Perspectives on the European Videogame 9789048550623

The history of European videogames has been so far overshadowed by the global impact of the Japanese and North American

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Perspectives on the European Videogame

Games and Play Games and Play in Contemporary Culture and Society is a new international and interdisciplinary book series dedicated to game and play research. Its primary focus is on the aesthetic, cultural and communicative aspects of games and play in our contemporary society. The series provides scholars with a peer-reviewed forum for their theoretical, analytical as well as historical contributions to the ongoing discussions on games and play. The series is not limited to digital games; it includes play phenomena, both digital as well as non-digital; and it covers social-scientific, humanities, as well as industry and design approaches. The proposed books should help readers understand the ‘ludic’ aspect of games and play−the ‘gameness’ of games and the ‘playfulness’ of play−without reducing games and play to mere applications or illustrations of other ideas or issues. Series editors Clara Fernández-Vara, New York University, USA Jeroen Jansz, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands Joost Raessens, Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Perspectives on the European Videogame

Edited by Víctor Navarro-Remesal & Óliver Pérez-Latorre

Amsterdam University Press

Cover illustration: Yanni Stathopoulos Cover design: Coördesign, Leiden Lay-out: Crius Group, Hulshout isbn 978 94 6372 622 1 e-isbn 978 90 4855 062 3 doi 10.5117/9789463726221 nur 670 © V. Navarro-Remesal, Ó. Pérez-Latorre/ Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2022 All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the copyright owner and the author of the book. Every effort has been made to obtain permission to use all copyrighted illustrations reproduced in this book. Nonetheless, whosoever believes to have rights to this material is advised to contact the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prologue 7 Conflict, Negotiation, Appropriation, and Diversity: The Challenge of European Game Studies Torill Elvira Mortensen

Introduction 15 Euro Ludens: On the Origins, Playing Region, and Imaginaries of the European Videogame Óliver Pérez-Latorre & Víctor Navarro-Remesal

Part I  National Stories 1. National Games: Spanish Games of the 1980s


2. From Le Vampire Fou to Billy la Banlieue: Genre, Influences and Social Commentary in 1980s French Videogames


3. Finnish Fuck Games: A Lost Historical Footnote


4. Adopting an Orphaned Platform: The Second Life of the Sharp MZ-800 in Czechoslovakia


Clara Fernández-Vara

Alexis Blanchet

Susanna Paasonen & Veli-Matti Karhulahti

Jaroslav Švelch

5. Cuthbert Goes Cloning: Ports, Platforms, and the Dragon 32 Microcomputer 111 James Newman

Part II  Transnational Approaches 6. Masterpiece! Auteurism and European Videogames Mercè Oliva


7. Playing European Comic Books: The Videogame Adaptations of Astérix and Tintin, 1993–1997


8. Existential Ludology and Peter Wessel Zapffe


9. Europe Simulates Europe: How European Analogue Games Frame their Own Identity


10. Naturalist Tendency in European Narrative Games


Conclusions (for now)


Manuel Garin

Stefano Gualeni & Daniel Vella

Antonio José Planells de la Maza

Nelson Zagalo

European Videogames, Europeanness in Videogames Víctor Navarro-Remesal & Óliver Pérez-Latorre

Index 233

Prologue Conflict, Negotiation, Appropriation, and Diversity: The Challenge of European Game Studies Torill Elvira Mortensen Abstract What is play, what does it mean to be European, and how are games and play studied in Europe? This prologue questions and explores both the shared traits and differences of what could be seen as ‘European game studies’. This space, predominantly anchored in the humanities, is not unified but rather comprises wide range of individual researchers and smaller centres, research groups, and initiatives that collaborate for a for a time, then reform to focus on other topics. What this boils down to is an understanding of Europe as something that is both fragmented and diverse, but at the same time connected. European game studies is a constantly evolving story of collaborations across various cultural gaps. Keywords: Play, Games, Europe, Humanities, Game Studies

Playing games does something to us. When I pick up a skipping rope or a rubber ball, my entire body remembers how I used them in the past, and, though I may hurt tomorrow, I am still able to skip to the rhymes learned half a century ago. The ritual, the rhythm, and awareness of play remains embedded not just in our brains but also in our bodies. Tied closely to our past, games are also passed on from one group of children to the next: they entail history, tradition, and challenge all in one. Games give us something to strive for, a connection to others, and the ability to handle loss and victory. They teach us to understand the distinctions between different contexts as we handle the balance between make-believe and real, and they are consistent examples of the value of rules, structure, and limitations, and how these ludic elements also offer opportunities: how restrictions can be

Navarro-Remesal, V. and Ó. Pérez-Latorre, Perspectives on the European Videogame. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2022 doi 10.5117/9789463726221_pro


Torill Elvir a Mortensen

turned into advantages, how systems can be overcome or worked around. Games teach us how to cheat, how to notice and reveal cheating, as well as how to recognise broken systems and how they influence our interactions. They are lessons in fairness and in systemic bias, in the importance of practice and the value of strategy and tactics. When we speak of game studies, we tend to start with Dutch historian of culture Johan Huizinga, who published Homo Ludens in 1938 (Huizinga, 2000). There are others who like to start with the philosopher Immanuel Kant and his Critique of Judgement from 1790 (Kant, 2007), which considers play as vital for the ability to enjoy and to pass judgement without being consistently disappointed. But these academic references do not give justice to the ancient presence of play in human culture, and possibly in proto-human times. Play, and play-signal games, are observed in animals and are very important in interaction within and across species. Our pets play with us and we play back, a situation we take for granted, but which is nevertheless a miracle of cross-species communication. Even mammals living in the ocean manage to communicate with us through play. In 2019, a harness-wearing beluga whale was spotted off the Norwegian coast and allowed helpers to approach and remove the (originally Russian) harness. As it did not leave for open water, but lingered close to people, it was named Hvaldimir, a Norwegian pun on the word ‘hval’ (‘whale’) and the Russian name Vladimir. In the months that followed, Hvaldimir remained near human habitats, clearly playing with people who approached it. It stole a flipper from a diver, and then carefully returned it, as well as a camera from a man in a kayak, which was also carefully returned. While this example is clearly of a lovingly trained whale who has learned at least parts of this behaviour through deliberate socialising, it uses play as a way to reach out across species. There is a video on the Internet of Hvaldimir teasingly playing with a seagull: offering a fish, taking it away, pulling gently at the gull from below, then leaving the fish for the gull again (Johansen, 2019). It is pretty clear the seagull does not see this as threatening behaviour, as it does not try to fly away, and the humans watching also interpret the whale’s behaviour as play. These play signals crossed the lines of the three species and were recognisable despite the “home elements” of the three species involved: water, air, and earth. European game studies look at this ubiquitous presence of play and the way it is refined into ritualised and rule-determined behaviour in a wide variety of arenas. It is predominantly anchored in the humanities, as a study of game structures, their communicative power, play practices, and game cultures. The two best known European centres of game education



and research are Center for Computer Game Research (CCGR) at the IT University of Copenhagen, and the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies in Finland, led from Tampere University; both are firmly anchored in a humanist tradition studying game structure, content, and practice. Other institutions in Europe take, at least partially, a similar approach—the Centre for Games and Play at Utrecht University studies the ‘ludification of culture’, the Liège Game Lab at Liège University works on videogames as a cultural object, and the multidisciplinary team at the Institute of Digital Games at the University of Malta includes scholars of literature, philosophy, and media studies, to name just a few examples. Simultaneously, there are several strong projects running in Europe that draw on the social sciences, such as the excellent and unique longitudinal study of social life with digital games, The Social Fabric of Virtual Life, by the University of Muenster. Around these specialised centres and research projects we see a myriad of other ways to study games. In conjunction with the study of digital game structure and culture, there has been a very interesting direction of studying the culture and practice of live action role-play (LARP). Drawing on performance, play, and games theory, the study of LARP captures how seamlessly digital and analogue game studies can merge through the understanding of play and play cultures. There are several counter-arguments to this ideal of a peaceful trans-topic and trans-disciplinary coexistence and, as soon as this book is printed, they will no doubt be expressed. The image of a unified European game studies is an over-simplification. What we actually have in Europe is a wide range of individual researchers and smaller centres, research groups, and initiatives that collaborate for a period of time, then reform to focus on other topics. Their collaboration is to a very large extent driven by expediency and funding (or lack of it) and is marked by the significant differences between the educational and research institutions across Europe. European game studies includes the study of bootleg games hacked to fit obscure consoles behind the Iron Curtain and the relocation of game companies to Ireland in order to advantage of a cheap, available, and well-educated workforce in an English-speaking country. It includes the study of queer player practices and overlaps into studies of sex and pornography, and also includes transgressive play and excessive play. So what can we claim to be genuinely European about game studies? Perhaps the first rule of European game studies is to note that we are all on the periphery. Even the well-known centres are small and peripheral, they are not connected to large game production centres or even, in a global sense, particularly large universities. Denmark and Finland are


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small countries with small languages that offer a smaller group of potential students. Despite the prevalence of English as an academic language, living and studying in most European countries means having to be able to glean at least some meaning from the local language. And this is a very European thing: almost everybody is expected to speak two or three languages in order to get around and be understood. The sense of being a foreigner is something we are introduced to early, as our own language and culture is in most cases understood as a starting point, a base from which to learn other languages and cultures. We can say that to be European is to possess an identity that is in constant negotiation. Depending on what you think of as Europe, it may be defined as a passport zone, a common currency, or an economic or political collaboration; it is a geographical unit with a history of conflict and collaboration across boundaries that somehow overlap all the current understandings of Europe, but that also occasionally break them. No matter how simply we may try to put it, Europe is not easy to define, and to say something is European without further qualification can appear to have very little meaning. The history of the moors of the Iberian Peninsula is as European as the traditions of the Sami reindeer herders of the northern tundra, and with such a wide variety under the umbrella of European, the term appears to be useless. But we still use it, and we still find meaning in it because this wide variety, this diversity of history and culture, is in itself uniquely European. Europeans are different from one another in ways that are fundamentally different from those differentiating them from the rest of the world. When you live in Europe, you rarely think of yourself as European. We grow up as Spanish, Italian, French, Norwegian, or Danish. Our languages are distinctly different; some grow from the same roots, such as the IndoEuropean languages of French and German, while the roots of others, such as Finnish and Basque, remain a mystery. While most of Europe is Christian, there are strong influences from other religions in our cultures, pagan rituals are still celebrated—either openly or under the guise of Christianity—and the influence of Muslim culture remains strong along the European Mediterranean coastline, in the Balkans and the eastern boundaries of Europe. There is also little unity in looks, European peoples are shaded in gradients according to millennia of exposure to the sun before being mixed with the mobility that this continent has always afforded. All of this is packed together in a relatively small space. Despite its size—Europe is larger than the United States of America and Australia in square kilometres—the main part of its population can be found in a relatively small space in the western, central, and near-eastern parts of Europe.



If you decide to travel through this space, you experience this diversity of Europe first-hand. My most defining experience of Europe was as a young interrailer, when we would get on a train in a land where they spoke Danish and get out in a land where they spoke German just a short trip later. We could travel through the night to save money, hopping on a train in northern France after dinner, and stumble out into the morning light surrounded by Italian voices to look for breakfast. Once we were broke in Switzerland, but at least we understood the language, and another time we got lost without our local friends in pre-perestroika Hungary. The moment we were outside of the boundaries of our own small country we were somewhere new and different: different sounds, tastes, scents, images, architecture, art, it was a kaleidoscope of new experiences. But as long as we stayed in Europe, everybody we met recognised us as European. They knew where our little country was in relation to theirs, and although Europeans are not always polite, we never felt as if we were unknown to each other. What this boils down to is an understanding of Europe as something fragmented and diverse, but at the same time connected. With the European Union this idea of connection has become stronger, and the use of a common currency and a common passport union has tied the many parts of Europe tighter together, bringing historical rivals and enemies into close collaboration. Even so Europe is straining at the bounds, with individual nations turning away from what is perceived nationally as too strong a unity and striving for national exceptionalism. Even this is European. This continent does not have a long history of peace, and even if there are currently no wars there is unrest, terror, and protests. Within my lifetime, Spain has gone from a Francoist dictatorship to a democratic monarchy, the Berlin Wall was built the year I was born, but fell in 1989, followed soon after by the Communist regime of the USSR; this led to significant change cross Central and Eastern Europe, exemplified by the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia into Czech Republic and Slovakia, but also to years of war as what was known as Yugoslavia was dissolved and rebuilt as seven new recognised sovereign states. The UK pushed for the formation of the European Union but has pulled out recently. And these are just a few of the changes in borders, regimes, and alliances within Europe. The history of Europe is one of continuous change. The borders of the USA, the so-called New World, are currently much more stable than the borders of Europe. But what this creates is a mixture of cultures that creates space for dialogue. At a European game conference, such as DiGRA 2018, you will—even before greeting colleagues from further abroad—find native European


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speakers of at least sixteen different languages. Several of these languages are spoken in countries with distinctly different allegiances and cultures, such as English, which is spoken in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, countries with as long and intense a history of conflict as most other European countries do. It was not long ago that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) toned down their actions against the UK government, and in the recent bid by the UK to leave the European Union, Scotland was in favour of staying, leading to rejuvenated discussions of Scottish independence. Other languages are distinct mostly as a formality, such as Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish, as the different languages are similar enough that it is relatively easy to understand one another, but none of these countries would dream of unifying the languages in order to create a common ‘High Scandinavian’, like the Hochdeutsch of the German Republic. Instead, what this diversity creates is a consistent understanding of the need to negotiate. Nobody can be perfectly versed in the culture of others, and so national and linguistic diversity is expected and made room for. And this is perhaps the main strength of European game studies. The visible peaks of singular scholars do not create the real story. Instead, European game studies is a constantly evolving story of collaborations across cultural gaps. DiGRA, the Digital Games Research Association, is exactly such an example. It has Finnish bylaws and is registered in Finland, following Finnish rules of non-profit organisations, but it has a membership that spans the globe, and the working group to establish DiGRA in 2002 comprised 25 members from thirteen nations, out of which four nations, represented by ten people, were not European. But this culture for spaces of dialogue, this consistent understanding of the value and importance of negotiation, leads to us taking Europe for granted. Its culture and history can be inhabited and used by all members of the world with impunity and historical precedence. In game studies we see this in how the history and myth of Europe becomes a playground for game designers all over the world. While this is an example of European cultural imperialism, where European culture has replaced local myths, it is also an example of how well the diverse, geographically limited, conflict-ridden space of Europe fits a game board. This offers European game studies a unique opportunity to study Europe in a new and exciting manner: as a playground for the imagination of the world. How are European practices of interaction, collaboration, cultural mingling, migrating traditions, and ideals of leadership and politics interpreted and reinterpreted in game structures, designs, and content? What is the ludic Europe? What are our ludo-histories?



This anthology starts poking at this question. I do not expect there to be a simple, easy, or final answer. It will develop and change as Europe consistently does. Because that is Europe: a mix of ancient tradition and constant development, local consistency and global movement, strong identities and repeated negotiations, high ideals, and harsh conflicts. Understanding it is a brilliantly complex challenge, made for us to play.

References Huizinga, J. (2000). Homo Ludens. A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. London: Routledge. Johansen, J-O. (2019, September 3rd). Hvaldimir Har Fått En Ny Venn. NRK (Norwegian broadcasting). Kant, I. (2007). Critique of Judgement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

About the Author Torill Elvira Mortensen is associate professor at the IT University of Copenhagen. Much of her research is on players and playfulness, generally in social media. She co-edited The Dark Side of Game Play: Controversial Issues in Playful Environments (Routledge, 2015) and is the co-author of The Paradox of Transgression in Games (Routledge, 2020).

Introduction Euro Ludens: On the Origins, Playing Region, and Imaginaries of the European Videogame Óliver Pérez-Latorre & Víctor Navarro-Remesal Abstract The videogame industry has historically been perceived as a field dominated by Japan and the USA. Europe remains scarcely visible in gaming discussions, and European videogames are rarely discussed as being European in the same way that geopolitical origin would be factored in when discussing American or Japanese games. In this chapter, our intention is threefold: first, to propose a broad definition of the European videogame and single out some of its roots; second, to identify shared trends and traits in the games produced within this cultural space; and third, to introduce the multiple perspectives, theoretical frameworks, and methodologies employed by the authors of the following chapters, which compose a complex and polyhedric first approach to mapping the matter. Keywords: European videogame, Eurogames, National Game Studies, Authorship, Social Discourse, Humour

The videogame industry has historically been perceived as a field dominated by Japan and the United States, with Europe being seen as a ‘third space’ overshadowed by these two countries. However, Europe has plenty of gamemakers, professional or otherwise, and a long history of game development. Various European development studios have built up remarkable creative prestige over the years and have had an impact on worldwide trends in the medium. Certainly, Europe has had less significance in terms of videogame publishers, but the French company Ubisoft has been a leading international publisher since the 90s, and the continent is also home to some of the largest trade shows across the world, like Gamescom, Paris Games Week,

Navarro-Remesal, V. and Ó. Pérez-Latorre, Perspectives on the European Videogame. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2022 doi 10.5117/9789463726221_intro


Óliver Pérez-L atorre & Víc tor Navarro -Remesal

Milan Games Week, Madrid Games Week, and Nordic Game. Concerning the global videogame market, historical figures verify that Europe has played a significant role as ‘player/consumer’: in 2020, Germany, the UK, France, Spain, and Italy (the five biggest national markets in the continent) amounted to 21.15% of the global revenue (Statista, 2019). Nevertheless, Europe, as a cultural space, remains virtually invisible in gaming discussions; or, at least, European videogames are rarely discussed as being European in the same way the geopolitical origin would be factored in when discussing American or Japanese games, or the way ‘Eurogames’ is used in board games communities to distinguish them from American productions. While Americanness is often considered as the default aesthetic (even in non-American productions) and Japaneseness is taken as a distinctive selling point outside Japan, Europeanness is rarely conceptualised in academia, criticism, and fandom. This is all the more surprising when considering the long tradition of scholarly analysis of games and videogames in European countries, starting from the foundational works of Johan Huizinga, Roger Caillois, Jacquest Henriot, or Mary Midgley. The ‘Homo Ludens’ is a European contribution to universal cultural analysis. While it was possible from quite early on to find various monographs on the history of North American videogames (Cohen, 1984; Kushner, 2004) and others on Japanese videogames (Sheff, 1993; Kohler, 2004; Gorges and Yamazaki, 2010), there are almost no specific publications on the history of European videogames from a trans- or multi-national perspective. Some attempts at changing this include a short chapter by Larrue et al. on the European videogame industry in Secrets of the Game Business (Laramee, 2005) and several Europe-oriented chapters in works by Wolf (2008, 2015) and Donovan (2010). More recently, in 2017, the journal Well Played dedicated a special issue (Fernández-Vara and Foddy, 2017) to European Videogames of the 1980s, edited by Clara Fernández-Vara and Bennett Foddy and with contributions by authors from Spain, Finland, and Italy, which paved the way for the project we take on with this book. In this first chapter, our intention is threefold: first, to propose a broad definition of the European videogame and single out some of its roots; second, to identify shared trends and traits in the games produced within this cultural space; and third, to introduce the multiple perspectives, theoretical frameworks, and methodologies employed by the authors of the following chapters, which compose a complex and polyhedric first approach to mapping the matter. Given the dominance of videogames as one of the main entertainment products of our times, it is vitally important that Europe becomes aware of the role it plays in the medium and the role the medium

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plays in the configuration of a shared cultural space. We would never pretend that such a complex object of study could be covered completely in a single book; instead, we hope this volume stimulates a much-needed conversation.

Region-locked? Defining the European videogame and its roots An inquiry such as this should start by exploring the very idea of Europe. Are we talking about a historical reality? About the European Union? The Schengen space? So-called ‘continental Europe’, excluding islands like Cyprus, Malta, Ireland, or the UK? Europe, both conceptually and geographically, has very diffuse boundaries. This is made even more confusing with its conflation with the concept of Western civilisation. Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, in an article titled ‘There is no such thing as western civilisation’ (2016), argues: ‘One reason for the confusions ‘western culture’ spawns comes from confusions about the west. We have used the expression ‘the west’ to do very different jobs’. The idea of ‘the west’, and Europe with it, has been brought to light by contrast: as the opposite of the East, of ‘one side of the iron curtain’, of the Muslim world, and more recently, as ‘the north Atlantic’. But rarely have Europe, or the West, been given a self-contained definition. Appiah goes all the way back to Greek historian Herodotus, explaining that he ‘only uses the word ‘European’ as an adjective, never as a noun. For a millennium after his day, no one else spoke of Europeans as a people, either’. Appiah warns against identifying Europe, or the West, with an exclusive set of values: ‘Values aren’t a birthright: you need to keep caring about them. Living in the west, however you define it, being western, provides no guarantee that you will care about western civilisation. The values European humanists like to espouse belong just as easily to an African or an Asian who takes them up with enthusiasm as to a European’. Europe, it seems, must be searched for in plurality, in a constantly evolving collection of debates, exchanges of ideas, and mutual self-reflection. In 1966, George Steiner summarised it in The Idea of Europe as follows: Five axioms to def ine Europe: the coffee house; the landscape on a traversable and human scale; these streets and squares named after the statesmen, scientists, artists, writers of the past; our twofold descent from Athens and Jerusalem; and, lastly, that apprehension of a closing chapter, of that famous Hegelian sunset, which shadowed the idea and substance of Europe even in their noon hours (Steiner, 2015).


Óliver Pérez-L atorre & Víc tor Navarro -Remesal

‘The café’, he elaborates, ‘is a place for assignation and conspiracy, for intellectual debate and gossip, for the flâneur and the poet or metaphysician at his notebook’. This is a quite romantic idea, but one we nevertheless find useful for the way it focuses on meetings, on debates. Europe debates itself; it is a debate, and one that, given its ‘human scale’ landscape, cannot be ignored. Moreover, it is as much a debate among Europeans as a debate on how to be a part of the world. For all this, we will use ‘Europe’ in this book to refer to the continent (including its various islands), and the countries, cultures, and meetings and clashes of ideas within that continent. In doing so, we do not aim to foster any kind of ‘European pride’ but rather to contribute to the self-reflection of a vital worldwide player. As for the space of the European videogame, we have other, less abstract tools to describe it and argue for its conceptualisation. First, regional lockouts or encoding have been a common practise since the days of Nintendo’s Famicom (and has only recently started to be abandoned) when the videogame industry became aware of its potential to become global. After Nintendo redesigned its Famicom to adapt it to the market demands of America, the idea of different regional versions of the same hardware, often with incompatible technical configurations, was widely accepted (i.e. Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, PC Engine/TurboGrafx16). These divisions frequently followed the use of different video formats across the world, with NTSC becoming the standard in Japan and North America; PAL in Europe (SECAM in France), Oceania, and some parts of South America and Africa; and SECAM in France, parts of Africa, and the Eastern Bloc. Nintendo, for example, had NTSC-U for North America, NTSC-J for Japan, PAL-A for the UK, Italy, and Australia and Zealand, and PAL-B for the rest of Europe. Third, the use of regional corporate divisions (such as Nintendo of Europe, established in 1990) was key for distribution and copyright matters. The overlap between regional corporate divisions, hardware encoding, and output video systems gives us a clearer idea of Europe as a videogame ‘region’ and, accordingly, of the native space of the European videogame. Players have hacked and cracked platforms for decades in order to overcome regional barriers and import and play games from all over the world. The awareness of regional divisions, however, gained a new dimension with the advent of emulation and international online communities. A quick look at gaming channels on YouTube shows us that it is frequently the Americans who ‘discover’ Europe as a historically different region. A video on SNESDrunk, a channel dedicated to reviews of retro games, illustrates this: ‘Wait, this existed? This was a thing? Yeah, that’s right, Sonic had an arcade

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game, and not just this one either: this was the first of three Sonic arcade games that were never officially released in North America. They either stayed in Japan or went to European countries like Spain’ (2020). Episode 110 of GameSack, a YouTube channel dedicated to retro games, is called ‘Left in Europe’, and opens by saying: ‘We’re sick and tired of doing ‘Left in Japan’, […] and I don’t know, people we’re talking about, you know, ‘What about Europe? What about Europe?’ Well now it’s your turn, Europe, we’re gonna talk about games that you got that we didn’t get’ (2014). The ‘Region Locked’ series on the DidYouKnowGaming? channel has several videos dedicated to Europe, such as ‘Europe’s Exclusive PlayStation 2 (PS2) Games’. This episode opens with the following narration: ‘the European market is largely made up of games from developers who come from the region, developing titles that never leave their origin country. The reason for their lack of localisation could be from a difference in language or a lack of appreciation for the source material outside of where it comes from’ (2017). In these cases, European-made games (and/or Europe-only exclusives) are highlighted for being rare and unavailable in one of the main markets, North America.

European institutions and cultural policies as shaping factors of the region Another perspective on the European videogame as a region comes from understanding it as an institutional ecosystem, one that is formed around companies from the ‘primary’ creative–productive sector (game developers, publishers, platform manufacturers, and so on) (cfr. De Prato, Lindmark & Simon, 2012). In this sense, the Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE) acts as an association of European companies, mainly publishers, representing them within the EU and other international spaces, while simultaneously acting as a unifying body for various national associations of the industry, such as SELL (France), AEVI (Spain), or SPIDOR (Poland). One of the most known initiatives of the ISFE is the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) Code, a self-regulation code that provides a contentrating system for consumers. The PEGI Code is not a censoring body but a code of conduct and a set of rules that publishers using it contractually follow. The code, which came into use in 2003, is used in 39 countries, and with it the rating of ‘sensitive’ content and the separation of different age groups is standardised throughout a vast geopolitical space. In this regard, the PEGI Code, as its American equivalent, the ESRB, creates a cohesively structured region.


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State governments and public bodies have become progressively more involved in initiatives and aid programmes to support the sector’s development, sometimes encouraged by the aforementioned national associations of game companies. For example, in the Nordic countries we find initiatives such as The Game Incubator, a non-profit organisation promoting the creation of game start-ups and giving support to young entrepreneurs, hosted by the Swedish Gothia Science Park (Skövde) and Lindholmen Science Park (Göteborg), as well as the public aid programmes of the Norwegian Ministry of Culture (Film Institute/Nordic Game), providing sums of up to 80,000 euros per videogame (Pérez Rufi, 2015, pp. 57–58). Nevertheless, public aid programmes have sparked certain controversies over ideological nuances: in 2008, France proposed a tax credit system of 20% on the development costs of videogames with ‘cultural content’ on the basis of supporting the games industry as part of the cultural industry (as Gaber, 2010, p. 173) has pointed out, ‘the question whether digital games belong to the sphere of culture has important implications for European and international economic law, because of the legal safeguards justifying exemptions from the principle of trade liberalisation for cultural purpose’). The backdrop to this concerned the fact that the principal French publisher, Ubisoft, was then shifting production to Canada (Stewart & Misuraca, 2013, p. 71). The French proposal was considered a protectionist measure by parts of the games industry: namely, those global publishers who chose to define themselves as part of the software industry, rather than cultural industry. Nevertheless it got support by the European Games Developers Federation (EGDF) and the European Commission ruled in favour of the French measure in 2007, which was introduced in 2008 (Stewart & Misuraca, 2013, p. 72; for a more detailed explanation of this episode and its implications on EU’s cultural policies, see Graber, 2010). After successfully campaigning in the UK, TIGA, the UK games industry trade body, obtained a similar UK concession in 2011, which took the form of Small Firms R&D Tax Credit, worth an estimated seven million euros per year to the industry (Stewart & Misuraca, 2013, p. 72). This difficulty in placing videogames as an industry is common in Europe: in Spain, for instance, the different measures to support it have come from either the Ministry of Culture or the Ministry of Industry, with constant debate as to where videogames actually belong. Bonet (2020, p. 88) highlights the similarities between videogames and other cultural industries, and points that some European scholarship on cultural industries included videogames in their research as early as the late-1980s, such as the Grenoble group (Miège, Pajon, & Saläun, 1986), or Ramón Zallo, from the University of the Basque Country (Zallo, 1988, p. 178). However, their inclusion in a

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structure of public funding still results in these conceptual debates. There seems to be a consensus on the need to support national videogames, but the specifics of this support are still being discussed. Along with the progressive involvement of national governments in supporting and revitalising the sector, the MEDIA programme of the European Commission has reserved a budget for promoting videogame projects since 2007 (Graber, 2010, p.184). Integrated in the Creative Europe programme since 2014, in recent years the MEDIA programme has highlighted the development of interactive digital content with a substantial narrative component, originality, creativity, and innovation, granting aids of 150,000–10,000 euros for the development of prototypes (Pérez Rufi, 2015, p. 63). It is still early to say if these European-level efforts will result in a more cohesive space for European videogames, where creativity, production, circulation, and themes and style are shared and combined, or if the European videogame industry will keep being part of the conglomerate idea of ‘Western games’, with a stylistic hotchpotch identifiable only by not being American or Japanese (or Chinese, the rising contender in the international space of videogames).

Pioneers of the European videogame: a brief historical overview Aware of their boundaries or not, European videogames have been shaped by the games (analogue or digital) available in their territories, but have also been shaped by their local culture and media. It is also reasonable to assume that smaller national productions that could never reach America or Japan could reach other countries in their vicinity. This created a supranational circulation network in the continent that added an extra semiotic and stylistic layer to European productions. In this, certain pioneers, technologies, and scenes defined the conditions of possibility for the European videogame. The origins of the European videogame are marked by what we call ‘the OXO precedent’ . In 1952, Alexander Shafter (Sandy) Douglas, a student at Cambridge University (England) created a simple version of noughts and crosses called OXO as part of his thesis on human–computer interaction. For Douglas, the thesis was the start of a fruitful career as a researcher and university professor, but OXO was gradually forgotten. Ten years later, a group of MIT students, Steve Russell, Martin Graetz, and Wayne Witaenem, thought that programming a simple game would be the best way of testing the limits of the faculty computer DEC PDP-1; the result was Spacewar! (1962). Unlike OXO, Spacewar! would make its way onto the market, through the


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first coin-op videogame: Computer Space (Nutting Associates, 1971). Over time, the ‘OXO case’ would become a significant precedent in European videogame history: capacity for innovation and creative talent, prestigious European development studios, but a minor role in the videogame ‘business’, away from the powerful companies of the United States and Japan (Pérez-Latorre, 2013). Something similar happened with MUD: Multi-User Dungeon (1980), an experiment by two Essex University students, Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw, to combine Colossal Cave Adventure (Crowther & Woods, 1976–1977) with traditional role-playing games in a multi-user environment. MUD became the first online multi-user videogame in history. Trubshaw and Bartle were 24 years ahead of the great success of World of Warcraft, but from a commercial angle it would seem that it was too early (Egenfeldt-Nielsen et al., 2008, p. 71). Long before the popularisation of the Internet and broadband, the concept of an online multiplayer role-playing videogame was fascinating but more as a ‘promise’ than as a feasible reality for the market. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that in 1983 the French government rolled out the computer network Minitel, a predecessor to the modern Internet, which became a cultural phenomenon in the country (Mailland & Driscoll, 2017). According to Fernández-Vara and Foddy, ‘[o]ne of the major technical divergences between European games and the games of the United States and Japan came from the difference in the available platforms’ (2017, p. 2). Shortly before the (American) crash of 1983, the ZX Spectrum, an 8-bit personal computer with a cassette interface, was released in the UK and became a very popular game platform in Europe, followed soon by Amstrad CPC. Small development studios formed by young programmers who were passionate about videogames, called popularly ‘bedroom coders’ (Wade, 2016), started to spring up around these microcomputers. Some of them later became ‘myths’ of the industry, such as Ultimate Play The Game (later Rare) and Codemasters. In Spain, for example, this period is romanticised as ‘the Golden Age of Spanish videogames’, with games such as La abadía del crimen (OperaSoft, 1987), an unofficial adaptation of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, achieving cult status. The game is still remembered today: to commemorate its 30th anniversary, the Spanish post office released a stamp set based on the game. Between the mid-late 1980s and the early 1990s, European developers started to achieve international successes with a certain regularity: strategy videogames, such as Populous (Bullfrog, 1989) and North and South (Infogrames, 1989); car racing games by the English company Magnetic Fields, such as Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge (1990) and Super Cars (1990);

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the ‘drifting’ space travel game Elite by David Braben and Ian Bell (1984), an open-ended game without a narrative storyline or predefined objectives (Egenfeldt-Nielsen et al., 2008, pp. 59–78); and, of course, the unforgettable Russian videogame Tetris (Pajitnov, 1984). Popular football series such as Kick Off (Dino Dini/Anco Software, 1989–) and Sensible Soccer (Sensible Software, 1992–) were also released at this time. Europe, and in particular France, was also one of the pioneers of playable horror, with Ubisoft’s first game, an unofficial adaptation of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) called Zombie (1986) and, later, Alone in the Dark (Infogrames, 1993), the first 3D survival horror game. The 1990s saw the arrival and consolidation of other iconic franchises and innovative works that achieved global success, such as Tomb Raider (Core Design, 1996), Grand Theft Auto (DMA Design, 1997), ‘comic strategy’ games such as Lemmings (DMA Design, 1991) and Worms (Team17, 1995), Flashback (Delphine Software, 1992), and Rayman (Ubisoft, 1995). By the end of the decade, the videogame industry had become fully global and the Internet was starting to enter civil society, and by that time Europe had its own traditions, trends, and styles, developed in parallel with more global games and often limited to their countries of origin. The cases mentioned above, together with productions from Portugal, Italy, Finland, and many others that could not be included in this brief summary, paved the way for Quantic Dream, Dontnod, Playdead, Remedy, King, Supercell, Rovio, Amanita, CD Projekt, and many others from today.

Common trends and traits of European videogames: on the European videogame imaginary We have argued the case for Europe as a videogame ‘region’ and for the European videogame as a category. But is there a European videogame imaginary? If so, how can we begin to define it and identify some of its characteristic traits and traditions? Before we look at the in-depth analyses in each chapter of this book, we can sketch an overview as an introduction to this question. I. Realism and social commentary In contrast with the great evasive fantasy epics of big-budget videogames from Japan and the United States, realism, social commentary, and the videogame as an instrument for critical reflection began to become relevant


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quite early in the history of the European videogame. The origins of this current can be traced to a key aspect of the so-called ‘French touch’ of the videogames of the 1980s, led by authors such as Louis Le Breton and Bertran Brocard (on the history of French videogames, see Blanchet and Montagnon (2020), and Alexis Blanchet’s chapter in this book). These and other French creators set out to create videogames that were ‘more closely linked to reality’, sometimes addressing politically charged issues, such as authoritarian governments (Méme les pommes de terre ont des yeux, Froggy Software, 1985) or slavery and the organisation of revolts in eighteenth-century Martinique (Freedom: rebels in the darkness, Coktel Vision, 1988) (Donovan, 2010, pp. 126–130). Later, the political videogame found an ‘Italian connection’ that would become emblematic of European production: La Molleindustria, promoted by Paolo Pedercini, has created some of the sharpest and most irreverent mini-games for reflecting critically on the dark side of capitalism (McDonald’s videogame, Phone Story), labour alienation (Every day the same dream), religion (Run, Jesus Run!), and the trivialisation of war in the age of drones (Unmanned). Recently, the success of Life Is Strange, by the French company Dontnod Entertainment (2015–), marks other possible lines of development of this European videogame ‘tradition’: the videogame oriented towards drama and human relations, in this case linked to a story of maturing or a Bildungsroman, with a parallel social commentary: Dontnod’s games address issues like bullying, racial conflict, and concern for the environment. A different approach to social commentary in the videogame can be found in dystopian parables. Contemporary concerns commonly associated with European thinkers, including the entertainment society (Adorno and the Frankfurt School), emotional manipulation (Aldous Huxley), and the surveillance society (Foucault), resonate in recent dystopias of European videogames: the world governed by emotional engineering in Red Strings Club (Deconstructeam, 2018) and Paranoia: Happiness is Mandatory (Black Shamrock, 2019), video-surveillance in Do Not Feed The Monkeys (Fictiorama Studios, 2018), or the ultra-gamified futures that Lawrence Lek recreates in his playable art installations: ‘PlayStation’ and ‘2065’. From another angle, some works bring social/historical discourse to the fore, approaching what we could consider to be an interactive docudrama. Attentat 1942, from Charles University in Prague (2017), combines archive footage, victim testimonies, and interactive scenes to recount the days of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. With a related focus, Through the Darkest of Times, created in Germany (Paintbucket Games, 2019), recreates the days before the rise of Nazism, giving the player an (anti-)empathic experience.

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II. Humour, satire, parody The European traditions of locally flavoured comedy, parody humour, picaresque novels, or antihero comics also began to stand out as notable features of European videogame production in the 1980s and 1990s (Pérez-Latorre, 2013). A significant precursor was Codemasters’ Advanced Lawnmower Simulator, a parody lawn mower simulator, the source code of which was originally published in Your Sinclair magazine. Donovan (2010, pp. 115–118) highlighted the notable presence of surreal humour in the first era of British videogames, with examples such as Manic Miner (Bug-Byte, 1983) and Jet Set Willy (Software Projects), which at various times were evocative of the humour of Monty Python. Other works with a particular humoristic touch were Everyone is a Wally (Mikro Gen, 1985), which starred anti-heroes such as a mechanic and an electrician, who the player had to help simply ‘survive’ a normal working day, and Skool Daze (David Reidy, 1985), which was about a boy who the player helped to pull pranks at school and, ultimately, steal his report from the principal’s office. The Spanish videogame of the 80s was also characterised by its commitment to humour and parody. La Pulga, the first commercialised Spanish videogame (Indescomp, 1983), already contained a parodic science-fiction introduction (the narrative premise being the space accident of a flea who is the pilot of the space probe ‘Onion X7’). Sir Fred (Made in Spain, 1986) starred a long-nosed, big-bellied medieval knight, and Abu Simbel Profanation (Dinamic Software, 1985) portrayed a protagonist, Johny [sic] Jones, whose name evoked Indiana Jones but who simply appeared on the screen as a pixelated two-legged ball with eyes. Pretext of the game being that Johny Jones had been the victim of a curse that had reduced his body to just his potato nose (on the history and imaginaries of Spanish videogames of the 1980s, see Esteve, 2012, and Fernández-Vara’s chapter in this book). Later, the British designer Peter Molyneux would build a reputation as a creator of ironic simulators: Black & White (Lionhead Studios, 2001) can be defined as a ‘God simulator’ where the player’s challenge is to knead a collection of religious fanatics, and The Movies (Lionhead Studios, 2005) is a humoristic simulation of the Hollywood film industry. But it is surely Grand Theft Auto, originally created by Scottish studio DMA Design (now Rockstar North) in 1998, that is the most popular European videogame satire: a sarcastic macro-tale of the American dream and of how violence and moral degradation end up being essential for getting out of the ‘well’ of poverty or debt in a supposedly free city full of neon lights, as in this famous ‘replica’ of New York that is Liberty City.


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III. Euro-strategy If there is a pre-existing European ‘seal’ in the game culture, it is that of the ‘Eurogame’ board games. The concept ‘Eurogame’ refers to a type of board game whose origin and main references are German, although it has spread throughout Europe and become a kind of ‘European style’ in board game design. ‘Eurogames’ are commonly designed to play with the family and are characterised by a gameplay without narrative pretensions (in the strong sense of the term), and where victory does not consist in ‘destroying’ the other, but generally in obtaining more points than rival players in a ‘comparative’ competition (Woods, 2012; see also Anton Planells’ chapter in this book). Some classic references are Carcassonne, Alhambra, and Catan. The Eurogame style is best understood by contrasting it with the disparagingly labelled ‘ameritrash’: board games that simulate fantasy worlds, proposing fictional roles and experiences of narrative evasion, usually linked to niches of fan culture (science fiction, Tolkien, Lovecraft, etc.), and often based on mechanics of action and violent confrontation. The latter is particularly significant since the origin of the Eurogame is linked to Germany’s particular sensitivity—for historical reasons—to games that glorify violence and war. This was a determining factor for exploring and consolidating a strategic but non-warmongering style of board game, oriented towards mechanics of construction, management, resource optimisation, etc. The popularity of the strategy game in Germany is reflected in the videogame world through strategy and management sagas such as Anno (Sunflowers, 1998–), Settlers (Bluebyte, 1993), Farming simulator (Giants Software, 2008–), and the browser-based OGame (Gameforge, 2002). Certainly, some of these videogames have a relevant component of war strategy, and in this sense they do not fit into the canonical pattern of the Eurogame, but in any case they are unmarked by the ‘tangible’ realistic violence of first-person shooters in the videogame context. On the other hand, in recent years the mobile games of the Finnish company Supercell, Clash of Clans (2012) and Clash Royale (2016), have become hugely popular. These games involve direct confrontation with an enemy, which is to be eliminated, along with other features closer to the Eurogame, such as the importance of mechanics of management, construction, and optimisation of resources, cartoon aesthetics, and the spirit of casual play. Finally, as a bridge between the previous point and the strategy game, it should be remembered that in the 1990s a kind of European sub-genre of videogames became popular: the ‘strategic comedy’ (Pérez-Latorre, 2013). Distancing themselves from the great civilising races (Civilization, Age of

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Empires) and epic battles in science fiction worlds (Starcraft), some European studios infused humour and comedy into the strategy videogame: North & South, from the French company Infogrames (1989) and based on the eponymous comic, included visual gags between contests; Lemmings (DMA Design, 1991) replaced the usual armies with a group of cute green-haired creatures; and Worms (Team 17) posed almost surreal skirmishes between two groups of worms who were Rambo fans. IV. Euro-indieness and authorship Long before the rewriting of the videogame indie culture in the documentary Indie Game: The Movie (Swirsky & Pajot, 2012), indie games already existed and their epicentre was located in Europe, in particular in the UK. The phenomenon of the ‘bedroom coders’ in the 1980s was marked by the success of young amateurs, from Matthew Smith to Ultimate Play the Game, who conquered the imaginary of microcomputers. However, this was an indie movement far different from the current one in the sense that it did not have such a marked artistic, anti-mainstream, and/or ‘alternative’ discourse on the part of the creators, nor an institutional ecosystem surrounding it such as surrounds the indie movement today (indie festivals, indie communities, etc.). More than with the romantic idea of the ‘author videogame’, the European pre-indie was connected to the demo-scene: communities of programming fans who played to crack computer games, who inserted pirate intros at the beginning of the games, and who would meet to hold competitions to do so. In countries such as Czechoslovakia, Italy, the Netherlands, and Finland, the demo scene was very popular in the late 1970s and throughout much of the 1980s, giving European videogame culture a remarkable community component and a connection to hacker culture. Regarding the artistic discourse of independent authorship, Pierre Bourdieu (1992) traced its genesis in the French bohemia of the 19th century, a cultural style that would be renewed in the politique des auteurs of French cinema from 1950s onwards. We can find certain echoes of this in the history of the European videogame: behind the above-mentioned ‘French touch’ of the 1980s both social commentary and a certain emphasis on authorship merged; later on, in March 2006, the French government was a pioneer in awarding a Medal of the Arts to videogame authors Michel Ancel, Frederick Raynal, and Shigeru Miyamoto. The same year, the Manifesto of the Belgian artists Tale of Tales included a second ‘commandment’ that explicitly said: ‘Be an author’. Anecdotally, in the special edition of the 20th anniversary of Another World (Delphine Software, 1991), Eric Chahi included a small


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documentary on the creative process of the game, reminiscent of a behindthe-scenes making of film; a probably unprecedented gesture that fuelled the projection of his game and of himself as a ‘cult’ work/author. Finally, some of the most successful forerunners of the contemporary indie game, shortly before its 2011–2013 commercial boom, were Nordic creators and companies, such as Mojang (Minecraft, 2009), Petri Purho (Crayon Physics, 2009), and Playdead (Limbo, 2010). However, so far the artistic indie game discourse has, paradoxically, had its most influential manifestation in the aforementioned documentary Indie Game: The Movie (2012), starring North American creators (on indie games and authorship, see Juul, 2019, and Mercè Oliva’s chapter in this book). V. Other traits (and the question of national diversity) Undoubtedly, a fundamental feature of the European videogame is related to national diversity and the strong historical and cultural idiosyncrasies of the different European countries, which are reflected in their videogames, although perhaps, as we will discuss, not as much as would be expected. A clear example can be seen in the communist countries, which in the 1970s and 1980s had different cultural and commercial dynamics than other European countries. Thus, the origins of the videogame in places such as Czechoslovakia, East Germany, or Russia (USSR), were characterised by the dynamism of their programmer communities and trade restrictions, accompanied by particular piracy dynamics, and a strong state involvement, either related to training initiatives or adaptation/localisation of content, according to government criteria (Svelch, 2018; Vacek, 2015; Lange & Liebe, 2015; Fedorov, 2015). The role of Finland and the Scandinavian countries is linked to the historic influence of Nokia, which can still be noted today in the relevance of the mobile gaming sector in this part of Europe, from Angry Birds (Rovio, 2009/ Finland) to the more recent successes of the Swedish company King (Candy Crush), and the Finnish Supercell (Clash of Clans, Clash Royale) (Supercell was bought by the Chinese publisher Tencent in 2016). Moreover, there is a certain polarity of production styles in these countries: the contrast between ‘dreams’ of AAA productions and highly influential indie companies. Thus, Nordic blockbusters such as Hitman (IO Interactive, 2000–), Battlefield (DICE, 2002–), and Max Payne (Remedy Entertainment, 2001–) coexist with small cult creations such as Limbo and Inside (Playdead, 2010, 2016) (Mäyrä, 2015, pp. 165–166). In another order of things, Denmark and Finland also stand out for the crucial role played by their universities (IT University of

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Copenhagen, University of Tampere, etc.) in first promoting Game Studies, the study of videogames as cultural and aesthetic objects. In Italy, iconic companies such as Simulmondo and Milestone based their success on creating videogames that respond to traditional passions of the Italian public: soccer, sports, motor racing, and motorcycling, along with videogame adaptations of cult Italian comics, such as Dylan Dog (Simulmondo, 1992–1999). More recently, gamification and serious games have also had a prominent presence in Italy, through companies such as Spinvector and TiconBlu. E-sports, through pioneering companies such as NGI, have got a strong position in the national industry and wide public following (Gandolfi, 2015). In the Netherlands, companies oriented towards serious games, such as V-Step, E-semble, Ranj Serious, and Grendel games, have played a leading role in recent years, practically overshadowing companies oriented towards conventional videogame entertainment (van Grinsven & Raessens, 2015, p. 364). In Russia, beyond the iconic Tetris, the production of online games, videogames linked to social media, and casual videogames for mobile phones currently predominates through companies such as Crazy Panda and Zeptolab. Finally, Central and Eastern European creators have a more visible presence in the continent in recent years, with remarkable successes in both mainstream and indie fields, such as the videogames of the transmedia franchise The Witcher (Poland, CD Projekt RED, 2007–) and Amanita Design’s artistic games (Czech Republic, 2003–). Nevertheless, some authors point out a certain shortage of narratives based on national history and folklore in the creation of videogames. Enrico Gandolfi (2015: 310) highlights this with some irony: Italian culture has provided references and inspiration to very diverse emblematic creations in the history of the videogame: Super Mario, Ezio Auditore, the stories of the mafia, and Rome: Total War (UK, Creative Assembly, 2004–); however, paradoxically, the history of Italy and Italian folklore have a (comparatively) rather poor resonance in the productions of Italian companies. Regarding Finland, Frans Mäyrä (2015, p. 165) has also pointed out that its most popular productions function fundamentally as pastiches of international references (film noir plus the bullet-time of Matrix in Max Payne, for example). As a possible factor behind this it is worth observing that, all over Europe, it seems that in the specific training programmes for videogame creation, technical (and business) competences tend to predominate, while humanistic training has a far smaller presence. Some recent examples, by way of exception, are Year Walk (Simogo, 2013), a horror walking simulator based on the old Swedish tradition called Arsgang, and Blasphemous (Game Kitchen, 2019), a Spanish videogame inspired by Goya’s pictorial imagery.


