If you missed my IR13 talk The Russians Are Coming! Nationhood & Threat Perception in EVE Online – or just want to relive it in the comfort of your own home – here are the slides. I’ve added some presenter notes to guide you through the more obscure parts, which you can view by selecting ‘open in new window’ and clicking the ‘notes’ button at the bottom right. Questions, comments, feedback are all welcome.
Absorbing some final reading this summer as I plough through writing two and a half thesis chapters. My focus right now is on globalisation, particularly as it relates to youth culture. Douglas Blum’s ‘National Identity & Globalization: Youth, State & Society in Post-Soviet Eurasia’ is proving to be invaluable. Blum points out the usefulness of youth culture as a proxy for wider national identity, both because of the tendency of young people to have their fingers on the global pulse, and also because the activities of young people are (politically) seen to be a representation of a country’s future. This leads to some interesting ambiguities in the ways that state actors read youth activity: on the one hand, the ability to “be modern” and be effective in a global marketplace is seen as hugely important. On the other, cultural flows from outside must be carefully filtered so as not to erode indigenous narratives.
This is a neat theory to apply to internet use and videogame consumption, because all of the ambiguity that Blum sees in wider social discourse about youth activity is magnified in discussions about online activity. A broad survey of mainstream media discourse about gaming in Russia shows a lot of fears about anti-social activity, violence and a declining interest in literature and “real art,” concerns which have been echoed by Orthodox church spokesmen, politicians and even my own survey participants. Despite this, the Russian government has been quick – well, quick in bureaucratic terms – to subsidise the domestic game industry and encourage proficiency in gaming technology. There’s an obvious economic benefit in pushing domestic production, but the discourse surrounding videogames also has a strong ideological element to it. Just as Blum notes in the wider cultural field, the Russian authorities reconcile the divide between pernicious Western influence and the appeal of modernity by positioning their support of the Russian game industry as a protective measure. In encouraging Russian creators to produce games which portray positive elements of Russian history and mythology, the authorities suggest that their young people can learn to use computing technology and exercise their creative faculties by becoming producers themselves, without falling victim to Western messages of excess, consumerism and anti-Russian sentiment.
Filtering new media and trends in this way is a strategy which stretches back to the Soviet era, a new way of dressing up the old model of youth as “constructors of communism.” In the case of videogames, though, the authorities are drawing upon a neoliberal rhetoric of choice and personal (sometimes professional) development. Unfortunately for the Kremlin, it seems that my survey participants are far more interested in game quality than game message…
I’ll be back in Canada this May for the Canadian Game Studies Association‘s annual conference, where I’ll be talking about the Russian community in EVE Online. I’ll put the paper up here once it’s been delivered at CGSA and explore all these ideas in full, but here’s a brief outline.
My starting point has been to think about how game history interacts with existing cultural and historical stereotypes of ‘Russianness’, so that in-game behaviour comes to be presented as an extension of immutable national characteristics. Russian players are consistently represented by non-Russians as expansionist, ruthless and propagandistic in their military endeavours. There’s a second strand of thought that assumes economic poverty and revolves around the idea that a large proportion of Russian accounts are botters, farming ISK to “feed their families”.
There’s a lot of back and forth about unfair tactics, cheating and griefing as they pertain to the Russian player base, but I think what’s fascinating is the huge furore over what amounts to about 7% of the EVE population. It’s my hypothesis at present that for ‘Western’ players, it’s very convenient to draw upon past history to explain present in-game injustices. Lots of community discourse and meta-analysis about the Russian corporations and alliances in EVE draws upon Cold War terminology: the Russian bear, the Iron Curtain and so on.
This ties into a few pieces of work on griefing as being culturally subjective, in particular Holin Lin and Chuen Tsai-Sun on ‘white-eyed’ player culture, Melinda Jacobs’ article about reactions to Turkish players in Omerta and some really productive conversations with Nick Webber off the back of his griefing talk in Oxford last year.
I’d also like to link this research up to other work being done in EVE, so if you’re working on something or know somebody who is, get in touch!
A few months ago I came across a survey of the Russian-speaking MMORPG community by Yuri Bryzgalov. Both the results and the questions he was asking have been hugely productive for my thesis research and will supplement the results of my own survey work. The original documents are, of course, in Russian, but the results are way too good to keep to myself. There’s a real dearth of material about so many gaming cultures outside of the English-speaking world, and even as a non-native Russian speaker it can be incredibly difficult to find statistics about gamers in Russia and Eastern Europe. With that in mind, I recently emailed Yuri to ask his permission to translate his survey and responses into English and post them here. I’ve tried to be as faithful as possible to the original material, both in translation and in formatting. My thanks to Yuri for allowing me to make his valuable research available to English-speaking researchers.
You can download the original Russian document here [pdf].
My translation is available here [pdf].
If you are a Russian speaker who’d like to see the raw data, it’s available online here.
I have a few thoughts about the results that I’ll save for a later post. In the meantime, read, discuss, enjoy!
I’ve been playing Audiosurf practically every day lately. Steam tells me I’ve racked up 31 hours since I bought the game a few weeks back, a fact both terrifying and utterly predictable to anyone who’s played it. I don’t want to write too much about the game itself (Brendan Keogh has already summed it up perfectly at Gameranx), but if you haven’t played it yet, try. It’s a cross between a puzzle and a futuristic driving game and best of all, the soundtrack is whatever you want.
After a week or so of playing favourite songs and albums, I burrowed into my music folder and picked out some songs I hadn’t yet listened to. Some were album filler, some had been languishing on my hard drive for up to a decade, a few were frankly embarrassing to own up to. Still, Audiosurfing them injected them with some fresh interest, forcing me to concentrate my attention on the unique shapes and textures of every track.
Better still, I started finding playlists by other people to explore. Brendan’s is featured in his Gameranx article and is also available in mp3 form here, while Mattie Brice has delivered the goods with her playlist “Meet Me At the Rendezvous”. So much goodness! In the spirit of sharing, here’s mine. All the tracks are linked to YouTube so you can see what you think. Play the mix all at once, or break it into two six-track sides.
1. Rodrigo Y Gabriela, “Hanuman”
2. Novadriver, “Rocket Superstar”
3. Gogol Bordello, “Start Wearing Purple”
4. The Cure, “Jumping Someone Else’s Train”
5. Joy Division, “Transmission”
6. Underworld, “Rez”
7. Blaqk Audio, “Semiotic Love”
8. The Gossip, “Standing In the Way of Control”
9. The Duke Spirit, “Love Is An Unfamiliar Name”
10. Dinosaur Jr., “What Else Is New”
11. Tom Waits, “Alice”
12. John Murphy, “In the House, In a Heartbeat” [28 Days Later soundtrack]