Game cultures: Fans and mods

Date & Time:

4th March, 16:00


C284, 2nd floor Curzon B
Birmingham City University
4 Curzon Street
Birmingham B4 7BD


Game Cultures: Fans and Mods
Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewart (Staffordshire University) On a scale of 1-5, what floor are you on?’ Emergence, Fun and Transformative Play by Fans, for Fans

Dr. Adam Chapman (University of Gothenburg) Modding for/by the People: Games Culture and the Constitution of the Authentic

Dr. Esther MacCallum-Stewart (Staffordshire University) ‘On a scale of 1-5, what floor are you on?’ Emergence, Fun and Transformative Play by Fans, for Fans

This talk presents the early stages of research about the ways in which people create games to play in order to diffuse negative or boring situations. These games may not have a point, may be transient, impractical and serve no purpose outside their immediate context. Nevertheless, they persist.

In 2019, I was involved in what was by then a 5 year project to bring the 85th World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon), to Dublin, Ireland. This was the first time that Worldcon, a volunteer run fan convention with an emphasis on literary science fiction and fantasy (SFF), had come to Ireland. Worldcon hosts the annual Hugo awards, the Oscars of science fiction, and Dublin 2019 also hosted nearly 4500 fans during its five day event. Rather like a conference, Worldcon involves hundreds of panels, discussions, talks, signings, parties and events. It is a raucous, riotous celebration of all things ‘SFFnal’.

Worldcon is also, like every event of its nature, subject to problems – some specific to the convention itself, others a result of accidental error or poor planning. It is up to the volunteer team to act to solve these issues, be they during the convention, prior, or sometimes even following the event.

Fans, I argue, are like (or simply are) gamers for whom play, experimentation and fun are hardwired into their experiences of public events such as these. This talk starts to examine the ways in which these two – often merging – communities can be critically understood, and how playfulness can be expanded into a wider sphere of experiential troubleshooting.

Dr. Adam Chapman (University of Gothenburg) Modding for/by the People: Games Culture and the Constitution of the Authentic

Academic attention to historical games has seen a significant increase in the past decade. However, whilst historical game studies has paid a significant amount of time considering the games themselves, less time has been spent considering the ways in which history is also constituted by game cultures and player communities. This paper argues that discussions of historical games must be partly grounded in the communities of practice and the (often unspoken) discourses of games culture. This idea is explored by examining a distinct phenomenon: historical ‘modding’, i.e. the modification of games with (or for) historical settings. Such modding often means a negotiation between the ‘official’ version of history offered by games development companies/publishers and the iterative, often corrective and revisionist, modifications made by organic modding communities. These liminal communities of practice, between production and consumption, therefore seem to offer opportunities for gathering insights into the relationship between historical games and the complex cycles of historical exchange that constitute the negotiative and appropriative processes of collective remembering. The paper examines different types of historical mods and outlines the differing concerns and discussion that seem to motivate these mods, particularly highlighting the consistently emerging theme of modding as a ‘public good’ worth expending unremunerated labour for. Ultimately the paper reveals that many historical modders seem invested in the idea that games are a viable form for history and therefore have a responsibility to represent the past in line with community constituted epistemological standards. In doing so, the paper also hopes to point to both the benefits of expanding the conventional focus of historical game studies and to highlight some of the ways in which, though a relatively new form of history, games have already become weaved into complex networks of historical exchange.

About the speakers:

Dr Esther MacCallum-Stewart is an Associate Professor of Game Studies at Staffordshire University. She has written widely on player behaviour and how players understand the narratives and stories they tell. She is heavily involved in organising the volunteer run World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon). She’s combined the two by running events such as games jams for non-gamers at Worldcons, based on the ‘unplayable’ Azad by Iain M Banks, facilitating committee meetings using party poppers, and by chairing the 2024 Bid for a Worldcon in Glasgow.

Dr Adam Chapman is a senior lecturer at the University of Gothenburg. His research focuses on historical games, that is, those games that in some way represent, or relate to discourses about, the past. Chapman is the author of Digital Games as History: How Videogames Represent the Past and Offer Access to Historical Practice (Routledge, 2016) and has additionally published extensively elsewhere on the subject of historical games. He has presented on the topic as keynote for several conferences and is the founder of the Historical Game Studies Network.