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The many faces of the European videogame: an overview of this book This brief introduction does not aim to be a comprehensive portrait or conceptualisation of what can be called the European videogame, but an invitation to think about it and its very existence as a concept. And this, again, is the endeavour of this book and the challenge we posed to the contributors: not to centre on a single object seeking for a unitarian definition, but to explore the many ways we can inquire into the Europeanness of games made in the continent, to interrogate them from many different European perspectives and traditions, and to problematise this cultural space as something different from America and Japan without reducing it to a false homogeneity. It is far from our intention to describe what a European videogame should be. We are looking for diversity in dialogue, for the formation of a shared cultural space, for (multi)local agency within an industry and a culture that are, from its inception and in its many practices, highly transnational. With these goals in mind and keeping in mind the challenges of European game studies described by Torill Mortensen in the prologue, the book is divided into two main sections. The first is dedicated to ‘national stories’ that illustrate, in several ways, the many peculiarities and even eccentricities of game production and gaming culture in different European countries, from underground works to idiosyncratic uses of platforms. Although not strictly limited to a historical approach, history is a very important part of this section, as its authors look back to foundational moments where videogames were not fully established as a cultural industry and intraEuropean exchanges were even less common than they are today. As such, these chapters show a fragmented and disconnected Europe, one in which videogames began growing in parallel, heavily influenced both by American and Japanese games and local traditions. In the first chapter, Clara Fernández-Vara uses the concept of ‘national games’ to address what distinguishes Spanish videogames and how they express a historical and cultural identity. With this, Fernández Vara shows an example of how ‘national games’ precede ‘European videogames’. In a similar note, Alexis Blanchett explores, in the second chapter, the cultural specificities of French videogames in the 1980s and their creative sources, in particular the social commentary and ‘caricatural’ humour in the adventure genre. The unlikely success of the Japanese microcomputer Sharp MZ-800 in Communist-era Czechoslovakia is the focus of the third chapter, in which Jaroslav Švelch studies this ‘minor platform’ through a combination of platform

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studies, feminist critique, and the microhistories of individual users. Many European countries, as this chapter shows, entered the videogame industry as secondary markets for international forces, often unplanned and even unmanaged. This resulted in many amateur productions, where the lack of funding and expertise was compensated by a freer take on themes and tone. As an example of this, in the fourth chapter, Susanna Paasonen and Veli-Matti Karhulahti take a look at the development and history of Finnish pre-Internet DIY labour through the study of ‘fuck games’: amateur productions dealing with sexually explicit content. Some of the chapters in this section are the first time their subjects have been approached, or at least provide initial investigations of these subjects from a scholarly perspective. The European videogame has seldom been historicised. Museums have a very important part to play in filling that gap, and Europe is, thankfully, rising up to the challenge. To name a few, Berlin has the Computerspiele Museum, Rome the VIGAMUS (Video Game Museum of Rome), and Tampere the Finnish Museum of Games, which are dedicated exclusively to national productions. That is why we close this section with James Newman, writing from his double perspective as a scholar and as the curator of the National Videogame Archive of the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford. Newman questions the rigidity of videogames as an object by discussing ports and clones, focusing on a minor European platform, the Dragon 32 computer, and its many versions of Donkey Kong and Cuthbert games. Here we see, again, not a clear set of European-specific traits in local productions but a challenge to the very idea of the ‘European videogame’, with a palimpsest of games and intellectual properties written across a vast tapestry of international hardware. If we are to arrive at a shared European game culture, we need to start with the often messy and unruly national stories and histories in Europe. And yet, the European videogame, however feeble in its structure and identity, exists beyond atomised national spaces. The second section brings together several transnational approaches that highlight connections in the continent. In the sixth chapter, Manuel Garin studies the many adaptations of two iconic European comic books, Asterix and Tintin, made by international teams across Europe. Not only are these games developed by intra-European teams, but they use franchises and characters beloved in many European countries and come from a cultural industry where Europeanness is a clearer descriptor: comic books. Hergé, Uderzo and Goscinny, Pratt, and Ibáñez are undoubtedly European. Could the same be said about European gamemakers? Mercè Oliva analyses, in the seventh chapter, how European videogames deal with ‘authorism’ and ‘auteur politics’, and how these ideas shape how European creators see work and creative authority and power.


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European culture has its own coordinates, and philosophy is a central part of that. That is why this section includes a proposal to understand games from European philosophical perspectives. In the seventh chapter, Stefano Gualeni and Daniel Vella introduce the concept of ‘existential ludology’, a distinct European tradition that theorises games through the lens of existential philosophy, studying how digital games reflect the system of thought in which they emerged. In a similar vein, Anton Planells studies, in the ninth chapter, how European board games set in Europe use the structural metaphors of simulation to reflect on the individual evolution of the European subject and its circumstances. Finally, in the tenth chapter, Nelson Zagalo considers how realism and drama have been used in European games and, in particular, how the past decade has brought about productions that can be considered ‘naturalistic’. If the first section showed a fragmented and chaotic European game space, this section underscores the connections, the possibilities, the dialogues. Historically, Europe has not had its own established hardware platforms beyond the microcomputers of the 1980s or rare attempts at the console market like the Overkal or the Nokia N-Gage, nor has it had many major publishers in the industry. But, above all, it has never had its own ‘story’, a defined and recognisable supranational narrative through which it can understand its past, find new motivations, and build its own mythology, with benchmark works, companies, and creators. As Torill Mortensen shows in the introduction, Europe has a long history of studying games, shaping the field of game studies, and creating bridges for intellectual exchange, but so far the scholars of this space have not tackled the ludo-histories of the ludic Europe. The aim of this book is precisely to contribute to the creation of this so far non-existent yet so necessary story: a story of self-reflection for the European videogame.

References Appiah, K. A. (2016, November  6th). There Is No Such Thing as Western Civilisation. TheGuardian western-civilisation-appiah-reith-lecture. Blanchet, A., & Montagnon, G. (2020). Une histoire du jeu vidéo en France. Paris: Pix’N Love. Bonet, M. (2020). Estructura y sistema. Los videojuegos como industria cultural. In V. Navarro-Remesal (Ed.), Pensar el juego. 25 caminos para los game studies (pp. 87–93). Santander: Shangrila.

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Bourdieu, P. (1992). Les règles de l’art. Paris: Éditions du Seuil. Caillois, R. (1968). Les jeux et les hommes. Paris: Gallimard. Cohen, S. (1984). Zap: The Rise and Fall of Atari. New York, NY: McGraw Hill. De Prato, G., Lindmark, S., & Zackariasson, P. (2012). The Evolving European Video Game Ecosystem. In P. Zackariasson & T. L. Wilson (Eds.), The Video Game Industry. Formation, Present State, and Future (pp. 221–243). London: Routledge. Donovan, T. (2010). Replay: The History of Video Games. Lewes: Yellow Ant. Egenfeldt-Nielsen, S., Heide-Smith, J., & Tosca, S. (2008). Understanding Videogames. New York, NY: Routledge. Esteve, J. (2012). Ocho Quilates. Una historia de la edad de oro del software español (1983–1986). Barcelona: Star-T Magazine Books. Fedorov, A. (2015). Russia. In M. J. P. Wolf (Ed.), Video Games Around the World (pp. 439–450). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Fernández-Vara, C., & Foddy, B. (2017). European Videogames of the 1980s. Special Issue of Well Played, 6(2). Gandolf i, E. (2015). Italy. In M.J.P. Wolf (Ed.), Video Games Around the World (pp. 305–318). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Gorges, F., & Yamazaki, I. (2010). The History of Nintendo: 1889–1980. From Playingcards to Game and Watch. Paris: Pix’n Love. Graber, C. B. (2010). State Aid for Digital Games and Cultural Diversity: A Critical Reflection in the Light of EU and WTO Law. In C. B. Graber & M. BurriNenova (Eds.), Governance of Digital Game Environments and Cultural Diversity (pp. 170–201). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Huizinga, J. (1972). Homo Ludens. El elemento lúdico de la cultura. Madrid: Alianza. Juul, J. (2019). Handmade Pixels: Independent Video games and the Quest for Authenticity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Kohler, C. (2004). Power-Up: How Japanese Videogames Gave the World an Extra Life. Indianapolis: Brady Games. Kushner, D. (2004). Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture. New York, NY: Random House. Lange, A., & Liebe, M. (2015). Germany. In M. J. P. Wolf (Ed.), Video Games Around the World (pp. 193–208). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Laramée, F. D. (Ed.) (2005). Secrets of the Game Business. Hingham: Charles Rivers Media. Larrue, P., Lazonick, W., & O’Sullivan, M. (2005). The European Challenge in Videogame Software: The ‘French Touch’ and the ‘Britsoft Paradox’. In F.D. Laramée (Ed.), Secrets of the Game Business (pp. 65–76). Hingham: Charles Rivers Media. Mailland, J., & Driscoll, K. (2017). Minitel. Welcome to the Internet. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Óliver Pérez-L atorre & Víc tor Navarro -Remesal

Malliet, S., & De Meyer, G. (2005). The History of the Video Game. In J. Raessens & J. Goldstein (Eds.), Handbook of Computer Game Studies (pp. 23-45). Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press Mäyrä, F. (2015). Finland. In M. J. P. Wolf (Ed.), Video Games Around the World (pp. 159–173). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Miège, B., Pajon, P., & Saläun, J. M. (1986). L’industrialization de l’audiovisuel. Des programmes pour les noveaux medias. Paris: Aubier. Pérez-Latorre, Ó. (2013). The European Video Game. An Introduction to its History and Creative Traits. European Journal of Communication, 28(2), 136–151. https:// Pérez Ruf i, J. P. (2015). El modelo europeo de desarrollo de videojuegos. Madrid: Síntesis. Raessens, J., & Goldstein, J. (Eds.) (2005). Handbook of Computer Game Studies. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press. Sheff, D. (1993). Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured your Dollars and Enslaved your Children. New York, NY: Random House. ‘SNES drunk’ (2020, June 4). SegaSonic the Hedgehog review [Arcade] ‒ SNESdrunk. [Video]. YouTube. Steiner, G. (2015). The Idea of Europe. London: Overlook Duckworth. Stewart, J., & Misuraca, G. (2013). The Industry and Policy Context for Digital Games for Empowerment and Inclusion: Market Analysis, Future Prospects and Key Challenges in Videogames, Serious Games and Gamification [report EUR 25910 EN]. JRC Scientific and Policy Reports, European Commission. https://publications. Švelch, J. (2018). Gaming the Iron Curtain. How Teenagers and Amateurs in Communist Czechoslovakia Claimed the Medium of Computer Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Vacek, P. (2015). Czech Republic. In M. J. P. Wolf (Ed.), Video Games Around the World (pp. 145–158). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Van Grinsven, C., & Raessens, J. (2015). Netherlands. In M. J. P. Wolf (Ed.), Video Games Around the World (pp. 359–376). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Wade, A. (2016). Playback – A Genealogy of 1980s British Videogames. London: Bloomsbury. Wolf, M. J. P. (Ed.) (2008). The Videogame Explosion: A History from Pong to PlayStation and Beyond. Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press. Wolf, M. J. P. (Ed.) (2015). Video Games Around the World. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Woods, S. (2012). Eurogames: The Design, Culture and Play of Modern European Board Games. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland. Zallo, R. (1988). Economía de la comunicación y la cultura. Madrid: Akal.

Introduc tion


About the Authors Óliver Pérez-Latorre is a senior lecturer in game and media studies at Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona, Spain). He has published articles on videogame analysis and culture in the European Journal of Communication, Game Studies, Games and Culture, Convergence, and Social Semiotics. He is the author of El Lenguaje Videolúdico. Análisis de la Significación del Videojuego [The Videoludic Language. Analysis of Video Game Meaning] (Ed. Laertes, 2012). Víctor Navarro-Remesal is a an associate professor in media and game studies at Tecnocampus, Pompeu Fabra University. He is the author of Libertad dirigida (Shangrila, 2016) and Cine Ludens: 50 diálogos entre el juego y el cine (Editorial UOC, 2019) and the editor of Pensar el juego. 25 caminos para los game studies (Shangrila, 2020), in addition to having authored many chapters and papers in the field. His research interests are player freedom, Zen-inspired games, Japanese videogames, and game preservation.


National Games: Spanish Games of the 1980s Clara Fernández-Vara

Abstract The period between the early 1980s and the early 1990s comprised the formative years of the videogames industry, characterised by the exploration of the medium as an aesthetic form. The works created in that period express Spanish culture in ways that are similar to what in film studies is referred to as ‘national cinema’. These games display cultural markers that indicate their national origins in ways that are not common in the games industry today, where the preference to enter global markets tends to efface national identities. Keywords: Spain, Videogames, National Cinema, Local Game History

Introduction The story of European videogames has been consistently sidelined in the grand narrative of digital games history (Donovan, 2010; Fernández-Vara & Foddy, 2017), although there is an increasing number of works vindicating this history, both as a general European history (Pérez-Latorre, 2013) and local histories (see for example Svelch, 2018). This chapter addresses the question as to what distinguishes Spanish videogames from other videogames of the same period, based on the concept of national games, by investigating how these works expressed their historical and cultural identities. In order to identify these cultural markers, this chapter will focus on themes expressed through audiovisual aesthetics, story premises, and mechanics. This analysis is based on a corpus that consists of titles by the main Spanish game developers of the 1980s: Indescomp, which in turn gave way to Opera Soft and Zigurat Software, and Dinamic Software and

Navarro-Remesal, V. and Ó. Pérez-Latorre, Perspectives on the European Videogame. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2022 doi 10.5117/9789463726221_ch01

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its spin-off Aventuras AD, Topo Soft, and Iber Software. The date range covered goes from 1983, with the release of Indescomp’s La Pulga, often acknowledged as the first successful commercial title released outside of Spain (Meda-Calvet, 2016, p. 14), and ends in 1992, with the last game published by Aventuras AD, Chichen Izá. This corpus of 238 titles includes a variety of genres, from platformers to shooters, from sports simulations to text adventures, amongst others.

Defining national games The main challenge of this chapter is to define what national games are, based on the concept of national cinema in film studies, since national cinema is already a contentious term. What nation(al) is can be defined politically, culturally, and historically. According to Triana-Toribio, nation(al) defines a community that belongs to a tradition, but what that history and its traditions are depends on who is writing about them and in which point of time they are being written (Triana-Toribio, 2012, pp. 3–4). Spain comprises different communities, which include a variety of languages, folk traditions, and ethnicities; historically, the country has been the meeting point of different cultural influences, including Celtic, Roman, and Muslim influences. This heterogeneity is the foundation to a rich cultural heritage, and any attempt at defining ‘Spanishness’ is by necessity a partial construct that selects from that variety—this chapter is not an exception. For example, I consider all the games made in Spain without differentiating which parts of Spain in which they were made, because we do not have enough data on where all the developers come from. Studying issues of nationality in the early years of the industry is also challenging precisely because it is a time where economics, aesthetics, and audiences are in flux—there are false starts and experiments that may only be found in these early years. Continuing with the comparison with film, Celli (2011) argues that early cinema generated a series of common languages and conventions in film; the formal elements that we now take as foundational are the result of explorations of the possibilities and affordances of what was then a new technology. In the case of games in the 1970s and 1980s, this was also a time where early formal genres established their core conventions, such as the platformer, the shooter, and the text adventure game. This chapter explores how Spanish developers in the 1980s used those conventions and transformed them to express their cultural identity. The

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concept of national games will be helpful as a way to discuss games as a cultural artifact, focusing on how games express the historical and cultural traditions of the country that produces them. Triana-Toribio (2012) explains that the concept of national cinema was born in opposition to Hollywood Cinema, and is culturally different. Unlike film, using the culture that a game comes from as a way to distinguish it and to gain international recognition is not often used as a marketing tool. The cultural background of digital games is often blurred or erased—for example, current AAA game releases are made by large teams across continents; more often than not, the nationality of the developers is not highlighted or directly concealed, while processes of localisation also contribute to the erasure of nationality. Game studies has tackled national identities under the area of local histories, which tends to focus on the socio-historical context of games in countries that have been overlooked by journalistic and mainstream discourses of game history. The works of Donovan (2010) or Wolf (2016), for example, have served to showcase the variety of game histories across continents, while Stuckey et al. (2013) and Svelch (2018) provide challenge mainstream assumptions about how games are played and developed through the detailed exploration of game communities and their practices in specific cultures. Analysing games in their cultural contexts help us learn more about the people that create them as well as interpret its signifiers, all while veering away from analyses that are predominantly formal and contributing to understanding the culture of games and their status as artistic expression. One last goal of this chapter is to provide a comprehensive study of early Spanish games, including titles that may have been previously overlooked, perhaps because they were not as popular, or because what makes them worthy of study has only become obvious in retrospect. The examples below include games with hungover heroes, bullfighting, and catholic priests fighting demons.

Socio-historical context In order to situate the corpus analysed here, I must first provide a basic overview of the economic, social, and historical context in which the games within this corpus were created and distributed. Although there were some console and arcade games, the bulk of Spanish game productions during the 1980s were releases for home computers, which included the models and computer standards that were common in other parts of Europe: ZX

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Spectrum, Amstrad, Commodore, and MSX. This period is often referred to as the ‘Golden Age’ of Spanish software, a term used repeatedly in journalism and fan discourse. Garin and Martinez (2015) are critical about the use of the phrase in an academic context, arguing that the pioneers in other media also tend to be mystified because they are first to do something. The term ‘Golden Age’ also invokes a sense of nostalgia for a thriving and growing scene that collapsed in the early 1990s due to a variety of factors, mainly the inability of most Spanish developers to evolve and adapt to new industry practices and standards. Many of the first Spanish game developers were often electronics hobbyists who had access to computer games, as well as teenage boys and university students, and were also predominantly male. These developers also had a certain level of privilege; for example, being able to gain access to computer kits before they were available in Spain. The founders of the company Dinamic, Pablo, Víctor, and Nacho Ruiz, for example, managed to obtain a Sinclair ZX81 and a ZX Spectrum before they were sold in Spain; the computers were bought by their uncle who lived in the UK at the time (Esteve Gutierrez, 2012a, Kindle location 1142). Magazines were also another feature of the hobbyist origins of game companies by facilitating the creation of communities and distribution of technical knowledge. Publishers released magazines with the same format but for different platforms—MicroHobby (for ZX Spectrum computers) had its counterpart for Amstrad in Amstrad Semanal; Input Sinclair, Input Commodore, and Input MSX, all of which included a code to be entered into the computer as an early way to distribute games. At the end of the 1980s, some magazines started covering all home computer platforms in their issues and stopped including computer programs according to type, although they would still feature small programs that worked as cheat codes. In Spain, we have the short-lived MegaJoystick (October 1988–September 1999) or MicroManía, which started in 1985 and which is still in publication after going through different publishers. These titles ushered in the journalistic format that is now common in game magazines and specialised websites—covering all platforms together and focusing on reviews, walkthroughs and guides. In terms of distribution, cassette tapes were the most popular medium to distribute games, rather than floppy disks or cartridges, and were sold in electronics shops and newsagents. Tapes made games very easy to copy, since the only technology needed was a double deck tape recorder. Piracy was rampant, with street sellers distributing illegal copies of games with photocopied cassette inlays, as well as game exchanges amongst users (Esteve Gutiérrez, 2012b, Kindle location 117-125).

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The end of this period came about because of several factors, and the advent of consoles brought about certification processes that most companies did not have the capacity to afford (Esteve Gutiérrez, 2012b, Kindle location 5258). The popularisation of 16-bit platforms, which used disks instead of tape, required specialised processes of recording that were more expensive, while previously videogames could use the facilities of the music industry to issue their titles. The limited playtesting and quality assurance processes during development meant that Spanish games were devilishly hard, so the arrival of foreign games that had gone through those processes made players appreciate the difference in quality and design, and helped them realise that games did not have to be so punishing in order to be engaging.

National film / national games All this happened during a period that corresponds to the dawn of democracy after 40 years of Francoist rule, from his death in 1975 to the failed military coup of 1981. The country had just gone through a period of political transition, from a dictatorship to a constitutional democracy, as well as opening up to the rest of the world economically, politically, and culturally. Becoming part of the international landscape also meant a period of redefinition of cultural production; part of this process included figuring out what made Spanish cultural production different from other nationalities. Spanish film can help us understand this redefinition, as well as lay the foundation to understand what ‘national games’ means. The 1980s meant the end of government censorship as well as an opportunity to redefine what the Spanish identity was (Triana-Toribio, 2012). During the dictatorship, the kinds of films that were encouraged and subsidised by the government promoted Catholic values and celebrated the history of Spain, its conquests, and its past glories. The 1960s and 1970s left some room for veiled critiques of the regime, including some titles that focused on everyday life, both comedies and dramas. Spanish films of the 1980s needed to leave this behind—Camporesi identifies españolada as a specific interpretation of the national customs and traditions and its folklore, as opposed to españolidad (‘Spanishness’), which refers to a Spanish culture that is modern, an expression of the new democratic regime that came about after the end of Franco’s dictatorship (Camporesi, 1994). What this new identity was, however, was also contested; on the one hand, it is a term invoked by nationalists that generates a conservative construct of Spanish identity; these 1980s films used so many local references that it made them

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very difficult to export (Triana-Toribio, 2012). Spanish films of that time that garnered considerable recognition outside of the country were on the margins of españolidad and went straight into the cultural cutting edge of trends and styles (Triana-Toribio, 2012, p. 108–109), such as Pedro Almodóvar’s films, which depict the Madrid scene of the 1980s. Like film, Spanish games also had to situate themselves in the international landscape, trying to balance references to Spanish culture with cultural connections that would be recognizable abroad, such as their own versions of Hollywood tropes and stories, as we will see in the following sections.

Spanish cultural markers Now that I have provided the context of cultural production of Spanish digital games in the 1980s, I will proceed to identify the cultural markers that set Spanish games aside from those of other nationalities. In order to identify these markers, I will focus on themes of the games, as expressed through their audiovisual aesthetics, story premises, and mechanics. The aesthetics of the game refer to how the game is presented, from the in-game graphics to the cassette inlays, to posters and magazine advertisements. Most of the popular developers, as we will see below, resorted to famous comic book artists of the time for their covers, which gave them an identifiable visual aesthetic. The 8-bit graphics of home computers at the time had limited resolutions and a limited colour palette, but nevertheless had enough fidelity to identify voluptuous protagonists and caricatures in their sprites. One of the distinguishing creative traits of European games is the predominance of narrative-driven games. For example, Pérez-Latorre (2013) mentions how European developers aimed at integrating cinema into gameplay more profoundly than their US counterparts. The importance of narrative in early games in Europe is also evident if we look at the manuals in the cassette inlays, which often described the story premise even when it had a tenuous relationship to the gameplay. As we will see below, at times the story premise changed while the game remained the same. In our corpus, the cassette inlays have provided additional evidence of cultural biases and use of stereotypes in the narrative of the game. The game mechanics refer to the actions that are available to the player, rather than the overall rules of the game, based on Sicart’s (2008) definition of the term. In the 1980s, the formal definitions of game genres were still in

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flux. However, magazines often used the term videoaventura to refer to a lot of Spanish games. Videoaventuras usually combined navigating the space like a platformer, by jumping, avoiding, and attacking enemies, and requiring players to pick up items and use them elsewhere like in an adventure game, all presented with a glorious 48k of RAM. This was a popular genre in Europe, and Pérez-Latorre (2013) talks about social worlds as a distinctive creative feature of European games, where developers aimed at simulating living worlds for players to explore. Spanish games are also quite complex, requiring both a lot of skill as well as keeping track of multiple quests in order to traverse them. After examining these 238 games, I have found four main themes that allow us to distinguish most Spanish games from the productions of other countries: cultural appropriation, celebration of Spanish sports, heroic parody, and national Spanish themes.

Cultural appropriation In the context of media studies, the term cultural appropriation is often used rather vaguely, without quite mapping the relationships between the cultures involved (Rogers, 2006). For the purposes of this chapter, the term will refer to how these games use symbols from cultures outside of Spain in a prominent manner, as in defining the themes, aesthetics, or fictional worlds of the game; we have found 50 games in our corpus that include this feature. Based on Rogers’ terminology, some of these examples appropriate aspects of cultural dominance, borrowed from the imagery of the United states, for instance, whereas others are examples of cultural exploitation, where the cultural elements are appropriated by Spain as a supposedly dominant culture without reciprocity or consultation (Rogers, 2006) In terms of borrowing elements of cultural dominance, Spanish games of the 1980s often resort to themes and images from Hollywood cinema in order to use their prestige in their marketing campaigns by evoking the qualities of contemporary film blockbusters. The use of these signs can at times be read as a way to erase any signs of Spanish heritage and culture, in contrast to what Spanish films were trying to define at the time. The implicit goal was to bank on the popularity of films that filled the shelves of Spanish video stores; it is also no surprise that, of the four groups here defined, these games were the easiest to export. Cultural domination is recurrent in the games examined here; it is also very frequent in the context of action games. A clear example of this can

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Figure 1. Navy Moves vs. Commando

be found in the game Navy Moves (Dinamic, 1988), a marine infiltration game where the player has to enter and destroy an enemy submarine. The cover of the game features a protagonist who very much looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger, mostly because his face was copied from the poster of the movie Commando (1985) (see Figure 1). Another group of games were inspired by American Western films, such as Wells & Fargo (Topo Soft, 1988), a stagecoach driving game. Some games not only copied the themes but also the mechanics of other games—West Bank (Dinamic Software, 1985) incorporated the mechanics of Bank Panic (Sanritsu, 1984), whereas Desperado (Topo Soft, 1987) copied the mechanics of the Japanese arcade game Gun.Smoke (Capcom, 1985). In the second case, this meant that they adapted the game for home computers, so it was distributed in the UK with Capcom’s title because they had the distribution rights of both Topo Soft and Capcom in the UK (Esteve Gutiérrez, 2012b, Kindle location 1455). These last two examples of appropriating cultural dominance could also be considered a re-re-appropriation, since the sources are two Japanese games that were already appropriating American themes for their premise. Part of the use of imitation and evocation of Hollywood titles of tropes comes from the difficulties that developers found to license titles for their games. The legal process of licensing a pre-existing property to make a videogame took years to figure out—the first licensed title based on a Hollywood movie was Gremlins 2: La Nueva Generación (Topo Soft, 1990). More often than not, Spanish games would borrow the story premises of Hollywood films in obvious ways, but without using their title or images. For instance, Survivor (Topo Soft, 1987) features a creature in its cover clearly reminiscent of the monster in the film Alien (1987), as shown in Figure 2.

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Figure 2. Survivor

The twist is that the player controls the monster and roams a spaceship in order to put its eggs in incubators and perpetuate its race, all while spewing paralysing acid on the unfortunate crew that may try to get in its way. The game is thus Alien from the point of view of the monster. Another popular movie at the time was The Name of the Rose (Jean-Jaques Annaud, 1986), based on the novel by Umberto Eco, a European production with a cast of Hollywood stars. Opera Soft tried to license the novel without receiving a response (Esteve Gutiérrez, 2017), so the game changed its title as well as some names and events. It was released as La Abadía del Crimen (Opera Soft, 1988), which has gone on to become one of the most iconic and written about Spanish videoaventuras. El Misterio del Nilo (Made in Spain, 1987) is another example of double appropriation; the game takes the film The Jewel of the Nile (1985) and lets the player control three characters that look very much like the protagonists in the movie. In copying the film, it also appropriates some of the stereotypes about Muslims featured therein, where most of the Egyptian population are fanatics at the service of a dictator. On the other hand, one of the characters

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the player can control is Muslim, who is effective for melee combat (using an umbrella), in a rare positive representation of a Muslim player character. Cultural exploitation was less frequent, though there are a few examples of portraying countries with a colonial relationship to Spain. Related to the previous example, Tuareg (Topo Soft, 1988) takes the player to Marrakesh, where they need to rescue the daughter of the Sultan, anticipating the ladyin-distress tropes of Prince of Persia (Brøderbund, 1989). Travelling to the other side of the Atlantic, the graphical text adventure games that made up the Ci-U-Than trilogy by Aventuras AD—La Diosa de Cozumel (1990), Los Templos Sagrados (1991), and Chichén Itzá (1992)—cover the history of the Yucatán peninsula and its various temples. The player takes up the role of Doc Monro, a version of Indiana Jones who, according to the manual, will find ‘traditions, rites and a spiritual world that he will understand little by little and will respect until he masters the environment’ (my translation) (Aventuras AD, 1992: p. 2). That is, in incorporating another Hollywood figure, the games also incorporate the white saviour tropes of the original culture, in spite of the apparent good intentions of teaching the player about Mayan culture. A more controversial example of cultural exploitation is the game Gonzzalezz (Opera Soft, 1989), which comes across as a checklist of negative stereotypes about Mexican culture. The cover features a man sleeping while wearing a Mexican sombrero. The concept is quite compelling—González is trapped in his nightmares, so the goal of the player is to help him wake up. After that, the goal in the second phase of the game is to get González back to his hammock and go back to sleep while avoiding the enemies, which include native Americans. The different modes of cultural appropriation in Spanish games of the 1990s show how they borrowed story premises from other media, as well as other cultures, in ways that use exoticisation as a marketing tool to attract players, by taking them to the exciting worlds that they may have seen on film.

Celebration of Spanish sports Sports games have been a popular genre through the decades, and Spanish games are no exception: 27 games in the corpus belong to the sports genre. What I have observed is that most of these games use a famous sportsman or a famous sport event as a brand for the game’s promotion. Many of these games were solid sports simulators on their own, but it was the portrait of the most successful sportsmen at the time on the covers that helped their sales—sports games were one of those genres where image licensing was

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most common and that helped establish the legal process. This trend started in 1987 with Fernando Martín Basket Master by Dinamic, a basket simulation game that also got wide distribution abroad. Fernando Martín was a star of Spanish sports at the time—he was the first Spanish basketball player to play in the NBA without having gone through the US-university circuit—and had recently returned to Spain to play in Real Madrid. His name, however, did not have the same pull abroad, so his game was released simply as Basket Master by Imagine in the UK. The game sold around 50,000 copies, which turned into one of the first best-sellers in Spain (Esteve Gutiérrez, 2012b, Kindle location 602–615) until the arrival of another sports simulator the following year, Emilio Butragueño Fútbol, by Topo Soft, which sold 100,000 copies (Esteve Gutiérrez, 2012b, Kindle location 2739). Butragueño was a striker and top scorer for Real Madrid from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, and helped the team win La Liga tournament five years in a row. What is notable about these licensed titles is that, by celebrating contemporary champions, they also took a healthy variety of sports turned into 8-bit titles. Football, the most popular sport in Spain, was represented by multiple titles: Emilio Butragueño Fútbol had a sequel released the following year, whereas Dinamic Software fought for the top of the charts with Míchel Fútbol Master, where the protagonist was one of Butragueño’s teammates in Real Madrid, Míchel González. There were also two competing motor racing games—Aspar GP Master (Dinamic, 1988) and Ángel Nieto Pole 500 (Opera Soft, 1990)—both of which featured multiple Grand Prix motorcycle champions. Cycling is an unusual sport to appear in videogames, but it got its own simulator in Perico Delgado Maillot Amarillo (Topo Soft, 1989) after the cyclist Pedro ‘Perico’ Delgado won his first Tour de France in 1988. Another world champion, Carlos Sainz, got his own racing simulator Carlos Sainz: Campeonato del Mundo de Rallies (Zigurat, 1990) after winning the World Rally Championship that same year. The celebration of sports in the Iberian Peninsula goes beyond its celebrities. Opera Soft released Jai Alai (1990) a simulation of one of the variations of Basque pelota (pilota in the Basque language), demonstrating the originality and relatively flexibility of topics that commercial games had back then, as well as the variety of sports featured in those games. From these titles, we can observe two trends. First, most companies in the corpus (Dinamic, Topo Software, Zigurat, Opera Soft) developed a sports game at some point, at times in direct competition with one another—e.g. Topo Soft also released Drazen Petrovich Basket in 1989 as a response to Dinamic’s Fernando Martín Basket Master. Opera Soft eventually released its own basketball game as well, Golden Basket (1990), a rare case of a Spanish

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sports game that was not associated with a sports figure. With the occasion of the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992, there were two competing titles, Olympic Games ’92 (Opera Soft, 1992) and Olimpiadas 92 (Topo Soft, 1992); neither of them were licensed, and both were trying to take advantage of the omnipresence of the Olympics to boost their sales. The second observable trend is that women were not celebrated in videogames in the same way that men were—Blanca Fernández-Ochoa, the first Spanish woman to win a bronze medal in the Winter Olympics in 1992, never got a skiing game. Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario, winner of the Roland Garros in 1989 and Olympic bronze medal in 1992, amongst many other accolades, did not get her licensed title either, whereas her brother Emilio Sánchez-Vicario had his own game, Emilio Sánchez-Vicario Grand Slam (Zigurat, 1990), even though he did not win any grand slams on his own—only doubles—or win as many titles as his sister. Sports games not only sold well but, when the downturn in the 1990s came about, those companies that remained operational throughout that decade were able to do so because of their sports titles—Zigurat stayed in business by developing games with publisher Gaelco for arcade cabinets into the 2000s. Their first arcade game was World Rally, which was originally intended as the arcade version of Carlos Sainz: Campeonato del Mundo de Rallies (Esteve, 2012b, Kindle location 5152). Similarly, Dinamic remained successful through the 1990s until the early 2000s, as Dinamic Multimedia, thanks to its football manager series PC Fútbol and various spin-offs that used same format that used the actual rosters of teams for players to manage and simulate the year-round competition in Spain, as well as in other countries such as the UK and Italy. The success of the series was based on the lessons learned over the 1980s, by distributing games in newsagents as well as specialised retailers, and attracting players by allowing them to extend their passion about football into the digital screens (see Esteve Gutiérrez, 2016). Sports titles keep topping the best-selling lists in Spain, but now the spot is occupied by the FIFA-licensed games, whereas the glory days of Spanish champions becoming the protagonists of digital sports are now long gone.

Heroic parody Two of the features that Pérez-Latorre identifies as being characteristic of European games are ‘anti-heroes’ who exist as part of social worlds and who are imbued with a realistic touch, and a recurrence of the comedy of manners and irony (Pérez-Latorre 2013, p. 147). These two features conflate

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in an identifiable subset of Spanish games from the 1980s, which I refer to as heroic parody. The social worlds of the game are invariably presented through the lens of parody, inherited from the picaresque traditions and comics for children; the tone and humour derive from the contrast of having a presumed heroic figure fighting situations and problems that are very much relatable to everyday life. The figure of the anti-hero has a long tradition in Spanish narrative and the genre of the novela picaresca (picaresque novel) is almost as old as the novel as a literary form. The picaresque novel was born in Spain in the 16th century, its protagonists being anti-hero figures, teenagers, or young men, roguish servants who are constantly changing masters and whose marginalised point of view gave way to stories of social satire and critique. The picaresque anti-hero is always entangled in a series of misadventures, where the ending always proves that social change is nigh impossible, and that the disadvantaged will hardly be able to improve their situation (Funk, 2015, pp. 8–11). This tradition was continued in a specific strand of Spanish comic magazines for children that started in the 1950s, known as tebeos. According to Alary (2002), the protagonists of tebeos are also anti-heroes, and very much in touch with everyday life; their problems and issues are identifiably human. Although prototypic tebeos are not socially critical in the strong sense, they are still parodies grounded in everyday life. As Alary (2002, p. 264) explains, ‘They get by through a mixture of opportunism, trickery, and petty theft’. Some examples of these anti-heroes in Spanish comics include the characters Mortadelo y Filemón and Superlópez. Mortadelo y Filemón, by Francisco Ibáñez, started their adventures in 1958 and continue to this day; they are the most international of these examples, since they have been published and translated for different countries across the world, from Germany to Japan. Mortadelo and Filemón are incompetent secret agents who are assigned dangerous missions they recurrently botch, usually because they do not have the skills, the smarts, or the proper equipment to carry them out. Superlópez, by Jan, started as a parody of Superman in 1973 and his stories are also still published today. Although his adventures often have fantasy settings and supervillains, they are grounded in Spanish everyday life, and use the double life of the character—office accountant and superhero—to include a social critique of Spain. Although he is often successful in his quests, thanks to his superpowers, he needs to deal with everyday life problems such as public transportation, the boredom of his office job, and screaming babies. Mortadelo y Filemón videogames were released in the 1980s: Mortadelo y Filemón (Dro Soft, 1988) was a top-down action game developed by a team from Germany, since the characters were almost as popular there as they

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are in Spain; its sequel, Mortadelo y Filemón II: Safari Callejero (Dro Soft, 1989), was a side-scrolling adventure developed in Spain. These two comic series set an example for the type of anti-heroes that distinguish several popular Spanish games of the 1980s. Freddy Hardest (Dinamic, 1987) is a textbook example of how the cartoon anti-hero enters Spanish videogames. In this action game, the player controls Freddy Hardest, whose nonsensical name hints at the parodic tone of the game itself. In the Spanish manual he is described as a playboy spy who crash-lands in an enemy alien planet after partying too hard. This backstory was also explained in a comic, drawn by Enrique Ventura, a comic book artist in his own right who also illustrated the cover of the game. The comic was released in the magazine MicroHobby (Ventura, 1987a, 1987b) as an advertisement for the game, using a marketing strategy that we would now identify as transmedia. Freddy’s ‘mission’ that follows his accident is to infiltrate the enemy base and escape the alien planet while still being slightly hungover. The game is a notoriously hard videoaventura; the initial platforming level requires pixel-perfect jumps and constant backtracking to fight off enemies coming from the rear. The second part requires, in a level that is rather extensive, figuring out the code that will allow the protagonist to steal the spaceship. These are the kind of anti-heroic tribulations that we would find in tebeos. Freddy Hardest was so successful it had a sequel, Freddy Hardest en Manhattan Sur (Dinamic, 1989), released as Guardian Angels in the UK, commissioned by Dinamic to a Uruguayan team. Dinamic also released another superhero parody, Capitán Sevilla (1988). The protagonist is Mariano López, a driver who transports charcuterie; after his truck is hit by a nuclear explosion, he eats radioactive sausages from his truck and becomes a superhero. The explosion also turns many people into mutants that he is now ready to fight. This backstory was also told in a comic published in MicroHobby (Capdevilla, 1988), drawn by Francesc ‘Max’ Capdevilla, another well-known Spanish cartoonist. The first level of the game is set in a Spanish neighbourhood, where the player has to fend off waiters, stinky living trash cans, ‘groupies’ (the only female figure in the game), and soldiers by shooting sausages. Like Superlópez, Capitán Sevilla combines superhero parody and fantasy with Spanish everyday life. A last example of the anti-hero figure, also mentioned by Pérez-Latorre (2013), is Goody (Opera Soft, 1988). Goody is a thief who has to get ready to rob the national bank; he must find the right combination of numbers needed to open the bank safe and buy all the tools he will need from the hardware store in order to make his way into the bank, all while avoiding his sworn enemies: police officer Rodríguez and competing burglar Charly

National Games: Spanish Games of the 1980s


Figure 3. Capitán Sevilla vs. Captain S

el Bardeos. Goody can throw bricks to defend himself, and can end up in jail if he enters the wrong combination of numbers to enter the safe. The game is another example of a rich and difficult videoaventura, and the game mechanics and the world of the game seem like 8-bit versions of the picaresque adventures mentioned above. Heroic parody games, as we have seen, continue a cultural tradition of having the audience take the point of view of the anti-hero, and celebrate everyday life. The specif icity of the everyday life setting, however, did not quite translate or seem as evident outside of the Spanish context. For instance, the English manual of Freddy Hardest, as well as the related advertisements, downplayed the drunkenness of the character and merely refer to him as a ‘mischievous playboy’. Comparatively, Capitán Sevilla was released in the UK as Captain S, and with the cover of the game using a traditional superhero comic style instead of Max’s cartoony illustration (see Figure 3). In both cases, the parody was purposely lost in translation.

National Spanish themes As a continuation of the erasure of Spanish cultural markers in Spain, there are also a group of games that could be considered typically and topically Spanish, which remained mostly unreleased outside of Spain. As in the

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case of games featuring heroic parody, the main issue with works that celebrate its culture and nationality is that they may use such a celebration to distinguish themselves from the mainstream or generic videogame topics, something that also makes them unintelligible to audiences outside of the country that produces them. Talking about the Spanish game industry, Garin and Martinez remark on the absence of ‘national themes’, which they identify with things such as ‘bullfighting, macho melodrama, or temperamental pathos’ (Garin & Martinez, 2016, p. 528). I will borrow this term to analyse games in the 1980s that included those themes that could be identified as uniquely Spanish, although the definition here will be slightly broader. What I will identify as national themes is a bit more general than that which is discussed by Garin and Martinez. If this paper was written in Spanish, we would use the term españolada to refer to some of these games, a term that I defined above in the context of film as a clichéd representation of Spanish culture. For the purposes of this paper, the term national themes will refer to the more parochial, pre-democratic themes and values that these games promoted. The cultural context of some of these games was at times so specific it made them difficult to export. The first significant example is Olé, Toro (Dinamic, 1985), a bullfighting simulator that was released in Spain and in the UK. The player has to follow the different stages of taunting and piercing a bull until it is finally skewered to death, all while the soundtrack plays the pasodoble ‘Francisco Alegre’, a love song to a bullfighter. This game was one of the first games by Dinamic to be sold in the UK. The game was heavily criticised by UK reviewers, first because it was overcomplicated (South, 1986), but also because it portrayed what they considered to be a barbaric practice. The review in Computer & Videogames (Metcalfe, 1986) starts ‘A sick “sport” becomes a sick “game” thanks to the Spanish Dinamic programming people’. On the other hand, the Spanish review of Micromanía (March 1986) stated that the game is too simple to control, and praises its graphics and sound, while the gory themes of the game were taken for granted—they refer to the game as taking place in the ‘riveting world of bullfighting’ (my translation). Bullfighting is regarded as a quintessential expression of Spanish culture to the point that it is officially considered part of Spanish heritage by the government, in spite of the growing protests against a practice that many in Spain and abroad consider barbaric. This cultural rift explains partly why many of the games here discussed were not released abroad, based on how cultural references could be literally lost in translation, as well as the obliviousness of developers to how certain expressions of Spanish culture would be misunderstood or even offend foreign audiences.

