is my personal experience of "play"

The next pre-release would take place while I was at my first field site environment - "play" meant many things but the event was once again "pick your color" which was tied to specific iconic characters and then had a special "fight against the Big One" element which even if you didn't choose to do it lead to solidifying a sense of "picking a team" and knowing the various main characters were all involved in reaction to this one threat.

Then the next major release used an Ottoman Empire influenced fantasy setting that took 3 colors each - choosing clans based on color was not something I felt very invested in but the art itself and the interpretations of the Ottoman empire cultures as "inspiration points" did create emotional resonances for me and this art in particular:

Rattleclaw Mystic MtG Art by Tyler Jacobson

The reasons are because my family is diasporic from the area represented by this tradition - it's complicated but resonant for me because underneath a lot of our performance of a "mainstream" version of my religion are cultural echoes of something else entirely. It is underneath the way women in my family are raised and even when in opposition or active attempts at assimilation they have survived - little hard define - not-shared-with-outsider-tags. It is now mostly subconscious and I do not discuss it even in-family so when they pop up things are slightly surreal. This is an engagement through play and emotional resonance that it would be impossible for corporation-gamedesigner- artist to intentionally create - it is still part of my "play" during my very, very limited ability to participate in this expansion's season Rattleclaw Mystic is in my mind's eye every time I touch one of the cards from the block. She is "my team" or I am hers. 

There is a slight underpinning of desire to play for her to make her proud or share a connection - it is difficult to define. Because she is single colored as a card but produces mana (color coded "energy" that powers spells as a game mechanic) of other colors she does belong to a clan but I don't think of the clan, I think of her. 

The block ends with Dragons leading the groups of humans and other entities instead of the non-dragon leadership the block starts with. I cannot tell you who any of the dragons are except Slumigar - I remember vaguely enjoying that last pre-release but not caring as much because everything had shifted to a dragon focus. There mechanics ( too detailed to enter here) were the driving force of the game and "gameplay" and in many ways the set felt like it was just setting up the release I missed all the set-up for last Sunday. 

The story I know about this week's game I know because of story information released over the year through other events and outlets. I know because the Magic Origins pre-release (once again focused on iconic characters and "fixing" some issues with their stories made in the past) sets up this release "Battle for Zendikar"

I however don't care about Zendikar. Ultimately possibly because I know little about it as a place other than where a bad story choice happened that undermined the competence of a previously competent female character and then because the primary bad-guys are ubiquitous throughout the set. 

because I could not "play" through my own personal time all I can do is react to the art when I see it and the game play- I am almost never this unknowing when engaged in the launches of the game either as a native or as a "working ethnographer" 

But a significant difference this pre-release was the removal of "choice" from the pre-release game experience. 

A significant improvement in tactile effects was made because the product delivered itself in a usable deck box  - however it did not extend it's usefulness enough to handle being able to hold all of the cards that would be opened in protective sleeves - for outsiders to this culture these next sentences will be almost gibberish:

I pulled a Kiora which would have put me in green/blue but I was unaware of "Devoid" before I opened the packs and also was able to build a very strong red/white allies deck. Once I understood that Devoid meant that colored casting meant colorless cards I could also build an acceptable deck around Kiora. I built two full decks to sideboard Kiora , but led with the allies. 

The problem that will now be understandable whether you play the game or not is that the provided deck box couldn't handle holding 2 fully sleeved 40 card decks. 

Photo from

this meant that I could not use the box to hold more than one of the decks at a time - which meant since I didn't bring an outside deck box I was transporting one or the other as "loose cards" between each round. I was now worried about moving of losing the cards. 

What I was also noticing was that I couldn't easily read or differentiate cards being played if they were part of the main theme of the set - the colorless Eldrazi cards or the cards with Devoid" 

Let's take a look at the design choices that lead to that problem:

The cards are too similar in theme and in this search for "Visual Spoiler Battle for Zendikar Eldrazi" the cards that are easily differentiated are from other releases - another problem that happens in this set is that the contrast and lighting on the computer versions being seen is significantly brighter and higher contrast than the printed cards which are fairly muddy in their physical form. 

There is a fill under the text box of Magic cards generally but the fill is a  much MUCH lower percentage on the eldrazi associated cards. 

On the computer version the higher brightness makes it look readable in print, for me - along with the "floating frame that continues the art to the edge of the card giving my eye no symbolic edge to stop "reading" the combination meant that I was hitting right into the things my learning disability needs to compensate for which since it's pretty much just a vision processing thing means I will eventually start having neurological symptoms expressed through physical presentation, vertigo, nausea, a loss of ability to interpret things I don't normally have a problem processing - remember all vision is really just signals to the brain interpreting shape-symbols. When I over-stress that, I can't actually recognize physical objects and things that are normally not affected like "reading english" become affected  because of whatever my brain chemistry does to work around "mixed symbols" 

There's a lot of stuff I already do to read a card - I wish the printed version of this were closer to the color and contrast balance here but frankly it all ended up looking like black and gray jagged mush. 

