[Chinese DiGRA 2014] Damien Charrieras on The relevance of a cultural study of the technology of game engines in video game studies

[This abstract is from the Chinese Game Studies Conference at Ningbo Nottingham University, Spring 2014.]

On the relevance of a cultural study of the technology of game engines in video game studies (…+the case of Japan)

Damien Charrieras, City University of Hong Kong

This research addresses the impact of technological mediations on the contemporary creative practices of production in video games and new media arts. More specifically, our research focuses on game engines, a creative toolkit that offers a set of functionalities to handle graphics, sound, artificial intelligence processes during the production of video games. Current researches on video game engines consist on the one hand of case studies of game engines used by non-market game developers to modify the mechanics of existing commercial video games – “modding” (Nieborg & Van der Graaf, 2008). On the other hand, some researchers are studying the internal design of game engines as a software (Anderson, Engel, Comninos, & McLoughlin, 2008; Evans, Hagiu, & Schmalensee, 2008).

The originality of our approach, anchored in the cultural studies of science and technologies and the materialist analysis of new technologies (Cubitt, 1998; Fuller, 2005; MacKenzie, 2006; Munster, 2006), is to address the question of the specificity of video games as a medium through the study of their technological conditions of possibility (game engines) rather than through the study of video game as an end product. Studying video games as finished products amounts to focus on the specific form of interactive narratives found in video games (Ryan, 2006) or on the ludic qualities of video games (Aarseth, 2001). The definition of the video game as a medium is not solely determined by video game publishers or the video game designers, but also by the specificities of the technologies used to produce them. As a digital and algorithmic object, video games are not only objects and representations but constitute more fundamentally a set of processes. The video game engines are the key technology handling the processes occurring inside video games and key to understand the specific techno cultural form of video games without resorting to ill fitted analogies with other forms of existing media.

Situated the crossing of interface criticism (Andersen, Pold, 2011), media ecology (Barker, 2012; Fuller, 2005) and critical theory of media (Galloway, Thacker, & Wark, 2013; Galloway, 2012), our research search to describe and assess the set of assumptions embedded in video game engines in relation to the notions of creation, art, professionalization, produsers, interactivity and generative art. Considered as more than a tool, we link the set of possibilities embedded in video game engines to certain discursive formations, situated practices and logic of experimentation in new media art (Barker, 2013).

After a general presentation of our ongoing project and a statement about the relevance of taking into account the medium of game engines in video game studies, this presentation focuses more specifically on a comparison of different conceptions of game engines in video game production practices, especially the peculiar use of in-house game engines in Japanese video games industries in relation with the practice of video game engines licensing and the circulation of game engines across diverse cultural contexts.