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Olé, Toro can be placed on one end of the spectrum, both as videogame españolada and as a kind of exaltation of old-fashioned Spanish values that are much more in line with what would have been promoted during the Francoist dictatorship. On the other end, games inspired by literary works provide the space to explore national themes in greater detail. Two examples of this end are a couple of adaptations from Spanish tebeos from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, the action-adventure game El Capitán Trueno (Dinamic, 1989) and the graphical text adventure game El Jabato (1989). Both are based on adventure stories by Víctor Mora and Francisco Darnís, and both exemplify some of the values of Franco’s dictatorship (Alary, 2002, pp. 266–267) since their protagonists were Christians fighting foreign invaders. At the time of their release, these games also tapped into the nostalgia of players who may have grown up with the comics. El Jabato was part of another group of games, the interactive fiction that embodies Spanish national themes. These games were graphical text adventures, i.e. a text adventure game with graphics to illustrate the actions described in the text. Don Quijote (Dinamic, 1987), an adaptation of Cervantes’ famous work, celebrates one of the keystones of Spanish culture through the medium of videogames. In contrast, Ke Rulen Los Petas (Iber Software, 1989) is a text adventure game set in the underbelly of Bangkok and uses slang reminiscent of the Spanish punk subcultures of the time. What made all of these games attractive to the domestic market was their use of language alongside the adaptation of popular works. None of these games were distributed in Europe, probably less as a result of their themes than as a result of the fact that their translation into another language may not have been cost-effective. A lesser-known example is Temptations (Topo Soft, 1988), a platform game released only for the MSX platforms, in which the player controls a monk that has to get to the depths of a church and fight many demons in his way in order to become ordained. The premise of the game is a rarity that brings together traditional platforming with Christian stories and traditions. We see echoes of these themes in contemporary Spanish games. Toro (Recotechnology, 2015) is another bullf ighting simulator, released for PlayStation 4, which reproduces many of the same mechanics and themes seen in Olé Toro 30 years before. Following the trail of Temptations, but successfully released in the international market, the games by Spanish Developer Locomalito L’Abbaye Des Morts (2010) and Maldita Castilla (a.k.a. Cursed Castile, 2016), as well as The Game Kitchen’s Blasphemous (2019), demonstrate how Christianity and action-adventure gaming can be a match made in heaven.

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Conclusion So what characterises Spanish games of the 1980s? Once broken down, each of the features demonstrates a tension with other cultures as well as with its own. On the one hand, aspects of cultural dominance seem to betray a rejection of Spanish cultural markers in favour of borrowing the marketing appeal of Hollywood films or established genre conventions. A good deal of the corpus cannot quite be identif ied as sharing any of the features discussed because the fictional worlds, representations, and mechanics seek to reproduce nondescript settings, often invoking fantasy or science-fiction worlds that were not very dissimilar from those of other games, novels, or the Hollywood B-titles that could be found of the shelves of Spanish video stores. In the middle of the spectrum we have the heroic parody, which continues the tradition of the picaresque in games but that also borrows cultural signifiers from other cultures, such as superheroes, and brings them to the context of Spanish everyday life in order to parody them or at least defuse their cultural dominance. The other end of the spectrum is the celebration of Spanish culture, of (male) sports heroes, as well as of heritage, although in the second case it is closer to what could be considered ‘españoladas’, somewhat clichéd and outdated in terms of cultural relevance, while other media were trying to depict the variety and process of modernisation of the country. Signif icantly, those titles that celebrate Spanish culture are usually the ones that did not export as well or at all, or that led to controversies precisely because of cultural differences. The cultural markers that allow us to identify a game as belonging to a specific nationality are thus in flux and not a series of settled traits. On the one hand, national games, as in the case of film, can generate their identity by distinguishing themselves from other cultures, often through parody, or through celebration of their own values and heritage. But this celebration is often what can hinder the distribution of these titles, perhaps because their producers do not believe that international players will understand the references, or because cultural differences may mean that some works might be considered offensive—hence the popularisation of localisation processes over the years—thereby often erasing the cultural context in which games were produced. Marketing strategies often miss the opportunity to turn game titles into ambassadors of the culture that produces them outside of that culture, precisely as distribution channels allow us to access works from all over the world.

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Acknowledgements The author would like to give thanks to the volunteer teams who run the websites Computer Emuzone (, an extensive database of Spanish Games, as well as World of Spectrum (https://www. Their exhaustive work and dedication have greatly facilitated constructing the corpus analysed in this chapter.

References Alary, V. (Ed.) (2002). Historietas, comics y tebeos españoles. Toulouse: Presses universitaires du Mirail. Alary, V. (2009). The Spanish Tebeo. European Comic Art, 2(2), 253–276. Aventuras AD (1992). Chichen Itzá [user’s guide] Camporesi, V. (1994). Para grandes y chicos: un cine para los españoles, 1940–1990. Madrid: Turfán. Capdevila, F. (‘Max’) (1988, August 2). Capitán Sevilla. Microhobby. Celli, C. (2011). National Identity in Global Cinema : How Movies Explain the World. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Donovan, T. (2010). Replay: The History of Video Games. Lewes: Yellow Ant. Esteve, J. (2012a). Ocho Quilates. Una historia de la edad de oro del software español (1983–1986) (Vol. 1). Barcelona: Star-T Magazine Books. Esteve, J. (2012b). Ocho Quilates: Una historia de la edad de oro del software español (1987–1992) (Vol. 2). Barcelona: Star-T Magazine Books. Esteve, J. (2016). Promanager: PC Fútbol: Droga en el quiosco. Barcelona: Ocho Quilates. Esteve, J. (2017). La Abadía Del Crimen: Anatomy of a Cult Video Game in Spain. Well Played, 6(2). Fernández-Vara, C. & Foddy, B. (2017). European Videogames of the 1980s. Well Played (Special Issue) 6(2). well-played-vol-6-no-2/ Funk, N. (2015). La picaresca en Mortadelo y Filemón (University degree dissertation). Dalarna University. Retrieved from resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:du-17078 Garin, M., &, Martínez, V. M. (2016). Spain. In M. J. P. Wolf (Ed.), Video Games Around the World (pp. 521–534). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Meda-Calvet, I. (2016). Bugaboo: A Spanish Case of Circulation and Co-Production of Video Games. Cogent Arts & Humanities, 3(1). 83.2016.1190440

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Metcalfe, T. (1986, November). El Toro. Computer & Video Games. Micromanía. (1986, March). Olé Toro: Un Regalo para la Afición. Micromanía. Pérez-Latorre, Ó. (2013). The European Video Game. An Introduction to its History and Creative Traits. European Journal of Communication, 28(2), 136–151. https:// Rogers, R. A. (2006). From Cultural Exchange to Transculturation: A Review and Reconceptualization of Cultural Appropriation. Communication Theory, 16(4), 474–503. Sicart, M. (2008). Defining Game Mechanics. Game Studies, 8(2). http://gamestudies. org/0802/articles/sicart South, P. (1986, November). Ole Toro. Your Sinclair. Stuckey, H., Swalwell, M., & Ndalianis, A. (2013). The Popular Memory Archive: Collecting and Exhibiting Player Culture from the 1980s. In A. Tatnall, T. Blyth & R. Johnson (Eds.), Making the History of Computing Relevant (pp. 215–225). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer. Švelch, J. (2013). Indiana Jones Fights the Communist Police: Local Appropriation of the Text Adventure Genre in the 1980s Czechoslovakia. In N. B. Huntemann & B. Aslinger (Eds.), Gaming Globally. Critical Media Studies (pp. 163–181). Palgrave Macmillan, New York. Švelch, J. (2018). Gaming the Iron Curtain: How Teenagers and Amateurs in Communist Czechoslovakia Claimed the Medium of Computer Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Nonowt eZine X. (n.d.). The Great ‘Game Over’ Boob. magfold/articfol/boob.html Triana-Toribio, N. (2012). Spanish National Cinema. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis. Ventura, E. (1987a, December 16). Freddy Hardest (1). Microhobby. Ventura, E. (1987b, December 23). Freddy Hardest (2). Microhobby. Wolf, M. J. P. (Ed.) (2016). Video Games Around the World. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

About the Author Clara Fernández-Vara is associate arts professor at the NYU Game Center. Her research and practice focus on the expressive possibilities of narrative games, and how they create worlds for the player to participate and perform. Her work is grounded in the humanities, informed by her background in literature, film, and theatre.

2. From Le Vampire Fou to Billy la Banlieue: Genre, Influences and Social Commentary in 1980s French Videogames Alexis Blanchet Abstract This chapter aims at exploring the cultural specif icities of French videogame production in the 1980s by identifying its sources and references and the way French creators adopt original formulas, such as fantasy or horror adventure games, to their own national context. It specif ically analyses how did adventure game genre developed its own cultural identity, blending together a touch of social commentary—inherited from the caricatural humour typical of the Parisian ‘chansonnier’ tradition—and a dash of 1980s class struggle. Finally, this chapter will show how French videogame production draws on various sources, ranging from American and British influences as videogames or popular movie genres to French popular culture, mixing references and appropriating styles to create original content responding to national audiences. Keywords: France, Social Criticism, Humour, Adventure Game, Politics

In the year 1983, the French videogame sector began its early structuration: the f irst videogame titles for microcomputers were being coded, published, and sold on the French market, with publishers such as Infogrames or Loriciel, studios such as Ère Informatique or Cobra Soft, wholesalers such as Innelec, specialised press titles such as Tilt, and videogame stores such as Electron in Paris or Micromania, which, at the time, were only sold via mail order. For a few years, from 1983 to 1988,

Navarro-Remesal, V. and Ó. Pérez-Latorre, Perspectives on the European Videogame. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2022 doi 10.5117/9789463726221_ch02

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the French videogame sector exclusively published titles targeting a French audience and the French market. Since early French videogame players were not very proficient in English—The Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau actually being a somewhat accurate example of how French people used to speak and understand English at the time—many of the f irst French publishers chose to exploit text-free action-arcade formulas such as Pac-Man’s, which was copied in Crocky (Loriciels, 1983), or Frogger’s, which was copied in Autoroute (Infogrames, 1983). Other publishers chose to translate American or British adventure games into French. Thus, for instance, Wizardry (Sir-Tech, 1981) became Sorcellerie (Ediciel, 1983) in September 1983. After that, French videogames gradually found their own cultural identity as they began to create original game content for French audiences—although this soon came to an end with the rise of the global game market in the late 1980s. This chapter aims at exploring the cultural specificities of French videogame production in the 1980s by asking the following questions: What were the sources and references of French videogames at the time? How did French creators adopt original formulas, such as those of fantasy or horror adventure games, and adapt them to their own national context? Specifically, how did the adventure game genre develop its own cultural identity, blending together a touch of social commentary—inherited from the caricatural humour typical of the Parisian ‘chansonnier’ tradition—and a dash of 1980s class struggle? As shown below, French videogame production draws on various sources, ranging from American and British influences as videogames or popular movie genres to French popular culture, mixing references and appropriating styles to create original content responding to national audiences. The historical research presented here was conducted between 2012 and 2019 and is included in greater detail in the book Une histoire du jeu vidéo en France (1960-1991) Des labos aux chambre d’ados (Blanchet & Montagnon, 2020). It is based on economic and cultural history, in the manner of French historian and specialist in cultural history Pascal Ory: ‘Studying a culture is f irst of all analysing a system of production and circulation of cultural goods’ (Ory, 2004). The methodology used here mixes historical interviews with game programmers and publishers, analysing French videogame production and content analysis in order to build a chronological approach of cultural and creative phenomena in the French videogame sector.



The influence of counterculture on older French videogame developers In his book Replay, Tristan Donovan writes about the French studio Froggy Software, stating that ‘[t]he spirit of May 1968 lurked within Froggy’s DNA’ and citing an interview with Froggy’s founder Jean-Louis Le Breton: May 1968 surely had an influence on the way we started the company, with a completely free and open state of mind and a bit of craziness. We wanted to change the mentalities, the old-fashioned way of thinking. Humour, politics and new technologies seemed to be an interesting way to spread our state of mind. (Donovan, 2010, p. 126).

For the most part, French developers in the early 1980s were too young to have memories of the political events of May 68: most of them had been born in the late 1960s, and began programming software in the 1980s as high-school students. But for older developers such as Le Breton or Philippe Ulrich, founder of Ère Informatique, the influence of counterculture seems to have been decisive in determining their prospective creative and professional paths. Before creating videogames, Le Breton and Ulrich had both considered a career in the music industry—in fact, they both discovered electronics and informatics by way of their music. Le Breton was a member of different bands, including Los Gonococcos and the avant-garde rock’n’roll band Dicotylédon, but he was also a science-fiction literature fan too. He was also the publisher of Lard Frit (‘Fried Bacon’), a humorous fanzine specialised in underground comics. In the early 1980s, Le Breton asked Jean Solé—better known as Solé, cartoonist for L’Écho des Savanes and Fluide Glacial—for several illustrations, which Le Breton wanted to use as outstandingly French covers for Froggy Software’s adventure game titles. Indeed, as Donovan underlines: ‘Almost all Froggys’s games were text adventures, but with their humour and political themes they were a world away from the fantasy and sci-fi tales that typified the genre in the UK and US’ (2010, pp. 126–127). As for Philippe Ulrich, he made it explicit that his early musical career had a great influence on his approach to videogame creation: With [the publishing company] Ère, I wanted to reproduce what I had experienced with Philippe Constantin [artistic director at Pathé-Marconi

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in Paris]. I thought to myself: ‘If I could be anyone, I would like to be the Constantin of video games!’ Redo in video games what this man had done in music, namely to receive young people who had ideas, products, creations, who needed help to finish their projects. And who could thus find in us real assistance. (Blanchet & Montagnon, 2020, p. 303).

Furthermore, the influence of a kind of psychedelic sci-f i on Ulrich’s choices as a publisher for Ère Informatique was strong. Early titles such as Phalsberg (1986), Crafton et Xunk (Get Dexter, 1986), and Eden Blues (1987) were (mostly) sci-fi oriented. During the summer of 1988, for the launch of the Exxos label—which resulted from the acquisition of Ère Informatique by Infogrames—Ère Informatique’s founders organised various offbeat and grandiloquent happenings for the press. The first of these events took place on June 12, 1988, at Studio 102 on the Champs-Élysées in the presence of Alejandro Jodorowsky; imbued with mysticism and shamanism, Philippe Ulrich declaimed texts in homage to a deity named Exxos and ‘sacrificed’ computer hardware to Him. The titles published under this new label were exclusively sci-fi oriented: L’Arche du Captain Blood (1988), Purple Saturn Day (1988), and Kult (1989) are filled with space-opera references, the exploration of infinite spaces, as well as fictional alien languages and races. They clearly take up the sci-fi tradition typical of the French comics magazine Métal Hurlant—which featured major artists such as Philippe Druillet, Mœbius, Enki Bilal, and Jean-Claude Forest—and the psychedelia of the French progressive rock band Magma. But for younger videogame French creators, who were the majority in the 1980s, the most primordial influences were those of popular and mainstream culture, especially those of cinema, bande dessinée, and foreign videogames.

From Hollywood horror to comic horrific videogames The French adventure videogame was one of the first genres to use horrific motifs in the production of videogames in the country. Its approach to the genre was caught in-between its American and British models and its own national identity: it adapted the interfaces and components of American and British games—such as Ken and Roberta Williams’s Mystery House, published by Sierra On-Line (1980), or Zork, published by InfoCom (1980)—while blending them with themes related to 1980s French everyday life, a dose of schoolboy humour and satire, and ocial criticism. In late 1983, Froggy Software and Loriciels published their first two adventure games,



Le Vampire fou (‘The Mad Vampire’) and Le Manoir du docteur Genius (‘Dr Genius’s Mansion’), respectively. Both were horror videogames. Programmed by Froggy Software’s founder, Jean-Louis Le Breton, Le Vampire fou uses an interface similar to that of Sierra titles, combining graphic illustrations with descriptions in text mode and inviting the player to hunt a vampire in an old castle. It was the first French game to use a parser, i.e. a subroutine capable of recognising commands of two words within a pre-established list of different terms. The back-cover blurb mentions the adventure genre, but, unlike its American model, insists on the game’s humorous quality (‘This adventure will lead you into perilous but humorous situations where the drama succeeds the twists and turns’), and specifies that this program was ‘entirely made in France’—although it was, of course, written in English. Just like Le Vampire fou, Laurent Benes and Karine Le Pors’s Le Manoir du docteur Genius presents strong similarities with Mystery House. It uses the same interface, combining illustrations in vector graphics with two-word textual instructions, and features a similar beginning, with the player being invited to explore a house at their own risk. As soon as the player passes the house’s threshold, the front door closes them, and they must then find a way to escape from the manor. These early French titles exploited—as their model Mystery House had done before—a theme linked to a horror movie sub-genre: the ‘old-darkhouse formula’. This trope was inaugurated in a 1927 silent American film The Cat and the Canaries, a Universal feature-length film that is a precursor of the horror genre. The ‘old-dark-house’ sub-genre offers a horrific narrative situation with a playful twist. Characters are locked in a disturbing environment and seek to escape from it; however, this subgenre’s treatment of horror is clearly parodic, and, in the late 1980s, was particularly relevant to the schoolboy humour typical of contemporary videogame production: the aim was less to frighten the player than to play with the tropes of oldfashioned terror. I.L. L’Intrus (‘H.E. the intruder’) by Infogrames (1983) is another text-andgraphic adventure game that uses the motif of the closed space, although it did so with a more disturbing tone, by hybridising the ‘old-dark-house formula’ with science fiction. There, the player seeks to escape an alien threat and wanders through the corridors of a deserted space station, retrieving objects and seeking a way out from this hostile place; occasionally, they come face to face with an alien predatory creature, I.L., and must flee as quickly as possible. To communicate with the program, the player indicates their chosen interaction with the environment by natural-language commands: for instance, the player types N, S, E, or O to move the vessel towards the

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different cardinal points, PRE BOU to seize a compass found on the floor (‘PREndre BOUssole’ meaning ‘Take Compass’), and FEU (‘FIRE’) when facing I.L. to shoot it and chase it away—in this case, if the player does not react fast enough, the alien kills them. Sylvain Karpf, a 17-year-old game programmer at the time, specified his influences for this game in an interview conducted in 2013: ‘I.L. L’Intrus was inspired by adventure games in English like Zork which I could play on TRS-80 Radioshak or BBC Acorn. But I mostly worked on the memory of Alien, the science-fiction movie by Ridley Scott, which had strongly affected me when I had seen it in the cinema. I remembered a lot of little details, like the cat, which can be found in I.L’. (Blanchet & Montagnon, 2020, p. 225). In the game, the genre of space horror is thus unmistakably present, especially through references to the film Alien. The closed and claustrophobic space typical of the ‘old-dark-house formula’ and of ‘space horror’ was thus central to the French horror productions of the 1980s and 1990s. It should also be noted that this theme was revitalised by the success of Stuart Rosenberg’s haunted house movie Amityville, which was released in 1979 and then widely seen in VHS by a generation of programmers. The film’s influence is visible, for instance, on Le Pacte (‘The Pact’), an adventure game dealing with demonology, published by Loriciel in 1986. Its creator Eric Chahi said that the game was ‘above all an atmospheric game’. He explains: Le Pacte is inspired by the horror movie Amityville, whose visual depiction of the house fascinated me at the time. I wanted to create a truly oppressive climate. It was the first game where I tried to make the player feel, to communicate an emotion to them. It was an important step in my creations. (Ichbiah, 2013, p. 61).

References to the Amityville movie could also be found later in Amityville III, a 1986 code listing in Basic published in specialised magazine Hebdogiciel, but also in Peur Sur Amityville (‘Fear on Amityville’) published by UbiSoft in 1987. As Bernard Perron points out concerning a corpus of Japanese and American horror videogames in The World of Scary Video Game: ‘The videoludic horror genre does put an emphasis on fictional environments […] the centrality of setting is often right in the title’ (Perron, 2018, p. 319). And indeed, the titles of French horror adventure games very often consisted in naming the space in which the action is taking place, as in Le Manoir de Mortevielle (Lankhor, 1987), La Chose de Grotemburg (Ubi Soft, 1987), and Le Manoir du Comte Frozarda (1988, MBC Informatique), and in French code-listing games such as La Mine hantée (1985), Le Manoir Maudit (1987), and Le Manoir de l’Enfer (1987).



A large part of French horror adventure games in the 1980s was influenced by American horror B-movies or by British gothic horror movies—especially those by Hammer Film Productions—or even by Italian giallo films: these games clearly used their iconography and storytelling, gestured towards their horror-themed paratexts, and borrowed figures from classic horror cinema, with their cast of vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc. Their take on horror can be defined as atmospheric horror, bringing together foreign contents (videogames, cinema, gothic literature…) with the tradition of Georges Méliès’s phantasmagories, but also with theme-park and fun-fair attractions like ‘Le train fantôme’ (‘ghost train’).

Less fantasy and sci-fi, more polar: the revenge of Commissaire Maigret Themes used in French adventure games drew from different sources. While British and American production developed a taste for fantasy and science fiction, French adventure games renegotiated these generic models. Thus, historical adventure became a predominant sub-genre, sometimes borrowing from science fiction—involving, for instance, time travel—or from archaeological exploration. Some software allow the player to explore an Egyptian pyramid (Le Sceptre d’Anubis, Micro programmes 5, 1985), to visit ancient Greece (1001 BC, Ère Informatique, 1986), to experience adventures in late seventeenth-century Norway (Han d’Islande, Loriciels, 1988, based on a novel by Victor Hugo), to relive the French Revolution (Conspiration de l’an III, Ubi Soft, 1988), or to play spies in World War II (Mission secrète à Colditz, Soracom, 1986). The Middle Ages were a particularly fertile playground, with for instance La Geste d´Artillac (Infogrames, 1985), Montségur (Norsoft, 1985), or Les Templiers d´Orven (Loriciel, 1986). Historical adventure games emerged in the context of school culture and knowledge creation. Indeed, as Gilles Brougère reminds us in his book Jouer/Apprendre, in France playing is considered above all as a tool for child development and a privileged support for learning (Brougère, 2005). This incurs a utilitarian use of videogames, which thus exclusively target young audiences and discourage the idea that videogames are merely an experience of pure entertainment. As stated above in regard to Ère Informatique, science-fiction themes were also regularly used by French programmers, with some titles drawing towards role play and the formula initiated by Wizardry (Ediciel, 1983): this is the case for instance of I.L. L’Intrus (Infogrames, 1983), Space Wolf (Norsoft, 1985), Omega Planète Invisible (Infogrames, 1985), Prophétie, les marches de

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la galaxie (Infomedia, 1986), Star Trap (Loriciel, 1989), and Murders in Space (Infogrames, 1990). To complete this panorama of horror videogames in France, it is also important to mention Ubi Soft productions, with Zombi (Ubi Soft, 1986)—and its many references to George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead—and Hurlements (Ubi Soft, 1988)—whose title is exactly the same as that of Joe Dante’s exploitation film The Howling, in its French translation. Furthermore, the first horror videogame using a 3D engine, Alone in the Dark (Infogrames, 1992), programmed by Frederick Raynal, was largely influenced by H. P. Lovecraft’s novels. But it is a national literary genre, le polar (i.e. ‘the French Thriller’), that seems to be the most over-represented in adventure games ‘made in France’: its influences are visible, for example, in Tony Truand (Loriciel, 1985), Série noire (Micro application, 1985), Harry & Harry ‒ La Boîte de Rajmahal (Computer Age, 1986), Harry & Harry ‒ Mission Torpedo (Computer Age, 1987), Clash (Ère Informatique, 1987), Les Ripoux (Cobra Soft, 1987), or Rat Connection (MBC Informatique, 1988). Obviously, one should not forget to mention the successful Murders… series by Cobra Soft, nor the L’Affaire… series by Infogrames. From George Simenon’s Commissaire Maigret to Jean-Bernard Pouy’s Le Poulpe, polar has become one of the preferred genres for social and political criticism in France. More precisely, it is important to mention the influence of French néo-polar, both leftist and post-leftist, which was born after May 68 and took off with the disillusions that followed the 1981 election, i.e. when François Mitterand failed to carry out a real leftist policy in France. Néo-polar deals with social issues, postmodernity, and political questions in a neo-liberal era. As Donovan (2010) notes about Froggy Software: ‘Même les pommes de terre ont des yeux [‘Even Potatoes got eyes’], offered a comic take on South American revolutionary politics. […] The sordid murder mystery of Le Crime du Parking touched on rape, drug addiction, and homosexuality, while Paranoïak had players battling against their character’s smorgasbord of mental illnesses’. In 1986, Jean-Louis Lebreton was presented as the ‘Alfred Hitchcock of the micro computing’ by specialised French magazine Tilt for his work on interactive fictions. Through the playful and literary motif of the investigation, the thriller makes it possible to stage a popular Paris, with its many metro stations (Tony Truand, Les Ripoux adapted from Claude Zidi movie comedy); to deal with organised crime (Le Casse des Égouts); to handle slang language such as that spoken by the character of San Antonio in Frédéric Dard’s novels (Clash); or to refer to the iconic black-and-white images of Hollywood film noir (Rat Connection). Thus, with its black-and-white aesthetics, and its occasional use of bright colours in the composition of its images, L’Affaire



Vera Cruz (Infogrames, 1986) plays with technical constraints to create a contemporary work inspired by roman noir. Similarly, Meurtre à grande vitesse (Cobra Soft, 1985) takes place in a TGV train (Train à Grande Vitesse, a ‘high-speed train’) during a train ride and is one of the best contemporary examples of French innovation, with its discourse on technical and social progress in France. In British and American adventure games, the most prominent themes were obviously borrowed from fantasy, science fiction, and, in a minor part, horror. Some French publishers tried to exploit fantasy and role-playing-game universes for their national audiences, with, for instance, Argolath (Loriciels, 1984) for ZX81 or Mandragore (Infogrames, 1984), which was rewarded by the Prix Arcade an award from the Ministry of Culture created by a state agency dedicated to new media and cultural industries, Octet. Furthermore, UbiSoft published Fer & Flamme (1986), Le Nécromancien (1987), L’Anneau de Zengara (1987), and Le Maître des âmes (1987), as well as a series of software titled ‘Le logiciel dont vous êtes le héros’ (‘a choose-your-own-adventure software’) named after ‘Le livre dont vous êtes le héros’ series, the French translation of single-player role-playing gamebooks of the Fighting Fantasy series created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. French production thus enriched the adventure genre with other sources, from Hollywood cinema to French popular literature, such as le polar. But, since French game producers wanted to target teenage audiences and since videogames were becoming mainstream, comics—bande dessinée in French—soon became a major source of videogame adaptations in France.

Astérix, Tintin, and The Smurfs: the videogames! It was my character, my vision of what tomorrow was going to be, always very creative, we first made licensed software programs in France, with Les Passagers du vent, Les Schtroumpfs, Tintin. […] And these licenses were not very expensive at the time […] I was a huge fan of BD [comics]. We were going to make videogames with comic characters, there were already movies inspired by comics. The first game I signed was with Jacques Glénat, Les Passagers du vent [1986]. I wrote the script. I was doing scripts, covers, sales pitches. Shopkeeper’s work. Infogrames had a true license culture. (Blanchet & Montagnon, 2020, p. 331).

As Infogrames’s Bruno Bonnell says, in the second half of the 1980s, some French publishers went into videogames through purchasing and adapting

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popular culture licenses, from comics, music, and film. In 1987, Infogrames adapted the comic book Iznogoud, a character created by René Goscinny and Jean Tabary. In 1988, the game Bobo was named after the title character from a series created in 1961 by Maurice Rosy and Paul Deliège for the magazine Spirou. The same year, Cobra Soft adapted La Marque jaune, a Blake and Mortimer iconic comic book signed by Edgar P. Jacobs in 1956. For this, Bertrand Brocard from Cobra Soft imagined a system of dialogues between characters using moving speech bubbles. Finally, in 1989, no fewer than three titles were adapted by Infogrames: North & South, adapted from the Franco-Belgian comic book Les Tuniques bleues, by Cauvin and Lambil; La Quête de l’Oiseau du Temps, adapted from the comic book by Régis Loisel and Serge Le Tendre; and Tintin sur la lune, from Hergé’s comic book On a marché sur la lune (on Infogrames and Franco-Belgian comic adaptations, see also Garin’s chapter in this volume). Visual fidelity was the main characteristic of Infogrames’s work on these comics sources and the press appreciated the technical prowess deployed in these games. For Infogrames, this type of production was also particularly useful to create a brand name and to conceal the identities of individual creators, whose names no longer appeared on the game boxes. In 1986, Coktel Vision—in collaboration with the educational toy brand Nathan—developed several adventure games adapted from comic books universes or characters: Astérix et la potion magique (1986), based on the comic book Astérix le Gaulois by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo (1961) and published by Vifi-Nathan; Blueberry (1987), based on the comic book Le Spectre aux balles d’or by Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean Giraud (1972); Lucky Luke ‒ Nitroglycerine (1987), based on the comic book by Morris and Lo Hartog Van Banda, which was released that same year; La Mascotte (1988), based on the first homonymous volume of the comic book series Rantanplan (1987); Astérix chez Rahazade (1988), co-published with Cedic/ Nathan and adapted from the comic book by Albert Uderzo that was released the previous year; and, finally, Astérix: Le Coup du menhir (1989), adapted from the animated feature film Astérix et le Coup du menhir released that same year. Ubi Soft also adapted Franco-Belgian comics, including Franquin’s Gaston Lagaffe, and the Italian comics Tanino Liberatore’s RanXerox. These editorial choices of borrowing from other cultural industries were part of a three-fold editorial strategy: reaching a wider audience familiar with the key figures of adolescent popular culture, guaranteeing commercial success thanks to the notoriety of the source works, and renewing the themes and fictional worlds of videogames by benefiting from a ‘turnkey’ artistic direction. These choices were, in the second half of the 1980s, the marker



of a professionalisation of the relationships between game publishers and rights holders and underlined the growing interest of rights holders in seeing their brands and their licenses prolonged into the videogame medium. The French videogame sector, although still financially fragile, was gaining confidence in its relationships with other cultural industries.

The middle class does videogames! Early French videogames also spoke about the urban development of the time. For example, Billy la Banlieue is a platform game published by Loriciel, that illustrates the emerging phenomenon of French ‘banlieues’ since the end of the 1960s: these towns developed in the post-war period, first welcoming middle-class residents, and then attracting poorer inhabitants grouped in their surroundings. These urban areas—les banlieues—were celebrated in the 1970s by the singer Renaud, whose lyrics were made of a mixture of slang and realistic poetry. In the same vein, comic book author Frank Margerin invented the character of Lucien in 1979 for Métal Hurlant. Lucien was a leather-jacket-wearing loubard (‘bad boy’), with cowboy boots and a fondness for rock’n’roll. Like Margerin’s Lucien, Loriciel’s Billy is a rocker looking for his moped in his neighbourhood, fighting other guys and gathering the missing pieces of his stolen vehicle. Amélie Minuit (Ère Informatique, 1985) features a female character in a time-limited adventure taking place in an office tower in La Défense, a Parisian business district and the symbol of a French neo-liberal turn in the 1980s. The player plays a secretary who has one hour to find an important lost file for her boss in a building containing 29 floors and 224 rooms. The game questions the hierarchical relationships structuring business companies, the working conditions of the service sector (even the elevator does not work perfectly!) and the pressure put on middle-class employees. French games of the 1980s address the question of the economic crisis: Chomedu (Vidéomatique, 1988) is a satirical portrayal of the life of an unemployed person (‘chomedu’ is the slang word for ‘chômage’, meaning unemployment). The avatar is threatened by his parents, who tell him they will kick him out of their home if he does not find a job before six p.m. As the home screen warns: ‘Today, you have to find a job, otherwise beware! Your parents delivered an ultimatum: “Either you find a job, or you don’t come back at home anymore”. Last but not least, your girlfriend is more than tired of paying for your beers and for your pinball games, let alone of taking you to the restaurant and the cinoche (cinema)’.

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In the course of their quest, the player meets punks, reads job offers from an outdated newspaper, goes to an appointment at the ANPE (the French employment office), and seeks to secure a job interview in a limited time. Chomedu was developed between January and April 1988 by Thierry Loiseau, a high-school student from Brive-la-Gaillarde, with help from his brother, who helped with the graphics, and his mother, who helped with the writing. The game includes many references to its contemporary political context, such as the May 1988 presidential campaign, with its second round famously opposing François Mitterrand to Jacques Chirac. It also borrowed some characters from French comics—with, for instance, its copy of Jean-Marc Lelong’s Carmen Cru—as well as from youth language, with its mixture of slang and verlan (a form of backward-slang somewhat resembling pig latin). The game features a syntactic analyser that sanctions insults uttered by the player, with a penalty of ten precious minutes to complete the quest. Chomedu was published in a limited number of copies by Vidéomatique—a shop run by Guy Raynal, father of Frédérick Raynal—and was certainly not a bestseller, but it did illustrate French developers’ capacity to seize upon everyday matters and thus to feed social issues into their games.

Caricaturing political life, politicians, and celebrities: the legacy of chansonniers In the second half of the 1980s, many French games anchored their plots in daily life, including many references to political events, social contexts, and cultural figures. Thus, Dossier Boerhaave (Infogrames, 1986) caricatures public figures such as the Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, the television producer Stéphane Collaro, and even the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher—staging them in a police investigation carried out around the Parisian cemetery of Père-Lachaise. In La Chose de Grotemburg (Ubi Soft, 1987), a horrifying and wacky investigation, the player can meet Sergio, a caricature of artist and songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, while walking through the ‘hunger forest’; the player can also stumble upon ‘hunter’, a caricature of American actor Sylvester Stallone as Rambo in First Blood: Part II. Similarly, in Hawaii! (Excalibur, 1987), the player gets ‘The good advice of Rika Zaraï’, a star singer often mocked at the time for her promotion of natural medicine: the sentence ‘[i]f this game gives you headaches, [take] a sitz bath with dandelion and turnip!’ appears in the background of an image within the game. This recurrent use of caricature and parody shows that graphic adventure games are part and parcel of a French satirical tradition



famously represented by comedians and imitators such as Thierry Le Luron, Pierre Douglas, or Chantal Gallia—often called chansonniers—by French satirical press (from Le Canard Enchaîné to Charlie Hebdo) and, broadly, by press cartoons. Specialised press publications offered code listing for graphic and textual adventure games dealing with French political life. In May 1988, during the second round of the French presidential election, CPC magazine featured the code listing for a game by Olivier Tailleux, titled Présidentielles 88. The introduction to the game sets the tone: ‘You are a candidate in the presidential elections. Well! A terrorist group has stolen the 500 signatures authorising you to run for the election. This group is demanding a ransom, in return for which your collection of signatures will be given back to you…’ The game then urges the player to find objects lost by different candidates. The program was an opportunity to make puns about the names of famous candidates and their lieutenants: Jean-Marie Lepeigne (Jean-Marie Le Pen), Chablan-Delcrass (Jacques Chaban-Delmas), Marchy (Georges Marchais), Tonton (François Mitterrand), Valy (Valéry Giscard d’Estaing), and Chichi (Jacques Chirac). Players (and voters) would most likely have recognised these names as well as some of the rudimentary caricatures displayed on the screen. National and international news were also a source of inspiration for Cobra Soft, which, for instance, published Dossier ‘G.’ L’affaire du Rainbow-Warrior in 1985, a few weeks after the scandal (a sabotage of a Greenpeace boat by operatives of the French intelligence service) had broken in New-Zealand. Short development times allowed Cobra Soft to surf on the wave of this geopolitical scandal: Daniel Lefebvre only took a few weeks to design the game and, while the scandal broke out on July 10, 1985, the game was available on multiple platforms by the following autumn. After reading authentic press papers, the player is then subject to a quirky questionnaire about the Rainbow Warrior case in a kind of text adventure game. More ambitiously, Cessna Over Moscow (Hitech Production, 1987) looked back on the landing of a Cessna 172 plane piloted by a 19-year-old West German, Mathias Rust, on Red Square in Moscow on May 28, 1987.

Slavery and West Indies tradition: Muriel Tramis Games signed by Muriel Tramis for Coktel Vision, notably Méwilo (1987) and Freedom ou les Guerriers de l’ombre (1988), were critical and public successes that emphasised the studio’s literary culture and its quest for originality

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through appealing to national and local history or folklore. Tramis, who was born in 1958 in Fort-de-France, Martinique, started her professional life as an engineer at Aérospatiale, a French state-owned civilian and military aerospace manufacturer. Then, in 1986, she joined Coktel Vision, a publisher founded by Roland Oskian. As Oskian puts it concerning Tramis: Muriel Tramis was one of our key author-designers. She was a famous video game writer in France, and in Germany too. Very creative, she got a somewhat technical profile, but artistic too. She also had a militant point of view, on the one hand for the feminine condition by defending female designers and creating games with heroines, long before Lara Croft, notably Fascination. Her second f ight was the black condition and history of slavery which she spoke about in Freedom. (Blanchet & Montagnon, 2020, p. 270).

Méwilo, published by Coktel Vision in 1987, clearly built a socio-political discourse. Written in collaboration with awarded novelist Patrick Chamoiseau by Muriel Tramis—who would then go on to sign several flagship titles for this publisher—Méwilo is an adventure game based on a Caribbean legend about an early nineteenth-century slave revolt. The player controls a parapsychologist invited to find descendants of slaves and masters, to reconcile the souls of their ancestors, and to solve a zombie case. Beyond its supernatural dimension, Muriel Tramis made it explicit that she wished her game to act as a vehicle for memory transmission: I wanted to show the poorly known aftermath of history of colonisation and slavery. I wanted to explain how slaves could feel and, above all, the consequences it could have today. Because many people ignore their story or are ashamed to talk about it, or feel pain when telling it. I wanted to show in a slightly lighter and playful way that we could talk about these things. (Blanchet & Montagnon, 2020, p. 270)

In 1988, with Chamoiseau again, Tramis created Freedom: Les Guerriers de l’ombre. Blending adventure, fights, and social relationships, the game puts the player in the shoes of a slave who must escape a sugarcane plantation in a limited time, i.e. one night in the game. Tramis also directed erotic games with a focus on women’s desire, sexuality, and sexual liberty, including, for instance, Geisha (1989) and Fascination (1990). Tramis’s work stands out in the context of late 1980s French videogame creation, as a remarkable blend of feminism, political discourse, and commercial success.



Conclusion. From national audience to global market: the end of ‘le jeu vidéo français’? From 1985 onwards, new companies appeared in France. Loriciel served as an incubator for development studios since several employees left the publisher to start their own business: Elliot Grassiano and Patrick Le Nestour founded Microïds, a publisher publishing original creations as well as American successes such as the Bröderbund games. Similarly, the Caen brothers created Titus, a company that very quickly opened up to the international market by offering games created directly in English. The French microcomputer game sector quickly implemented the idea of producing games for a market that was no longer constrained by national borders, but that could extend beyond them—first to the UK, then to the whole of the European and North American markets. Titus, Infogrames, Loriciel, Ubisoft, and others soon abandoned what had, until then, been specific to French videogame creation: game programming in French for a non-English-speaking audience. They moved on to producing titles in English, or to less talkative genres, such as simulation, driving, or shooting games, with in-game indications in English. In short, they moved on to manufacturing and publishing products destined for exportation. The French videogame industry was born from microcomputer stores, moving from a literary publishing model to an industrialised structure where publishers financed and organised the production of games for an internationalised market. The ultimately rapid internationalisation of French game publishing questions the national character of French videogame creation: does French videogame exist as a creative identity? Has a particular game genre allowed the emergence of a national production with a marked cultural identity? From 1983 to 1987, national cultural references progressively disappeared from French videogames in order to facilitate exportation to foreign markets. Despite the games’ great inventiveness and innovations, their typically French identity might have been deemed insufficient to compete against British and American productions. In the late 1980s, just as Loriciel, Infogrames, Ubisoft, and Coktel Vision stopped publishing videogames in French, new publishers, such as Titus, Microïds, and Cryo, immediately turned to exportation. But almost simultaneously, at the beginning of the 1990s, the French industry sought to assert its identity by using the phrase ‘French Touch’ as an expression of national know-how and of a specific quality to be distinguished from that of Anglo-American titles. Thus, at the very same time as it was losing its cultural national identity by gaining

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international recognition, the French videogame sector was also asserting its own creativity and specificity as an industry—a paradox that is perhaps inevitable for a national creative industry seeking to exist in a globalised market.

References Blanchet, A., & Montagnon, G. (Eds.) (2020). Une histoire du jeu vidéo en France (1960–1991): des labos aux chambres d’ados. Paris: Pix’n Love. Brougère, G. (2005). Jouer/Apprendre. Paris: Economica. Donovan, T. (2010). Replay. The History of Video Games. Lewes: Yellow Ant. Ichbiah, D. (2013). Éric Chahi. Parcours d’un créateur de jeux vidéo français. Paris: Pix’n Love. Hellio, P. (2018). L’histoire du point’n click. Paris: Pix’n Love.

About the Author Alexis Blanchet is professor in Film Studies at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris (France). His most recent book is about the national history of videogames in France, Une histoire du jeu vidéo en France (1960–1991), Pix’n Love. He tweets on his research on @AlexisBlanchet.


Finnish Fuck Games: A Lost Historical Footnote Susanna Paasonen & Veli-Matti Karhulahti

Abstract Our chapter provides a qualitative analysis of four selected independently developed Finnish ‘fuck games’—a term we use for playable software typically implying or simulating sexual intercourse. These titles from the 1980s and 1990s offer regional evidence for the argument that, as it has historically been the case with other media technologies, sex serves as a creative space for both the development and play of early videogames. This opens a perspective from which to better understand the overall development and history of pre-Internet DIY labour within game design. Keywords: Sexuality, Gameplay, DIY Labour, Demoscene, Finland

Histories of media technologies involve diverse experimentations with erotic, pornographic, and sexually explicit content. Sexual content was adopted early in photography as it was in visual variations such as the stereoscope, 16 mm, 8 mm, and 35 mm film and video, and, later, in networked media from Usenet to the WWW (e.g., Williams, 1989; Coopersmith, 1999; Paasonen, 2018a). The videogame is no exception. While the role of erotic, pornographic, and sexually explicit early videogame development has been cited by historians earlier (often in passing), few case studies chart the region-specific functions and roles of such titles. In this article, we do exactly that: our goal is to analyse independently developed Finnish ‘fuck games’—playable software typically implying or simulating sexual intercourse—of the 1980s and 1990s in order to identify their fundamental elements as objects produced in specific regional space and time. While these elements can thus be claimed to reflect Finland’s computer and media culture during the era, they also provide a perspective from which to better

Navarro-Remesal, V. and Ó. Pérez-Latorre, Perspectives on the European Videogame. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2022 doi 10.5117/9789463726221_ch03

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understand the overall development and history of local, pre-Internet DIY labour within game design. We use the marker of fuck games to capture some of the material’s specific style and mode. Made by young people for other young people in a male homosocial context, the games are hardly adult. To call them erotic would be inaccurate in that they exhibit little aesthetic or artistic intent; they are not concerned with depictions of desire and it is not obvious that their intention is to sexually arouse. This is also why we have chosen not to label the games as pornographic (additionally, they display little familiarity with the generic conventions or aesthetics of pornography). These are ‘sex games’ made with the intention to amuse; they are intentionally rude and crass and are deserving of an appropriately descriptive moniker. Fuck games were created by amateurs, shared as free copies irrespective of copyright, and enjoyed primarily as vernacular male teen entertainment where joy is taken in grossness, coarseness, and raunch. Our study is methodologically specific, and hence limited by default. On the one hand, there is evidence that non-commercial fuck games were widely popular among the hobbyists of the time due to active distribution within software piracy networks. They were, however, all mainly ignored by the press and triggered few public discussions (see Saarikoski, 2005). On the other hand, while contemporary archivists and collectors have managed to track down hundreds of such titles, only a selected few are currently available for (emulated) play: most are believed to have been completely destroyed (see Kauppinen, 2015). Given the impossibility to chart the whole range of fuck-games produced in Finland, we approach the phenomenon qualitatively, by analysing four widely available titles as well as their paratexts: Strip-tease Ventti, Helttaa Helmaan, Bepa Quest, and Koulu3. We do not claim that these titles characterise or encapsulate the overall fuck game scene of the era, nor do we have the means to expand our inquiry to comparative research on an international scale. Rather, we employ their diverse means to act and interact (in various representational contexts) as regional evidence for the argument that—as it has historically been the case with other media technologies—sex served as a creative space for both the development and play of early videogames. First, we summarise the history of previous fuck and sex games in order to set our analysis in the continuum of international development. This is followed by an introduction of the named titles and their mechanics, representations, and media references. We conclude with a discussion that analyses these fuck games in the context of pornography and game design in 1980s and 1990s Finland.

