Keynote Abstracts

The seminar will feature three keynotes! Here are the titles and abstracts:

Wednesday Keynote by Souvik Mukherjee: Reading Games and Playing Books in the Indian Subcontinent: The Indic and the Ludic

The relationship between reading, writing, and play is one that has been commented on at length in Game Studies. In Derridean terms, jeu or play informs the relationship of differance and of writing vis-a-vis reading. While the Derridean supplementarity has been discussed in terms of (w)reading games in the Western context, very little has been done for gamelike texts from other regions.

Such texts, as my talk will illustrate, behave in unique ways. Much like B. S. Johnson’s book in a box, The Unfortunates or Marc Saporta’s Composition No. 1, where the story could be shuffled and read, or like the choose-your-own-adventure books that provide a playful means of (w)reading stories, there are other kinds of storytelling devices that are predecessors of such texts and, by extension, of videogames.

This talk will focus on three such playful texts from India. The first is the kavad, which is used in oral storytelling traditions in Western India by itinerant storytellers who literally open wooden panels of stories and narrate them to their eager listeners. The second example is a snakes and ladders game and its variants, where the story of one’s life (or rather lives) can be constructed over and over. The final example is the ganjifa cards whose arrangement and play form a story. The aim, therefore, is to introduce less familiar examples of game-books from India to a global audience : a proto-book that is playful and games that function as narrative texts. This talk also reiterates that we have been reading games and playing books for many centuries now and across different cultural milieus.

Thursday Keynote by Hanna-Riikka Roine: Limited and Enabled by Imagination: Textual Adventures in the AI Dungeon

My talk focuses on AI Dungeon, an AI-generated textual adventure game. The game, which either be freely played online or via mobile phone app, uses a massive natural language AI Model to generate the story and results of the player’s actions as they play in the virtual world. In their promotional materials of the AI Dungeon, the developers state that unlike in virtually “every other game in existence, you are not limited by the developer in what you can do.” In the talk, I will unpack the idea behind this statement and discuss the ways in which players’ imagination is both limited and enabled by the game in comparison with earlier textual adventures and other forms of fiction.

Friday Keynote by Raine Koskimaa: “The Book Is Just the Beginning.” Augmented Book as a Game Device

Ice-Bound (2015) by Jacob Garbe and Aaron Reed is hybrid work comprising of a print art book Ice-Bound Compendium and a digital application Ice-Bound Concordance. It can be characterized as an interactive fiction, or interactive narrative game, as it is marketed. The authors say they wanted to create a “literary labyrinth”, inspired by books such as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, and J. L. Borges’ short stories. The digital application occasionally requires scanning of the print pages, for the player to proceed. The book contains much text and illustrations which deepen the game story, but it is wholly possible to play the game just using the book as an object required for certain tasks, without really reading it. On one extreme, we could see the book as a ‘feelie’, a material accessory which’ main function is to give something tangible for the player along the digital game. On the other end, the book is a work of its own, and reading it serves as an incentive to open the application in the first place. In the talk, I will discuss Ice-Bound and how it incorporates book into its science fiction story set some 50 years into future.

While the book and the game application are strongly complementary and requiring each other, the game is very much about a power struggle between the two. The book as a medium plays an interesting role in the struggle, as it is simultaneously a relic of a communication prior to the digital age, and kind of a power object, a talisman, which bears potential to undermine the technological system of the 2050’s with its AI constructs. In its weaponizing of the book, Ice-Bound clearly differs from most other hybrid books, such as Modern Polaxis (by Stu Campbell, 2014).

From the specific case of Ice-Bound, I will continue to the wider question of how books are represented and employed in digital games. Mostly in games, books serve as decorations or source of game lore. They tend to be quite traditional objects, even handwritten illuminated manuscripts, and there might be room for more modern conceptualizations for in-game books. This, in turn, could open up new ways to incorporate books as part of game mechanics.