I recognized the problem that I might have had constructing my own deck with cards like this and chose to "lead with" the clearer and easier to read red/white deck BUT I didn't remember that I would be spending the rest of the day reading my opponent's cards - where without the disability issue I imagine there is less difficulty reading the cards. 

That means I'm subjecting my brain to a kind of slow tapping water torture and fully unaware of it to consciously counteract it. There is a thing called "tilt" where you end up with outsized reactions to small frustration and I was near it by round 4 but finding out there needed to be a round 5 put me over the edge. 

I was nauseous and upset but nothing bad has happened - it was only when in the car and headed home I recognized that "nauseas" felt like vertigo and I was having trouble reading road signs. (I was not driving) and then placed it in it's proper cause and effect. 

The way I normally deal with LD issues is by preparation and exposure to the cards - but I did not have that, nor did I have any emotional connection to the gameplay other than being happy to play Magic again, I did enjoy the first three rounds but my 3rd round opponent was using a lot of the colorless cards and I probably built up tiny "injuries" through the fourth round - that's already 5 hours of "play" and there is an obligation to complete the competition for the "5th" although if I understood what was happening I would have conceded to that player. 

The 4th round though was playing a deck very much like mine and then the description I gave at the time was it "wasn't fun" playing the same deck strategy against "the mirror" which is what we call it when the same basic decks face each other - so the last two games "played" were not "fun" 

But they were "play" 

And since I was there as myself primarily and not on the clock they were my own choice time and definition of "personal play" 

And I will not sugar coat it when I was clear of everything from the physical symptoms about 45 minutes later I was in tears recognizing that if I'm having this much trouble with the cards in this set they are going to be in standard for 2 years and I was fully overwhelmed. 

I had tag neurological symptoms through Monday.  

- but I also realized that I was missing a thing that had gotten me through similar rough patches at other pre-releases - which is emotional engagement in the story - the entire set has a kind of flattened affect for me - everything is gray and dreary, I did not play in the first visit to the plane so I have no nostalgia factor that makes me care about the creature based art and there are very few groups or entities represented in the art of the cards that made me care about them as characters or people. I literally have no engagement with them- most of the anthropomorphic characters are viewed a middle distance and the art is lovely but the card art shows them at approx. 2.25 x1.5 inches for the most part.

If I "care" about the story or the things represented by the cards more does that element of connection/kinship/identity/choice  help me reduce the side effects of the neurological work? Or does that level of engagement simply create "play" effects that counteract negative physical effects. 

Maybe it is something along the lines of this - if the element of connection/kinship/identity/choice I am engaging with the visual and physical components using MORE than the visual stimuli and attendant processes - so like using multimedia input "engaged play" might be using different neural connections than "mechanical play" which would be how I experienced this pre-release as opposed to the previous ones. 

I am an outlier player - I am sure some of my experiences were experienced by other players but would have lower physical effects or (as I almost did myself) be written off as being "in a bad mood" or "not liking the set" but they may well be that limiting modes of "playful" interactions puts more impact on "play" as function. 

I was cranky through Monday where and element of working was then fully suffused in "play" and I realized later "broke" through the effects of the previous day's play. That will be the subject of the next entry - this was a  long and complicated week for work/play. 

End reflection: After playing again this weekend and protecting the areas that would be affected by the unique aspects of the new cards "playing for fun" was not effecting me negatively but I still only "had fun" helping others have an opportunity to play - I am still not engaged positively with the set and worse I don't even really remember any of the cards I played with or handled. 

I don't feel like "play" should only be justified through positive neurological or cognitive effects but due to this self-examination I am wondering about how much "fun" might be involved in play and what happens when this nebulous thing is or isn't present. Can it be created? Is it individual? 

Am I only "performing play" if a thing I enjoy is actively causing me distress? what is play then? 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Play Entry 5

"Now that hosiery is no longer quite so compulsory, it has been refashioned as a site of play. The browser confronts a carnival of decorative possibilities: jubilations of patterned tights and dainty plays of dots, embroidery suggesting the avant-­garde compromise of a tea cozy and a temporary tattoo. There are mass-­market numbers apparently engineered to adjust to body temperature and most definitely embellished with crystals, and there are high-end fishnets constructed with an understanding of the millimetric nuances in flirtiness. "