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History of fuck games While sex and sexuality have been examined in gaming cultures at least since the beginning of the 1980s (e.g., Kaplan & Kaplan, 1983), research on fuck games is somewhat limited. Systematic references to actual developed titles are currently found in historical anthologies; for instance, as early as 1997 JC Herz’s Joystick Nation discusses the infamous Custer’s Revenge (1982), remembered for its rape content. According to Herz, it ‘fails abysmally as a videogame’ yet spawned ‘two sequels despite the protests and Atari’s efforts to halt production’ (Herz, 1997, p. 69). Dominic Arsenault’s (2008, p. 279) review of gaming controversies likewise starts with Custer’s Revenge, yet he expands analysis to sex-themed classic adventures that, at the arrival of full-motion video technology in the 1990s, evolved into ‘adult interactive entertainment’ with human actors in titles such as Riana Rouge (1997) and Michael Ninn’s Latex (1998). Along similar lines, Tristan Donovan’s Replay: The History of Videogames (2010) visits the topic in passing by unfolding Night Life (1982) as the origin of the so-called ‘bishōjo games’, i.e. Japanese-styled videogames with young girl characters as their main selling point. At the time of writing, perhaps the most comprehensive and unique study of fuck games is Brenda Brathwaite’s less academic book-length scrutiny, Sex in Videogames (2006). Her review includes dozens of forgotten titles over the past three decades, ranging from small indie productions (Quest for the Whorehouse Queen, n.d.) to major brand titles (Playboy: The Mansion, 2005), and massive multiplayer online games (Naughty America: The Game, 2006). While Brathwaite’s data is extensive and her personal observations as a developer insightful, she provides little, if any, social, technical, or any other analysis that could be used as a reference to understand the role of fuck games across cultures (see Harrer, 2019). In addition to the above, the aforementioned bishōjo games and Japanese erotic videogame design in general (‘eroge’) are currently gaining academic attention, primarily in the work of Patrick Galbraith (e.g. 2017a, 2017b) and a number of scholars in Japan (e.g. Saito, 2000; Azuma, 2001). In studies of law and videogame regulation, controversial releases are occasionally brought up as historical curiosities (e.g., Kenyota, 2008; Wilcox, 2011; see also Kangasvuo & Meriläinen, 2009; Payne & Alilunas, 2016). Finally, there is some ongoing research on the sexual content in early console games and their censorship (see Wysocki & Lauteria, 2015). For an overall review of sex and sexuality, the reader is guided to a study by J. T. Harviainen et al. (2018). In the rubric of this overview, Finnish fuck games provide a distinct historical entry to a sector of the phenomenon that has remained relatively unexplored so far.

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Being noncommercially developed by anonymous designers and distributed in the regionally and temporally specific Nordic Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, the selected titles help us understand better what erotic, pornographic, and sexually explicit digital play was like and how it served the culture of the time.

Material and analysis The present analysis is based on playing, reading, and situating the publicly available versions of Strip-tease Ventti, Helttaa Helmaan, Bepa Quest, and Koulu3 in the time of their release, that is, we employ historically aware hermeneutic play research as a method (Karhulahti, 2015). We cannot confirm the titles’ years of publication, but a number of sources, to be discussed later, suggest their origin to be in the 1980s and 1990s. The rationale for choosing these early fuck games is their accessibility and popularity: as Commodore 64 and MS-DOS products, they can be accurately emulated in contemporary computers and (perhaps due to this) are often mentioned in ongoing online discussions and articles that deal with the history of fuck games in Finland (e.g. MoonTV, 2015; Airola, 2016; see also Kerttula, 2013). Again, we are aware and stress that these instances do not necessarily represent the complete scene of the 1980s–1990s era; however, as known examples of that scene, they enable us to analyse some popular design tendencies. While each of these fuck games was played through multiple times until reaching a point of implied closure, we did not exert systematic software analysis that would have enabled exploring every piece of their potential content. In this regard, our study represents something of a standard user experience. The fourth title, Koulu3, makes an exception, as the playable file was opened and closely scrutinised with the help of a research assistant (Figure 4). This enabled us to gain deeper access to Koulu3 in particular, and slightly more space is therefore dedicated to it. Paratexts related to these fuck games were studied as well. We consulted local historians and journalists from our personal networks (snowballing) in order to locate references to the selected and related titles in popular Finnish computer magazines of the time, yet we did not systematically examine the magazines ourselves. Additionally, internet search engines were used in order to map out the currently available online sources concerning each title. Since our study is first and foremost a qualitative contextualised analysis of the fuck games and the paratexts are used merely as supporting reference, we do not provide a systematic breakdown or details concerning these media items. Below, the four titles are introduced respectively.

Finnish Fuck Games: A Lost Historical Footnote


Figure 4. Koulu3 hypertext map, including all accessible nods and paths. Source: Ellinoora Havaste.

Strip-tease Ventti (‘Striptease Blackjack’) The first of our fuck games is not, technically speaking, part of the genre at all, as it is a somewhat straightforward Commodore 64 reproduction of the commercial digital strip pokers that were being sold and excessively (and illegally) distributed in the 1980s and 1990s. The basic idea of the digital strip poker is simply to play with virtual characters, and winning leads to the loser undressing one or more pieces of clothing. Most of the current online sources date Strip-tease Ventti to the year 1995, and, if this is true, the work can be considered modest for its time in terms of graphical representation. This suggests that the title was neither developed nor played for the purposes of sexual arousal as such, but rather for amusement of merging a sexually titillating theme to a technological and ludic experience. A number of features distinguish Strip-tease Ventti from its international peers. Most visibly, the videogame does not simulate poker, as do the majority of erotic digital card games of the time tned to, but rather the game Ventti—a Finnish translation or version of what is elsewhere known as either ‘blackjack’, ‘twenty-one’, or ‘vingt-un’ (cf. Parlett, 1991). While the rules between versions of this game vary, twenty-one is often considered the historical ‘first’ that originated in Europe and thence developed into vingt-un in France and spread to the US as Blackjack. Compared to blackjack, for instance, Finnish ventti has a slightly different ruleset for calculating points and the cards are not played face down but openly. This regional element has no impact on the title’s erotic theme to any notable degree; however, some other design choices, such as excluding the ‘double stakes’ rule (which would normally grant double winnings in case of scoring 21), have been made to simplify the undressing process.

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Figure 5. Strip-tease Ventti. [“That’s ok, I am Ulla.”]

A significant feature that is lacking from many digital strip card games of the 1980s and 1990s that Strip-tease Ventti provides the player the option to choose either a male or female character, both of which are simultaneously visible on the screen. Introduced as Olli (male) and Ulla (female), the two characters function as gendered objects of undressing that players may either play with or against (Figure 5). Notably, since the rules of the game make losing by purpose somewhat easy, players can literally choose the character they wish to undress by losing their clothes intentionally with little risk of winning. Among the immense number of popular titles such as Samantha Fox Strip Poker (1986) and Sexy Poker (2009) that also saw a release for the children-oriented Nintendo Wii platform, Strip-tease Ventti remains one of the few titles in history that includes both female and male characters equally represented undressed, depending on the player’s own choice.

Helttaa Helmaan (‘The Egg’) Also designed for the Commodore 64, Helttaa Helmaan reminds one of classic arcade games such as Space Invaders (1978) or Galaxian (1979). Nevertheless, instead of a spaceship, the player is in control of a giant penis (named KyrpaKari i.e. ‘Kari the Dick’) with the goal to maintain erection and—instead of shooting aliens—hitting and penetrating diverse orifices until the level of arousal drains away. The title’s time of release differs depending on the

Finnish Fuck Games: A Lost Historical Footnote


Figure 6. Helttaa Helmaan (the Egg). Erection % and the number of orgasms at the top.

source, with most referencing a year between 1985 and 1988. This fuck game is also signed by an artist, ‘The Incredible Mr. Eggman’, which links to the product’s English subtitle: The Egg. This is either an intentional or unintentional pun of a literal translation of the Finnish word ‘muna’ that refers diversely to a testicle, a penis, and an egg. Helttaa Helmaan follows conventionally the stereotypes of gaming avatars by providing the player with a somewhat masculine male character to control (see Ivory, 2006; Miller & Summers, 2007). In comparison to these stereotypes, Kari is also very much sexualised and not merely in a heteronormative vein. The objectives of his penetrating efforts are threefold—Marjut Pieni Herkkusuu (‘Marjut the Epicure’, Figure 6), Pillu-Paula (‘Paula the Pussy’), and Anaali-Arto (Arto the Anal)—with all representing distinct simulated sexual exchanges of increased precision-based difficulty, in the aforementioned order. While the level involving anal action with Arto (a common male name in Finland) is positioned as a climax in the end, completing the level does not result in the end credits being shown but restarts the process anew, thus offering a potentially infinite fuck loop.

Bepa Quest (‘Butt Quest’) As above, Bepa Quest sets the player in control of a penis, yet this time with a complete male body. Unlike Helttaa Helmaan, this MS-DOS fuck game

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Figure 7. Bepa Quest. Upper meter for ‘fucks’ and the lower one for ‘time’, the name of the object at the bottom (‘Peach’).

involves no precision-based challenge but simply asks the player to hit button(s) as rapidly as possible in order to fuck through a number of objects before a timer runs out. These objects are given various labels, from animals (‘guinea pig’) and fruits (‘peach’, Figure 7) to human names; however, they are all visually presented in the exact same way: as semicircles on the side of the screen. In other words, the player’s button mashing efforts are rewarded merely by access to new textual labels, whilst the activity and its visual representation remain the same. Compared to other fuck games of the time, Bepa Quest is exceptional for multiple reasons. First, it was developed by a group of designers known as Åkesoft, who produced more than a dozen controversial freeware titles, some of which are nowadays a documented part of Finnish videogame history (Kultima & Peltokangas, 2017). While many of Åkesoft’s products generated controversies—e.g. the largest local computer magazine Mikrobitti (1995) featured their videogame Invataxi and described it as a sick parody of the disabled—it was Bepa Quest that had the most significant impact. According to later press reports (Mikrobitti 1997), Bepa Quest had been designed for schoolbullying purposes to specifically harass a person whose phone number was given as the ultimate reward for finishing all levels. This led to a lawsuit against the fuck game’s two 15-year-old designers, thus shutting down Åkesoft in 1996. Although a single instance allows little generalisation, the case of Beta Quest implies that fuck game design, as an activity itself, was at least partially

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merged with norm-defying bad play that is ‘coercive, manipulative, used to ostracise and to humiliate [but also] to create social cohesion, and to strengthen relationships’ (Stenros, 2015, p. 76). This mirrors the homosocial production context in (and for) which Bepa Quest was produced: humour and humiliation serve as a means for the designers to play a dark game of their own—potentially contributing to their local and temporal status in a teenage peer community.

Koulu3 (‘School 3’) Perhaps the most unique of the four titles examined here is Koulu3, a textonly choose-your-own-adventure where selecting right actions moves the story onwards and rewards the player with dynamic ‘sex’ and ‘people killed’ scores. As above, the designer(s) of this MS-DOS product are generally unknown. The opening screen mentions ‘Strider Production’ as the developer, yet no other products are known to have been developed under the same name. Regardless of the number three in the title, Koulu3 has no documented predecessors. Sources consistently reference the year 1993 as its release date, which may be a partial reason for the titled number. While sex-themed text games have been developed at least since Sierra’s commercial Softporn Adventure (1981)—which soon spawned the popular Leisure Suite Larry series—Koulu3 differs from this genre in two major respects (for details, see Karhulahti & Bonello Rutter Giappone, 2021). First, instead of employing the standard text parser interface that was a default at the time (Montfort, 2005), its mechanics are simplified into a static choosing of verbally described prewritten actions. In order to make progress, the reader must pick one of the two, three, or four lines of text that move the story forward. Second, Koulu3 is not simply about sex but rather a gore-rich parody of violence and sexual exaggeration. The reader embodies a male avatar in a primary school setting next to two female-coded characters, Jaana and Kati, with whom one can interact in multiple sexual, violent, and other ways. Most of the available choices in Koulu3 result in absurd outcomes, such as Jaana dying during intercourse due to a lack of foreplay, the avatar being kicked to death (internal genital bleeding) by Kati if she is approached directly, or the avatar starving to death after getting his feet stuck in Kati’s ‘pussy hole’ while jumping on her. Such incidents emerge in a rather surprising manner, as the descriptions of available actions rarely imply anything about their respective outcomes. In addition to Jaana and Kati, a third significant object of play in Koulu3 is the school cafeteria, which allows

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Figure 8. Koulu3. An English translated version.

the choice of various mass-shooting options. The reader may choose for the avatar to pick a machine gun (that someone left under the table) and start shooting teachers and students—perhaps a reference to the first school shootings in Finland (1989) just before Koulu3’s assumed release. In the same way as the choices related to Jaana and Kati affect the ‘sex score’, the choices related to the shooting affect the ‘people killed score’ (Figure 8). While some actions such as foreplay seem to increase the sex score, there is no clear formula or logic for score accumulation, and sometimes the same choices produce different scores.

Fuck games in context Fuck games emerged in a pornographic landscape dominated by locally produced, broadly available print magazines. Following the Finnish 1987 ‘video nasties’ law, VHS tapes featuring adult content could no longer be legally sold in the country, yet they were widely purchased through mail order from Sweden and remained in local circulation. While the gradual increase in net connectivity in the course of the 1990s drastically altered this landscape, both in terms of the general availability of pornography and the visibility of amateur content, sexually explicit DIY photographs, erotic stories, and occasional drawings were, during the period discussed, circulated primarily in locally produced magazines (see Paasonen et al., 2015). Given the strict regulation in the distribution of audiovisual pornography, local commercial production only moved from print to video around the

Finnish Fuck Games: A Lost Historical Footnote


new millennium, remaining very modest in scale. Although small-scale independent enterprises did produce audiovisual content in the 1980s and 1990s, their clandestine productions were not easy to access and, similarly to amateur porn, remain undocumented to date. Fuck games are connected to pornography as a field of cultural production, yet in ambiguous ways. While it is not possible in all cases to identify the creators of these games, extant knowledge—as well as the aesthetics of the games themselves—points to hobbyist, male, homosocial production practices, often among teenage boys. It thus follows that fuck games had little, if anything, to do with commercial porn production in the country: the producers, like the media, were different forms of distribution and consumption. Some porn aesthetics trickled into and were appropriated in the games designed, yet their function was not unequivocally that of sexual titillation, nor were the games predominantly produced as masturbation aids—this, again, being a key raison d’être of pornographic objects. Fuck games are rather parts of a vernacular DIY porn culture that exists on the margins of popular culture historiography, as drawings and stories crafted for one’s own pleasure and, in some contexts, for the pleasure of being shared with others, as in readers’ letters published in porn magazines (see Paasonen, 2018b). Such hobbyist porn draws from the imageries and scenarios of commercial pornography while also incorporating a range of other cultural references and personal fantasies into the mix. Fuck games further belong to a broader hobbyist microcomputing culture clustered in Finland around the Mikrobitti magazine that, while not entirely exclusively male, was certainly male-dominated (see Saarikoski, 2005; Suominen, 2011). Produced in the 1980s and 1990s, fuck games predate the emergence of the game industry in Finland—and in the Nordic countries more broadly—that emerged from a computing subculture and demoscene to become formal companies and professional game design in the course of the 1990s (Jørgensen, Sandqvist, & Sotamaa, 2017; Saarikoski & Suominen, 2009; Tyni, & Sotamaa, 2017). As part of the demoscene and vernacular pornographic culture alike, fuck games expanded the possibilities of hobbyist sexual representation, exploration, and titillation from text, and photography and video to the realm of gameplay, thereby allowing for novel trajectories of experimentation and experience. These fuck games can be contextualised within this male homosocial realm of hobbyist game design as products intended to entertain and to catch attention among a peer group. As is obvious from our analysis, and our analysis of Koulu3 in particular, that the gendered dynamics of fuck games were not of the progressive kind, as many of the games were steeped in regressive, juvenile male humour where

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female bodies functioned as objects of both sexual titillation and grotesque sexual violence, and where avatars tended to come with, or be, a penis by default. Despite irreverence towards the boundaries of heterosexuality in the possibilities to undress people of varying genders in Strip-tease Ventti, to engage in anal adventures with Arto in Helttaa Helmaan, or to penetrate flora and fauna in Bepa Quest, it would take a great stretch of analytical imagination to identify these games as queer in the sense of breaking against, critiquing, or providing alternatives for gendered and sexual norms. Rather, play with male-on-male anal play can be conceptualised as that which Jane Ward (2015), in the US context, examines as straight white male fascination with the bodies of other men involving a ‘gross-out’ fascination with anuses and the uses of homosexual sex to humiliate and demean one another, not least under the blanket of humour. Both contextual investigation and analysis of fuck games themselves makes evident the centrality of male homosociability in their creation and circulation. Here, the pleasures of hobbyist computing within the demoscene meet the pleasures of humour and the titillations of sexual content playing with the conventions of porn.

Conclusions The four Finnish pornographic videogames from the 1980s and 1990s—at least three of which can be labelled ‘fuck games’ due to their diverse simulations of sexual intercourse—allow for a number of tentative implications concerning two cultural industries of the region, porn, and videogames. First, while the titles’ mechanical diversity is well reflective of the explorative tendencies in the era’s hacker culture, the verbal and visual representations are somewhat unsurprising in the context of the male-dominant computer/ gamer rhetoric of the time (see Kirkpatrick, 2015). That said, none of the fuck games can be classified as straightforward heteromale fantasy simulators akin to many of their commercial peers, but instead employ pornography as an object of parody; that is, the games play with pornography, whereas they can be classified as pornography only with difficulty. Fuck games were developed as tools for school bullying as they were as instruments of entertainment with a distinctly male homosocial, juvenile bent. They can be seen as predecessors of user-generated online miscellanea as it is currently exchanged on online platforms under content markers such as ‘NSFW’ or ‘sexually explicit’, and regularly combined with humour. In contrast to spatially confined demoscenes and the limited circulation that the fuck games of the 1980s and 1990s achieved via floppy disks and dial-up

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modem connections, current creations spread horizontally in homosocial networks, whether these be linguistically specific (as was the case with the games examined in this chapter) or open to international circulation and appropriation. Such miscellanea mainly fails to enter commercial publishing, serving a social function instead by bringing people together through shared cultural objects. That these objects are regularly rife with sexist and misogynistic overtones, again, speaks of the shape that this sociability takes and of the political reverberations that it may have in terms of game cultures in general. Low-tech and banal as the fuck games examined in this chapter may be, examinations thereof can help to broaden media historical understanding in a number of ways, from perceptions of game cultures to vernacular porn historiography and their entanglement with ways of portraying and defining gender and sexuality in the years preceding professional game design in the country. In the lack of previous or comparative fuck game research, we cannot claim the Finnish scene to be either unique or typical. More research on DIY fuck games in different parts of the word is needed to draw a more holistic picture of how the genre has developed, what it encompasses, how it relates to commercial sex-game design, how it relates to local pornographic cultures, and what the impact of fuck game culture has been on the videogame industry more generally.

Acknowledgement This work received funding from Academy of Finland (projects 309382 & 312397) and was f irst presented in the History of Games conference (Copenhagen, 2018).

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Miller, M. K., & Summers, A. (2007). Gender Differences in Video Game Characters’ Roles, Appearances, and Attire as Portrayed in Video Game Magazines. Sex roles, 57(9–10), 733–742. Montfort, N. (2005). Twisty Little Passages: an Approach to Interactive Fiction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. MoonTV. (2015, February 24). Seksiseikkailu Koulu3 [Video broadcast]. https:// Paasonen, S. (2018a). Online Porn. In N. Brügger, I. Milligan, & M. Ankerson (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Web History (pp. 551–563). London: Sage. Paasonen, S. (2018b). User-generated Pornography: Amateurs and the Ambiguity of Authenticity. In C. Smith, F. Attwood & B. McNair (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Media, Sex and Sexuality (pp. 174–182). London: Routledge. Paasonen, S., Kyrölä, K., Nikunen, K., Saarenmaa, L., & Välimäki, T. (2015). Siinä oli hämähäkki väärinpäin [Research Report, University of Turku]. https://www. Parlett, D. (1991). A History of Card Games. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Payne, M., & Alilunas, P. (2016). Regulating the Desire Machine: Custer’s Revenge and 8-Bit Atari Porn Video Games. Television & New Media, 17(1), 80–96. Saarikoski, P. (2005). Koneen lumo: mikrotietokoneharrastus Suomessa 1970-luvulta 1990-luvun puoliväliin. (2nd Ed.). University of Jyväskylä. Saarikoski, P., & Suominen, J. (2009). Computer Hobbyists and the Gaming Industry in Finland. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 31(3), 20–33. Saito, T. (2000/2011). Beautiful Fighting Girl. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Smith, F., Attwood, F., & McNair, B. (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to Media, Sex and Sexuality. London: Routledge. Stenros, J. (2015). Playfulness, Play, and Games. Tampere: University of Tampere. Suominen, J. (2011). Game Reviews as Tools in the Construction of Game Historical Awareness in Finland, 1984–2010: Case MikroBitti Magazine. In DiGRA 2011, Conference Proceedings: Think Design Play. uploads/digital-library/11310.15375.pdf Tyni, H., & Sotamaa, O. (2014). Assembling a Game Development Scene? Uncovering Finland’s Largest Demo Party. G|A|M|E Games as Art, Media, Entertainment, 1(3), 109–119. Ward, J. (2015). Not Gay: Sex between Straight White Men. New York, NY: NYU Press. Wilcox, A. (2011). Regulating Violence in Video Games: Virtually Everything. Journal of the National Association of Administrative Law Judiciary, 31, 253–314. Williams, L. (1989). Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the ‘Frenzy of the Visible’. Berkeley: University of California Press. Wysocki, M., & Lauteria, E. (Eds.) (2015). Rated M for Mature: Sex and Sexuality in Video Games. London: Bloomsbury.

90 Susanna Pa asonen & Veli-Matti K arhul ahti

About the Authors Susanna Paasonen is professor of Media Studies at University of Turku, Finland. With an interest in studies of sexuality, networked media, and affect, she is the author of NSFW: Sex, Humor, and Risk in Social Media (MITP, 2019, with Kylie Jarrett and Ben Light) and Many Splendored Things: Thinking Sex and Play (Goldsmiths Press, 2018). Susanna serves on the editorial boards of New Media & Society, Sexualities, and International Journal of Cultural Studies, and is the Principal Investigator of the Academy of Finland research project, Sexuality and Play in Media Culture (2017–2021), and the consortium Intimacy in Data-Driven Culture (2019–2022). Veli-Matti Karhulahti works as a senior researcher in the University of Jyväskylä and is an adjunct professor in the University of Turku. He has studied play, games, and the human mind in places such as Yonsei University (Korea), IT University of Copenhagen / Royal Danish Academy (Denmark), and the MIT (US).

4. Adopting an Orphaned Platform: The Second Life of the Sharp MZ-800 in Czechoslovakia Jaroslav Švelch

Abstract Based on oral history interviews, archival material, and paratextual analysis, this chapter chronicles the second life of the Japanese Sharp MZ-800 8-bit computer in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Czechoslovakia, investigating the practices and meanings that emerged around this machine in the local do-it-yourself community. Despite its incompatibility with major platforms at the time and its relative obscurity in the rest of the world, Czechoslovak users made it into a formidable gaming machine by producing around 200 ports of existing games and dozens of original titles. The chapter uses this case to argue that, despite deepening globalisation, 1980s Europe was a loosely interconnected patchwork of distinctly local markets and user communities that adopted (mostly) foreign technologies and adapted them to their own needs and ambitions. Keywords: Game History, Home Computing, 8-bit Computers, Czechoslovakia, Soviet Bloc, Sharp MZ-800

In many parts of 1980s Europe, fans of 8-bit computers engaged in so-called ‘machine wars’. In these discursive battles, each faction claimed the superiority of their platform of choice: Atari fans praised their machine’s colour palette, Commodore 64 users claimed theirs had the best sound chip, and the ZX Spectrum crowd boasted an enormous library of software. The ‘machine wars’ were often jocular but also ‘emotionally loaded, personal, and local’ (Saarikoski & Reunanen, 2014, p. 16). Before globalisation went into full throttle, 1980s Europe was a patchwork of national markets, each

Navarro-Remesal, V. and Ó. Pérez-Latorre, Perspectives on the European Videogame. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2022 doi 10.5117/9789463726221_ch04


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of which offered a somewhat different selection of hardware and software. The Commodore 64 was the major gaming platform in Scandinavia and Germany, but the UK and Spain were (at least temporarily) dominated by the British Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and France, for example, had a strong presence of Amstrad CPC, Apple II, and Oric Atmos machines. As the Western European market grew increasingly crowded, several machines—such as the Sord M5, the Enterprise, or the Sharp MZ-800—failed to capture a significant market share in the West, but found their home in the Soviet bloc, where discounted stock of surplus products could easily be sold to citizens hungry for any computer at all. And so, in Communist-era Czechoslovakia, there was one more contender for the crown of the top 8-bit machine: the Sharp MZ-800. The MZ-800 line of computers was designed and manufactured in Japan and sold throughout Europe, but only gained a substantial following in 1980s Czechoslovakia, where it was the only imported machine sold in regular electronics stores. Initially, next to no software was available for the machine, but the local Sharp scene proved incredibly resourceful in porting games from other platforms and writing their own titles, thereby creating a rich gaming library. Revolving around one particular platform, this chapter is inspired by the platform studies approach proposed by Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort (2009) but also considers its feminist critique levelled by Aubrey Anable. Anable discusses the platform studies’ tendency to black-box technology, ‘reproducing methodologies and epistemologies with no need for gender, race, sexuality, or other types of difference’ (Anable, 2018, p. 136). While retaining the focus on a closed set of hardware artefacts, I aim to enrich the study of platforms by exploring a peripheral setting, one that is markedly different from the usual context of the capitalist tech industry. Moreover, I will focus on the MZ-800— an exemplary case of a minor platform. Following Benjamin Nicoll, I will use the term ‘minor platform’ ‘not to imply insignificance, but rather to describe a set of objects, subjects, and spaces that are, for various reasons, ancillary to conventional narratives of videogame history’ (2019, p. 13). Nicoll argues that minor platforms inhabit ‘moments of rupture, or periods of discontinuity and transitional instability’, offering insight into the changing meanings of digital games (Nicoll, 2019, p. 14). The story I will be telling is rooted in the tumultuous period before the consolidation of home computer and console industries, when microcomputers were still a ‘technology in search of a use’ (Swalwell, 2012, p. 64) (on platform studies, see also Newman’s chapter in this volume). The MZ-800 story can help us understand the local, peripheral, and fragmented nature of gaming cultures in 1980s Europe. The chapter will show the ways in which Japanese and Western hardware and software

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artefacts were domesticated and appropriated in the socioeconomic and cultural context of the Soviet bloc. Drawing from John Urry’s work on object mobilities, we can see these artefacts as ‘a complex combination of local, national, and transnational components’ (Urry, 2000, p. 66). According to Urry, they ‘demonstrate a cultural biography as they have been assembled from objects, information and images drawn from diverse cultures in a specific temporal and spatial order’ (Urry, 2000, p. 66). Urry points out that in the Soviet bloc, basic Western consumer items such as a Coca-Cola bottle took on vastly different meanings, and the same can be said about personal computers and game software. The 1980s was a decade of deepening economic globalisation, yet hard borders and language barriers were still very much present throughout Europe. The flow of hardware and software was often out of sync with the flow of information, culture, and legal norms. Accordingly, the MZ-800 computer itself made it into the Soviet bloc but its meaning among local hobbyists was up for grabs. Pirated copies of Western and Japanese games were circulating within Czechoslovakia, but without instructions on how to use them and without magazines that would explain how to evaluate and appreciate them. This chapter aims to provide a ‘cultural biography’ of the MZ-800 platform and investigate the practices and meanings that emerged around the machine in late 1980s and early 1990s Czechoslovakia and its successor countries. In terms of material, this chapter draws from the research I conducted for my recent monograph (Švelch, 2018) as well as from additional archival and interview material. I interviewed two foundational figures of the MZ-800 scene and inspected and catalogued a library of over 250 software titles for the Sharp MZ-800, assembled from the online fan archive hosted on the website. Although the archive is likely the largest public collection of software for this computer, it consists primarily of file dumps and lacks metadata—unlike many well-organised archives of ‘major’ platforms. When studying the collection, I especially focussed on paratextual elements (see Jan Švelch, 2016) such as credits, loading screens, and scrolling messages, which contain clues about cultural biographies of individual pieces of software, and which reveal the relationships between their variants (see Fassone, 2017).

An abandoned platform A full history of the Sharp MZ-800 would necessarily be a transnational one, as the machine was marketed in Europe but designed in Japan, where the manufacturing company sold a different product line. British Sharp


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enthusiasts have been trying to piece together an international narrative, but their efforts have been thwarted by the language barrier. For the same reason, I was not able to consult Japanese sources, and will therefore present the platform’s story from a European perspective. In the 1970s, Sharp—the Japanese company named after its ‘ever-sharp’ mechanical pencils—had expanded into calculators, cash registers, and other electronics. Its first 8-bit personal computers were launched in 1978, first as kits (the MZ-40K) and then as assembled machines (MZ-80K). On the European markets, these machines were competitive with other early hobby market microcomputers, namely the Commodore PET, TRS-80, and the Apple II. In 1983, Sharp released the MZ-700, which had colour display capabilities but only allowed for character-based graphics. By that time, the use of 8-bit micros had shifted heavily towards gaming. The initial sales were solid but the MZ-700 soon lost to machines such as the Sinclair ZX Spectrum or the Commodore 64, which featured superior pixel-based graphics and received better game industry support (T. Smith, 2013). Released in 1984, the MZ-800 addressed many of its predecessor’s shortcomings and could, in theory, serve as a solid gaming machine as well as a rudimentary office computer. It was sturdy, had 64 kB of RAM, a high-quality keyboard, and three-channel sound. Its graphics resolution surpassed that of the Commodore 64 and the 8-bit Atari, offering a 320x200 pixel resolution in sixteen colours, albeit without hardware support for sprites.1 The machine could run Sharp’s version of the CP/M operating system, then a standard in business use, and was backwards compatible with the previous machines in the MZ family. But by that time, however, it was too late. On the overcrowded British market, the machine was not even released into retail. It was advertised and distributed in West Germany and Finland, but there is no indication that it was a big hit in either country, most likely because of the lack of available software.2 From online archives, we can also observe that Sharp MZ clubs existed in the UK, Germany, France, and the Netherlands, but many of these countries focused primarily on the MZ-700 and phased out around 1986–1987. The Sharp MZ-800 can be understood as a platform in a way proposed by Montfort and Bogost: it was a ‘standard of specification’ that was used 1 The basic configuration with 16 kB of video RAM could only display four colours, but this could be relatively easily expanded to 32 kB. 2 In Germany, the machine was advertised as a computer that is suitable ‘for work as well as playing’ (, 2004). In Finland, it was advertised, among other things, as ‘the best school computer’ (Comico, 1985). I would like to thank Markku Reunanen for researching and translating the Finnish sources.

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to manufacture a series of hardware artefacts (Montfort & Bogost, 2009, p. 2). While backwards compatible with older MZ models, its Czechoslovak users viewed MZ-800 as separate from its predecessors, and this chapter will respect this perspective. At the same time, the MZ-800 was a far cry from another, and increasingly widespread, use of the term ‘platform’. Recent literature on platformisation and platform governance investigates the power that platform owners hold over users and creators of content, using examples such as YouTube or Apple’s App Store (Nieborg & Poell, 2018; Gillespie, 2018). This model of platform ownership and strict enforcement of standards already existed in the 1980s and was exercised, for example, by Nintendo. Sharp’s ambitions were, however, limited to electronics manufacturing, and the company did not seek to control the content market for the MZ line—in fact, European users even felt abandoned by the Japanese company. In a 1986 feature published in the British Sharp Users Club magazine, Sharp fan Martin Winbow narrates his trip to Japan, the mecca of Sharp, which ends in confusion rather than satisfaction. ‘The MZ-800 seems not to exist in Japan, at least not in the form we have; one wonders just where it came from’, he writes, concluding that, ‘sadly, we Sharp enthusiasts in Britain are left to fend largely for ourselves’ (Winbow, 1986, pp. 8, 10). The MZ-800 was, in effect, a platform that was orphaned rather than governed.

Sharp behind the Iron Curtain The Sharp MZ-800 f irst entered Czechoslovakia in 1986 (Libovický & Dočekal, 1987; Veselý, V., personal communication, February 11, 2013). At the time, it was next to impossible to purchase a home computer in domestic retail. Bulk imports from the West or Japan were complicated by the lack of funds in convertible currency and the inflexible central planning of foreign trade. Domestic production suffered from lack of quality components and inefficient production, resulting in small quantities of somewhat shoddy machines that were sold directly to schools or other institutions rather than individual consumers. Most users therefore imported or smuggled their hardware from the West. As travelling across the Iron Curtain required special permits, the initial group of computer users included people who had family abroad or whose jobs involved crossing the borders—such as academics, tourism industry officials, and temporary workers in socialist countries of Africa or the Middle East—who switched planes in Western Europe. By the mid-1980s, tens of thousands of machines had been imported, and the British Sinclair ZX Spectrum emerged as the most popular platform.


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Some other home computer models, such as the 8-bit Atari, were sold through Tuzex—a chain of stores with imported goods that could, however, only be purchased with foreign currency or special coupons.3 In this context, the arrival of Sharp machines was a godsend to computer enthusiasts with no Western connections. Although its retail price was 7800 Czechoslovak koruna—two and a half times the average monthly salary—it was, at least, continuously available in regular electronics stores.4 Little is known about the specifics of the MZ-800 trade deal. In a magazine interview, an influential Czechoslovak hardware engineer suggests that shipments of Sharp machines were exchanged for shipments of wooden spoons (Trojan, 1989). Although this story resonates with the idea of Czechoslovak technological inferiority and the crippling lack of convertible currency, it remains unconfirmed. Most likely, the deal was conducted by Kovo, one of the few ‘foreign trade enterprises’ licensed to conduct international trade and which had a virtual monopoly on importing computers and electronics into the country. Being a Japanese product, the MZ-800 could have been imported directly from Japan. However, given the low volume of trade with Japan, as well as the timing of the import, it seems more likely that the machines came from unsold stock of a Western European Sharp distributor, such as Hamburg-based Sharp Electronics GmbH. In any case, the single decision to import large numbers of Sharp machines went on to shape gaming communities and practices in Czechoslovakia by creating a sizable exclave of MZ-800 users. By 1989, over 10,000 MZ-800 computers had been sold in the country, making it the third most widespread home computer platform in the country after the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, with around 100,000 users, and the 8-bit Atari with around 50,000.5 Thanks to its unrestricted availability, the Sharp userbase was less elite and more representative of the general population. The 3 This changed in September 1988 when Tuzex allowed customers to purchase electronics for Czech crowns (Tuzex, 1989). 4 The price refers to the version with an integrated cassette tape deck (MZ-821). The deckless model (MZ-811) cost 6600 crowns (Mercl, 1989). The average salary f igure is based on data produced by the Federal (Czechoslovak) Statistical Office (Federální statistický úřad, 1990). 5 Due to the informal nature of individual imports, the figures are based on contemporary estimates (Hlaváček, 1987; Kalousek, 1988; Libovický & Dočekal, 1987; Mercl, 1989). The Sharp figure has been triangulated by interviews. The Spectrum figure includes the Czechoslovak clone Didaktik Gama. Other potential contenders for the third place include the Sinclair ZX81, whose users had, however, likely moved on to the ZX Spectrum, and the domestic PMD 85, which was not sold in retail. The Commodore 64, the number one microcomputer in much of Western Europe, only became widespread in Czechoslovakia in the 1990s after the influx of imported second-hand machines.

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MZ-800’s CP/M capabilities and professional keyboard attracted some more serious users, but many bought it for playing and tinkering. To overcome the lack of support and software, the sizable community of Sharp users started to convene in state-sponsored computer clubs. A 1989 article advised all users to ‘try to find out the location of your closest Sharp club (there are clubs in many cities and towns), and even if you have to spend an hour on the bus, dedicate at least one day a month to visiting a group of kindred spirits’ (Mercl, 1989, p. 24). Computer clubs occupied a paradoxical place in the late socialist societies (see also Beregi, 2015; Stachniak, 2015; Wasiak, 2014). In Czechoslovakia, they were supported by the state and affiliated with paramilitary or youth organisations such as Svazarm (the Union for Cooperation with the Army) or the Social Union of Youth. Their official mission was to educate engineers and programmers for the future needs of the nationalised economy and the military. In fact, club members mostly disregarded the official rhetoric and used clubs to work on their own hobby projects, be they personal or team-based. At that time, the popularity of the electronics and computing hobbies surged among children and adults alike. Under the oppressive Czechoslovak regime, many people—including engineers with an interest in computing—had limited opportunities to fulfil their ambitions at work or in public life, and instead chose to pursue various hobbies and personal projects, a phenomenon that Paulina Bren has called private citizenship (Bren, 2010). In the clubs and in their homes, thousands of youths and adults embraced the MZ-800 and were ready to make it their own, regardless of the lack of support from Sharp and the software industry.

Ported by gnomes Whoever bought the MZ-800 for gaming in 1986 must have been disappointed. The official West German software catalogue only offered two titles that took advantage of the MZ-800’s unique capabilities: Flappy, an action/puzzle game resembling Sokoban, but with monsters, and Zexas, a pseudo-3D space shooter. Both of these were produced by db-Soft in Japan (dB-Soft, 1984; ssKO, 1984). As it came bundled with the MZ-800 machines sold in Czechoslovakia, Flappy became especially popular. Impressed by its gameplay, Czechoslovak fans soon unofficially ported it to at least four other platforms, including the Spectrum and the Commodore 64 (Švelch, 2018). A game that is now relatively obscure even in its country of origin thus enjoyed a second life in the Soviet bloc, making it a fitting example of


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the transnational nature of early European gaming. Other than Flappy and Zexas, a Sharp user could only play a handful of Japanese, West German, and British titles inherited from the previous MZ models, whose graphics looked outdated compared with contemporary commercial Spectrum or Commodore 64 hits.6 Luckily, the MZ-800 had the same CPU—the Zilog Z80—as the Spectrum. Although the two machines were incompatible because of different architecture and components, bare-bones binary code written for the Spectrum could also run on the MZ-800. Moreover, the Sharp machine boasted more RAM and a higher display resolution than the Spectrum, fulfilling all the hardware prerequisites to run Spectrum software. Already in 1987, the first Sharp enthusiasts had figured out that Spectrum games could be ported to the MZ-800 by replacing all input and output calls. One user noted in 1991 ‘these good little gnomes started remaking programs from the ZX Spectrum for the Sharp. It may sound almost impossible given that the source code […] was unavailable. Wrong! Many of them have become so skilled that the remake is even better than the Spectrum original’ (Škach, 1991, p. 25). This type of programming work is usually called porting, referring to the fact that the original code is ‘portable’ between platforms, in this case thanks to the shared CPU. As I have argued in my previous research, a port (the result of porting) should be distinguished from a conversion. Both aim to deliver the functionality of the original, but a port reuses majority of the original code while a conversion is written from the ground up (Grabarczyk & Aarseth, 2019; Švelch, 2018). Creating a port is therefore less labour-intensive than writing conversions or even new software. I have classified porting, along with cracking, converting, or writing one’s own amateur game, as a coding act. Like speech acts, these are communicative actions situated in a specific spatiotemporal context that aim to relay a message other than just the content of the game (Švelch, 2018). Besides making the original game available, porters were also sending implicit and explicit messages about their skills and their dedication to the platform and the community. One of the first ‘good gnomes’ was Antonín Spurný from Roudnice nad Labem, a town 50 km north of Prague. Spurný was in his late twenties and worked as a chief electrician at a metal container factory while spending much of his leisure time as a computer hobbyist. Around 1985, he finished 6 Online collections digitised by Czechoslovak users include several titles by the West German company BBG Software, based in the town of Ahrensburg, and by the Worcester-based UK company Solo Software. The Solo Software titles were officially distributed in West Germany by Sharp GmbH.

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building his own Z80-based do-it-yourself machine, but soon switched to a second-hand ZX Spectrum, where he grew fond of Western hit games such as Boulder Dash (Liepa & Gray, 1984) and Saboteur (Townsend, 1985). By late 1986, he had purchased an MZ-800, which promised several improvements over the Spectrum. Every other Saturday, he would pack his Sharp into his car and drive to Prague to visit the Sharp branch of the 602nd club of Svazarm, simply known as the 602. There, he would exchange software and know-how with his peers. Soon, he set out to make Boulder Dash run on his Sharp machine. At the time, he was on sick leave, and had ‘time to play around with it’ (Spurný, A., personal communication, November 18, 2019). Like most commercially released games from the mid-1980s, the game was written using assembly language or machine code rather than a higher programming language.7 To understand the program, Spurný first used a disassembler tool to convert the game’s binary code into a human-readable set of instructions. Within the code, he identified key points where the program communicated with input and output of the machine and rewrote them accordingly. The new input/ output routines tended to be longer than the original ones and would not fit in their original place. This was the moment when the MZ-800’s extra RAM came in handy: Spurný placed the new routines in the unoccupied memory and had the program jump there as required. He did not stop at building a working MZ-800 version, but truly tried to make it better than the original. To take advantage of the Sharp’s extra pixels, he modified the original code to display the game world in a 20x12 grid instead of the Spectrum’s 16x11 grid, allowing players to see a larger part of the environment (see Figure 9).8 In addition, he adapted the 1-bit beeper music to the MZ-800’s three channels. When Spurný brought his port to the Sharp club in Prague, the initial reaction was underwhelming. It turned out that he was not the first to port Boulder Dash, and that, furthermore, people were not interested in another version of the same game. After a while, though, it became clear that his version was vastly superior to the existing one, which lacked colour and was painfully slow because of a crude workaround that involved continuous dumping of a virtual Spectrum video memory into the Sharp video memory. In the following years, speed and colour became the main differentiating factors between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ports. 7 Boulder Dash was originally released for the 8-bit Atari computers by the US company First Star Software. The ZX Spectrum program was, however, a conversion made in the UK. 8 Incidentally, Spurný matched the layout of the original Atari version of Boulder Dash, which also displayed 20x12 tiles.


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Figure 9. A comparison of the ZX Spectum (up) and Sharp MZ-800 (down) version of Boulder Dash, showing the larger view field of the latter.

Spurný only made three ports of his favourite games—Boulder Dash, Saboteur, and Saboteur 2 (Townsend, 1987), and then left the scene to focus on his new-born child (Spurný, A., personal communication, November 18, 2019). The scale of the porting endeavour, however, soon exploded. Over a dozen porters tried to outdo each other and even fix each other’s mistakes. In 1990, software publishers started soliciting ports for money, creating an additional incentive for porting. In sum, based on the games extracted from current online archives, 189 Spectrum titles were ported to the MZ-800 between 1987 and 1994, with eighteen games receiving more than one port.9 The library of unofficial releases ranged from Spectrum classics such as Manic Miner (M. Smith, 1983) or Knight Lore (Ultimate Play the Game, 1984), to latter-day hits such as Exolon (Cecco, 1987) and R-Type (Software Studios, 1988). In the end, the scale of Czechoslovak MZ-800 porting paralleled the official volume of porting from Spectrum to the Amstrad CPC 464 by UK software companies. Systematic porting from the Spectrum created the backbone of MZ-800’s gaming software library, but the dependence on an inferior platform felt somewhat embarrassing to some Sharp users, who habitually reassured themselves of the qualities of their machines in catalogues and game paratexts, not only claiming superiority over the Spectrum, but also the 9

Additional ports were created and advertised but have not been preserved.

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Atari and the Commodore 64. In addition to ports, local enthusiasts also produced some original titles, many of them written in BASIC, including among them a fairly realistic lunar landing simulation (Pixa & Bouda, 1987), and a Pac-Man clone called Fatty (OTO Software, 1988). Sharp homebrewers wrote text adventures too, using themes popular on other platforms. Old Shatterhand was inspired by Karl May’s popular Western stories, and Karma (Misterka & Hertl, 1988) features a treasure hunt for Czech crown jewels hidden within the eponymous gas heater factory. The latter’s satirical take on Czechoslovakia’s manufacturing industry resembles some of the activist games I have discussed in my previous work (Švelch, 2018).

