CfP Book on Esoteric Gaming!

Just posted the call onto GamesNetwork, GLS, AoIR, and IGDA LEG SIG maling lists.

Here it is in all it’s glory:

Extraordinary Feats of Gaming

tl;dr: (Damn, Mark. You write too much.)
Call for chapters, editing help, interested illustrators, peer reviewers (of sorts), and general comrades-in-arms for a book project on esoteric gaming practices! Email Mark (markdangerchen gmail) by April 15!

Overview
This call for help is for a book about esoteric gaming practices that require effort, technical skill, and/or innovative workarounds to barriers or constraints that prevent one from playing a game the way they want to play it. The edited volume will touch on, among other things, expertise in games, identity, different literacies, player agency, and sociomaterial / sociotechnical arrangements of play spaces.

Though the book will be looking at different subcultures and may touch on the topics of marginalization, all of the chapters need not focus on arguing for “diversity in games.” These themes should be implicitly understood and assumed, so the chapter authors can concentrate their efforts on documenting awesomeness rather than defending particular stances. The book will serve as a champion for the wide range of extremes and margins of gaming practice and culture. These are stories that come out of deeply qualitative accounts that may be unaccounted for by big data.

This is also a book *project* in the sense that the book will not be a traditional academic text. Invited authors and editors will collectively think through novel publishing models, transparent draft sharing, innovative supplements or alternatives to peer review, writing non-research report kind of chapters, finding illustrators, trying interesting layouts, etc. The book project has aspirations to be widely disseminated, possibly leaked on torrent sites, self-published in iTunes and Kindle, etc. If that all sounds good, keep reading.

K-Mart
A couple of years ago, I met someone in the MMO The Secret World who I leveled up with for a month or so. She played a character that was customized to look like K-Mart from the Resident Evil movie series. K-Mart from the movies is a teenaged girl, named after where she was rescued by the group of survivors that Alice joins in RE2. My friend and I didn’t have the exact same schedules (something that can cause problems that me and others have written about before), so she started to pull ahead in levels, and we eventually stopped grouping. Sure, there was that awkward transition time where, when she saw me online, she’d hop over to my location and help me out with my quests, but that only lasts so long… and maybe I’m speaking more about my own personal guilt and feeling of putting someone out than anything else… I didn’t want to burn through my social / cultural capital.

I think she wanted to keep helping me because I single-handedly took down a boss in a raid we were on after the rest of the group wiped. It took about 10 minutes of whittling down the elder god’s health, while dodging its AoEs. While some of it is just that I saw how the others died and so learned the fight patterns, I’d like to think that I’m still one of the better DPSers out there… when I’m actually out there, of course…

Anyway, K-Mart and I drifted apart for the next month or so, but we did share our Steam IDs with each other one day. When we later connected through Steam, we discovered that we had a lot of games in common, and we decided to try a couple of more games together.

I noticed, in APB and Fallen Earth, that she still played a character named K-Mart (though her Steam ID was something different) and that she took advantage of any customization provided by the game to make her character resemble the movie one as much as possible. I remember her stating as one of APB’s best features the degree to which you can change up a character’s appearance. (And I found this interesting since I also remember meeting a guy (Jesse?) at State of Play 09 who gave a presentation on APB’s then-revolutionary character customization options.)

Anyway, at some point I asked if she always played K-Mart. Yes. Yes, she does. Whenever possible. This ranges from single-player games to these larger MMOs that I met her in. They range from text-based fan fiction RP through LiveJournal to multimillion dollar AAA 3D games. She was obsessed with K-Mart (and the actor Spencer Locke who portrayed her) since she first saw RE2. She was just hitting her own teen years at the time the movie came out (2007), so maybe she saw in K-Mart a role model or someone to identify with more so than the older badass Alice (played by Mila Jovovich). The common features for most of the games she played was that they were set in a post-apocalyptic future and that they were role-playing games. Something about K-Mart’s story of survival, of being part of a team, set in a harsh reality, seemed to really resonate with my friend.

K-Mart’s story is interesting, of course, in its ability to ground gaming practice in human meaning-making, helping us understand gaming as ways of being and making sense of our world, but it’s similar to many stories that come out of gaming. No, what makes K-Mart’s story simply amazing is this:

She told me that she mostly plays PC games because of the better modding options found in the PC versions of games. This is particularly true for Bethesda’s games. Look at The Nexus, for example, to find new quests, new objects, new character models (yes, including nude meshes and textures), realism overhauls, better weapons, better light and weather effects, etc. Things you can’t get on the Xbox version of Skyrim or Fallout 3.

K-Mart highlights this advantage because she wanted to make sure I understood what she was talking about when she tells me that she was making the perfect K-Mart for Fallout 3. When she heard that you could import your own models and textures into the game, K-Mart sat down and decided to teach herself how to do that. She got a copy of 3D Studio and learned it. On her own. Over the course of several months. Just to make K-Mart. And… And, even more amazing is that she did this before even playing the game. She wanted the perfect K-Mart to leave the bunker with.

Think about that for a sec. Here’s a player who taught herself how to use 3D modeling software so she could play the person she wanted to play *before* she even knew if she’d like the freaking game!

Surely, my friend had some sort of social support to be able to do this self-directed learning. When asked about her life, however, she confided in me that she lives with her multiple siblings with their parents and that by day she cleans houses for a living. This was unexpected. I’m making several assumptions here: It’s possible K-Mart comes from a lower income family, might be a non-native English speaker, and does not have a college degree, even if she’s got some sort of network of resources where 3D Studio (maybe torrented), a fast internet connection, and a fast computer are at her disposal. Whatever the case, K-Mart’s story is amazing and begs for follow up research.

And that… *That* is what this book is about. Esoteric gaming practices that are convoluted and detailed, that tell us about subcultures of gamers, that when examined or even just revealed shed light on the awesomeness of gaming. This book specifically will feature chapters about different group or individual practices of finding workarounds or modding or accommodating for specific arcane rituals or behaviors that make it so players can play the games they want to play.

The book is also about expertise development in informal contexts and the kinds of learning arrangements that form around sociomaterial / sociotechnical gaming settings. How does someone like K-Mart teach herself 3D modeling software? What kinds of supports were in place? How does this relate to the Connected Learning movement?

The book is also also about critical consumption, modding, and hacking, possibly as an argument to see these practices as distinct from making, though not any less valuable. There’s value in consuming, in serious leisure, because of the attachments and meaning people place in their activity. There’s value in the pursuit of the perfect game.

Call for Authors / Editors / Illustrators / Reviewers / Comrades
If K-Mart’s story interests you, if you have other stories you want to share, if you have mad layout or illustration skills you want to lend, if you’ve been hoping to break from traditional academic publishing, if you want to celebrate awe-inspiring stories from our loved hobby, email me. Let’s talk (markdangerchen gmail). By April 15, 2015.

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