Scenesters and entrepreneurs Although it took place on the other side of the Iron Curtain, amateur porting bears many similarities to the programming practices of the 1980s Western European (and, to some extent, North American) home computer subcultures. In many ways, it resembles cracking, the removal of copy protection from copyrighted software. Like the cracker, the porter does not create an entirely new program but makes the original one available to a new audience through small but carefully placed manipulations of the code. The cracker scene, which later transformed into the demo scene, was especially strong in Germany and Scandinavia and, at the time, revolved primarily around the Commodore 64 platform (Albert, 2018; Reunanen, 2014; Wasiak, 2012) (on the demo scene and participatory culture, see also Paasonen and Karhulahti’s chapter in this volume). It was a competitive, almost exclusively male youth culture with its own sets of values and means of communication. In the West, crackers styled themselves as members of ‘illegal’ clandestine organisations—as Robin Hood-like figures who take software from publishers, liberate it, and give it to ordinary users. This discourse was circulated in paratexts appended to cracked versions of games, such as credits, messages, logos, elaborate intro scenes, and scrollers (lines of text scrolling from right to left on the screen) within cracked versions of games (Reunanen, Wasiak, & Botz, 2015). Local Sharp ports likewise included porter credits. Many ports took advantage of the MZ-800’s extra screen real estate and conspicuously displayed a one-line text credit throughout the whole gameplay. The 1989 port of International Karate+ was likely the earliest to feature a scroller; in it, the author greets other active porters as well as members of the local Spectrum scene but spends most of the time criticising ‘disfigured’


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(meaning slow and black-and-white) ports. Only when the ports ‘play well’, he argues, ‘we will not have to feel embarrassed in front of Spectrum owners’ (MacLean, Michek, & MK-Soft, 1989). The habit of greeting (or disparaging) other members of the community in this way was most likely inspired by the local Spectrum homebrew scene, which was, in turn, likely inspired by the international Commodore 64 scene. Released on November 15, 1989, only two days before the start of the Velvet Revolution, the International Karate+ port was a harbinger of things to come. By 1994, as the Commodore 64 gained a stronger foothold and influence, Czechoslovak Sharp ports often included intros that imitated the style of Western cracker groups, down to the English language slogans such as ‘Accept no imitations, we are the world’s #1!’, and even greeted famous European groups such as Fairlight and Skid Row (Miller, Wilson, Whittaker, RDOS, & Microcode, n.d.). Of course, being the world’s #1 on the Sharp MZ-800 was merely a local achievement, and neither Fairlight nor Skid Row were likely to get the intended message. Despite the superf icial mimicry, the discourse of the Czechoslovak porting scene was different. Most importantly, the porters operated in the open, without any interference from law enforcement. Although copyright protection was extended to software with a March 1990 law (Sbírka zákonů, 1990), it was hardly ever enforced in relation to games during that decade. Moreover, unauthorised porting had few precedents in the country and could be considered a semi-legal grey area. As private enterprise was reintroduced in the country, a handful of fledgling software publishers started to capitalise on the demand for Sharp ports. Around the same time, several prominent fan porters started to drop out of the scene, likely because of other commitments and opportunities. Petr Patík, a college student and one of the most prolific porters, wrote in a 1990 scroller that he was about to quit but that he might change his mind if users sent him money to buy a floppy disk drive so that he could work more efficiently. It is unknown whether users helped him get the drive, but Patík soon appeared on the payroll of one of the major companies on the Sharp scene—BBS, based in the small Northern Bohemian city of Děčín.10 BBS was co-founded by Milan Bendl, then a high school student. He first got an Atari 2600 and later a Sharp MZ-800 from his father, an electronics enthusiast who had good connections thanks to his job on freight ships to Germany. Around 1989, Milan and his friends started selling home-soldered ROM disks for the Sharp. Inspired by his experience with Atari cartridges, Bendl believed ROM disks offered a solution to the slow operation of the 10 Patík declined the request for an interview for this work.

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Figure 10. The cover of the BBS’s MZ-800 catalogue depicting the machine’s hardware. The six in BBS-6 refers to the fact that the company originally intended to sell software for more platforms, with Sharp being platform number six.

cassette tape drive at a time when floppy disk drives were scarce and expensive. As soon as it was legally possible, the business-minded youngsters set out to start a company. Inspired by Ghostbusters, they came up with the quasi-spooky moniker BuBuSoft (meaning ‘Boo Boo Software’). However, as they were underage, the firm had to be registered by Bendl’s mum, who found the name embarrassing and put down BBS instead. Their venture soon became lucrative—Bendl remembers that, while still in high school, he was making more money than some of his schoolmates’ parents (Bendl, M., personal communication, October 30, 2019). BBS’s catalogue (BBS, 1993)11 included hardware such as ROM disks, RAM disks, printer interfaces, and floppy disk drives, but most of it consisted of software (see Figure 10). As for the latter, the company sold 93 titles, out 11 The catalogue is undated. I estimated the year of publication based on the paratextual information in the catalogued software and the interview with Bendl.


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of which twelve were productivity or utility software, nine were original games for the MZ-800, one was an expansion for an existing game, and the remaining 71 were ports of Spectrum games, commissioned or purchased from individual porters. The prices ranged from fourteen Czech koruna for older titles to 149 for the latest blockbuster Robocop II—in comparison, a cinema ticket cost around 20 koruna at the time (UFD, 2016). Among the original titles were a Monopoly-style game by Bendl himself, two unlicensed but endearing action-adventure titles about Moomins, and a politics-themed text adventure game inspired by the split of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The catalogue reflected the Sharp users’ uneasy alliance with the Spectrum, trying to downplay the fact that most of the games had been made for the British machine. ‘The game’s sound resembles Atari, so no pops, rattle, and beeps as you would usually hear on the Spectrum’, reads a description of Batman: The Movie (BBS, 1993). To prove the superiority of their platform and increase the value of their products, porters would sometimes add a title screen captured from the Commodore Amiga version, add colour to interface graphics, or even add music to games that previously had none (see Figure 11). Some porters developed efficient and sophisticated porting techniques using an MS-DOS machine to edit and assemble the code (Adler, 2001). Games were distributed on tapes or floppies, sometimes along with free demo programs, whose scrollers served as company newsletters, containing jokes, references to the current political or cultural events, and advertisements for new products. Czechoslovak porters allied themselves with local publishers and appropriated the aesthetics of the demo scene to engage in an openly commercial enterprise. At first, this might seem incompatible with the ethos of Western cracker groups, but this view has been recently revised by Gleb Albert, who has described cracker scene members as ‘mimetic entrepreneurs’, pointing out the competitive meritocratic logic of their operations as well as the fact that some of them did surreptitiously sell their products for money (Albert, 2017). Interestingly, the catalogue as well as the demos warned users against making ‘unauthorised copies’ of software that mostly consisted of unauthorised ports. Czechoslovak publishers invoked copyright law primarily to protect themselves from unfair local competition, and barely ever worried about the distant UK publishers, who were likely unaware of the MZ-800 market.12 Despite the dubious legal status of the ports, there 12 BBS reportedly attempted to obtain licenses from foreign copyright holders. However, before the widespread adoption of the Internet, it was difficult to reach and deal with foreign companies (Bendl, 2019).

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Figure 11. Intro screen of Robocop (Lamb et al., 1993), one of the Spectrum ports published by BBS. The screen has been taken from the Amiga version, along with the credit for Peter Johnson, who, however, did not write the Spectrum program.

was a shared understanding among the domestic MZ-800 publishers that one should not resell ports published by another company. One of the companies, MZX Software, attracted scathing criticism in scrollers for not following these ethical standards, and ‘stealing’ programs from others.13 After a successful run, BBS left the Sharp scene in the mid-1990s and tried their hand in development for PCs and Macs, delivering a Myst-inspired Argo Adventure (Tvrdík, 1998), designed by a fellow Sharp veteran, before abandoning game publishing and focusing on mobile phones and web services (Bendl, M., personal communication, October 30, 2019).

Conclusions I opened this chapter with a peek into what Petri Saarikoski and Markku Reunanen call the ‘great Northern machine wars’ (2014, p. 16). This chapter has shown that Europe was also a site of machine alliances. While Sharp enthusiasts proclaimed their computer’s superiority, they took advantage of the vast libraries of Spectrum software that was portable to the MZ-800, even without the support of international game industry players. To borrow from Anable, the platform turned out to be both ‘porous’ and ‘penetrable’ (2018, p. 136). 13 A decade later, MZX Software’s owner—notorious in ‘Sharp circles’ for being an unscrupulous profiteer—was sentenced to seven years in prison for unrelated insurance fraud (Majer, 2008).


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In line with Nicoll’s expectations of minor platform research, the MZ-800 narrative has revealed a number of ruptures, discontinuities, and transitional instabilities in digital game histories (2019). The platform launched towards the end of the 8-bit micro boom, before the standardisation and consolidation of home console and home computer markets. The rupture between the West and the East was instrumental in MZ-800’s success in Czechoslovakia, as it arrived too late to make it big on the Western markets but just in time to captivate users on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The production of unauthorised ports in the early 1990s was, likewise, dependent on the lax regulation and everything-goes atmosphere of the early post-communist years. Together with my previous research on the final years of the ZX Spectrum in Czechoslovakia (Jaroslav Švelch, 2017), it shows that, while obsolete in the West, 8-bit platforms had large followings in the Soviet bloc well into the 1990s. Throughout this chapter, I have aimed to capture the cultural biography of the Sharp MZ-800. On its way to Czechoslovakia, it was decontextualised and then appropriated in a completely different set of conditions, becoming raw material for the distinctly local projects and ambitions of the Czechoslovak community. Local users did not just play British games on Japanese computers but created a set of local practices, including extensive porting. The MZ-800 is certainly not the only machine whose games library consists almost entirely of legally dubious software. The same could be said of the Zemmix—an MSX clone—in South Korea (Nicoll, 2019) or the Dendy—a NES clone—in the former Soviet Union. In all of these cases, the legal status of the software makes it difficult to exhibit these machines in museums, cementing their obscurity among the international public. The MZ-800 was embedded in a complex network of transnational mobilities. At the same time, the impact of the Czechoslovak scene has been limited almost completely to that very country. There is no record in club newsletters of Czechoslovak ports being played in other countries. Even today, they are conspicuously absent from non-Czechoslovak online archives and websites. When writing histories of gaming from the 1980s and even the 1990s, it is important to keep in mind that, despite the mobilities of some hardware and software, a large part of gaming cultures remained enclosed within regional and linguistic boundaries.

Note Additional images and supplementary material can be found on the website

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References Adler, Z. (2001, December). Roman Dolejší—Rozhovor. rozhovor_rd.htm Albert, G. J. (2017). Computerkids als mimetische Unternehmer. Die Cracker-Szene zwischen Subkultur und Ökonomie (1985–1995). Werkstattgeschichte, 2017(74), 49–66. Albert, G. J. (2018). Subkultur, Piraterie und neue Märkte: Die transnationale Zirkulation von Heimcomputersoftware, 1986–1995. In F. Bösch (Ed.), Wege in die digitale Gesellschaft: Computernutzung in der Bundesrepublik 1955–1990 (pp. 49–66). Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag. abstracts/nr-74-gleb-j-albert/ Anable, A. (2018). Platform Studies. Feminist Media Histories, 4(2), 135–140. https:// BBS. (1993). Katalog BBS-6. Děčín: BBS. Beregi, T. (2015). Hungary. In M. J. P. Wolf (Ed.), Video Games Around the World (pp. 219–234). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Bren, P. (2010). The Greengrocer and his TV: The Culture of Communism after the 1968 Prague Spring. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Cecco, R. (1987). Exolon [ZX Spectrum]. Hewson Consultants. Comico. (1985). Varmista tulevaisuutesi… Mikrobitti, 2(5), 71. dB-Soft. (1984). Zexas [Sharp MZ-800]. dB-Soft. Fassone, R. (2017). Cammelli and Attack of the Mutant Camels: A Variantology of Italian Video Games of the 1980s. Well Played Journal, 6(2), 55–71. Federální statistický úřad. (1990). Statistická ročenka České a slovenské federativní republiky (1990). Praha: SEVT. Gillespie, T. (2018). Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions that Shape Social Media. New Haven: Yale University Press. Grabarczyk, P. & Aarseth, E. (2019, August). Port or Conversion? An Ontological Framework for Classifying Game Versions [Paper presentation]. DiGRA ’19 Conference: Game, Play and the Emerging Ludo-Mix. wp-content/uploads/digital-library/DiGRA_2019_paper_189.pdf Hlaváček, J. (1987). Zeptali jsme se za vás… Ondřeje Šebesty, vedoucího technickoporadenského střediska v.d. STYL. Zpravodaj Atari Klubu (487. ZO Svazarmu), 1(6), 54–56. Kalousek, L. (1988). Náš interview se zástupci 666. ZO Svazarmu. Amatérské Radio, Řada A, 37(6), 201–202. Lamb, M., Drake, D., Dunn, J., Harbison, B., Johnson, P., & BBS. (1993). Robocop [Sharp MZ-800]. Děčín: Ocean Software [Unofficial port distributed by BBS]].


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Libovický, V., & Dočekal, D. (1987). Domácí počítače, s nimiž se (možná) setkáte. In Proč a nač je počítač: Kousněte si do jablka poznání (Magazín VTM pro příznivce informatiky a výpočetní techniky) (pp. 22–26). Praha: Mladá fronta. Liepa, P., & Gray, C. (1984). Boulder Dash [Atari]. First Star Software. MacLean, A., Michek, D., & MK-Soft. (1989). International Karate+ (Version Unofficial port) [Sharp MZ-800]. System 3. Majer, V. (2008, November 24). Jak notorický podvodník sedmiletý trest vzal. Českobudějovický deník. vezeni_soud_podvodnik_cb20081124.html Mercl, J. (1989). Sharp MZ-800 hardware: Informace pro Uživatele Mikropočítačů, 1(1 (Počítač přítel člověka)), 24. Miller, T., Wilson, J., Whittaker, D., RDOS, & Microcode. (n.d.). BMX Simulator (Version Unofficial port) [Sharp MZ-800]. Codemasters. Misterka, M., & Hertl, P. (1988). Karma [Sharp MZ-800]. Briard-Software. Montfort, N., & Bogost, I. (2009). Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Nicoll, B. (2019). Minor Platforms in Videogame History. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. Nieborg, D. B., & Poell, T. (2018). The Platformisation of Cultural Production: Theorizing the Contingent Cultural Commodity. New Media & Society, 20(11), 4275–4292. OTO Software. (1988). Fatty [Sharp MZ-800]. OTO Software. Pixa, M., & Bouda, K. (1987). Apollo [Sharp MZ-800]. České Budějovice: PixBoud Soft. Reunanen, M. (2014). How Those Crackers Became Us Demosceners. WiderScreen, 17(1– 2). Reunanen, M., Wasiak, P., & Botz, D. (2015). Crack Intros: Piracy, Creativity and Communication. International Journal of Communication, 9, 20. Saarikoski, P., & Reunanen, M. (2014). Great Northern Machine Wars: Rivalry Between User Groups in Finland. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 36(2), 16–26. Sbírka zákonů. (1990). Zákon ze dne 28. Března 1990, kterým se mění a doplňuje zákon č.35/1965 Sb., o dílech literárních, vědeckých a uměleckých (autorský zákon). Sbírka Zákonů ‒ Československá Socialistická Republika, 1990(89), 379–381. (2004). Sharp MZ-800 Adverts. https://original.sharpmz. org/mz-800/adverts.htm Škach, V. (1991). Sharp. Excalibur, 1(8), 25. Smith, M. (1983). Manic Miner [ZX Spectrum]. Software Projects.

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Smith, T. (2013, January 3). MEGAGRAPH: 1983’s UK Home Computer Chart Toppers. The Register. Software Studios. (1988). R-Type [ZX Spectrum]. Electric Dreams. ssKO. (1984). Flappy [Sharp MZ-800]. dB-Soft. Stachniak, Z. (2015). Red Clones: The Soviet Computer Hobby Movements of the 1980s. IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, 37(1), 12–23. MAHC.2015.11 Švelch, Jan. (2016). “Footage Not Representative”: Redefining Paratextuality for the Analysis of Official Communication in the Video Game Industry. In C. Duret & C. M. Pons (Eds.), Contemporary Research on Intertextuality in Video Games (pp. 297–315). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. Švelch, J. (2017). Keeping the Spectrum Alive: Platform Fandom in a Time of Transition. In M. Swalwell, H. Stuckey, & A. Ndalianis (Eds.), Fans and Videogames: Histories, Fandom, Archives (pp. 57–74). New York: Routledge. Švelch, J. (2018). Gaming the Iron Curtain: How Teenagers and Amateurs in Communist Czechoslovakia Claimed the Medium of Computer Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Swalwell, M. (2012). Questions about the Usefulness of Microcomputers in 1980s Australia. Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, (143), 63–77. Townsend, C. (1985). Saboteur [ZX Spectrum]. Durell Software. Townsend, C. (1987). Saboteur 2 [ZX Spectrum]. Durell Software. Trojan, P. (1989). Jsme schopni vyrábět mikropočítače? Informace pro Uživatele Mikropočítačů, 1(1 (Počítač přítel člověka)), 1–4. Tuzex. (1989, April 26). Zápis ze závěrečného řízení ke ‘Komplexnímu rozboru hospodaření PZO Tuzex za rok 1988’ konaného dnes 30. 3. 1989. National Archive of the Czech Republic, Collection no. 1113 (Tuzex), folder 1985-1989. Tvrdík, K. (1998). Argo Adventure [PC]. BBS Interactive Multimedia. UFD. (2016). Přehledy, statistiky. Unie filmových distributorů. prehledy-statistiky. Ultimate Play the Game. (1984). Knight Lore [ZX Spectrum]. A.C.G. Urry, J. (2000). Sociology Beyond Societies: Mobilities for the Twenty-first Century. London; New York: Routledge. Wasiak, P. (2012). Illegal Guys. A History of Digital Subcultures in Europe during the 1980s. Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History. http:// Wasiak, P. (2014). Playing and Copying: Social Practices of Home Computer Users in Poland during the 1980s. In G. Alberts & R. Oldenziel (Eds.), Hacking Europe: From computer cultures to Demoscenes (pp. 129–150). London: Springer.


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Winbow, M. (1986). Sharp in Japan. Sharp Users Club Magazine, 5(3), 6–10.

About the Author Jaroslav Švelch is an assistant professor of Media Studies at Charles University, Prague. His monograph Gaming the Iron Curtain (MIT Press, 2018) explores the do-it-yourself computer game culture of Communist-era Czechoslovakia. In addition to researching history, he has also written on monsters in games, comedy and humour in games, and videogame voice acting.


Cuthbert Goes Cloning: Ports, Platforms, and the Dragon 32 Microcomputer James Newman

Abstract In 2019, the UK’s National Videogame Museum launched ‘Platform 14’, an exhibit that explores the phenomenon of converting—or ‘porting’— videogames across different systems, and this chapter shares some of the research insights that underpinned its development. The analysis here focuses on the comparatively under-researched Dragon 32 platform and the unexpectedly significant role this home computer played the story of Donkey Kong. The chapter explores the distinctive regional and international development and publishing practices that saw games rebranded, renamed, and reframed as they moved between Japan, the USA, and Europe. Ultimately, by investigating ports and the instability of our objects of study, this chapter invites us to consider what we mean and what is at stake when we speak about a certain videogame. Keywords: Ports; Platform Studies; Dragon 32; Donkey Kong; Exhibition

Introduction In the middle of 2019, the UK’s National Videogame Museum (NVM) unveiled its latest—and by far its largest—exhibit. ‘Platform 14’ explores the phenomenon of converting, or ‘porting’, videogames across different systems. It allows visitors to investigate what is lost, what is gained, and what changes as ‘the same game’ is translated and remade for different platforms. It is a physically large, even imposing, exhibit that comprises 24 50-inch displays. Half of the displays are dedicated to providing instruction and

Navarro-Remesal, V. and Ó. Pérez-Latorre, Perspectives on the European Videogame. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2022 doi 10.5117/9789463726221_ch05


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interpretative context, with the remaining fourteen dedicated to playable versions of a game. Crucially, then, these are fourteen versions of the same game that are simultaneously viewable and playable. The focus on the conversion of a single game across multiple platforms and the simultaneity of the display are absolutely central to the exhibit, which is predicated on the idea of facilitating comparison of different platforms. The exhibit opened showcasing fourteen versions of Donkey Kong, ranging from home computer incarnations, such as the ZX Spectrum and the Dragon 32, through TV-connected consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System and handheld devices such as the Game & Watch. Versions on display included titles created or licensed by Nintendo as well as unofficially-sanctioned ‘clones’ or remakes. As well as being undeniably arresting in its size and scale, the exhibit is intended to draw attention to a crucial question that cuts to the very heart of videogame history, game preservation and exhibition and, I would argue, impacts all aspects of game studies scholarship, and yet which is very rarely acknowledged or discussed. Quite simply, with so many games having been developed and released across multiple platforms, when we speak of, analyse, or even reference a videogame in our bibliographies and ludographies, which version of that game do we mean? When we speak or write about Donkey Kong, either in everyday conversation or in our academic enquiries, what do we mean? What could we mean? And, most importantly, what is at stake by failing to recognise the imprecision? In this chapter, I wish to focus in particular on the Dragon 32 platform and the unexpectedly circuitous role this UK-developed home computer plays in the story of Donkey Kong. I place my focus on the Dragon 32 for a number of reasons, not least of which is that, despite the surge in scholarly and popular interest in histories of videogaming, the Dragon is often wholly absent or merely relegated to a footnote. This is, in part, due to the US-centrism of much videogame history that authors such as Grabarczyk (2018) and Wade and Webber (2016) have noted. Yet, it is also connected with the Dragon system itself, which played a comparatively minor and short-lived role in the busy and fast-moving home computer European marketplace of the early 1980s. However, there is more to this than trawling through the history of a comparative obscure gaming system, and many of the questions I seek to raise in exploring the Dragon 32 arise from, and shine light upon, distinctive regional and international development and publishing practices that saw games rebranded, renamed, and reframed as they moved between Japan, the USA, and Europe. Ultimately, what is so fascinating about the case of the Dragon 32, and especially the case of Donkey Kong and the Dragon, is

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the way in which one of the most iconic of Japanese videogames comes to have its globally-recognised cast of characters substituted for the corporate mascot of a small Cornish publishing company creating software for a Welsh–Spanish home computer platform. This, then, is the story of how Kong became King and Mario became Cuthbert.

A Platform Studies Platform At the heart of the Platform 14 exhibit is a desire to explore the impact of underlying computing systems—the gaming ‘platform’—on games and gameplay. It is worth noting at this point that videogame platforms have almost become so prevalent within the contemporary marketplace that it is tempting to overlook their history and consider them simply a natural part of game hardware design and business. However, since the earliest days of gaming, the conversion or port has been a mainstay of the marketplace, with games such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders appearing (and continuing to appear) on almost every conceivable platform. As such, a central thesis underpinning the Platform 14 exhibit is that, by virtue of its design, each videogame platform, whether it be a dedicated videogame console, a general-purpose home computer, a handheld device, or a mobile phone, has its own distinctive capabilities and limitations that, in various ways, shape, enable, and restrict the creative work of game developers. In this way, the exhibit demonstrably takes much inspiration from ‘Platform Studies’ approaches to videogame scholarship (e.g. Montfort & Bogost, 2009; Altice, 2015; Therrien, 2019) where we learn that factors including the availability of memory, the design of graphics and sound processors, and the interactions and bottlenecks between software, firmware, and hardware layers all play a crucial role in shaping the look, sound, and feel of games created for specific platforms (on platform studies, see also Svelch’s chapter in this volume). The visibility of platforms within the discourses of gaming culture, coupled with the signif icance of platform studies approaches to game scholarship, ensures that investigating the relationships between gaming hardware and software and, most importantly, the impact of computing systems on experiences of play, are key areas of concern at the museum. Less clear, however, is precisely how to tackle the design and implementation of exhibits facilitating the exploration of these complex topics. While our exhibit does, indeed, take much from platform studies approaches, it deviates in an important manner. Ultimately, as its name might suggest, Platform


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14 is not about any one platform but rather the journey of one game across multiple platforms. This is a subtle but, we believe, essential shift in focus, one that moves away from demonstrating the distinctive or unique qualities of a given platform by showcasing exemplar games, and instead focuses on the transformations that occur as one game is recreated on different systems. In this way, and in particular by comparing the conversion of one game across these multiple platforms, we might differently witness the impact of each system and its complex affordances, limitations, and potentials. By encountering these multiple examples simultaneously, we might even more effectively see the influences, traces, and residue of the graphics, sound, and processing capabilities of the platform on the game developers’ ability to (re)produce a given game. Ultimately, it might seem that Platform 14 is an exhibit about lineage and genealogy. It might seem that it is primarily concerned with establishing a game’s origins and charting the deviations and modifications it undergoes as it is, perhaps imperfectly, rendered across differently accommodating hardware systems. However, I prefer to think of the exhibit not as setting out a timeline of originals and adaptations or of parents and children, but rather as exploring the potentialities of each platform as a site for gameplay.

Enter the Dragon Launched in August 1982 by Dragon Data Ltd., the Dragon 32 entered an already highly competitive UK home computer marketplace. Consumers had plenty of choice with the Sinclair ZX80, ZX81, ZX Spectrum, and Commodore VIC-20 all vying for attention. But, crowded though this market may have been, it was not considered to be saturated and, looking to stave off the financial pressures brought on by dwindling sales of its lines of diecast cars, toy manufacturer Mettoy established Dragon Data to capitalise on this new opportunity. Though Mettoy went into receivership in 1983, significant investment from the Welsh Development Agency ensured that Dragon Data Ltd. lived on and that the production of the Dragon 32 computer shifted to a new factory with increased capacity in Port Talbot, Wales. The Dragon was an unusual computer in many ways. Unlike most other machines developed and sold in the UK that were based around the comparatively less powerful Zilog Z80, the Dragon had a Motorola 6809E chip at its heart. This meant that, from an architectural standpoint, the Dragon had more in common with the Radioshack TRS-80 Color Computer (later rebranded as the Tandy Color Computer). This machine, affectionately

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known as the CoCo, had been released in the USA in late 1980 and was still extremely popular when the Dragon launched in the UK three years later. As well as giving it a performance edge, the 6809E CPU gave the Dragon partial compatibility with the CoCo, which would prove to be particularly beneficial in facilitating the porting of software between the two systems. Additionally, as the CoCo had already been on the market for a few years, a bank of software and, crucially, programming expertise had been built up. This effectively opened up the potential for a library of software in the UK that the Dragon might not have been able to support on its own. Technicalities aside, one of Dragon Data’s great coups had been to secure UK distribution of their machine through the retailer Boots. Primarily known as a pharmacist, and initially called Boots the Chemist, the Nottingham-based retailer had a nation-wide high street presence and had begun diversifying into carrying photographic equipment (and also offering film processing), toys, and electronics alongside cosmetics and toiletries. With this sweet-smelling shopwindow, the Dragon initially performed well with reports of between 5,000–10,000 machines per week rolling off the production lines (Linsley, n.d.) Things did not remain rosy for long, however, and Dragon Data soon found itself in financial trouble, at least partly as a consequence of the large-scale premises into which it had moved. Almost every month, the Dragon User magazine ran stories on the company’s financial woes or speculation about a potential solution. Yet, for all its promise, Dragon Data Ltd. called in the receivers in 1984. As Ralph Bancroft reported in Personal Computer News: There is plenty to buy here, from fixtures and fittings to the whole company’, said Dragon’s managing director Brian Moore. ‘It is almost certain that somehow, somewhere, there is someone interested in providing 200,000 Dragon owners with continuing support. (Bancroft 1984, p. 4)

Following continued speculation about a buyout from Tandy, the company was sold to Spanish start-up Eurohard S.A., who shifted production of the Dragon from Wales to Casar de Cáceres (Spain). The Dragon factory plant was inaugurated in Extremadura by the end of 1984, almost two years before the country joined the European Union. The push to win a relevant share of the Spanish market, dominated at the time by brands like Amstrad, was noticeable: the Dragon even had its own TV programme on Catalan broadcaster TV3, Connecta el micro i pica l’start (‘Connect the micro[computer] and press start’). In addition to developing new products,


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some of which were based on prototypes inherited from Dragon Data, Eurohard continued to sell the Dragon until the company finally went out of business in 1987. Today, the platform has resurfaced as a beloved anomaly among Spanish collectors and the lightning rod of a history that never was: national newspaper El País published an oral history of the platform on December 8, 2019, titled ‘When Extremadura wanted to be the Spanish Silicon Valley’ (Pérez Colomé, 2019). By the end of Eurohard’s existence, the Dragon 32 was getting rather long in the tooth, which was not a recipe for success in such a rapidly developing marketplace. However, it is interesting to note that commentators were not brimming with enthusiasm even at the beginning of the Dragon’s journey. Reporting from the fifth Computer World Show in 1983, Gregg Williams, Senior Editor of US Byte magazine, gave the machine a decidedly lukewarm reception despite its apparent technological superiority. The Dragon 32 is named for its standard 32K bytes of memory – quite a selling point in a country accustomed to microcomputers with memories as small as 1K bytes […] The Dragon 32 seems to be a very adequate machine, but there is nothing exceptional about it. (Williams, 1983, p. 46).

Looking back in an altogether more pointed review, Kris Sangani (2009) uncomplicatedly relegates the Dragon 32 to the status of a ‘gadget that design forgot’ positing two key reasons for the ‘failure’ of the machine. One was the Dragon’s upper case-only character set that limited the machine’s usefulness in education contexts, and the other concerned the machine’s Motorola chip. Gaming was the biggest driver in the home computing market. The Dragon’s Motorola MC6809E processor, although computationally powerful for its time, proved very poor for serving up graphics. (Sangani, 2009).

The rather short shrift given to the computer in the 1980s, coupled with the fact that, when it is mentioned at all today, it is very often in the context of curiosity or failure, might go some way to explaining why, while there is excellent scholarship exploring the histories and cultural impact of systems such as the BBC Model B (e.g. Gazzard, 2016), comparatively little historical work has been conducted on the Dragon. Indeed, it is perhaps an example writ large of the criticism offered by Apperley and Parikka (2015) of platform studies as a whole in that the constitution of the platform as an object of

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critical attention is at least partly dependent on the existence of, and desire to create and collate, an archival base of materials from which to draw. All of this contributed to the challenge of developing the interpretative materials for the Platform 14 exhibit, but in researching the Dragon 32, its catalogue of games and the ecosystems of development and publishing that surrounded and supported it throughout its lifetime, some truly unexpected and valuable materials and insights arose. Crucially, these help reconstruct the UK gaming situation of the early 1980s and, most excitingly, throw light onto the ways in which games were transformed as they moved across national boundaries and markets as well as across computing platforms. And, despite claims to the contrary, let us begin by stating that the Dragon 32 played host to a great many games, not the least of which involved a large ape and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of barrels.

Donkey Kongs The popularity of Donkey Kong in the arcades ensured that conversions for home computers, consoles, handheld, and tabletop devices came thick and fast. While their quantity could not be doubted, these ports were of wildly varying quality with Intellivision version deemed ‘the definition of mediocre’ (Loguidice & Barton, 2014) and Coleco’s Atari VCS version rumoured to have been intentionally underdeveloped to favour the version being sold for the company’s own competing Colecovision console (Profundo, 1983, p. 5). Unlike many of these demonstrably or even deliberately imperfect ports of Donkey Kong, which omitted gameplay elements and sometimes entire levels present in the arcade game, Microdeal’s 1983 Dragon 32 conversion contained all four stages with no omissions. For this reason alone, it was already an enticing proposition. Barrels, conveyor belts, springs, and hammers were all present and correct. Of course, like any platform, the Dragon’s audiovisual fingerprint was there for all to see and hear. A ‘high resolution’ mode ran in monochrome, while two colour versions reduced the graphical resolution in exchange for the Dragon’s truly garish colour combinations of acid green or dreary buff. Of course, this was a Dragon game and it bore all those hallmarks of other games created within the parameters of the Dragon platform, but there was no doubt that this was Donkey Kong—except that it wasn’t, because this was Donkey King. Indeed, upon closer inspection, we find that there are no references to Nintendo anywhere within the game’s multiple screens, nor on the packaging, nor in the, admittedly sparse, accompanying documentation


James Newman

Figure 12. Microdeal’s Donkey King shown here running in the Dragon 32’s high resolution monochrome mode.

that comprises just the cassette inlay card and instructions for play. Instead, game development is credited to US developer Tom Mix Software and, in the UK, the title was published and distributed by Cornwall-based Microdeal, who, as we shall see later, were a major publisher of games for the Dragon 32. All of this should allay any lasting remnant of suspicion we might have that this was a licensed version of Donkey Kong. There certainly were licensed versions including Falcon’s Crazy Kong arcade cabinet that Nintendo strategically used to help satisfy domestic demand when their own manufacturing could not keep pace (see Nintendo of America, Inc. v. Elcon Industries, Inc., 1982) as well as home console and tabletop versions that were handled by Coleco. Clearly, therefore, this is no regrettable typo on the title screen: Donkey King is a carefully chosen name that unambiguously signals a connection between this Dragon 32 title and the phenomenally successful Nintendo games of (almost) the same name. Furthermore, according to sales charts published in the UK’s Dragon User magazine, compiled by high-street retailer and pharmacist Boots, the tactic worked as Donkey King sat proudly atop the Dragon software charts (Dragon User, June 1983, p. 5). In fact, so effective and unambiguous was the connection with Donkey Kong that, as reported

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just a few pages later in the same issue of Dragon User, it piqued the interests of Nintendo, who requested that the name be changed. Changes forced on Donkey King MICRODEAL HAS withdrawn its highly successful game for the Dragon 32 — Donkey King. This move follows a statement from Computer Games that it considered the name an infringement of its copyright on the title Donkey Kong. Microdeal has agreed to alter the game which has been extensively advertised In the computer press. Microdeal, managing director John Symes said: ‘If they have trade-marked it, then fair enough, we are happy to comply‘Actually it won’t cause us too many headaches, we were going to replace it anyway, Now we will call it The King. (Dragon User, June 1983, p. 9).

There are, of course, some inescapable ironies here. First, in 1982, Nintendo had themselves faced a claim in the USA from Universal Studios alleging that Donkey Kong infringed on the ‘King Kong’ trademark. The case was found in Nintendo’s favour largely as a result of a previous case involving Universal’s that claimed the characters and setting of King Kong were in the public domain (see Casillas, 2013). Perhaps more pointedly, however, on the very same page as the confirmation of Donkey King’s domination of the Dragon UK software charts is a letter from a Dragon User reader sharing a ‘useful routine which is ideal to put a copyright on all programs written by us amateurs’ (Dragon User, June 1983, p. 5). It is also notable that Tom Mix, the US developer of Donkey King, continued to use as their corporate logo an ape-like creature surrounded by barrels long after this renaming episode. Indeed, the Kong-like logo appears on the cover art, printed on the cassette case, and in print advertisements for the Tom Mix’s 1984 Dragon 32 game Buzzard Bait, which was published and distributed in the UK by Microdeal and was, for its part, a clone of Williams Electronics’ Joust! (see Dragon User August 1984, p. 52). It is clear, then, that while issues of intellectual property were very much in the commercial and public discourse surrounding software and gaming, this remained a marketplace in which officially licensed and unofficial clones sat cheek by jowl. Indeed, even though, as John Symes promised, Microdeal’s Donkey King was renamed to The King later in 1983, this was the only change, with the content of the game itself remaining utterly unaltered. As such, The King sat alongside other clones of Donkey Kong rejoicing under similarly creative variations of the original name including Krazy Kong


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(Personal Software Services, ZX-81, 1982), Killer Gorilla (Micro Power, BBC B, 1983), and Dunkey Munkey (Intellitronics, CoCo, 1982). Of course, each of these different versions of the game, regardless of whether they are officially sanctioned and licensed, presents a unique take on Donkey Kong. Each has its own distinctive claim to “Donkey Kongness”. There is, without doubt, a palpable canonicity about the Nintendo Entertainment System and Game & Watch versions of Donkey Kong that is bestowed by the imprimatur of Nintendo, even though, in the latter case, this is offset by dramatically pared-down design and gameplay. Donkey King, on the other hand, carries none of the authority of a sanctioned Nintendo product and might even be said to erode the company’s status as the originator of the game in its brazen references and unapologetic cloning of gameplay, yet it is a faithful reproduction that retains and represents far more than just the essence of the original Donkey Kong. What is particularly notable here is that, while Donkey King/The King is demonstrably an unofficial and unsanctioned clone, it is in many ways a more complete, and perhaps more faithful, port of the game than many of the licensed iterations. Ultimately, I believe it is possible to argue that Donkey King is Donkey Kong insofar as all of the clones, official ports, and unofficial remakes contribute to our understanding and experience of “Donkey Kong”. Taken together, we might say that they are all Donkey Kong just as, in their own ways, none of them are.

Cuthbert Goes Cloning To further explore this notion of the relationship between licensed and unlicensed games and between clones and remakes, I wish to turn to a character that many Dragon 32 gamers will recognise as the real king of the platform: Cuthbert. Cuthbert was the de facto mascot of prominent Dragon 32 publisher Microdeal and the titular star of many of the games the company distributed in the UK throughout the early 1980s, including Cuthbert Goes Walkabout, Cuthbert in the Jungle, and Cuthbert Goes Digging, to name just three. At first blush, Cuthbert might seem an unlikely mascot for a videogame publisher or game series, although we should perhaps remind ourselves of the longevity of a certain moustachioed plumber and a certain blue hedgehog. Those familiar with Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman character will likely feel more than a little déjà vu when encountering Cuthbert and, while it might be fanciful to suggest it was deliberate, this resemblance does hint at an

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interesting position Cuthbert occupies with respect to intellectual property. We might also see Cuthbert as a characteristically 1980s attempt to inscribe an audience for games through marketing and branding materials, though we should, equally, note how the attendant assumptions and presuppositions about the identities of players that pervaded the period are writ large in such a representation (see Provenzo, 1991). As a Dragon 32 gamer, Cuthbert was a diff icult character to ignore. As well as featuring so prominently in so many well-publicised games, as Microdeal’s corporate figurehead, he would grace the occasional and infrequently published The Cuthbert Chronicle. This marketing magazine served to advertise Microdeal’s current and forthcoming gaming titles with features and reviews that ranged from the predictably gushing, as in the case of Cuthbert in the Cooler, which was deemed ‘[a]ll in all… Magic’, to disarmingly honest, as in the case of Athetlyx, which concludes with ‘Yes I really like this one!! (sarcasm). Reviewers Opinion Not Very Good’ (The Cuthbert Chronicle, 1985, p. 7). Regardless, the publication served to comprehensively cement Cuthbert’s position as mascot not only as Microdeal but also of Dragon gaming in general given the publisher’s breadth of output. As such, Cuthbert’s beaming visage was etched into the memories of players. Not that much reinforcement was really required as Cuthbert appeared on the cover of every game in which he took the lead role. Microdeal’s cover art was fairly consistent across its titles and made use of hand-drawn depictions of action loosely, and sometimes very loosely, drawn from the digital gameplay. Of course, there were few of the concerns over misrepresentation that we might be more familiar with today and certainly no legal requirement for ‘not actual gameplay’ clarifications. Indeed, rather than feeling any concern over the potential mismatch of cover image and actual gameplay, these hand-drawn illustrations added to the excitement by providing an imaginative interpretation. The cover art was precisely not a facsimile of the world rendered by the Dragon’s graphics chip but rather a further creative conjuring that sat alongside and enhanced one’s own envisioned world. It would be too simplistic to say that the comparatively bare audiovisual representations of the adventures of Cuthbert et al demanded the imagination of the player to fill in the gaps, but it is certainly the case that they encouraged such embellishments and augmentations. That said, even though one might be well used to recalibrating one’s expectations, it was still surprising to see how little Cuthbert on the box looked like Cuthbert on the game screen. Those Dragon users sufficiently familiar with the computer’s palette and the prevalence of its uniquely


James Newman

Figure 13. Steve Bak’s Cuthbert Goes Walkabout is based on Konami’s Amidar.

vicious green and gloriously drab buff would not be expecting great fidelity in colour reproduction. However, on loading Cuthbert in the Jungle or Cuthbert Goes Walkabout, one could be forgiven for wondering why Cuthbert in the game appeared notably taller and more slender, and, most unexpectedly, in Cuthbert Goes Walkabout at least, appeared to be wearing a stovepipe hat. Perhaps one answer might come from our knowledge of videogame graphics and the history of early game character design. Returning to Donkey Kong, the story of Jumpman/Mario’s origin is sufficiently well-documented not to require retelling, but what is important to note here is that Mario’s profession, and thus what little backstory the character could be said to possess, was essentially backfilled to fit the visual representation. Perhaps it was considered that the sight of Cuthbert wearing a stovepipe hat on the cassette cover would be too shocking, too out of character, and too much like Cuthbert was cosplaying Isambard Kingdom Brunel. At the time, I gave it very little thought and dedicated all of my mental resources to playing the game. However, with the benefit of hindsight, a broadening knowledge of game history, and an increased awareness of 1980s development and publishing practices, a new explanation is revealed. As such, and at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, perhaps the wiry stick figure character taking centre stage on screen in Cuthbert Goes Walkabout is not really Cuthbert at all. As we have seen above with the myriad Kong-likes, the shelves of UK games retailers throughout the 1980s were filled almost to breaking point

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with a combination of officially licensed and unofficial clones. Lest we think that Donkey/The King was Microdeal’s only foray into cloning, the pages of The Cuthbert Chronicle reveal this to be a more widespread approach. Similarly, while some clones attempted to lexically disguise their points of inspiration. Katerpillar Attack and Mr Dig might initially throw us off the scent, but these far-from-oblique nods to Centipede and Mr Do! do not require much work to decode. Other titles abandon even this level of linguistic playfulness, with Skramble (Scramble) and Pengon (Pengo) taking the Donkey King approach to naming. In doing so, these titles almost draw more attention to the original than outright duplication would have. There can be little doubt what one might expect from these titles even if they do not exactly say as much, even if only by one letter difference. But among these self-evident and unabashed clones of popular arcade games, with their differing approaches to nominal attribution, sit the titles in the Cuthbert series. Prima facie, these are original games. Certainly, their naming does not immediately betray an arcade heritage in the manner of Pengon and Skramble and, we should remember that, were there an arcade heritage to betray, it would be unusual not to find it proudly declared. The Cuthbert games, however, seem to make no such proclamations. In fact, the titles of the games in the series are, if anything, rather prosaic and perhaps even a little dreary. Cuthbert Goes Walkabout does not brim with the urgency of Taito’s Space Invaders, Activision’s Pitfall!, or Universal’s Space Panic. It doesn’t even have the intriguing ambiguity of Namco’s Galaga, Midway’s Gorf, or Konami’s Amidar. And yet Cuthbert Goes Walkabout is Amidar, just as Cuthbert Goes Digging is Space Panic and Cuthbert in the Jungle is Pitfall!, by which I mean to say that each of these apparently original Cuthbert games is a clone of an existing arcade or console game in precisely the same way that Pengon, Katerpillar Attack, and Donkey King are clones. We could argue that the naming of the Cuthbert games serves to obfuscate their origins and hide their source material more effectively than Donkey King ever attempted to. However, we might also note that, and perhaps express some degree of surprise, that the Cuthbert games do not seek to explicitly draw on the commercial and cultural capital of their source materials in the same manner as Donkey King et al. Given the bold, even unapologetic, nature of the naming and marketing of clones we have seen during this period more broadly, and in the Dragon 32 library of Microdeal in particular, we might wonder why these games were not marketed as Amidor, Astro Panic, and Trapfall. Perhaps the Cuthbert brand was considered strong enough to carry the games, or perhaps the originals were not considered to have sufficient capital in the UK, or perhaps they simply had less than Cuthbert.


James Newman

This last point is worth pondering as, if we dive into the history of Cuthbert in the Jungle, we find that the game was indeed called Trapfall when it was first released for the CoCo platform in the USA. The game was developed by Ken Kalish as a clone of David Crane’s extremely popular Pitfall! action-adventure game. Trapfall didn’t feature Cuthbert, he was added only when the game was licensed by Microdeal for sale in the UK. And let us be clear, Cuthbert was added in the sense that the game was rebranded and renamed, but not reprogrammed. Indeed, in subsequent interviews, Kalish has expressed some degree of amusement, if not bemusement, at the renaming of the title for the UK market (Kalish, 2004). It is for this reason that, while Cuthbert appears front and centre on the cover art of the UK Dragon 32 game, the in-game graphics do not much resemble the cheeky, red-haired schoolchild. But why would they? The character in Cuthbert in the Jungle quite simply is not Cuthbert because the game is Trapfall. In the same manner, Steve Bak’s Cuthbert Goes Walkabout is a Cuthbert game insofar as the cover art and game title declare it such, but we might equally read it as Amidar retrofitted through packaging and naming. Armed with this insight into the development and publishing practices of re-releasing games, if we now revisit the Amidar clone known to UK Dragon 32 players as Cuthbert Goes Walkabout, we no longer need to ask why Cuthbert is wearing a stovepipe hat. That is not Cuthbert. It is Cuthbert on the cover art, just not in the game.

Long Live the King What, then, can we take from these vignettes and insights into 1980s Dragon 32 gameplay, development, and publishing? What sense can we make of the Dragon 32 Cuthbert games and of Donkey King? Firstly, it is intriguing to find how complex the histories of these games are. While they are clones, the fact that they do not reveal their points of origin so readily reminds us how important it is to look beyond the canonical boundaries of game studies and escape the epistemic threshold of platform studies (Apperley & Parikka, 2018). However, these games are more than obscure curios. Each title plays an important historical role. Cuthbert Goes Walkabout is part of the story of Amidar just as Donkey King is part of the complex history of Donkey Kong and vice versa. These games also reveal much about the national and international flows of ideas and intellectual property and about the business models and marketing practices of an emerging industry. Particularly, they show that Europe was an active player, and not merely a

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consumer, in the circulation of cultural products and in the configuration of platform spaces. The multiple transformations these games undergo, initially as clones, from a source title, and are subsequently renamed, reframed, and reintroduced into the market help us piece together geographically and historically specific moments in gaming that tend to be subsumed under weighty discourses that privilege the already popular or grand narratives of a global games industry. It would be tempting to ignore games such as Donkey King and the Cuthbert series either because they attain only marginal success on a marginal platform or because, by being clones of other titles, they occupy an inferior position in relation to a fetishized original. However, what I find particularly intriguing about Platform 14 is the way that it helps to both clarify and problematise the relationship between different games and platforms. By simultaneously placing a large number of instances of the ‘same game’ in front of the visitor/researcher, the exhibit can both aid in the consolidation of timelines and assertions around the lineage of originals, ports, and clones. Yet, it can also encourage the reconceptualisation of the rigidity of such connections by focusing on points of access. In this way, rather than demarcating lines of influence and originality between titles, the spatial layout and simultaneity of the exhibit encourage a reconsideration of the various games as multiple elements that comprise the greater constellation of the particular game. For me, the exhibit helps me move beyond questioning Donkey King as a clone of Donkey Kong and into a discussion about how both games, and all those others besides, contribute to the larger concept—or “constellation”—of “Donkey Kongness”. Each game adds, takes away, modifies, and reframes just as each game offers a potential point of access to the world of “Donkey Kongness”. If Donkey Kong is a purely Japanese game (and intellectual property), “Donkey Kongness” is considerably more international, and European in some parts. These games also remind us that Donkey Kong is not a game solely located in the past. It continues to be played and remade and it continues to accrue new meanings as new players play it and new research is conducted on it. It is for this reason that the Dragon 32’s Donkey King was simultaneously presented alongside Nintendo’s DK52, the arcade version, the 2012 Intellivision remake (Donkey Kong Arcade), and the Pauline Edition ROMhack that switches the roles of Mario and Pauline (Mika, 2013). It is also for this reason that no Platform 14 history of Amidar could exclude Cuthbert Goes Walkabout. It is also for this reason that no Donkey Kong history should be without reference to Cuthbert, as there is one final connection that speaks eloquently to the practices of cloning and renaming. While Donkey King’s name change


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ensured it notoriety, it was not the only Donkey Kong clone available for the CoCo upon which the Dragon 32 computer was based. Ken Kalish, whose Trapfall became Cuthbert In the Jungle, had also created a Donkey Kong clone. Released in 1983 and published by Med Systems Software in the USA, this version also changed just one letter in the original game’s title to become Monkey Kong. However, in the print advertising for the game the connection to Nintendo’s Donkey Kong was (over)confidently stated, with the copy emphatically announcing that ‘Mario jumps into action on the Color Computer!’ and closing with a reference to Donkey Kong’s in-game’s challenge: ‘How high can you go?’. There could be no doubt, then, that, while Monkey Kong was not a licensed version of Donkey Kong, this was intended to reproduce that game and, crucially, its woodworking protagonist. Indeed, the in-game graphics do an admirable job of recreating Mario’s trademark cap, overalls, and moustache. However, while this graphical accuracy might be fitting in this instance, it is rather more jarring were one to load the King Cuthbert version of the game, which replaced the Monkey Kong name in favour of the more bankable Microdeal mascot but left all other aspects of the game unchanged. In an interesting twist, the original US-developed CoCo game, initially sold under the moniker Monkey Kong, had been rebadged and renamed as a Cuthbert title by UK-based Microdeal and rereleased into the marketplace. An American version of a Japanese game ended up changed to star a European mascot. If we felt that Kalish’s tall and rangy Cuthbert in the Jungle sprite did not look much like the Cuthbert from Microdeal’s cover art and promotional materials, here was an altogether portlier creation that was, self-evidently, always intended to be Mario. Indeed, as Kalish notes in a brief retrospective: ‘Any game could be retitled so that ‘Cuthbert’ was in the title :)’ (Kalish, 2004). The circularity of these licensing and publishing processes are notable in themselves but what is most deliciously ironic about this situation is that the new title of this game brings together ‘Cuthbert’, a character demonstrably not present in the game itself, and the word ‘King’, that unequivocally reminds us of Microdeal’s deft navigation of the original concern over the use of the Donkey Kong name. As such, at least part of our aim in developing the Platform 14 exhibit is to help focus attention on the complexity of researching, speaking, and writing about games given their multiple, interwoven, co-dependent existences across time, markets, and, crucially, across gaming platforms. So, when we say Donkey Kong, what do we mean? What can we mean? By considering the case of King Cuthbert, we see just how multifaceted that question can be and how important historical and region-specific research are in helping unpick the multiple competing, and perhaps even contrasting, answers.

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References Altice, N. (2015). I Am Error: The Nintendo Family Computer / Entertainment System Platform, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Apperley, T., & Parikka, J. (2018). Platform Studies’ Epistemic Threshold. Games and Culture, 13(4), 349–369. Bancroft, R. (1984, June 16). Dragon Fire Flickers. Personal Computer News, p. 4. Casillas, B. (2013). Attack Of The Clones: Copyright Protection For Video Game Developers. Loyola of Los Angeles Entertainment Law Review, 33(2), 137-170. Pérez Colomé, J. (2019, December  8). Cuando Extremadura quiso ser el Silicon Valley español. El País. Gazzard, A. (2016). Now the Chips are Down: The BBC Micro. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Grabarczyk, P. (2018). SNES ‒ Not so ‘Super’, After All. Game Studies, 18(1). http:// Kalish, K. (2004). An Interview with Ken Kalish by L. Curtis Boyle. L. Curtis Boyle’s Website. Linsley, D. (n.d.). Dragon History. The Dragon Archive. http://archive.worldofdragon. org/index.php?title=Dragon_History Loguidice, B., & Barton, M. (2014). Vintage Game Consoles: An Inside Look at Apple, Atari, Commodore, Nintendo, and the Greatest Gaming Platforms of All Time. London: Routledge. Mika, M. (2013, March 11). Why I Hacked Donkey Kong for My Daughter. Montfort, N., & Bogost, I. (2009). Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Nintendo of America, Inc. v. Elcon Industries, Inc., 564 F. Supp. 937 (1982), Civ. No. 82-72398 (United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, S.D., October 4, 1982). Profundo. (1983, December). Nybbles: Industry Whispers and Meditations. Videogaming and Computergaming Illustrated, 12 Provenzo, E. (1991). Video Kids: Making sense of Nintendo. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Sangani, K. (2009). Gadgets that Design Forgot [Consumer Tech Design]. Engineering & Technology, 4(16): 30–33. Therrien, C. (2019). The Media Snatcher. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Wade, A., & Webber, N. (2016). A Future for Game Histories? Cogent: Arts and Humanities, 3(1). Williams, G. (1983, January). Microcomputing, British Style. The Fifth Personal Computer World Show. Byte, 8(1), 40–51.


James Newman

About the Author James Newman, Ph.D., is research professor in Digital Media at Bath Spa University and Head of Research at the UK’s National Videogame Museum. Over the past 20 years, James has written widely on videogame history and preservation, the cultures of play, and videogame sound and music. He is a co-founder of the Videogame Heritage Society Subject Specialist Network.

6. Masterpiece! Auteurism and European Videogames Mercè Oliva

Abstract The main aim of this chapter is to analyse how authorship is def ined and constructed in media discourses about European videogames. To fulf il this aim, a study is conducted on how both European indie and AAA-game creators and studios (Sam Barlow, The Chinese Room, Playdead, Tomas Sakalauskas, and David Cage) are portrayed in specialised magazines. By doing so, this chapter will examine how the rules of cultural production are adapted to the f ield of videogames, as well as its ideological implications. On the one hand, videogame designers as auteurs are key f igures in understanding contemporary work imaginaries. On the other, this chapter shows that reproducing traditional def initions of authorship entails problematic implications regarding power, authority, and gender. Keywords: Authorship, Auteurism, Indie Games, AAA Games, Field Theory, Creative Labour

Introduction: The rise of videogame auteurism Over the past decade, debates about videogame authorship have gradually emerged, enmeshed with discussions about videogames’ place within the field of culture. Examining the discourses about authorship is particularly relevant at a time when videogames are being redefined as cultural artefacts and gradually viewed as a form of legitimised culture. Considering that Europe has a long tradition of auteurism, which first emerged in cinema in the 1950s (Maule, 2008), it is worth exploring whether there is also a European videogame ‘auteur politics’.

Navarro-Remesal, V. and Ó. Pérez-Latorre, Perspectives on the European Videogame. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2022 doi 10.5117/9789463726221_ch06


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The first step should be to ask ourselves a question: ‘What is an author?’ (Foucault, 1984). As Foucault shows in his famous text, the answer to this apparently simple question is rather complex and makes us reflect on the attribution of authorship and its role in our understanding of different types of texts in the Western tradition. The author’s proper name does not simply refer to a real person but also to a ‘function’: ‘the author function is therefore a characteristic of the mode of existence, circulation, and functioning of certain discourses within a society’ (Foucault, 1984, p. 108). Every text (as a semiotic artefact), from a grocery list to a film, is created by someone, but not all creators count as authors and not all texts contain the ‘author function’. Authorship serves a number of purposes; we invoke authorship to classify works (grouping together different texts and distinguishing them from others) and give them economic value (branding, intellectual, property). It is also a marker of legitimised culture: The fact that the discourse has an author’s name […] shows that this discourse is not ordinary everyday speech that merely comes and goes […]. On the contrary, it is a speech that must be received in a certain mode and that, in a given culture, must receive a certain status. (Foucault, 1984, p. 107).

For example, the ‘auteur politics’ of Cahiers du Cinema in the 1950s was crucial in redefining cinema as a part of legitimate culture, following ‘the desire and demand of an industry to generate an artistic (and specifically Romantic) aura during a period when the industry as such needed to distinguish itself from other, less elevated, forms of mass media.’ (Corrigan, 1991, p. 102, cited in Maule, 2008, p. 31). But, above all else, authorship is about ‘authority, power, and meaning’ (Gray, 2013, p. 107). Traditionally, ‘intentionalist analyses’ were focused on knowing ‘what the author meant’, thus limiting ‘the proliferation of meanings’ (Foucault, 1984, p. 118) and enforcing particular readings of the work in question (Busse, 2013; Gray, 2013; Hartley, 2002). And, though Barthes heralded the much-referenced ‘death of the author’ (Barthes, 1977), claiming that the text speaks for itself, nowadays authors refuse to be silenced and keep on claiming their authority to determine the meaning of their works in interviews, documentaries, and making-ofs (Brookey & Westerfelhaus, 2002; Grant, 2008; Mittell, 2015). Authorship is produced through discourse, and particularly through paratexts (Genette, 1997), that is, texts that ‘accompany, surround, and refer to other texts’ (Oliva, Pérez-Latorre & Besalu, 2018). In interviews,



podcasts, DVD extras, and reviews, cultural intermediaries (critics, journalists, curators), the audience, and the creators themselves construct this “author function” (Grant, 2008; Gray, 2010; Mittell, 2015). Thus, studying how European videogame authors are discussed, imagined, and created through discourse is crucial to better understanding videogame culture. In the past few years, several scholars have focused on the processes of legitimation in both AAA and indie videogames (Consalvo, 2019; Juul, 2019; Keogh, 2015; Kirkland, 2010; Parker, 2012, 2017; Pérez Latorre, 2016) by analysing how ‘good’ or ‘quality’ games are discursively constructed, as well as how authorship is a key factor in this process. This chapter contributes to this discussion by focusing on how individuals and studios are portrayed as ‘authors’ in videogame paratexts, and will do so by analysing claims of authorship in the field of European videogames. Drawing on Bourdieu’s field theory, I will analyse how authorship is defined and constructed in articles and interviews focussing on European videogames that have been published in the past ten years in specialised magazines and websites (Gamasutra, Kotaku, Eurogamer, Rock, Paper, Shotgun,, IGN, Edge). I will examine two case studies. The first focuses on indie games; specifically, I will analyse how four indie game creators or studios are portrayed: the British writer and creator Sam Barlow (Her Story, Telling Lies), the British studio The Chinese Room (Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture), the Danish studio Playdead (Limbo, Inside), and the Lithuanian designer Tomas Sakalauskas (Human: Fall Flat). The second focuses on David Cage, founder and creative director of the French studio Quantic Dream (Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain, Detroit). These two case studies will help us better understand how indie and AAA games claim the ‘author function’, as well as their common and specific traits. At the same time, the analysis will also tackle the ideological implications of authorship. On the one hand, I will reflect on how videogame creators have become figures that foster particular definitions of ‘work’ within neoliberal post-recessionary Western societies, in which people are encouraged to ‘work as an artist’. On the other hand, I will explore how traditional definitions of authorship are increasingly viewed as problematic because of their implications regarding power, authority, and gender.

Mythologies of the indie author There are two main reasons European indie games are a good starting point to examine how authorship is constructed in the field of videogames. Firstly, they are produced in smaller studios, sometimes by individual designers, and


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this makes it easier to identify a single source of authorial intent. Secondly, indie games’ traits are regularly presented as being opposed to ‘commercial’ AAA videogames (Juul, 2019; Keogh, 2015; Pérez Latorre, 2016) and are thus viewed as closer to the idea of cultural quality, which is closely linked with ‘the author function’. Therefore, indie games are leading the way on the path towards legitimising videogames and shifting their position within the field of culture.

‘Games that have original and personal ideas at their heart’: Authorship and the rules of the field of cultural production Although the concept of ‘author’ or ‘auteur’ is seldom explicitly invoked in the articles and interviews analysed herein, the way indie game designers portray their work (and the way they are portrayed) clearly follows the discursive repertoire of ‘authorship’, which is used to make sense of their practice while also validating and legitimising it. Key concepts here include ‘vision’ (‘his vision’, ‘creative vision’, ‘unique vision’) and ‘personal’ (‘personal style’, ‘personal idea’), which are connected to other notions such as creativity, originality, and individuality. Games are presented as the expression of an individual’s unique worldview, a key trait of authorship. By highlighting creativity, uniqueness, and vision, discourses about indie games are constructed in accordance with the rules of the ‘field of cultural production’ (Bourdieu, 1993). According to Bourdieu, society is divided in different fields (such as the fields of politics, economics, cultural production, etc.) that are governed and hierarchised through rules that determine the position of the actors, institutions, and works within them. In the specific field of cultural production, this refers to the rules that determine the difference between highbrow and lowbrow culture. Thus, field theory is useful in understanding how authors, works, genres, and media are viewed, valued, recognised, and discursively constructed, as well as how the different forms of capital, including economic capital (sales, worth, salary), cultural capital (quality), and symbolic capital (recognition and prestige), are distributed among them. The cultural field is governed by an ‘inverse economy’ logic, in which economic and commercial success (in the short run) is equated with a low degree of consecration (accrual of symbolic capital), since the principles that govern the field are originality and the quest for new forms of expression (viewed as markers of quality and cultural capital); this means that an artist must always create for the ‘audience of the future’ and not just adapt to ‘what the audience wants’. A massive audience is seen as equivalent



to low cultural capital and a low decree of consecration. Thus, there are constant tensions between the ‘autonomous principles of hierarchisation’ (or ‘autonomous pole’), which are specific to the field (quality, originality), and the ‘heteronomous principles of hierarchisation’ (or ‘heteronomous pole’), which refers to rules that come from another field, especially economics: sales and audience. Nevertheless, the ‘inverse economy logic’ of the field means that the autonomous pole is more important in the hierarchisation. These pre-existing rules are adopted and adapted in order to legitimise videogames and change their current position within the field of cultural production (Parker, 2012, p. 45). For example, Dino Patti, co-founder and former CEO of the Danish developer Playdead (Limbo, Inside), regularly presented the studio in association with notions of originality: ‘the goal for the studio is to set new standards. We would never just follow gold rushes and just do whatever everyone else is doing’ (Procter, 2011). Another interesting example can be seen in the statements made by Sam Barlow (Her Story) when Telling Lies was released. Since its mechanics and gameplay were very similar to Her Story, Barlow’s statements deflected potential accusations of a ‘lack of originality’, which could jeopardise recognition of the game’s quality: ‘I hate repeating a trick […] I’m always excited by new ideas, so I didn’t want to do that’ (Caldwell, 2019). As Parker (2012) and Pérez Latorre (2016) note, indie games (or artgames) tend to be discursively constructed by promotional paratexts, designer statements, and cultural intermediaries through the ’discourse of quality’, defining them as a ‘response to this increasingly homogenised and corporatised product-based industry’ (Keogh, 2015, p.155); in other words, in opposition to AAA games (which are seen as commercial, commodified, and replicative).1 For example, when Sam Barlow explains why he decided to make Her Story as an independent designer after having worked within the AAA industry, he stated: ‘I noticed my intense professional jealousy (and admiration!) towards certain indie developers, developers who were making brilliantly executed games that had original and personal ideas at their heart’ (Horneman, 2015). As seen here, the idea of originality and authorship are precisely the key concepts of this ‘quality discourse’. Originality, uniqueness, and ‘quality’ are also tied to a rejection of the market logic, that is, a refusal to compromise their vision for commercial 1 In a recent book about indie games, Juul (2019, p. 9) focusses on claims about ‘authenticity’, i.e., indie games as ‘honest, personal and authentic’ and opposed to commercial and ‘inauthentic’ mainstream games.


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purposes: ‘It has been a hard fight to keep commercial interests out of game decisions, but that is really how we like it’ (Patti regarding Playdead, in Procter, 2011). These excerpts also show that: [An author] ‘who goes commercial’ condemns themselves […] because they deprive themselves of the opportunities open to those who can recognize the specific demands of this universe [the field of cultural production] and who, by concealing from themselves and others the interests at stake, in their practice, obtain the means of deriving profits from disinterestedness. (Bourdieu, 1993, p. 75).

Thus, artists and works that adhere to these principles accrue symbolic capital that can also be exchanged for economic capital in the long run. This means that ‘disinterestedness’—creation as a form of personal expression and realisation, not as a means of achieving or earning money or even consecration—is another key rule of the field. At the same time, in the discourses about indie games the rules of the cultural field are adapted and merged with definitions of what is a ‘good game’ (Consalvo, 2007, 2019), a consequence of ‘the development of a common and shared discourse of game evaluation’ (Muriel & Crawford, 2018, p. 38) specific to this subfield (see also Juul, 2019; Parker, 2012; and Pérez Latorre, 2016). In the interviews and articles analysed herein, quality is also linked to minimalism and simplicity, meaning stripping a game of nonessential elements (‘I’ve gone off on an extreme and created something where you have a lot less of the gamey stuff’, Barlow states on Her Story, in Smith, 2015), ambiguity (‘You don’t have to understand everything’, Pinchbeck states on Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, in Matulef, 2014), anti-technological virtuosity and low-tech (‘and throughout the whole process, a little part of me found the whole thing so ridiculous’ (Barlow states about 3D caption, in Smith, 2015), and, most importantly, videogame specificity, meaning exploring the expressive potential of rules, as well as allowing for ‘player expressivity’. I will further explore this concept and its implications on the definition of authorship in the next section.

‘Crafting stories players tell themselves’: Single authorship and the role of the player The author function has traditionally been embodied by a single person, following authorial definitions coined in traditional arts such as literature.



As Foucault states, ‘the coming into being of the notion of ‘author’ constitutes the privileged moment of individualisation in the history of ideas, knowledge, literature, philosophy, and the sciences’ (Foucault, 1984, p. 101). At the same time, the idea of individual authorship makes it easier to connect a cultural product to a legitimised definition of ‘quality’ by portraying a game as the product of the author’s ‘vision’. This notion of the ‘single author’ does not fit the culture industries’ collective works; however, this has not stopped the creation of an author figure that personalises and simplifies the creative process and embodies ‘authorial agency’. Although made by smaller studios, most indie games are products of team efforts. Thus, we can find several examples where there is tension between viewing the game as the product of a single authorship or as the product of a collective effort: Jensen created Limbo, imagined its feel, antagonism, surprise, and isolation. Carlsen added to those qualities a tireless puzzle logic that gave a defined corpus to Jensen’s impressionism […] Jensen had a clear creative vision for the game […] It was within those creative parameters that Carlsen’s puzzle work began. (Nix, 2010).

In this excerpt from an IGN feature about Limbo, the reader is reassured that, although the game is the result of collaborative work, it is ultimately the product of Jensen’s ‘vision’. This same idea is highlighted by Dino Patti: ‘All major decisions which shaped the game from beginning until the end came from Arnt Jensen […]. The smaller decisions probably came from the team’ (Procter, 2011). As seen above, Playdead regularly promotes their games using the frame of ‘quality’ or ‘art’ games, which explains the emphasis on Jensen as the author. Discourses on single authorship are complicated by the role attributed to the player. As stated above, authorship is related to power and authority: authors represent a ‘desire for an ultimate origin, a god who will finally limit the infinite potentiality of meaning’ (Hartley, 2002, p. 15) by telling us ‘what a text means’. Nevertheless, game design that leaves room for the player to have some freedom, or player ‘expressivity’, is one of the key traits invoked in defining a ‘quality’ game. This emphasis on player agency might point to a redefinition of the roles of author and audience. For example, in the case of Telling Lies, this relationship between author and player is framed not as hierarchical but as a ‘shared responsibility’, as the following title of a’s article denotes: ‘Sam Barlow on crafting stories players tell themselves’ (Batchelor, 2019a, emphasis mine).


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Thus, both Barlow and the author of the article draw a stark difference between the role of the author in cinema and in videogames: ‘People call these things [Her Story and Telling Lies] interactive movies […], but a movie is very carefully controlled and everything is spelled out for you. This is in many ways the opposite’ (Barlow, in Batchelor, 2019b). Of course, gameplay and the player experience are always designed (Navarro-Remesal, 2016; Pérez Latorre, 2011); nevertheless, what is of interest here is the portrayal of indie games as a medium in which there is a balance between author and audience power. Player agency is also highlighted in discourses (and practices) that portray players as cocreators, such as when players help shape a game through their feedback (via reviews, playing beta versions, etc.). This is one of the key features of gameworkers’ culture and identity, creating a ‘culture of participatory authorship’ (Deuze, Martin, & Allen, 2007, p. 348), which further complicates ‘what authorship exactly means’ (Deuze et al., 2007, p. 339). A good example of this is a feature published by Gamesindustry. biz about Tomas Sakalauskas, the creator of Human: Fall Flat. This feature explains how Sakalauskas used YouTubers with a small number of followers as free testers and included their suggestions in the final design of the game. Using the ‘free labour’ of YouTubers is framed in the article as a smart strategy to gain visibility and access to resources (playtesting) that would be exceedingly difficult for an individual to achieve. Yet at the same time, Sakasaukas’s authority as an author needs to be reinforced: ‘In the end, I’m the game designer so I have to filter that feedback—you cannot just take that [sic] random comments, throw the ideas into the game and see how it works.’ (Batchelor, 2018). Finally, this rhetoric of player agency and expressivity does not mean that indie game designers abdicate their authority in defining ‘what kind of game’ theirs is and how players should approach it. We can find this kind of contradiction in the discourses about The Chinese Room’s walking simulator Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. On the one hand, Dan Pinchbeck, the creative director of the studio and the game, claimed that ‘[w]e wanted to give the player a more active role in creating a story’; on the other hand, he also ‘reiterates that this is really a character-driven drama, even if that’s not entirely obvious from the get go […] It’s not a game where I want players to be going into it thinking “I must solve this”’ (Matulef, 2014, emphasis mine). These excerpts are thus a good example of the contradictory nature of this kind of discourse, which mixes the traditional rules of the field of cultural production with the specific rules of the subfield of indie videogames.



‘Tales of indies whose lives have been transformed by a single hit’: Between disinterestedness and entrepreneurship As stated above, disinterestedness is one of the key rules of the field of cultural production, meaning that the pursuit of ‘commercial’ success is seen as being at odds with achieving recognition. Indie game designers adhere to and foster this rule by portraying game creation as primarily an act of self-expression. Even when the games are commercially successful, this is presented as an unintended surprise; for example, this is the case of Dan Pinchbeck talking about how the studio The Chinese Room began: It wasn’t even a decision to commercialise it [Dear Esther]. […] So initially commercialising it was more about ‘we want people to play this.’ I don’t think either of us ever anticipated that it was going to be the runaway success that it was. (Matulef, 2015).

This is the same as in Limbo: ‘The real surprise, though, is that a game that’s so black and white on so many levels didn’t prompt more of a divided reaction. Instead, gamers seemed to get its morbid monochrome visuals and wry humour instantly’ (Edge, 2012, emphasis mine). The emphasis on both the ‘instant success’ of the game and its critical acclaim—‘“A masterpiece.” “Close to perfect.” “Genius.” So read the reviews in July 2010’ (Edge, 2012)—shows the precarious equilibrium in which the autonomous (‘art for art’s sake’) and heteronomous (economic success) principles of hierarchisation coexist in the field of videogames. For example, in interviews about the creative process of Her Story, Sam Barlow completely adhered to a legitimised definition of auteur, while also explaining that he was confident that ‘embracing the freedom of indie dev wouldn’t mean giving up the ability to make something worthwhile for a large audience’ (Horneman, 2015). Thus, in the discourse of legitimation of the field, legitimation and economic success (which should be opposed to each other) are made compatible: the indie games that have become part of the canon have accrued both symbolic and economic capital in the short run. Hence, the figure of the indie game designer merges the traits of the artist and the entrepreneur (see also Juul, 2019; and Pérez Latorre, 2016), a liminal and ambiguous position that makes it relevant for exploring contemporary ‘mythologies of creative work’ (Gill, 2010; McRobbie, 2016). Currently, creative work is portrayed as a ‘dream job’ that allows us to escape from more mundane nine-to-five office work, with finding (and expressing) ‘pleasure in work’, viewing work as a form of personal realisation, and doing what you love being the key elements. ‘Love’ (‘love for videogames’,


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‘an idea that I was in love with’) and ‘passion’ (games as ‘passion projects’) appear repeatedly in interviews and articles explaining the creative process of indie games. Becoming an indie game creator is presented as an escape from AAA videogame studios and their for-profit orientation (e. g., Arnt Jensen and Dino Patti) or from unimaginative, rote work: Tomas Sakalauskas did not want to work in IT anymore. Not everyone does, and in this wonderful age of internet-enabled self-improvement, no one is tied to a single career path for life. In 2012, he decided to abandon his business and try out videogame development. After a few years spent on unsuccessful projects, he eventually created the title that would secure his newfound freedom long-term—the physics-based smash hit Human: Fall Flat. (Batchelor, 2018).

This excerpt is particularly interesting because it quite explicitly refers to many elements of neoliberal ‘enterprise culture’: ‘the role of the individual in managing his or her own well-being’ (Ouellette, 2013, p. 172), working on themselves and accruing capital through DIY and informal educational resources, the emphasis on freedom (creative freedom as well as the freedom that comes with flexible, autonomous work), and personal effort as means of achieving success. This discourse portrays current society as governed by a ‘jackpot economy’, ‘where media focus above all on the ‘winners’ of prised fame—despite the fact that existing markers of privilege are often prerequisites for success’ (Duffy & Wissinger, 2017, p. 4663). Sakalauskas’ case, as well as other ‘tales of indies whose lives have been transformed by a single hit, trading in their run-arounds for sports cars’ (Batchelor, 2018), shows that risks (such as quitting one’s job) are worth taking since the rewards can be enormous (yet very difficult to achieve). These tales of ‘heroic individuals who succeed against the odds’ (Mendick, Allen, & Harvey, 2015) serve to explain and justify inequality through a meritocratic narrative that renders socioeconomic differences ‘fair’ while concealing their structural causes (Littler, 2013). At the same time, this idealisation of creative work normalises a ‘move away from stable notions of “career” to more informal, insecure and discontinuous employment’ (Gill & Pratt, 2008, p. 2) characterised by insecurity and an intensification (‘crunch culture’) and extensification (the limits between work and life are porous, the culture of long working hours) of labour. We can find several examples of this ‘dark side’ in accounts of the process of game creation: ‘I’ve spent most of my personal development time on Baba Is You for the past 8 months. Note that I also have a job working on Noita, as well as studying in the University of Helsinki’ (Arvi Teikari, in Couture,



2018). Nevertheless, as stated above, the success achieved by these games makes it difficult to critically discuss these negative aspects. Thus, currently ‘capitalism makes a seductive offer’ to citizens ‘with the promise of pleasure in work, while at the same time this work is nowadays bound to be precarious and insecure and lacking the protection of conventional employment’ (McRobbie, 2016, p. 105), while ‘ideas of creativity and innovation compensate for and to an extent obscure the shrinking realm of protection along with welfare and various entitlements’ (McRobbie, 2016, p. 45). As we have seen, we can find traces of this discourse in the narratives of indie game design.

David Cage and the liminal figure of the AAA-game auteur Authorship is not only constructed within the field of indie games. AAA games can also be promoted and defined as texts with an ‘author function’ to claim cultural legitimacy as ‘prestige games’, ‘a special class of AAA game that is expected to excel commercially but has distinction from other […] best sellers by grace of its supposed artistic quality’ (Parker, 2017, p. 740; see also Kirkland, 2010). To analyse the discourses of authorship within European AAA prestige games, in this section I will focus on the figure of David Cage, founder and creative director of the French studio Quantic Dream (Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain, Detroit).

‘I see myself as an author’: Author politics and AAA games David Cage is one of Europe’s videogame creators with the most media exposure: he is one of the few whose name appears in the headlines of the articles analysed herein,2 a clear marker of authorship. Although he is not explicitly named as an ‘author’, he is referred to as the ‘creator’, the ‘maker’, or as the ‘man behind’ ‘his’ games, individualising and simplifying a very complex process of collective creation and thus making it easier to portray these videogames as the product of a unique vision (just as we have seen in the case of indie games). But what makes David Cage an interesting case study is that he explicitly claims to be an author (‘I see myself as an author, really. I just trust my instinct’, 2 This is a key difference between Cage and the indie game designers analysed in the previous section; designers who were usually referenced not by their proper name but by ‘their’ games, e.g., ‘Limbo’s dev.’.


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MCV Develop, 2011) and openly acknowledges the legitimising role of the ‘author function’. Thus, in his statements, Cage regularly defends authorship as being crucial for the cultural legitimacy of videogames, while at the same time accruing symbolic capital for himself: ‘When I started crediting myself as writer and director, I saw that as a political act […] I’m doing the work of an author and there is no compromise. It’s really the story I want to tell’ (Bland, 2010). Cage adheres to and furthers the (autonomous) rules of the field of cultural production, as well as traditional definitions of (single) authorship. Firstly, he frames the creative process as the result of inspiration and instinct, and as the consequence of ‘personal attributes’ that ‘are supposed to emanate from a free-floating individual consciousness’ (Hartley, 2002, p. 14) outside the social (as well as those social conditions that might explain access to different configurations of capitals that make creation possible—see Bourdieu, 1984, 1993). Secondly, Cage separates game design from economic interest, presenting creative work solely as a means of personal expression and self-realisation: I’m not in this business to make money. […] Yeah, I could make Heavy Rain 2, but I’ve said what I’ve had to say about it. […] I’m here to be creative. I just have a company because I need that structure to develop my ideas. (MCV Develop, 2011).

Cage portrays the ‘industry’ as an adversary, establishing a clear distinction between his games and other AAA games: ‘The games I make don’t include a gun. Very often, American marketing departments have a problem with this’ (MCV Develop, 2011, emphasis mine). Interestingly, here Cage presents himself and his games within a European tradition of quality and auteurism, one that is opposed to the American culture industries, which are portrayed as commodified, replicative, and mass-produced. Moreover, Cage regularly complains about the lack of originality and creativity in the videogame industry: according to him, ‘videogames need to “grow up”’ (Totilo, 2013) and talk about ‘real conflicts, real emotions, real relationships’ (Narcisse, 2013) instead of being exclusively focused on shooters, sci-fi, and zombies. At the same time, he presents his games as examples that show what the medium is capable of in terms of storytelling, focusing on their ability to create ‘emotions’ in the player. Thus, he claims that the videogame industry needs an auteur politics: Videogame auteurs who take sole responsibility for shaping all aspects of a title are vital to the continued growth of the industry. […] We need auteurs and the biggest problem in this industry is that we don’t trust them – we trust programmers instead. (Dutton, 2011).



In this excerpt, Cage also distances himself from the ‘hacker ideologies of technological advancement and a “passion in virtuosity”’ that characterises the AAA industry (Keogh, 2015, p. 154).3 The similarities between Cage’s discourse and those found in indie games are striking and help us better understand the ‘author function’ and its discursive construction. Thus, although Heavy Rain and Detroit are AAA games, developed by a big studio and released by a major publisher (Sony), they are presented in stark contrast to other AAA games using arguments such as creativity, originality, and authorship. This is a good example of how paratexts, such as creators’ statements and interviews, can redefine a work and reposition it within the field (see Gray, 2010). Nevertheless, Cage is quite a controversial figure, and his games usually get mixed responses from critics and other cultural intermediaries. His liminal position as author of ‘prestige’ AAA games is often seen as problematic. For example, one particular article compares Cage’s games to indie games such as Façade, in order to reposition them as commercial, while reasserting indie/art games as ‘truly’ quality games (Bland, 2010). ‘Game specificity’ is also regularly invoked to attack his games, which are portrayed in a derogatory tone as ‘interactive movies’ (Burch, 2010). Moreover, a recurring argument is to portray Cage as a wannabe film auteur: ‘Although Cage insists that “I’m not a frustrated movie director, I’m not making games because I can’t make movies”, it is hard not to notice that his points of reference are almost all from the silver screen’ (Bland, 2010). Maybe Cage’s overt claim of being an author results in him being perceived as too keen to deliberately accrue symbolic capital. Thus, by openly defending the autonomous rules of the field of cultural production, he also renders them visible, violating the principle that cultural dispositions and the rules of art should remain invisible, ‘objectively adapted to their roles without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends’ (Bourdieu, 1984, p. 107).

‘Would you ask this question to a film director?’ Problems with author(ity) David Cage is also an interesting case study because his explicit defence of a traditional (and Romantic) definition of authorship lays bare the ideological 3 Nevertheless, promotional paratexts for Detroit were very much focused on this aspect, highlighting the ‘realism’ (meaning ‘illusionism’) of the characters created using 3D-capture technology. See, for example, the short film Kara:


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implications of the ‘author function’ and connects with current debates about authorship, power, authority, and gender. Cage frames sole authorship as the guarantor of (his) games’ quality: I know no good stories written by 50 people. […] A story is something emotional; something personal that you want to share, and it is strongly linked to your own life and experiences’ (Dutton, 2011). In this account, not only is the collective creative process of videogames oversimplified, but other collaborators’ agency and contributions are negated (Mittell, 2015, p. 95), unapologetically showing that ‘authors are the product of a social division of labour. (Hartley, 2002, p. 14).

This powerfully evokes narratives of authors as ‘difficult’ and ‘authoritarian’ men (Martin, 2013) who exert their power over their subordinates, which in turn connects with labour practices (such as crunch culture) that are currently under question. Cage has also been the target of this kind of controversy. In a harsh article published in The Independent titled ‘Control Freak’, Cage is portrayed as ‘an obsessive operator, intimately involved in every aspect of the production. […] Cage does not demur from this characterisation, which fulfils a sense of the game-maker as auteur that he plainly enjoys’ (Bland, 2010). Moreover, Cage has been accused by former Quantic Dream workers of creating a toxic and sexist work environment (Kalash, 2018), accusations denied by Cage. Interestingly, an article that tackles this subject states that Cage ‘is apparently ironically nicknamed ‘Papa’, ‘God’ and ‘Sun King’ for his autocratic approach to working, for demanding long hours and for not listening to others’ (Purchese, 2018). The author as ‘god’ is one of the (gendered) metaphors traditionally used to highlight their power and authority, a definition challenged for its ideological implications. Cage has also overtly defended his right as an author to tackle any subject matter from any point of view. An interesting debate regarding this topic arose around Detroit’s depiction of violence against women and child abuse, which was criticised for portraying surviving gendered violence as a matter of choice (Dias, 2017):4 Have you had a chance to see some of the feedback to yesterday’s trailer? David Cage: No. 4 The representation of women in Cage’s games has been subjected to harsh criticism (Alexandra, 2018; Dias, 2017).



It’s been mixed, I think it’s fair to say. […] Domestic abuse and child abuse is quite extreme as these things go. David Cage: Let me ask you this question. Would you ask this question to a film director, or to a writer? Would you? (Robinson, 2017).

In his response, Cage suggests that the fact that the interviewer is worried about the ideology behind the game is proof of videogames’ low level of consecration (symbolic capital), since the medium is being evaluated not through the rules of art (autonomous pole) but rather by using criteria from an outside field (heteronomous pole) (Bourdieu, 1993). Thus, by doing this, Cage defends the principle of ‘art’s autonomy’ (‘art for art’s sake’) and the idea that every subject may legitimately be tackled, which points to traditional definitions of the author as ‘autonomous from higher powers but also from his socio-political environment […]: art proper relied and depended on nothing and no-one in the creative process’ (Busse, 2013, p. 51). Nevertheless, art’s autonomy and the traditional divide between life and art are currently under question, prompted by feminist scholars and activists who argue that this divide hinders a serious examination of both the ideological values conveyed by works and the representation of gendered, classed, and racialised characters. Likewise, the debate about the relationship between artist and work has re-emerged (meaning that the authors’ lives and actions should be taken into account when evaluating their work) following the eruption of the #metoo movement. This split, based on the gendered separation between public and private (Fraser, 1999), obscures (and justif ies) oppressions within labour practices and benefits male authors. Thus, there has been a shift in debates regarding authorship to ‘a focus on authorial identity and how cultural situatedness shapes meaning’ (Busse, 2013, p. 49). The ‘death of the author’ argument is being challenged, and the importance of the author’s (gendered, classed, racialised) identity is being reintroduced: ‘authorial identity remains a central concern for marginal subjects’, since authors’ identity should be viewed as ‘the position of ethos, the place where the authorial identity gives the writing an ethical impetus, a moral authorial character’ (Busse, 2013, p. 55). Accordingly, identity matters in debates about who can depict certain topics and how a text’s significance changes depending on the person behind it. As an author who occupies an upper-middle-class, white, male, straight, able-bodied, cisgender, Western position, the portrayal of violence against women in Cage’s Detroit is extremely problematic. Moreover, his claim of his right


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as an author to portray any theme sounds a little tone-deaf regarding current debates about gender and representation in which the identity of the author is key. Thus, Cage’s portrayal in the media shows how the traditional author figure (authoritarian, masculine, individualistic, powerful, claiming art’s autonomy from ideological debates) is currently under scrutiny, highlighting the problematic ideology behind this notion.

Conclusion: European videogame auteur politics? Although the concept of author or auteur does not explicitly appear often in the discourses analysed, it is clear that videogame designers are portrayed (and portray themselves) as such, following and fostering the traits traditionally used to define what an author is within the cultural field. The author function is attributed to both indie and commercial AAA games as a marker of quality and legitimacy. Examining the notion of authorship is also important from an ideological point of view since it solidifies different work cultures: on the one hand, a highly hierarchised notion of creation that connects with debates about creative work and the social division of labour, while on the other, the creative worker (or artist) who has morphed into a ‘busy creative multi-tasker, and then perhaps even a well-paid executive’ (McRobbie, 2016, p. 70), one that is used as a model that encourages us to ‘live dangerously’ by pursuing our own dream jobs, while at the same time promoting an ‘intensification of labour’. And what about European auteurism? Is this tradition, forged within the field of cinema, claimed within the field of videogames? The answer is no. There is a glaring absence of any mention of a ‘European videogame author’ or a European videogame culture in the articles and interviews analysed herein. Only David Cage mentions this tradition, using auteurism as a branding strategy. Thus, it seems that European videogame designers connect with a global discourse of auteurism shared with US designers such as Lucas Pope and Jonathan Blow (Oliva, 2020). To conclude, in this chapter I have argued that the analysis of the construction of authorship in videogames is crucial to understanding not only videogames as cultural artefacts, but also the rules of the field of cultural production and the ideological implications of the ‘author function’. Although constructing this author function is important in legitimising the medium, we should nevertheless also be aware of its ideological implications.



References Alexandra, H. (2018, June 4). David Cage Games Keep Treating Women Like Shit. Kotaku. Barthes, R. (1977). The Death of the Author. In Image, Music, Text: Essays Selected and Translated by Stephen Heath (pp. 42–48). New York: Hill and Wang. Batchelor, J. (2018, February 15). Why 2m Sales Means the Human: Fall Flat Developer Never Has to Work in IT Again. https://www.gamesindustry. biz/articles/2018-02-15-why-2m-sales-means-the-human-fall-flat-developernever-has-to-work-in-it-again Batchelor, J. (2019a, August  30). Sam Barlow on Crafting Stories Players Tell Themselves. articles/2019-08-30-sam-barlow-on-crafting-stories-players-tell-themselves Batchelor, J. (2019b, December 6). People of the Year 2019: Sam Barlow. Gamesindustry. biz. Bland, A. (2010, February 21). Control Freak: Will David Cage’s ‘Heavy Rain’ Videogame Push our Buttons? The Independent. Retrieved May 7, 2021, from https://www. Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Bourdieu, P. (1993). The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature. Cambridge: Polity Press. Brookey, R. A., & Westerfelhaus, R. (2002). Hiding Homoeroticism in Plain View: The Fight Club DVD as Digital Closet. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 19(1), 21–43. Burch, A. (2010, February 26). Why Heavy Rain Proves Ebert Right. Destructoid. Busse, K. (2013). The Return of the Author: Ethos and Identity Politics. In J. Gray & D. Johnson (Eds.), A Companion to Media Authorship (pp. 48–68). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell. Caldwell, B. (2019, June 17). ‘I Hate Repeating a Trick’ ‒ the Writer of Telling Lies on Going Back to the Desktop Thriller. Rock, Paper, Shotgun. https://www. Consalvo, M. (2007). Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Consalvo, M., & Paul, C. A. (2019). Real Games: What’s Legitimate and What’s Not in Contemporary Videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


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Couture, J. (2018, February 18). Road to the IGF: Hempuli Oy’s Baba Is You. Gamasutra. Deuze, M., Martin, C. B., & Allen, C. (2007). The Professional Identity of Gameworkers. Convergence, 13(4), 335–353. Dias, B. (2017, November 1). I Don’t Trust David Cage to Tackle Domestic Violence in ‘Detroit’. Vice. Duffy, B. E., & Wissinger, E. (2017). Mythologies of Creative Work in the Social Media Age: Fun, Free, and ‘Just Being Me’. International Journal of Communication, 11, 4652–4671. Dutton, F. (2011, March 18). David Cage: Game Auteurs are Vital. Edge. (2012, September 26). The Making Of: Limbo. Edge. web/20120930105352/http:/ Foucault, M. (1984). What is an Author? In P. Rabinow (Ed.), The Foucault Reader. An introduction to Foucault’s Thought (pp. 101–120). London: Penguin Books. Fraser, N. (1999). Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy. In S. Durig (Ed.), The Cultural Studies Reader (pp. 518–536). London: Routledge. Genette, G. (1997). Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. Gill, R. (2010). Life Is a Pitch: Managing the Self in New Media Work. In M. Deuze (Ed.), Managing Media Work (pp. 249–262). London: Sage. Gill, R., & Pratt, A. (2008). In the Social Factory?: Immaterial Labour, Precariousness and Cultural Work. Theory, Culture & Society, 25(7–8), 1–30 Grant, C. (2008). Auteur Machines? Auteurism and the DVD. In J. Bennett & T. Brown (Eds.), Film and Television after DVD (pp. 101–115). London: Routledge. Gray, J. (2010). Show Sold Separately: Promos, Spoilers, and other Media Paratexts. New York: NYU Press. Gray, J. (2013). When is the Author? In J. Gray & D. Johnson (Eds.), A Companion to Media Authorship (pp. 88–111). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell. Hartley, J. (2002). Cultural and Media Studies: Key Concepts. London: Routledge. Horneman, J. (2015, July 13). Investigating Her Story. https:// Juul, J. (2019). Handmade Pixels: Independent Video Games and the Quest for Authenticity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Kalash, M. (2018, January 22). Strange Atmosphere at Quantic Dream. Canard PC.



Keogh, B. (2015). Between Triple-A, Indie, Casual, and DIY: Sites of Tension in the Videogames Cultural Industries. In K. Oakley & J. O’Connor (Eds.), The Routledge Companion to the Cultural Industries (pp. 152–162). London: Routledge. Kirkland, E. (2010). Discursively Constructing the Art of Silent Hill. Games and Culture, 5(3), 314–328. Littler, J. (2013). Meritocracy as Plutocracy: The Marketising of ‘Equality’ Under Neoliberalism. New Formations, 80(1), 52–72. Martin, B. (2013). Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution. New York, NY: Penguin Books. Matulef, J. (2014, June 23). Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is Dear Esther meets The Prisoner. Matulef, J. (2015, August 14). The Chinese Room: A Look behind Britain’s Boldest Studio. Maule, R. (2008). Beyond Auteurism: New Directions in Authorial Film in France, Italy and Spain since the 1980s. Bristol: Intellect. McRobbie, A. (2016). Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries. Cambridge: Polity. MCV Develop. (2011, September 28). David Cage: From the Brink. MCV Develop. Mendick, H., Allen, K., & Harvey, L. (2015). ‘We can Get Everything We Want if We Try Hard’: Young People, Celebrity, Hard Work. British Journal of Educational Studies, 63(2), 161–178. Mittell, J. (2015). Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. New York: NYU Press. Muriel, D., & Crawford, G. (2018). Video Games as Culture: Considering the Role and Importance of Video Games in Contemporary Society. London: Routledge. Narcisse, E. (2013, May 6). Heavy Rain Creator: ‘The Only Thing I Didn’t Want to Do Was a Sequel’. Kotaku. Navarro-Remesal, V. (2016). Libertad dirigida: Una gramática del análisis y diseño de videojuegos. Santander: Shangrila. Nix, M. (2010, November 14). How Limbo Came to Life. IGN. articles/2010/09/14/how-limbo-came-to-life Oliva, M. (2020). Autoría: La construcción discursiva de la figura del autor en los videojuegos y sus implicaciones ideológicas. In V. Navarro-Remesal (Ed.), Pensar el juego: 25 caminos para los game studies. Santander: Shangrila.


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Oliva, M., Pérez-Latorre, Ó., & Besalu, R. (2018). ‘Choose, Collect, Manage, Win!’: Neoliberalism, Enterprising Culture and Risk Society in Video Game Covers. Convergence, 24(6), 607–622. Ouellette, L. (2013). America’s Next Top Model: Neoliberal Labor. In E. Thompson & J. Mittell (Eds.), How to Watch Television (pp. 168–176). New York: NYU Press. Parker, F. (2012). An Art World for Artgames. Loading…, 7(11), 41–60. Parker, F. (2017). Canonizing Bioshock : Cultural Value and the Prestige Game. Games and Culture, 12(7–8), 739–763. Pérez Latorre, O. (2012). El Lenguaje Videolúdico. Análisis de la significación del videojuego. Barcelona: Laertes. Pérez Latorre, Ó. (2016). Indie or Mainstream? Tensions and Nuances between the Alternative and the Mainstream in Indie Games. Anàlisi, 54, 15–30. Procter, L. (2011, July 12). Playing Dead: Limbo Interview. Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Purchese, R. (2018, January 22). David Cage and Quantic Dream ‘Shocked’ by Allegations of Unhealthy Studio Culture. articles/2018-01-14-david-cage-and-quantic-dream-shocked-by-allegations-ofunhealthy-studio-culture Robinson, M. (2017, October  31). David Cage on Detroit and its Depiction of Domestic Violence. https://w w articles/2017-10-31-david-cage-on-detroit-and-its-depiction-of-domestic-violence Smith, A. (2015, January 23). Text, Lies And Videotape: Her Story Interview. Rock, Paper, Shotgun. text-lies-and-videotape-her-story-interview/ Totilo, S. (2013, February 6). Nine Ways Video Games Need to Grow Up, From the Guy Who Made Heavy Rain. Kotaku.

About the Author Mercè Oliva is a lecturer in Media Studies at Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona, Spain). She is the Coordinator of the Medium Research Group and the Director of the BA programme in Audiovisual Communication at the UPF. Her research focuses on popular culture, media and neoliberal imaginaries. She has published in journals such as the European Journal of Cultural Studies, Convergence, and Games and Culture.


Playing European Comic Books: The Videogame Adaptations of Astérix and Tintin, 1993–1997 Manuel Garin

Abstract This chapter analyses the adaptations of Franco-Belgian comic book classics such as Astérix and Tintin developed by the French company Infogrames in collaboration with the Catalan studio Bit Managers. The “Europeanness” of these games is multi-layered because not only were they made in Europe (a successful example of Franco-Hispanic coproduction), they were also based on previous European creations and focused on European characters travelling across European countries. Through a comparative analysis of their reception in French, British, Spanish, and Italian game magazines, as well as a series of interviews with the designers, this chapter addresses how they mobilised national clichés and competing identities while questioning discourses of originality, adaptation, and medium specificity, ultimately confirming the differential and asymmetric quality of European identity, both in and outside of game culture. Keywords: Game, Comic Book, Adaptation, History, European, Humour

When it comes to European visual imagery and popular culture, few works hold the truly unique place that Franco-Belgian comic books occupy in the hearts and memories of millions of Europeans. From the historical parodies of Astérix to the post/colonial travels of Tintin (not to forget the mushroom trips of The Smurfs), generations of readers and spectators from multiple countries share a sincere admiration and respect for the legacy of such comic books, whether they call them fumetti, bande dessinée, strips, historietas, or comics. Indeed, the mere fact that countries with such different languages

Navarro-Remesal, V. and Ó. Pérez-Latorre, Perspectives on the European Videogame. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2022 doi 10.5117/9789463726221_ch07


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(and ways to say ‘comic’) were capable of laughing with and bonding to the same characters at the same time, in spite of linguistic barriers and cultural differences, is in and of itself a plural definition of Europe. That is probably why in the mid- to late-1980s, with the effects of the videogame crash still lingering, a young French company called Infogrames acquired the adaptation rights (Blanchet & Montagnon, 2020, p. 315) and later co-produced a memorable series of console games that deserve to be revived, analysed, and discussed in this book, mainly because they enrich and problematise the notion of European videogames in—at least—four different ways: First of all, these are games made in Europe, based on previous European creations, and that focus on European characters travelling (mostly) across European countries, meaning that the very essence of those Hergé and Goscinny–Uderzo comics is European identity, as debatable and multi-layered as that notion may be (Habermas, 2009, 2012). These games and comics could not be more relevant in terms of their perceived “Europeanness”, not to mention their power as a community-building tool within the continent’s popular imagery. Second, the production and game design processes of Astérix (1993), The Smurfs (1994), Astérix & Obelix (1995), Tintin in Tibet (1995), Spirou (1996), The Smurfs 2 (1996), and Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun (1997) were clearly an early example of European coproduction—and a successful one for that matter—that involved teams in Lyon and Barcelona working together on the different versions of the games and sharing credits as Infogrames/Bit Managers in a moment when outsourcing game studio production to other countries was not such a common practice as it is today (Wolf, 2015, p. 12). So, not only did these comic books and videogames depict European citizens from different countries collaborating in shared adventures, but the game design process also did, with cartridges travelling across the Pyrenees (on Infogrames and Franco-Belgian comic adaptations, see also Blanchet’s chapter in this volume).1 1 It should be noted that, while the most popular adaptations were based on Asterix, The Smurfs, and Tintin, those were not the first Franco-Belgian strips adapted by Infogrames and Bit Managers: that honour belongs to Les Tuniques bleues as North & South (1989). In that sense, Alexis Blanchet has already stressed the importance of adaptations from comics within the history of French videogames, as well as the fact that the National School of Video Game Design (Enjmin) is located in Angoulême, the most important French city in terms of comic books and bande dessinée (see Blanchet in Wolf, 2015, p. 191). Infogrames and other French studios had earlier comic book adaptations, dating back to the mid-1980s (Blanchet & Montagnon, 2020, p. 317), but here we will focus specifically on the co-productions with Bit Managers, due to their trans-European design process.

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Third, the original release of the games across Europe, in different countries with their own game cultures and, more importantly, with their own perceptions of national clichés and competing identities, can be reconstructed today from the press coverage of console magazines published back in the day. These archival materials allow for a comparative analysis of how journalists and gamers valued the adaptations in relation to national, social, and historical discourses. How did the English review those Franco-Hispanic games, and did Italians care about them? Last but not least, these games remain within the often-disregarded category of adaptations, what Linda Hutcheon called ‘a derivation that is not derivative, a work that is second without being secondary: its own palimpsestic thing’ (2006, p. 9). In that sense, what better way to expose the lights and shadows of European game culture than studying adaptability instead of originality? Like Hutcheon and dozens of scholars after her (Cutchins, Krebs, & Voigts, 2017), this chapter vindicates the cultural and historical value of adaptation in a field, videogames, prone to defensive attitudes concerning medium specificity. Hence, following Tintin and Asterix from page to console might help to unveil anxieties about “videogameness” itself, while also navigating transnational European authorship/s. Methodologically, the chapter addresses these four critical dimensions by combining a close analysis of the game’s gameplay (with examples from the different 8-bit and 16-bit versions) with a systematic and comparative review of console magazines that reported on the European releases across four different countries: France, Spain, Italy, and the UK. This dual approach is completed with information about the game design process that has been obtained through interviews with the French and the Spanish/Catalan developers (some done specifically for this chapter), which aim to supplement the textual-analysis and reception standpoints with a third methodological layer: production studies. Comparing the games themselves with the way they were received back in the day and the historical hindsight of their creators, the following lines will hopefully provoke new debates about the asymmetric European heritage of a set of European games, based on European comic books, that carry deep memories and common echoes in many European minds.

A walkable Europe: shared landscapes, and humorous maps In an indispensable book focused on the definition of European identity, The Idea of Europe (1966), George Steiner explains why, compared with other continents, Europe can only be experienced and truly understood by


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walking. As a cartography of shared landscapes and horizons only accessible to human feet: Europe has been, is walked. This is capital. European men and women have walked their maps, from hamlet to hamlet, from village to village, from city to city. More often than not, distances are on a human scale, they can be mastered by the traveller on foot, by the pilgrim to Compostela, by the promeneur, be he solitaire or gregarious […] this fact determines a seminal relationship between European humanity and its landscape. (2004).

Far from abstract or speculative notions, Steiner applies common sense (and a mountaineer sensibility) to elaborate this beautiful definition of how Europe is above all a space where distances are relative and landscapes humanised, as opposed to the unreachable sizes of North America or Australia, which immediately make us think of cars and planes. While the comic books of Tintin and Asterix are different in so many ways, and in fact belong to distinct traditions within the Franco-Belgian context (École de Bruxelles the former, École de Marcinelle the latter), they nevertheless share an undeniable love for walkable landscapes and adventurous travels, one that is deeply connected to Steiner’s conception of Europe. The episodic narratives of Goscinny and Uderzo’s series were literally based on the comic duo of Asterix and Obelix touring different European territories under the Roman Empire (most covers actually show them walking together). And, in the case of Tintin, the character itself goes back to Hergé’s own teenage experiences as a boy scout hiking European rivers, valleys, and mountains (Assouline, 2009, p. 8; Sadoul, 1986, p. 34); a taste for walking present throughout the entire series, regardless of the intercontinental scope of the different albums. Consequently, the designers of Infogrames and Bit Managers decided to adapt both titles as platform games with an emphasis on varying landscapes, geographical detail, and national humour, far from the beat ’em up style of many comic superhero adaptations. Looking back to how the games were reviewed upon their release, it is striking to find that magazines from countries as different as France, Italy, Spain, and the UK shared a similar rhetoric about European ‘travel’ and ‘mobility’ in their coverage. The French journal Nintendo Player described Astérix & Obelix as un petit tour d’Europe, ‘walking through beautiful and picturesque regions like England, Switzerland, Greece, Egypt and Spain’ (Issue 30).2 The Spanish Nintendo Acción described the heroes’ journey in 2

All quotes from French, Italian, and Spanish magazines are translated by the author.

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Astérix as ‘a tour all over the world […] to the most exotic places […] during this touristic voyage’ (Issue 7); this is very similar to how the Italian magazine Consolemania defined it: ‘in the midst of Rome’s expansion across Europe […] with geographical connotations […] it’s your turn to travel around the Roman Empire’ (Issue 24). Even Super Play, the extremely critical English magazine (more on this at the end of the chapter), used touristic language to describe Asterix & Obelix as ‘a journey through all the occupied Roman lands, collecting souvenirs’ (Issue 35). Thus, the reviews not only point out the representation of European countries and landscapes in the game, but also use a clear rhetoric of travel, circulation, and tourism that echoes the comics’ original parody of European mobility.3 Far from being a secondary trait, the walkability of these comic book adaptations proves Franco Moretti’s point on the importance of maps and cartographies to study the history of literature (in our case, of comics and games) as something complex and truly alive: Relations among locations are more significant than locations as such. But for geography, locations as such are significant; geography is not just “extension”, but “intension” too: the quality of a given space […] the stratification of intrinsically different qualities and heterogeneous phenomena. (Moretti, 2005, p. 55).

As the reader might remember, game magazines from the 1990s used to portray a huge number of maps, levels and guides from a wide array of titles, regardless of their accuracy in terms of real countries. But what makes the case of Asterix and Tintin unique is how, by their mere presence, they demanded a shift in the way games were normally reviewed and described, putting European geography to the fore as the qualitative intension described by Moretti. From Britannia to Helvetia, Grecia, and Hispania, the colours of 3 Throughout almost all Asterix albums, the jokes based on national clichés and folklore are innumerable. To quote only a few related to the stories adapted in the videogames: the English, who act super polite, are known for their poor gastronomical taste, their obsession with rugby, and the need to stop everything to drink boiled water at five o’clock (it is actually Asterix who brings them tea for the first time!); the Swiss are excellent clock-makers, obsessed with keeping everything tidy and clean (even during Roman bacchanals), and cannot stop eating cheese and keep untraceable deposit safe boxes in their national banks; the Spaniards are voluble and strong-headed, experts in welcoming tourists from other European lands, and cannot stop saying ‘olé’, dancing flamenco, and bullfighting in order to irritate the Romans. As clichéd as these gags seem summarised here, Goscinny and Uderzo managed to reinvent them in new visual ways, inspired by previous comedians and animators such as Stan Laurel, Walt Disney, and Tex Avery.


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Figure 14. Maps and screen captures of Astérix & Obelix, from Nintendo Player n. 30.

landscapes and skins diverge, national clichés are mobilised, and European identities provoke gameplay variations. Based on Goscinny’s ethnic jokes and his ability to convey humour visually with sight gags (Garin, 2014, p. 262), Astérix & Obelix placed special mini-games at the end of each level: an English rugby match in Britannia, a challenge to open Swiss bank safes in Helvetia, a series of Olympic track and field challenges in Grecia, and an unmistakably Spanish bullfight in Hispania. So, instead of placing final bosses to finish levels, as most games did back then (including adaptations of American comic book characters such as Batman, Spiderman, or the Ninja Turtles), Infogrames and Bit Managers chose to include humorous mini-games and bonus screens that, on the one hand, distinguished their work from action-driven beat ’em

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ups and, on the other, remained closer to the ethos of the original comic books. Significantly, this absence of final bosses was praised by different game magazines, such as the French Nintendo Player, which, from Astérix to Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun, signalled how this specific kind of gameplay, less violent and more witty, was indeed a trademark of Infogrames’ bande dessinée adaptations. A closer look into archival materials and interviews with the designers proves that the notion of Europe as a walkable geography, prone to mobility and exchange, was not just present inside the pages of the comics and the levels of the games but also alive outside, in the real world, involving the two kinds of pedestrian ‘human’ agency in game culture: designers and players. The origin of the Franco-Hispanic coproduction of Bit Managers and Infogrames was actually a trip from Barcelona to Lyon, with a briefcase full of MSX port conversions, that, according to the company’s co-founder Isidro Gilabert, was the key step in convincing the French company to start a partnership (2018). That trip across the Pyrenees became a legendary example of how Spanish developers could expand their horizons (Pérez, 2007), and for the purposes of this chapter, it stands as a literal example of what George Steiner meant: European minds ‘walking’ 700 km north to join other European minds. Moreover, that production trip from Catalonia to France had a user-focused equivalent in the advertising campaign for the release of Asterix since players from all over Europe were invited to participate in a contest, the price of which was a trip to the franchise’s theme park in France: ‘a free ticket to visit the new Astérix amusement park, if you want to travel all the way to Paris’ (Consolemania, Issue 20). Not only the comic book and game characters walk across Europe, designers and players did too. 4

Different Europe/s: language options, national quarrels, and coproductions Writing these lines during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, one can truly appreciate the importance and uniqueness of European mobility, in the 4 Moreover, as Alexis Blanchet and Guillaume Montagnon explain in their fascinating history of videogames in France (2020, p. 259), the motif of a young game programmer travelling between cities with a suitcase full of cartridges (une valise pleine de jeux) was literally in the origins of Infogrames as a company, when, back in 1983, Grégory Ruck travelled from the provinces in Lille to an IT convention in Paris and met a 24-year-old sales agent at the Thomson stand: Bruno Bonnell.


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sense of Steiner’s walkability but also as a fragile equilibrium of shared geographies and national interests. When entire societies have to remain in confinement, without being able to walk even to the nearest park or to the neighbourhood’s square, economical, and social tensions threaten the fraternity, plurality, and solidarity of Europe as a whole, pointing to the extremely delicate liaisons that keep together such different countries.5 This is something that Stefan Zweig already underlined in his memoirs, how the ‘miracle’ of European affinities and shared projects needs to be taken care of (1964, p. 192), watered, and cherished as an exceptional—but still fragile—plant. That is why, in the case of these comic book adaptations, it is instrumental to analyse how the games were received in different countries, in reviews written in different languages, to learn how national clichés and foreign prejudices shaped European game culture in the 1990s. It would be far too easy to take ‘the idea of Europe’ in Asterix and Tintin for granted, so we should ask: what were the frictions and challenges that put European identity to the test? For anyone who has walked a bit around Europe, it is impossible to dissociate the reality of geographical boundaries from the practice of diverse languages and dialects. In other words, the designers who travelled from Barcelona to Lyon and the gamers who won a ticket to visit Asterix’s theme park in Paris both had to communicate and share thoughts in more than one language (even more so in the 1990s, when English had yet to acquire the total linguistic hegemony it holds today). This is not an obvious or minor fact, but a fundamental aspect present in the comic books and games, and, more importantly, a key variable for the way they were interpreted and valued in different countries. To put it in the words of a nomad European philosopher, Emil Cioran, quoted in a Japanese videogame set in Afghanistan: ‘One does not inhabit a country, but a language’ (1987). Translated into more than 70 different languages, the comics of Tintin and Asterix were already conceived with very detailed notions of linguistic imbalances, from the accents cleverly parodied by Goscinny (Guillaume & Bocquet, 1997, p. 83) to the hilarious cultural misunderstandings of Captain Haddock. But what made the circulation of European languages interesting in the games was that the jokes spread through the different levels were diversified by the possibility of choosing multilingual versions to play (Figure 15). 5 I would like to thank the editors, Óliver Pérez and Víctor Navarro-Remesal, for granting an extension on this chapter’s deadline due to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic crisis and the difficulties that lockdown brought about regarding the conciliation of work and childcare in many European homes.

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Figure 15. Countries and languages in Astérix & Obelix, from Nintendo Acción n. 34.

The Spanish magazine Nintendo Acción systematically underlined this fact, taking pride in the option to play the game in Cervantes’s language (a rather uncommon luxury in the 1990s), as well as mocking the Francophone flavour of the game with the word ‘gabacho’, a satiric term for the French. This multilingual quality was also highlighted by the tricolour Nintendo Player as part of the educational value of Infogrames’ adaptations in a rather humorous review of The Smurfs: ‘Your Italian cousin is visiting? No problem, make her play I Puffi, she will love it. And you, make the most of it and learn that in English Les Schtroumpfs is translated The Smurfs, in Spanish Los Pitufos, and in German Die Schlümpfe!’ (Issue 22). Far from being a minor detail, this fraternal humour based on acknowledging your neighbour’s language as well as your own is a profound trait of European identity, one exemplified both in the games and in their press coverage: the joke on having an Italian cousin is Europe at its most natural and down-to-earth—literally what Goscinny and Uderzo did by creating a British cousin of their hero in Astérix au Bretagne (who drinks warm beer instead of wine). It is symptomatic how, right from the first Asterix co-production in 1993, game magazines from different countries indulged in national discourses about the games’ country of origin, that is, their ‘Frenchness’. Including the French themselves: the earliest Game Boy review from Nintendo Player, in Issue 11, sets the tone by highlighting how the game takes place at home turf


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(‘traversing different countries like the Gaul, that’s around here!’) and making a point of the indigenous design (‘that’s Infogrames, a French company, which has created this wonderful little platformer’). Strictly speaking, the point made by the reviewer happens to be historically false, since the UK version of Astérix was programmed by Bit Managers, the Catalan partners of Infogrames, while the SNES version also reviewed in the same issue was designed by the French. In fact, the paradox is that Nintendo Player published a mild review of the SNES version (criticising graphics and music) while the British review was very positive, even enthusiastic, without realising that the team responsible for it was not ‘une société française’ but one from Barcelona. A national misattribution connected with Etienne Balibar’s concept of fictive ethnicity: ‘No nation possesses an ethnic base naturally, but as social formations are nationalised, the populations included within them, divided up among them or dominated by them are ethnicised—that is, represented in the past or in the future as if they formed a natural community’ (Balibar, 1991, p. 96). In the following issues, the French magazine reinforced such national discourses in two complimentary ways. On the one hand, the reviews for other platforms insisted on the domestic identity of both the game and the characters: ‘for a French game, and a Gallic hero, Infogrames can be proud of its performance’ (Issue 13). On the other hand, that same ‘Frenchness’ was later framed as a symbol of European culture in general: ‘Infogrames plays the card of a safe bet. After making a hit with Astérix (sales-wise), this French publisher has chosen as a background the universe and the ‘Europeanly’ well-known characters of Peyo [The Smurfs] to develop a good software’ (Issue 22). That mention to a series of européennement connus characters is, in itself, proof of the kind of game-related fictive identity that is so central to this book. Not by chance, the implicit equivalence between ‘French’ and ‘European’ was also pondered in other countries, as proven by this preview from the Italian Consolemania: ‘With what could a French house like Infogrames set a mark in the world of consoles but with one of the most beloved comic book characters (not only in its homeland) like Astérix?’ (Issue 10). That ‘not only’ posed in brackets by the Italians hides a central question concerning national discourses and the symbolic property of Asterix and Tintin: are these characters not part of Europe as a whole (non solo in patria) and not just Franco-Belgian? But even so, this self-assertion of each country’s right to claim ‘Europeanness’ is written in positive and witty terms, in a friendly manner (with the only exception of the UK, as we will later see), much like those neighbours who apparently argue a lot but secretly love each other. This is not a gratuitous metaphor, since one of the most popular

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albums of Asterix, Le Grand Fossé, was indeed a tale of reunion between two sides of a town literally split in half by a ditch (a clear reference to the Berlin wall), and the ethos of Franco-Belgian comics as a whole has been read by historians as a sort of post-war healing tool for Europe, one that has helped reconcile national differences to a point (Lefèvre, 2012). This kind of friendly rivalry present in the magazine reviews is meaningful, and a good example of the little contradictory quarrels that Zygmunt Bauman described as the continent’s true essence: It is in the character of Europeans to be unsure of their true character, to disagree and endlessly quarrel about it […] the ‘essence of Europe’ tends to run ahead of the ‘really existing Europe’: it is the essence of ‘being a European’ to have an essence that always stays ahead of reality, and it is the essence of European realities to always lag behind the essence of Europe. (2004, p. 5).

The most symptomatic examples of this ‘quarrelling essence’ appeared in the Spanish magazine Nintendo Acción, for instance in Astérix’s review: ‘a cartridge with French accent and Spanish flavor, developed by the folks of New Frontier […] a ‘made in Spain’ work […] we have satisfied our ego, being a creative land. It should be made very clear that the authors of this version are the guys from New Frontier, a competent and versatile team of Catalan programmers’ (Issue 7). Such vigorous assertion of the Spanish making of the game (New Frontier was later renamed Bit Managers) contrasts with the claims of ‘Frenchness’ posed by Nintendo Player and analysed a couple of paragraphs previously. The review indulges in an almost Freudian mention of the ‘creative ego’ of Spaniards while fairly acknowledging the Catalan origin of the design team. Such exalted national pride is later reinforced with a mention of multilingual options: ‘including Spanish as one of the five languages available at the beginning of the game. Chapeau!’ (Issue 7). Just like in the original Tintin and Asterix albums, humour is constructively used to bridge national differences, and the review closes the sentence about Spanish language with a very French chapeau, including (friendly) exclamation marks. Throughout the years and the different adaptations, Nintendo Acción kept a witty and satirical style when referring to the French vs. Spanish attributes of all these games. On that note, a recurrent joke involves referencing Le Tour de France, not merely as the epitome of French identity but as “proof” of the superiority of Spanish talent, embodied in the cyclist Miguel Induráin (winner of five consecutive trophies). First, the champion is quoted in relation


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to the release of The Smurfs: ‘The French gold mine doesn’t end, and sorry to insist, but soon they won’t have anywhere else to dig for. First Astérix, now The Smurfs, and there are rumours about them working on Tintin. The next one will be Induráin, for his record in Le Tour de France basically’ (Issue 22). And a year later, he is mentioned again to praise the option of playing Astérix & Obelix in Spanish: ‘House rule. Not to miss the tradition imposed by Bits Manager [sic] in all their games, Astérix y Obélix is multilingual, specially Spanish […] It was about time for us to be renowned over the Pyrenees for something other than Induráin’ (Issue 34). For some strange—and suspiciously Quixotic—reason, the Spanish magazine thought of these games as a sort of national Trojan horse, Bit Managers inside Infogrames, just like Induráin was supposed to be the Trojan horse of ‘Spanishness’ within the quintessential symbol of ‘Frenchness’, Le Tour de France.6 Going back to the reception in France, it would be tempting to elaborate a theory about the chauvinistic power of French culture for assimilating ‘Europeanness’ as their own thing, in line with Paul Greenhalgh’s study of World Fairs and Expositions Universelles, where he stresses the unique talent of French national policies to cash in on Europe’s cultural and artistic heritage (Greenhalgh, 1988). But the truth is that, honouring the collaborative spirit of European co-productions (the kind of shared affinities vindicated by Steiner, Bauman, and Zweig), the journalists of Nintendo Player later made amends and openly recognised the Hispanic/French synergies behind the games. A couple of years after they wrongly attributed national authorship to the UK version of Astérix, the magazine devoted an extensive four-page feature (as well as the cover) to the release of Asterix & Obelix, with a photograph of the two design teams clearly stating that the Iberians were also responsible: ‘Two of the three Hispanic developers, representing the European liaisons of Infogrames’ (Issue 28). But even so, the Spanish programmers are subtly framed as part of Infogrames’ European network, not as protagonists of their own but as attachés to the French company, a subsidiary role that was true, but only to a limited extent: after all it was the Catalans who crossed the Pyrenees to Lyon, not the other way around. Regardless of the little details concerning which company was hierarchically stronger, it is key to stress the spirit of good European coproduction 6 Ironically enough, every time Nintendo Acción praises the Catalan design team Bit Managers, they misspell the name of the company writing ‘Bits Manager’. Even in the different interviews with the team published throughout the years (in Issue 22, for instance), the magazine’s journalists seem unable to properly spell the name of the game studio they so enthusiastically revere as ‘españolísimo’ (very Spanish).

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within the partnership. In an interview conducted specifically for this chapter, Alberto González, co-founder of Bit Managers, praised the collaborative dynamics that enriched the production process both ways: ‘Yes, I do think there actually was a sort of French/Spanish–Catalan identity. The games that we did for Infogrames were based on theirs, but totally redone from scratch, with new graphics, music, code and many times also designs adapted to the consoles they were meant for, with their own specific restrictions. That mixture of the original French product and a total makeover on our part indubitably contributed to a final product that neither they nor us would have made separately. The cooperation between us was always excellent’ (Alberto González, personal communication, February 28 2020).

This symbiotic exchange was, according to González, especially fruitful during the design of Astérix & Obelix for the SNES, which he describes as an impressive coproduction effort full of good memories. Certainly, the appearance of two photographs of Catalan designers in the Nintendo Player feature, out of a total of five, along with the presence of many Hispanic names and surnames in the credits confirms that, underneath the national European quarrels, there was a true spirit of fraternity and mutual benefit among different countries: as González points out, the final result was larger (and better) than the sum of its parts. This successful example of coproduction brings to mind what film historian Domènec Font considered the ‘heart’ of European transnational cinemas: a diversity of wills assembled towards a certain state of cinema, or in our case, game culture (Font, 2007, p. 24). The link between videogames and movies is not capricious because the French magazine stressed, in that same issue, the intricacy of Astérix & Obelix’s production (a pre-design of 80 drawn tableaux based on the comics, a strict selection of the gameplay viability etc.) by comparing it to cinema: ‘Then roles are distributed like in a film, with a director, a producer, writers, musicians… The actors take shape thanks to graphic designers […] a long chain where everyone contributes with her own savoir-faire’ (Issue 28). In line with that coproduction spirit that runs deep in Europe’s film culture, Nintendo Player repeatedly used the word ‘European’ throughout the Astérix & Obelix piece, underlining the symbolic appeal of the original comic books (‘the adaptation of remarkable characters of European bande dessinée’) as well as the sales success of the previous Astérix game across the continent: ‘that has sold over 700.000 cartridges (all Nintendo consoles included) all around Europe’ (Issue 28). Moreover, the game’s launch was


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part of a transmedia—or at least synergic—strategy that included the simultaneous release of a new film, Astérix et les Indiens, made by a German studio, thus allowing Nintendo Player to finish their feature with a fraternity claim of pan-European scope: ‘This animated film was made in Germany, in Berlin. Surprising? Not really, since our ‘Goths’ neighbours have been fans of Goscinny and Uderzo’s Gaulois for a long time (more than 82 million albums sold in Germany and Austria)’. Once more, scornful but friendly words are used to name other European neighbours. But was it all so positive and apparently humorous? Or were there national exceptions regarding the European response to the games?

Traps of authorship and originality, the symptoms of a British magazine After such a Brit-oriented epigraph, it is worth mentioning that the author of these lines first conceived the possibility of a videogame being ‘European’ thanks to the unique talent of a British design studio, Rare, back in the 1990s. My profound appreciation for (and the innumerable hours I spent with) masterpieces such as Banjo Kazooie and Perfect Dark lie in the core of what “videogameness” is and can be for me. That is why, far from being an attack on the buoyant gamer culture of the UK, the following paragraphs are simply an analysis of the references found in many console magazines concerning the Franco-Belgian comic adaptations, by comparing equivalent (Nintendo-oriented) journals from France, Spain, Italy, and the UK. That being said, the fact is that an overall assessment of the archival materials available from such countries points to a clear imbalance between how the Asterix and Tintin games were reviewed, interpreted, and valued in different parts of continental Europe and in the UK. For starters, that difference is evident when comparing the review scores of the British Super Play with those of Nintendo Player, Consolemania, and Nintendo Acción: while the continental magazines rated most of these games positively (scores of 5/6 and 4/6 mushrooms in the French case; near 90%, with an occasional 75%, in the Italian case; and ‘muy bueno’ scores of between 80–90 in Spain), the UK journal rated the first Asterix with a 70% score, Asterix & Obelix with a 60% score, and Tintin in Tibet with a mere 25% score (!), a decreasing order that ran parallel to a growing anti-Infogrames narrative, which deserves to be analysed here. It is key to underline, though, that the harshness of Super Play towards the adaptations does not imply that other countries were not critical. The French Nintendo Player, which had

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every national reason to ‘boost’ the indigenous production, remained critical, with many aspects of the games and never granted them the maximum score given to other titles: in fact, by 1996 they criticised Infogrames for exploiting the same formula again and again, giving much less space than before to Spirou or Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun. As far as European identity is concerned, the most logical way to explain Super Play’s animosity against these games is to interpret it as a radical disconnect, in relation to the respect and love that other countries felt for the original comic books. More importantly, what started as being a disconnect—acknowledged in the f irst review of Astérix from Issue 11 (‘my collection of Astérix books totals zero. Luckily, though, Infogrames anticipated my crapness and supplied Super Play with a huge pile of Astérix books’), later evolved towards a severe case of troubled conscience, with a complete misunderstanding of the comics’ ethos and the logics of adaptation. In other words, the British journalists started by relativising the importance of these Franco-Belgian comics in the popular imagery, but later claimed that the game adaptations were not faithful enough to the very same comics they had previously ignored. The defensive tone of the previous quote later evolved into a harsh attack exposing national and cultural issues, palpable in the opinionated 25% review of Tintin in Tibet: ‘An insult to Hergé and his fans. Gamers of the world, unite, put an end to such cynical cash-ins by refusing to buy it, even if you see it reduced to ten quid. As it will be, very quickly, I assure you’ (Super Play, Issue 37). While words like ‘stinker’, ‘underachievement’, ‘waste’, ‘incompetent’, ‘flaw’, ‘suck’, or ‘anti-game’ certainly evidence Super Play’s rancour towards the French game, the most symptomatic aspect is how they invoked authorship, no less than Hergé himself, to try to deliver the final blow. But instead, by pulling the auteur card, they fell in a trap set by their own ignorance, because the features so harshly criticised in the review were the most ‘authorial’ gameplay strategies devised by Infogrames and Bit Managers in their adaptation efforts, that is, the boldest design choices to be faithful to the comic books while trying to create inventive gameplay at the same time. This is key for our analysis, given that the very same traits that were praised in the Italian, French, and Spanish press were cruelly trashed in this brutal review in a UK publication. What were those traits? Perhaps the most idiosyncratic design trait was the peaceful humanism of Tintin as a character, his reluctance to use violence: that is, the designer’s choice of not turning the game into another comic-based beat ’em up, asking the player to use their brains instead of their fists. With such an ill-advised critique, the journalists of Super Play were actually exposing themselves, invoking


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Hergé to attack the most Hergé-like quality of the games: ‘by far the biggest flaw is that Infogrames’ Tintin is a completely passive character. He cannot fight, or disarm, or even restrain his foes. He has no weapons, no power-ups, no special abilities—heck, he can’t even jump on their heads’ (Issue 37). In the original Tintin au Tibet comic book, the hero never uses his body or any sort of weapon against the other characters (although he occasionally does in other albums), and most conflicts are overcome either by the humorous pratfalls of Haddock, or by the wits, exploration abilities, and rational mind of Tintin. This is exactly the kind of ‘alternative’ gameplay design attempted by Infogrames and Bit Managers in their attempt to faithfully adapt the comic, asking players to walk, climb, and think instead of chasing, shooting, and destroying. Needless to say, comic-book historians agree that such humanism, pedagogic clarity, and playful humour are fundamental qualities of the Tintin series (Barbieri, 1993; Fresnault-Deruelle, 1999; Groensteen, 1999) and of the ligne claire movement later formed around Hergé’s legacy (Groensteen, 2013). In that sense, the game could be considered a precursor of non-violent indie walking simulators, as well as certain adventure games that combine realistic action with puzzle-solving in exotic archaeological settings (the Uncharted saga comes to mind… via Spielberg, himself a Tintin fan). But regardless of the success or alleged originality of Infogrames’ design choices, which are of course debatable,7 what really grabs our attention as historians is how misguided and arguably false the critique of Super Play was, calling the game ‘an insult to Hergé’ for all the wrong reasons. The aesthetic blindness of the magazine is such that it even dedicates a whole section of the review to mocking the ‘terrible adversaries’ of Tintin within the game itself (a paper parcel, a small child, water vapor, a yak, a swing door, a Pekinese puppy, a waiter carrying a tray, a pebble, a vacuum cleaner, a friendly pacifist Buddhist monk, a scary shadow, a leaf), thereby completely missing the point, since those were precisely the minimal 7 An interesting detail concerning the ‘playability’ of the games and the design choices: Isidro Gilabert, Bit Managers co-founder and CEO, claimed in interviews back then (and still today) that the Game Boy versions made by the Catalan studio were actually better—or at least more efficient—than the 16-bit Infogrames versions, due to their focus on smooth gameplay instead of graphic impressiveness: ‘The GB version was the first one we did, and in fact, some aspects of the Super Nintendo version are based on it (on The Smurfs, Nintendo Acción, Issue 22) […] the controls are what we’ve polished more, and all done from scratch, without basing our work on the 16-bit version, and aiming for playability over gaudiness’ (Tintin 2, Nintendo Acción, Issue 51). On this note, there is a very interesting link between the adaptation from colour to black and white in the GB/SNES versions, and the drawing techniques used by Hergé, one of them being a mise-au-net carbon copy, tracing each figure twice to simplify and clarify.

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Figure 16. Comic book / game comparisons in Nintendo Player and Nintendo Acción.

elements most cherished by Hergé (Sadoul, 1986, p. 37), and later reinvented by Infogrames. As Figure 16 shows, the very same gameplay encounters that Super Play mocks were highlighted and praised by other magazines in continental Europe, to the extent of including full-page comparisons of the comics and the corresponding game levels (focussing on things such as a Buddhist monk or the wind). The French Nintendo Player accompanied these graphic juxtapositions with comments on game-design choices: ‘to respect the non-violent personality of the hero, something that forbids a rough beat ’em up approach. A delicate constraint that, ultimately, gives birth to a truly original gameplay concept, [but one that is] also puzzling in certain aspects […] not a single wounded (even less dead) [individual] comes to taint his reputation of being a humanist Robin Hood […] a good Samaritan, more cerebral than physical!’ (Issue 32). And while Spain is sometimes considered to be ‘different’ compared with the rest of Europe (a joke used by Goscinny and Uderzo in Astérix en Hispanie, the coverage of Nintendo Acción was even clearer than the French in acknowledging that Tintin in Tibet was consciously aiming for a different kind of game experience, ‘a game that calls for the label of being different’, in accordance with the ethos of Hergé’s comic books, ‘the best comic book you have ever read in your Super Nintendo’ (Issue 38). The Spanish journalists underlined the non-violent agency of Tintin and even joked about how happy they were to encounter a game like this after spending too many hours killing enemies and chasing psychopaths in their consoles: ‘Accustomed to so much stress, this modest reviewer always welcomes coming across


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a game like Tintin en el Tibet, where you simply have to find a lost friend among 8,000-m[etre]-high mountains’. That storyline, simply finding a lost friend among the mountains (one that could belong to a Jenova Chen game), is the most natural definition of the particular style of Hergé, ligne claire, even more so since it was published in a gamer magazine, not on a comic book encyclopaedia. Hence, the game succeeded in transmitting the complex simplicity of Tintin’s imagery, a milestone in the history of comics (Groensteen, 2013), to many European gamers. A successful case of not just authorial but lived adaptation: ‘readers and audience members who experience adaptations respond, at least sometimes, [not so much] based on a perception that the adaptation has either been true or untrue to an ‘original’ text, but [rather] to their original experience with a text. This, then, is a brand of fidelity that is both inescapable and utterly invaluable to adaptation studies’ (Cutchins & Meeks, 2017, p. 309). Such fidelity is precisely the kind of European shared experience analysed throughout the chapter, the kind of down-to-earth love and respect for Franco-Belgian comic books that, sadly, remained alien to the journalists of Super Play (and, as a consequence, to many British gamers).8 The fact that the most unique and memorable achievements of a given medium (comic books) can be experienced in completely different media (such as videogames), and expressed in such an unconscious way (by a popular magazine), tells us a lot about the complex and nuanced processes triggered by adaptations. This sort of inter-medial rebirth is well exemplified in the comic-like original drawings used to design the game’s interactions (Figure 17).9 8 In the aforementioned interview about his work in Bit Managers, Alberto González told us that genuine love and respect for the original comic books were key for the games’ development: ‘I’ve always been a big fan of Asterix’s tebeos, in fact, I own the full collection and I don’t hesitate for a second before buying every new volume that is published. As far as The Smurfs [is concerned], as a kid I enjoyed both the comics and the cartoons, and I must say that the innocence of the characters and the graphic style of the comic books have always fascinated me’. That generational bond with the Franco-Belgian masters they were adapting was also palpable in interviews with the French team chez Infogrames, in a sincere down-to-earth manner (Nintendo Player, Issues 28 and 32), and in fact, Bruno Bonnell himself places his fandom of Franco-Belgian comic (along with economic reasons) in the origin of the adaptation: ‘The licenses weren’t very expensive […] I was a fan of BD, and said that we should make videogames with the characters of BD […] there were already films inspired by BD. The first game that I signed was with Jacques Glénat, Les passagers du vent [1986]’ (Blanchet & Montagnon, 2020, p. 315). Moreover, a member of the French graphic team, Nicolas Pothier, was inspired by his work on the games to become a comic book author himself, and later published successful bande dessinée series in France such as Ratafia, Revanche, and Walhalla. 9 In an interview with Infogrames’ producer Edith Protière, published by Nintendo Acción a few months later, she explicitly mentions the concept of ligne claire as key for the game’s design process:

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Figure 17. Drawn gameplay designs of Tintin in Tibet, from Nintendo Player.

Again, the contrast could not be deeper: while other European magazines understood the gameplay choices of Infogrames as an attempt to ‘do something different’—in both the sense of being faithful (to the comics) and of being original (concerning game genres)—Super Play accused the game of not being original nor faithful enough. All this brings to mind what Linda Hutcheon once called her de-hierarchising impulse towards adaptations, ‘a desire to challenge the explicitly and implicitly negative cultural evaluation of things like postmoderns, parody, and now, adaptation, which are seen as ‘a clear line and creating the right atmosphere’ (Issue 47). Previous interviews with the Infogrames team, published by Nintendo Player, also shed light on interesting aspects of the project: originally, the idea of adapting Tintin came from an exhibition about Hergé’s relation with Tibet at the Grande Arche de la Défense; during the game design, the Moulinsart society (copyright holder and heritage company) had the right to veto every tiny detail they found to be inaccurate; original plaques by Hergé were used to adapt the colour palette to the SNES’ low resolution; the designers did not use materials from the animated cartoon series as reference due to its lack of realism, only the original comic books, and used photographic documentation of Tibetan landscapes and excerpts of Tibetan music to convey a reliable atmosphere; the technical definition of 16x16 pixels forced programmers to use a bug-effect for more realistic jumps in the climbing scene; and, finally, to be as faithful as possible to the different (summer and winter) looks of Tintin, they had to use two times as much cartridge memory for the character’s clothes, sacrificing part of the fluidity of certain animations.


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secondary and inferior’ (2006, p. 3).10 Tellingly, the British magazine’s attack is doubly hierarchical: in its treatment of game-design originality (‘another licensed platformer […] not what you expect from a console in 1995’) but also in its regressive accusation of not being faithful to the comics (‘an insult to Hergé’) (Issue 37). As further proof, we could quote different errors concerning Franco-Belgian comic books that appear in previous issues of the British magazine Super Play, but that is not the point, what is relevant is how the discourse about a European franchise as symbolic as Tintin—and Astérix before—differs from that of the magazines from other European countries.11 Of course, this hypothesis would benefit from further research, with more resources and time to compare the discourse of this Nintendo-focused magazine with others from the UK in detail. But the extremism of both the score (a 25% review wants to make a point) and the text itself are so blatant, so aggressive, and so radically different from what similar magazines were publishing in France, Spain, or Italy, that they cannot be ignored. This coverage imbalance is telling us something about the ‘Europeanness’ of the Tintin and Asterix adaptations, and maybe something too about the pervasiveness of violence, power, and masculinity in different gamer cultures. Just like a landscape can be walked freely and humorously, as Obelix, Haddock, and Mario walk, or it can be walked brutally, like the great antiheroes of Grand Theft Auto, the deep national, social, and cultural tensions between neighbouring countries can be positive in their contrasts. In fact, according to Edgar Morin, Europe can only and should only be imagined as a united contradiction: We should get rid of the idea of a European reality without division and antagonism. On the contrary, we should embrace both. Here lies the 10 Interestingly, even if Hutcheon does not devote as much attention to comic books as to other media, she quotes Thierry Groonsteen’s book La transécriture: pour une théorie de l’adaptation a lot… a beautiful coincidence as far as this chapter is concerned, given that Groensteen is one of the biggest experts in European comic books and ligne claire. 11 In previous reviews of Asterix (Issue 11) and Asterix & Obelix (Issue 36), the British magazine criticised the levels’ simplicity in terms of having rather empty landscapes: as if asking the players to simply walk, explore, or climb a mountain was not enough to be a design strategy: ‘it looks nice, but it’s effectively just a large amount of boring space’, again the kind of criticism that misses the conscious simplicity of Franco-Belgian style. Interestingly, that disconnect of the British review regarding the games is historically related to how the original comics were received: Louis Ollivier, the man responsible for the international success of Astérix all over the world, highlighted the disappointing sales of the comic in the UK compared with those of other European countries: ‘In Europe and in South America it went like a dream. Straightaway, Germany was an extraordinary market, something that surprised everyone, including the German publisher. My greatest fiasco was England: 100,000 copies’ (Guillaume & Bocquet, 1997, p. 192).

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greatest difficulty for thinking Europe, because we are used to classical forms of thought where the idea of unity blurs the idea of multiplicity and metamorphosis. The difficulty to think Europe comes from that difficulty to think the one within the multiple and the multiple within the one: unitas multiplex […] It’s key to understand that European unity lies in divergence and heterogeneity. (1989, p. 23).

Perhaps the most fruitful way to understand the liaisons between European and gamer identities is, precisely, to interpret such national differences as signs of a multi-layered complexity that could end up building bridges instead of burning them. This is not some sort of naive closing hypothesis but an observation based on the archival materials. Like in those three-part jokes about a Frenchman, an Englishman, and a Spaniard, Nintendo Acción count not resist echoing the ominous 25% review in their own pages, wondering about what their neighbours north of the Pyrenees might think: ‘We like to use this section to compare judgments, even if they are as different to our opinion as the ones from our colleagues in Super Play with their report of the recent (and not as bad as they want us to think) Tintin en el Tibet. The game deserves for them the super-high score of 25% and in their review one can read things like saying it is ‘an insult to Hergé and his fans’ and even an invitation to never buy the cartridge, not even with a reduced price. What will the folks from Infogrames think?’ (Issue 39). The quote could not be more self-explanatory, an example of the contradictory unitas multiplex and the infinite quarrelling that Morin and Bauman considered to be quintessentially European. All things considered, what better way to end a chapter about Tintin and Asterix, the humorous travellers, than a videogame joke featuring the Britons, the Hispanics, and the Galois? Ils sont fous ces Européennes…

References Assouline, P. (2009). Herge: The Man Who Created Tintin. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Balibar, E., & Wallerstein, I. (1991). Race, Nation, Class. Ambiguous Identities. London: Verso. Barbieri, D. (1991). I linguaggi del fumetto. Milano: Editoriale Fabbri-Bompiani. Bauman, Z. (2004). Europe: An Unfinished Adventure. Cambridge: Polity Press. Blanchet, A., & Montagnon, G. (2020). Une histoire du jeu vidéo en France. Paris: Pix’N Love.


Manuel Garin

Cioran, É. (1987). Aveux et Anathèmes. Paris: Gallimard-Arcades. Cutchins, D., Krebs, K., & Voigts, E. (Eds.) (2017). The Routledge Companion to Adaptation. London: Routledge. Font, D. (2007). Derivas del cine europeo contemporáneo. Valencia: Archivos. Fresnault-Deruelle, P. (1999). Hergé ou Le Secret de l’Image. Bruxelles: Moulinsart. Garin, M. (2014). El gag visual. De Buster Keaton a Super Mario. Madrid: Cátedra. Goscinny and Uderzo. (1961). Astérix le Galouis. Paris: Dargaud-Pilote. Goscinny and Uderzo. (1966). Astérix chez les Bretons. Paris: Dargaud-Pilote. Goscinny and Uderzo. (1968). Astérix aux Jeux Olympiques. Paris: Dargaud-Pilote. Goscinny and Uderzo. (1969). Astérix en Hispanie. Paris: Dargaud-Pilote. Goscinny and Uderzo. (1970). Astérix chez les Helvètes. Paris: Dargaud-Pilote. Greenhalgh, P. (1988). Ephemeral Vistas: The Expositions Universelles, Great Exhibitions and World’s Fairs, 1851–1939. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Groensteen, T. (1999). Système de la bande dessinée. Paris: PUF. Groensteen, T. (2013). Ligne claire. In Neuvième Art 2.0. http://neuviemeart.citebd. org/spip.php?article451 Guillaume, M.-A., & Bocquet, J.-L. (1997). Goscinny. Paris: Actes Sud. Habermas, J. (2009). Europe. The Faltering Project. Cambridge: Polity Press. Habermas, J. (2012). The Crisis of the European Union. Cambridge: Polity Press. Hergé. (1948). Les Sept Boules de cristal. Tournai: Casterman. Hergé. (1949). Le Temple du Soleil. Tournai: Casterman. Hergé. (1960). Tintin au Tibet. Tournai: Casterman. Hutcheon, L. (2006). A Theory of Adaptation. London: Routledge. Lefèvre, P. (2012). The Construction of National and Foreign Identities in French and Belgian Postwar Comics. (1939–1970). Comicalités. http://journals.openedition. org/comicalites/875 Moretti, F. (2005). Graphs, Maps, Trees. London: Verso. Morin, E. (1989). Pensar Europa. Barcelona: Edicions 62. Pérez, Ó. (2007). La producció de videojocs a Catalunya. OPA, Observatori de la Producció Audiovisual. IrXIFT9fCBC2/content/id/9031143/maximized#.XweQ5SgzaUl Sadoul, N. (1986). Conversaciones con Hergé. Barcelona: Juventud. Steiner, G. (2015). The Idea of Europe. London: Overlook Duckworth. Un pasado mejor (2018, April 17). Entrevista: Isidro Gilabert. Un pasado mejor. Blog de videojuegos retro. entrevista-isidro-gilabert.html VV. AA. (1993–1994). Consolemania, issues 20, 23, 24, 26, 31. VV. AA. (1993–1997). Nintendo Player, issues 10, 11, 13, 17, 19, 22, 28, 29, 30, 32, 38. VV. AA. (1993–1997). Nintendo Acción, issues 7, 8, 9, 22, 23, 24, 34, 36, 37, 38, 39, 46.

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VV. AA. (1993–1997). Super Play, issues 8, 11, 14, 15, 25, 32, 35, 36, 37, 39. Wolf, M. J. P. (Ed.) (2015). Video Games Around the World. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Zweig, S. (1964). The World of Yesterday. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

About the Author Manuel Garin is senior lecturer in Film and Media at UPF, Barcelona. He has been a visiting scholar at the Tokyo University of The Arts, the University of Southern California, and Columbia University. Trained as a musician, his research focuses on the relations between cinema, art history, and new media.

8. Existential Ludology and Peter Wessel Zapffe Stefano Gualeni & Daniel Vella

Abstract A relatively common approach in game studies understands gameworlds as comprising an existential situation for the player. Taking this stance, which is rooted in the European philosophical tradition of existentialism, we investigate in this chapter the relationships and similarities between our existence within and without gameworlds. To do so, we first provide a review of existing literature in ‘existential ludology’—work in game studies that considers our engagement with gameworlds from an existential perspective. In the second part of the chapter, we engage with some of the most notable ideas of the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe. Zapffe understood human life as inherently meaningless and identified four ways in which human beings typically protect themselves from the existential panic that accompanies the awareness of that meaninglessness: isolation, anchoring, distraction, and sublimation. These four categories are used as the foundation for an examination of gameworlds as technologies for repressing existential panic. Keywords: Existentialism, ludology, Peter Wessel Zapffe, Isolation, Anchoring, Distraction, sublimation

One would be pointing out the obvious if one were to note that digital games are produced and played within specific sociocultural contexts that, both as technological artefacts and as cultural texts, will inevitably reflect the ideologies and worldviews that structure those contexts, and that, furthermore, they can only be understood within, and in relation to, those contexts. Accordingly, if we aspire to understand the existential significance of digital games, we should always approach them in relation to

Navarro-Remesal, V. and Ó. Pérez-Latorre, Perspectives on the European Videogame. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2022 doi 10.5117/9789463726221_ch08

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the historical and sociocultural contexts within which they are developed, understanding them as products and reflections of these contexts. In this chapter, we will consider digital games as products of the system of thought that emerged with the Industrial Revolution in eighteenthcentury Europe, a system that—as a techno-socio-cultural organisation of the world—continues to hold sway across what we call ‘the West’. The interlinked and mutually determining elements of this organisation include industrially motivated technological development, a capitalist economy, and an individualist notion of subjectivity and selfhood that finds its first thorough articulation in post-Kantian Romanticism. As products of this episteme, it is hardly surprising that digital games reflect these elements of their context. Not only are they technological products produced and consumed within a capitalist economy, but they also reproduce, and are structured on the assumption of, the liberal notion of the self that has dominated Western thinking in the era of capitalism (Möring & Leino, 2016). Given this insight, it is hardly surprising that a distinct tradition has emerged within game studies that, under the label of ‘existential ludology’, has theorised games through the lens of existentialist philosophy—drawing heavily on the work of the philosophers Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty in particular. After all, this philosophical tradition—at the risk of grossly simplifying matters—emphasises the individuality of the human being, foregrounding notions such as freedom and responsibility to anchor meaning within one’s own individual being and existence. Existentialism, as such, is both a product of and a response to the malaise generated by the organisation of the world that has held sway over Europe and the West since the Industrial Revolution. In the first section of this chapter, we shall provide an overview of existing work in the field of existential ludology, focusing in particular on the work of Matthew Thomas Payne (2008), Olli Tapio Leino (2009, 2010), Daniel Vella (2015, 2016a), and Marta Matylda Kania (2017). We shall demonstrate that what these various approaches have in common is their practice of drawing on existential philosophy to arrive at the understanding that the player’s being in (and towards) digital gameworlds operates according to existential mechanisms analogous to those by which we engage with the actual world. On the basis of this overview, we will then move on, in the second section of this chapter, to looking at digital gameplay through the lens of the ideas of the lesser-known existential philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe (1933, 1941). Our aim in doing so will be to answer the question: what is the existential function of digital gameplay? To put it differently: as subjects of a Western,

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individualistic, capitalist order, and living in a relation to the world that is determined by that order, what do we get out of digital games, and why are we drawn to them?

Existential ludology A significant current in digital game studies examines digital games and players’ experience of gameworlds through the lens of the aforementioned philosophical tradition. In 2008, Matthew Thomas Payne proposed the term ‘existential ludology’ to refer to the application of the lens of existential philosophy to the study of digital game experience: ‘if existential phenomenology asks about the possibilities and meaningfulness of human action in the lived world, then existential ludology […] asks similar questions about meaningful play in the virtual world’ (2008, p. 622). In his formulation, such an approach leads to a method of game analysis that ‘works by cataloguing numerous game-play experiences to forward meaningful statements about how particular games evidence recurrent and stable experiential structures’ (2008 p. 624). Implicit in Payne’s approach is the claim that these experiential structures by which we engage with digital gameworlds reflect those by which, as embodied human subjects, we engage with the actual world. As a result, existential–phenomenological concepts for theorising experience can be brought to bear upon the study of player experience—as Payne adopts Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the ‘intentional arc’, or reworks Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept of ‘reflective consciousness’ into ‘replay consciousness’ (2008, p. 631). A similar assumption undergirds Olli Tapio Leino’s existential approach to gameplay, which draws upon a primarily Sartrean framework. Like Payne, Leino adopts Sartre’s notion of ‘facticity’—the contingent domain of actuality that constitutes an individual’s existential situation, and against which their freedom is measured. Leino discusses games as ‘extended facticities’ for the player (2010, p. 220), granting a domain of contingency supplementary to the actual world against which the player can build a subjective existence. In relation to this extended facticity, Leino defines the ‘gameplay condition’ (2009, p. 12, 2010, p. 101) as the condition of responsibility that is imposed upon the player. This condition of responsibility results from the fact that the game will factually uphold the results of the player’s choices, granting these choices real consequences within the game as an experiential domain. As such, the facticity of the game is what renders possible the existential

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‘projects’—another term Leino adopts from Sartre—around which the player can structure their in-game existence. At the same time, it is also what resists the realisation of these projects, demanding active effort and work on the part of the player in the pursuit of their goals. To subject oneself to the gameplay condition, then, means to accept a measure of responsibility for one’s own in-game being on the basis of the fact that the game will concretely actualise the outcomes of the player’s choices and actions—whether this means progressing to the next level or seeing a ‘Game Over’ screen. Similarly indebted to the existential and phenomenological tradition is the notion of ‘ludic subjectivity’, which we have explored in our previous work (Vella, 2015, 2016a). This attempt at theorising the experiential structure of the player’s subjective being-in-the-gameworld centres on two interlinked notions. Firstly, the ‘ludic subject-position’ refers to the perceptual and existential standpoint that is formally established for the player in the gameworld—through, for instance, the capabilities and limitations the player is granted, the goals they are set or allowed to set for themselves, and so on (Vella, 2015, pp. 266–289). Together, these situate the player in a particular position in relation to the game—a position of strength or of vulnerability, for example. This position, then, becomes the perspective from which the game is grasped as a meaningful world of experience. Secondly, the ‘ludic subject’ is the subjective existence the player plays out by engaging with the virtual world of the game from the standpoint of the ludic subject-position, taking shape through the player’s choices and decisive actions (Vella, 2015, pp. 266–289). On the basis of the concepts of the gameplay condition and ludic subjectivity, Marta Matylda Kania develops two interrelated notions: the ‘self-avatar’ and the ‘gameplay situation’. The former is defined as ‘an emergent being situated within the gameworld, consisting of the player’s existence and intentional acts, and the features of the avatar’ (2017, p. 7). The gameplay situation, then, is the ‘perceptual position of the self-avatar towards the gameworld’ (2017 p. 61); in other words, the shape that the gameworld takes as an existential situation around the standpoint of the self-avatar. In summary, all of these existing approaches agree that there is an existential dimension to our engagement with digital games. The underlying assumption shared by all of these approaches is highlighted by Sebastian Möring when he argues that ‘existential phenomena are repeated in play, as if they were from a world in a world or a life in a life’ (2014, p. 2). The common idea is that players adopt an in-game subjective existence—often, but not always, associated with the avatar or playable figure—and that, from the perspective of this existence, the gameworld appears as an existential

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situation within which the player’s in-game experiences and actions gain meaning in a manner analogous to the ways in which we find meaning in our everyday existence in the world. In this chapter, we want to take this assumption as a starting point and pursue a line of inquiry that goes in a slightly different direction. The question we wish to investigate is as follows: If it is the case that, in digital gameworlds, we play out a duplicate in miniature of the existential structures of our being-in-the-world, what is the existential value and appeal of doing so? In other words, when considered through the lens of existential philosophy, what is the significance of engaging with virtual gameworlds? In order to tackle this question, we have chosen to consider the existential signif icance of the experience of gameworlds through the ideas of the Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe. This move might invite the obvious initial question: why take, as our focus, a philosopher who occupies, at best, a minor position in the canon of existential philosophy, and to whom relatively little scholarly attention has been paid? Turning that question upon itself, we would like to offer the lack of existing work on Zapffe in game studies (and the paucity of critical engagement with Zapffe’s philosophical work in general) as our first justification in itself. Rather than reiterating the existing work we have just discussed, this focus on Zapffe allows this chapter to make a novel contribution to existential ludology. Our second justification is that—as we aim to make apparent—Zapffe’s work is uniquely positioned to serve as the foundation for an understanding of the existential significance of digital games within a wider existential conception of the human being as a whole. We will focus on Zapffe’s presentation, in his essay ‘The Last Messiah’, of a clear fourfold categorisation of concrete existential tools or coping strategies by which we deal with what he characterises as the tragic meaninglessness of human existence. The presence of such a definite taxonomy of existential structures differentiates Zapffe’s work from that of his fellow existentialists, who, generally speaking, do not offer such a functional systematisation. In the remainder of this chapter, then, we shall argue that applying Zapffe’s taxonomy of existential coping strategies to the practice of digital gameplay allows us to speak of digital games not simply as ‘reflections’ of our everyday existence, or as existential ‘aids’ in terms of their acting as venues for self-expression or self-discovery. Instead, we will consider the possibility of understanding digital games as technologies put in the service of addressing, or at the very least, mitigating, our existential anxieties.

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The Last Messiah Peter Wessel Zapffe (1899–1990) was a Norwegian philosopher and lawyer. The few works of his that are translated into English focus on the idea of the absurd, cosmic squander that is life in all its forms. In his work, Zapffe presents humans as beings who aspire to meaning and purpose in a world that is irredeemably meaningless. A recurring theme in his writings is the paradoxical idea that ‘man has longings and spiritual demands that reality cannot fulfil’.1 This perspective is central to Zapffe’s notion of ‘the tragic’ and of his consideration of the human being as a ‘tragic animal’. Of particular interest is the fact that, for Zapffe, the specific ways in which human existence can be considered tragic are not rooted in the fact that the human being is weak, petty, or particularly prone to suffering; rather, they are rooted ‘in its being too capable for its own good. In a way that might clash with the nominal use of ‘tragedy’, Zapffe did not associate the term with notions like violence, misery, or scarcity, but with the idea of excess’ (Gualeni & Vella 2020, p. 78). His perspectives on this topic were originally presented in the essay ‘The Last Messiah’ (1933) and further developed in his treatise On the Tragic (1941). Zapffe’s understanding of the tragic resonates with that which can be encountered, for example, in Sophocles’ Antigone. In the ‘Ode to Man’ (the first choral song of the Antigone, lines 332–383), Sophocles characterises humans as inherently tragic beings precisely because of their exceptional capabilities: their adaptability, their inventiveness, and their quick intellect. These qualities, Sophocles continues, allow humanity to understand and face all kinds of situations, to adapt, thrive, and to bend the wills of animals and rivers to its needs. Ceaselessly, humans direct their remarkable skills ‘now to destruction/now again to greatness’ (lines 366–367). From his perspective, humanity is awesome in both senses of the word: at once wondrous and dreadful (see De Mul, 2009). Likewise, in Zapffe’s 1933 essay ‘The Last Messiah’, the human being is regarded as ‘a biological paradox, an abomination, an absurdity, an exaggeration of disastrous nature’ (Zapffe 2004, part II).2 In it, Zapffe explicitly 1 This quote is taken from the 1990 documentary The philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe in his 90th year, Original Films AS, Tromsø, Norway. 2 Zapffe further clarifies that, in front of human beings, ‘[…] all things chain together in causes and effects, and everything he wants to grasp dissolves before his testing thought’ (Zapffe, 2004, part II). Compare this passage to a similar one in Sophocles’ Antigone, where human beings are presented as having taught themselves ‘speech and thought, quick as the wind / and the mood and mind for law that rules the city […] Man, the master, ingenious past all measures’ (Sophocles, 1984, lines 395, 396, 406).

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presents humanity as a mistake: the tragic result of nature having overshot its intended target: ‘[a] species [that] had been armed too heavily’, thereby becoming ‘a menace to its own well-being’. (2004) In which sense, then, does Zapffe consider the human being a mistake and a threat to itself? Zapffe highlights what he considers a crucial, existential difference between human beings and beasts: whereas the suffering of beasts is self-confined (that is, limited to the individual experience of each beast), human beings can grasp the cosmic nature of the meaningless and endlessly repeating nightmare that is existence. Human beings alone are aware that struggle and suffering are ubiquitous, eternal, and purposeless, and it is this awareness that sets them apart from other animals. As a consequence, humanity finds itself in a constant state of existential panic. If this is so, why, Zapffe asks, has humanity not long ago gone extinct ‘during great epidemics of madness?’ (Zapffe, 2004, part III). Why do ‘only a fairly minor number of individuals perish because they fail to endure the train of living – because cognition gives them more than they can carry?’ (Zapffe, 2004, part III) His answer to these questions betrays a debt to the work of Sigmund Freud, arguing that most people simply learn to protect themselves by artificially suppressing their awareness of the absurdity of existence. In order to continue existing, Zapffe maintains, human beings constantly perform a ‘repression of its damaging surplus of consciousness’ (Zapffe, 2004, part III). Seen from his perspective, states of depression or fits of madness are not understood as symptoms of a sick mind. Instead, they are indications that the mind’s protective mechanisms are failing. In ‘The Last Messiah’, Zapffe grouped these protective mechanisms into four categories—isolation, anchoring, distraction, and sublimation—which can occur in every possible combination and often overlap with one another.

Panic-repressing mechanisms in virtual environments As we summarised in the previous section, according to Zapffe, a constant panic characterises life as it is experienced by human beings. The threat of existential despair is such a constant and overwhelming presence that the attempt to stave it off lies at the core of almost every human activity or pursuit. Through a Zapffean lens, then, it would by no means be surprising—in fact, it would even be a foregone conclusion—to consider virtual environments as technologies that participate in controlling and mitigating our

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awareness of the meaninglessness of existence. This is possible, as we explained elsewhere, precisely because virtual subjectivity is a nested component of our actual subjectivity, and because the two influence one another (Vella & Gualeni, 2019; Gualeni & Vella, 2020). On those theoretical premises, we observe that, in virtual worlds, those mechanisms aim to protect us from the awareness of both the meaninglessness of our actual existence and the meaninglessness of our virtual existence. With that panic-repressing purpose in mind, the creators of virtual environments typically design stimuli and motivations to keep us involved and psychologically invested in both worlds. Accordingly, we will address each of the four protective categories identified by Zapffe with a particular focus on how our relationships with gameworlds could be understood as participating in each. First category: Isolation With the term ‘isolation’, Zapffe indicates the ways in which we dismiss disturbing and destructive thoughts and feelings from our consciousness. In ‘The Last Messiah’, to exemplify the idea of isolation, Zapffe presents the cases of physicians and medical students who typically protect themselves from the tragic and disgusting aspects of their profession by adopting detached and technical stances towards their patients. Another example of the technique of isolation permeating our everyday life can be recognised in the fact that ‘tact’ (i.e. not confronting people with untimely reminders of sex, bodily functions, decay, and death) is considered a highly desirable social trait. In terms of our existential relationship with virtual environments and digital games, the idea of isolation can be recognised to be obviously always at work. To play a digital game is, by definition, to willingly operate within a limited possibility horizon and to develop existential projects that are shaped by its affordances and narratives (Gualeni, 2019; Vella & Gualeni, 2019; Gualeni & Vella, 2020). The re-framing (and even the practical removal) of the disgusting and tragic dimensions of existence is, thus, one of the defining qualities of our experiences with games in general. For example, one’s death is commonly presented in digital games as a rather trivial inconvenience, a nuisance rather than a tragic event (Mukherjee, 2009; Kirkpatrick, 2011). With very rare exceptions,3 our avatars do not age in 3 Apart from some experimental, independent games such as Is it Time? (Fraina, 2010), the only counter-example we are aware of in a major commercial game is the role-playing game Fable

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virtual environments—instead, we are presented with a fantasy of incessant self-improvement, in which our in-game selves can accumulate experiences indefinitely, growing ever stronger and more capable without the shadow of the inevitability of decline, senility, and mortality. Similarly, toilets and the use of toilets are, in the great majority of cases, tactfully removed from virtual environments. In other words, gameworlds typically present us with ‘sanitised’ versions of the world, from which potentially upsetting reminders of the banality and futility of human existence have been excised. Second category: Anchoring In ‘The Last Messiah’, Zapffe describes societies as systems bound together by basic cultural ideas and collective values that are, for the most part, inherited from previous generations. He calls these ideas and values ‘anchorings’, as they can be understood as the fixed foundations upon which one’s individual existence builds. Though this tends to be an unconsciously performed operation, the ways in which we adopt anchorings can also happen in a conscious manner. For example, when someone explicitly sets goals for oneself, or when deliberately adopting a certain rule of conduct (for instance, a professional deontology). One might, for instance, anchor one’s existence in the project of progressing in one’s career, or in the goal of raising a family, writing a great novel, or achieving a perfect physique. Anchorings provide us with a sense of meaning and stability, protecting us from unsettling existential realisations concerning the meaninglessness of existence. According to Zapffe, we love our anchorings for the safety they offer, but at the same time we resent them for the ways in which they limit our freedom (Zapffe, 2004, part III). Broadly speaking, there are two ways in which we can understand anchoring to be at work in our engagement with virtual environments. In the first way, digital games and training simulations often reference and mimic actual anchorings in the attempt to make the purposes and objectives of virtual activities and interactions intuitively accessible. Consequently, some of the values and ideas that guide and constrain our beliefs and behaviours in the (Lionhead Studios, 2004). Even in Fable, however, disturbing thoughts are very much isolated from gameworlds: the player-character’s age is capped at 65, and aging has only a cosmetic effect, with no impact upon the player-character’s physical or mental abilities. It is also striking that the game’s sequels stepped back from even this sanitised version of aging, with the feature being completely absent by the time of Fable III (Lionhead Studios, 2011).

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actual world are to some degree reproduced in virtual environments. For example, the notion that every single human life is invaluable implicitly underpins the success criteria of surgical-training simulations and flight simulators. Another example of actual anchoring being used in virtual environments and activities is evident in the narrative setup of a variety of digital games, where the freedom and the safety of the (fictional) people that our avatars care for are presented as values worth fighting for (and also worth playing for). Secondly, in contrast to our existence in the actual world, our accessing of virtual environments (and virtual subjectivities) allows us to exist in a world in which meaning and value is unambiguously established, objectif ied in computer code, and measured according to quantif iable metrics. In particular, commercial digital games tend to explicitly present unambiguous and resource-oriented world-views for their players. The clear and quantifiable objectives of those world-views are designed with the intention of fostering feelings of meaningful progress in their players, and to alleviate their existential anxiety (Gualeni, 2015, pp. 76–78, p. 128; Gualeni & Vella, 2020, p. 14, p 82). Moreover, although activities within digital games are often autotelic and self-contained, they can achieve additional existential relevance as (and through) social performances, for example when these experiences feature social media components. In those cases, digital games can effectively become contexts in which players can attain various kinds of external validation for their in-game behaviour and self-representation. The communities forming in and around digital games also constitute an influential component of social validation to the already existentially alluring possibilities offered by those virtual environments. The possibility to achieve a sense of self-realisation in virtual environments does not, however, only emerge from pre-designed mechanisms meant to motivate users with clear reward mechanisms. Their existential effects are, in other words, not limited to validating users for executing a certain set of actions or for taking ethical decisions of a specific kind. Virtual environments disclose opportunities to projectually re-construct and aesthetically fashion one’s (virtual) self in a number of ways, some of which are intended by the designers of the virtual environment in question, while others are independently devised and adopted by the users. For instance, players can achieve a sense of self-realisation and existential anchoring in pursuing goals and activities that are materially inscribed in Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo Creative Department, 1985) by defeating the evil Bowser and rescuing his captive, Princess Peach. The

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game mechanically and narratively invites that very course of action. On top of that, Super Mario Bros. also grants points for killing enemies and positively rewards players for collecting the coins scattered throughout Mushroom Kingdom. However, when interactively engaging with the virtual environment of Super Mario Bros., we are not constitutively bound to mindlessly pursue those objectives. Instead, we can treat the game as a tool to reflect on our beliefs and our conduct. With that critical attitude, we can decide to play Super Mario Bros. in accordance with deliberate, personal projects (see Gualeni, 2014; Westerlaken, 2017). An example of this alternative existential approach would be to carry out the decision to completely avoid collecting any coins while playing the game. Acting in this way can be considered a practice of self-fashioning when voluntarily taken as a way to keep oneself aware of how Super Mario Bros. is ideologically rooted in instrumental rationality (i.e. that the in-game goals invite and reward activities such as the accumulation of resources and the optimisation of tasks). Broadly speaking, existential anchorings in virtual worlds, and the kinds of self-fashioning and self-realisation they offer, are not only quicker and less resistant to change than their actual counterparts, they are also not bound by several of the limitations that characterise everyday existence (Gualeni, 2015, pp. 76–78, p. 128; Gualeni & Vella, 2020, p. 14, p. 82). Unlike our everyday life, our virtual projects do not need to be serious, permanent, determined by biological and cultural factors, or tied to the physical behaviours of the actual world. In short, we might claim that at least part of the existential attraction of virtual worlds lies in their capacity to offer us virtual anchorings that require less in terms of commitment, and that are less limited, than our ‘actual’ anchorings. Third category: Distraction In the previous section, we argued that virtual environments can disclose opportunities to pursue virtual projects of different kinds and to existentially anchor ourselves in them. Having previously discussed techniques for isolation, it should be evident that not all the relationships we can establish with virtual environments are necessarily meaningful in terms of existential self-realisation. Similarly to isolation, ‘distraction’ techniques are existentially relevant not in their contributing to the construction of our ‘self’, but also in their capability for momentarily cutting us off from meaninglessness and despair.

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For the sake of clarity, we want to highlight a conceptual difference between the functioning of the repressing mechanisms belonging to the ‘isolation’ category and those that can be grouped under the ‘distraction’ label. Whereas the ‘distraction’ techniques aim at diverting the subject’s attention from situations that might cause troubling thoughts and feelings, the ‘isolation’ ones attempt to re-frame those situations as something that can be considered not tragic, not disturbing, and not personally affecting us (and, therefore, negligible). What follows is that if we decided to analyse digital games as tools for ‘distraction’, we would likely focus on their capability to capture and redirect their players’ attention. If, on the other hand, we were to approach digital games as technologies for ‘isolation’, we would concentrate on how their virtual environments invite and foster a playful, unserious attitude towards troubling ideas and themes. In ‘The Last Messiah’, Zapffe describes ‘distraction’ as a mode of protection by which one stunts one’s awareness by ‘constantly enthralling it with impressions. This is typical even in childhood; without distraction, the child is also insufferable to itself’ (Zapffe, 2004, part III). For Zapffe, the re-direction of the subject’s attention from situations that might cause troubling thoughts and feelings is particularly prominent in the lifestyle of high society. Distraction mechanisms play an obvious and obviously central role in our relationship with virtual environments and with digital games in particular. We often and explicitly approach digital games (especially in the ‘casual’ sector of the games industry) for distraction purposes, busying ourselves with relatively simple and tantalising virtual objectives and activities that are typically brief and meant to provide constant stimulation. Indeed, such distraction could even be understood as the other side of the coin of the anchoring functions of games: we can distract ourselves from the lack of anchorings for our actual existence by taking on virtual re-anchorings. For completeness, we want to point out that the dual effect of both distracting players and offering them possibilities for self-realisation through anchoring is not exclusive to digital games in the ‘casual’ sector. Adventure and exploration games, especially when characterised by role-playing elements, are typically developed, promoted, sold, and consumed with the explicit objective of interactively disclosing the experience of being someone or something else: to develop that version of oneself in extraordinary ways, often under the promise of spectacular successes. Those games offer their players forms of escapism that are not merely distracting, but that clearly have existential ‘anchoring’ effects.

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Fourth category: Sublimation Zapffe considered ‘sublimation’ the rarest of the four survival mechanisms. The characteristic setting it apart from the other three categories is the fact that sublimation does not aim to repress cosmic panic, but rather to transform it into something that the individual perceives as being meaningful. According to Zapffe ‘[t]hrough stylistic or artistic gifts can the very pain of living at times be converted into valuable experiences’ (Zapffe, 2004, part III). In other words, sublimation is also a generative mechanism, and not simply a protective one. Zapffe exemplifies his idea of sublimation with the very activity of his own writing of ‘The Last Messiah’. Through his text, his existential anxiety stops being a private and sterile struggle and becomes something that can be shared with others, something that can inspire and uplift. We argue that it is no great leap to consider a game such as Every Day the Same Dream (Molleindustria, 2009) to be an analogous attempt at sublimation. The game depicts a lived experience—that of the alienated office worker in a late-capitalist Western society—that might well give rise to existential panic, thanks to its repetition of an unfulfilling routine that appears to hold no meaning or potential for self-development. However, the very act of engaging with such an existence through rendering it in an expressive form already suggests the possibility of sublimating this existential panic. Of course, this suggestion presupposes both an inherent existential value to creative practices (à la Nietzsche), and an understanding of digital games as constituting a distinct, ludic form of artistic expression, that gives rise to a distinct kind of aesthetic experience (Vella, 2016b; Nguyen, 2020). The notion that digital games can carry various forms of meaning is firmly established in game studies through notions such as ‘procedural rhetoric’ (Bogost, 2009), and so is the idea that games can influence the player’s existence, as in the idea of ‘transformational play’ (Barab et al., 2010)—or even that of the game designer through the creative design process itself (Gualeni, 2014; Gualeni & Maureira, 2018). However, the chiefly instrumental perspective of these approaches—which frame digital games in terms of their capacity to impart particular skills or change specific beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours—diverges from Zapffe’s existential drive. Closer to the mark, arguably, is the idea we have already identified in the first section of this paper as being central to existential ludology: all games echo the general existential structures of our being-in-the-world. By this understanding, when creating games, the designers frame their thoughts, feelings and beliefs in

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an interactive, ludic form. Symmetrically, when playing games, players are invited to bring before their consciousness the awareness of the existential structures of their own being.

Conclusions In this chapter, we have tried to offer a perspective on how virtual environments could be understood as fundamentally contributing to our individual existence. The originality of our proposition chiefly consists in the fact that we did not articulate ways for understanding digital interactions and virtual worlds as novel routes to self-understanding and self-realisation. What we have tried to do, instead, is to look at experiences and interactions in the virtual world as activities that can assist us to cope with the lack of meaning that inherently characterizes human existence from the perspective of existential philosophy. In the pursuit of this goal, we adopted Zapffe’s categorisation and used it as a conceptual lens to look at digital games. Our work revealed that there are indeed many ways in which virtual interactions can be, and in several ways already are, involved in protecting ourselves from acknowledging the inherent absurdity of our existence. Of course, as we already pointed out at the start of this chapter, the philosophical traditions Zapffe is drawing from, and the existential malaises he identifies, are those of the liberal, humanist Western subject. Zapffe adopts—and follows to its final consequences—a view of the subject as a solitary being, one that is alienated from all sources of meaning outside themselves. His is a refiguration of the isolated, suffering genius of Romanticism, the disaffected bourgeois subject, or the destabilised Modernist subject adrift in a world in which systems of meaning have crumbled. To consider the virtual worlds of digital games as, on some levels, a response to the existential despair of such a subject is to consider them as the response to a problem that has its roots in a distinctly European understanding of the self. In these concluding passages, and very much in the vein of Zapffe’s philosophical style, we would like to supplement the observations offered in this chapter with a cautionary note borrowed from the philosophy of technology. It is hardly ever the case that a technology can be understood as a straightforward solution to a problem. With their adoption and integration within socio-technical contexts, technologies eventually become part of our lived experience and worldviews; at that point, technologies can be understood as co-constituting who we are, as participating in our self-understanding, as

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influencing the ways in which we relate to other people, and as participating in understanding and changing the worlds we inhabit. Consequently, new technical solutions produce socio-technical effects that frequently extend well beyond their intended outcomes and modes of use and bring about new problems and dissatisfactions. In his 1964 book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan similarly observed that technology not only enhances human capabilities for thought and action, but it is also a form of self-amputation: new ways of establishing relationships with reality through media necessarily entail a balance between the increase in acuity of certain cognitive functions and the desensitisation of others (McLuhan, 1964). In light of these observations, the existential use of virtual environments and interactions might be better understood not only as a new and helpful set of existential tools, but (to use Zapffe’s own words) also as ‘a menace to our own well-being’ (Zapffe, 2004, part II). What we are arguing here is that, while offering existential mechanisms that can promote our survival and wellbeing, our interactions with virtual environments can also be understood as contributing to making our species even less fit for life than it already is. Among the other frequently discussed effects of being in virtual environments that are generally considered negative or not socially desirable are its making us less capable of concentration and deep reasoning (see Carr, 2011), and its potentially giving rise to phenomena such as addiction, derealisation, and solipsistic retreating within oneself (Plusquellec, 2000). In other words, and as a more general kind of concluding statement, we argue that virtual environments are better understood existentially as technologies that influence the way we live our lives, and attribute meaning to them in both allowing us to transcend some aspects of our everyday relationship with the actual world, and in disclosing new ways in which our incompleteness, our pain, and our being unfit for life can be experienced and understood.

References Barab, S. A., Gresalfi, M., & Ingram-Goble, A. (2010). Transformational Play: Using Games to Position Person, Content, and Context. Educational Researcher, 39(7), 525–536. Carr, N. (2011). The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. New York, NY: WW Norton & Company. De Mul, J. (2009). Awesome Technologies. Art and Social Change. International Yearbook of Aesthetics, 13, 120–139.

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Fraina, J. (2010). Is it Time? [Windows]. Digital game. is-it-time-when-is-life-not-worth-living/4598 Gualeni, S. (2014, November 13-16). Freer Than We Think: Game Design as a Liberation Practice [Paper presentation]. Philosophy of Computer Games conference, Bilgi University, Istanbul, Turkey. Freer_than_We_Think.pdf Gualeni, S. (2015). Virtual Worlds as Philosophical Tools. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Gualeni, S., & Gómez Maureira, M. (2018, August). Self-Transformative Effects of Designing Videogames and the Challenge of Capturing them Quantitatively: a Case Study [Paper presentation]. Foundation of Digital Games Conference, Malmö, Sweden. Gualeni, S., & Vella, D. (2020). Virtual Existentialism: Meaning and Subjectivity in Virtual Worlds. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Pivot. Gutman, M. L. H., & Hutton, P. H. (Eds.) (1988). Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. London: Tavistock Publications. Kania, M. M. (2017). Perspectives of the Avatar: Sketching the Existential Aesthetics of Digital Games. Wrocław (Poland): University of Lower Silesia Press. Kirkpatrick, G. (2011). Aesthetic Theory and the Videogame. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Leino, O. T. (2009, August, 13-15). Understanding Games as Played: Sketch for a First-Person Perspective for Computer Game Analysis [Paper presentation]. Philosophy of Computer Games Conference, Oslo, Norway. https://philpapers. org/rec/LEIUGA Leino, O. T. (2010). Emotions in Play: On the Constitution of Emotion in Solitary Computer Game Play. Doctoral dissertation. IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Lionhead Studios. (2004). Fable [Xbox]. Xbox Game Studios. Lionhead Studios. (2013). Fable III [Xbox360]. Xbox Game Studios. Majkowski, T. Z. (2014, November, 13-16). Freedom of Destruction and Carnivalesque in Video Games [Paper presentation]. Philosophy of Computer Games conference, Bilgi University, Turkey, Istanbul. uploads/confmanuscripts/pcg2014/Majkowski-2014.-Freedom-of-Destructionand-Carnivalesque-in-Video-Games.-PCG2014.pdf McLuhan, M. (1994). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Molleindustria. (2009). Every Day the Same Dream [PC]. Molleindustria. Möring, S. (2014, November 13-16). Freedom in Games: Between Fear and Boredom [Paper presentation]. Philosophy of Computer Games conference., Bilgi University, Istanbul, Turkey.

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Möring, S., & Leino, O. T. (2016). Beyond Games as Political Education: NeoLiberalism in the Contemporary Computer Game Form. Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds, 8(2), 145–161. Mukherjee, S. (2009, September 1-4). Remembering How You Died: Memory, Death and Temporality in Videogames [Paper presentation]. DiGRA 2009 conference ‒ Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory, London, UK. Nguyen, C. T. (2020) (forthcoming). Games: Agency as Art. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Nintendo Creative Department. (1985). Super Mario Bros [Nintendo Entertainment System]. Nintendo. Payne, M. T. (2008). Interpreting Gameplay Through Existential Ludology. In Richard E. Ferdig (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education (pp. 621–635). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. Plusquellec, M. (2000). Are Virtual Worlds a Threat to the Mental Health of Children and Adolescents? Archives de pediatrie: organe officiel de la Societe francaise de pediatrie, 7(2), 209–210. Sartre, J. P. (1943). Being and Nothingness. New York, NY: Washington Square Press. Sophocles (1984). The Three Theban Plays—Antigone, Oedipus King, Oedipus at Colonus (trans. by R. Fages). New York, NY: Penguin Classics. Vella, D. (2015). The Ludic Subject and the Ludic Self: Analyzing the ‘I-in-theGameworld’. [Doctoral dissertation: IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark]. daniel-vella---the-ludic-subject-and-the-ludic-self-final-print-pdf.pdf Vella, D. (2016a, August 1-6). Who am “I” in the Game?’: A Typology of Modes of Ludic Subjectivity [Paper presentation]. 1st Joint International Conference of DiGRA and FDG, Dundee, Scotland. who-am-i-in-the-game-a-typology-of-the-modes-of-ludic-subjectivity/ Vella, D. (2016b). The Ludic Muse: The Form of Games as Art. Countertext, 2(1), 66–84. Vella, D., & Gualeni, S. (2019). Virtual Subjectivity: Existence and Projectuality in Virtual Worlds’. Techne’: Research in Philosophy of Technology, 23(2). https:// Westerlaken, M. (2017, November 28-December 1). Self-fashioning in Action: Zelda’s Breath of the Wild Vegan Run. Philosophy of Computer Games Conference, Krakow, Poland. POCG17_Westerlaken_Self_Fashioning_in_Action.pdf?sequence=2 Zapffe, P. W. (2004) (1933). The Last Messiah (trans. by G. R. Tangenes). Philosophy Now, 45. Zapffe, P. W. (1996) (1941). Om det Tragiske [On the Tragic]. Oslo: Pax forlag.

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About the Authors Stefano Gualeni (Ph.D.) is a philosopher who designs games. He is an associate professor at the Institute of Digital Games, University of Malta, and Visiting Professor at the Laguna College of Art and Design in Laguna Beach, California, USA. Daniel Vella (Ph.D.) is a senior lecturer at the Institute of Digital Games, University of Malta. He is a member of the steering committee for the Game Philosophy Network and is also active as a writer and narrative designer for board games.

9. Europe Simulates Europe: How European Analogue Games Frame their Own Identity Antonio José Planells de la Maza

Abstract Analogue games, traditionally ignored by modern game studies, have gained interest as objects of study in recent years. Understood as material culture artifacts, analogue games allow us to analyse the structural metaphors that refer to the processes of their own creation, a historical vision that manifests itself through ludic simulation. In this chapter, I explore how games created by Europeans about Europe use the structural metaphors of simulation to reflect on the individual evolution of the European subject, the symbolism of iconic and common spaces, the class struggle, or the role of insurgency in the face of the oppression of external enemies. Keywords: Board Games, Tabletop Games, Eurogames, Wargames, Ludofictional Worlds, Cultural Memory.

Introduction: Analog Games, material culture, and structural metaphors For many researchers, the year 2001 marked a turning point in the selfproclaimed discipline of modern game studies. Still, the academic approach to games as a research object was not new. The works of Huizinga (1938), Caillois (1958), and Levi Strauss (1964), among others, had already seen in ludic experiences different ways of dealing with the tribal ritual, social relations, or spaces of experimentation outside everyday reality. In the new century, however, the increasingly notable presence of digital games has led to a renewed interest in games, at least from university circles. In the

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editorial of the new magazine Game Studies launched in 2001 (emphatically called ‘Year One’) Espen Aarseth asked a question: ‘Do we want a separate field named computer game studies, or do we want to claim the field for our old discipline?’ According to Aarseth, this uncertainty emerges with the appearance of a new field of study, as, for example, happened with the arrival of digital cultural studies. In this specific case, the extension of the digital in almost all aspects of knowledge does not seem to justify the need for an independent and autonomous discipline. On the other hand, for Aarseth, the old discipline of game studies (the one forged, as is often said, by scholars such as Huizinga) hardly exists today and, moreover, it ‘seems in no shape to give the computer game scholars a safe haven’. Thus, game studies was conceived as a new autonomous discipline focused on digital and, especially, on ‘computer’ games. For more than ten years, the discipline of Game Studies has studied the digital games phenomenon as the main and practically only manifestation of modern gaming. In this perspective, the study of non-digital games such as traditional games, board games, and role-playing games were either very scarce or not even considered to be research objects of significance. This situation began to change in 2014 when Evan Torner, Aaron Trammell, and Emma Leigh Waldron published—in the first issue of the journal Analog Game Studies—the text ‘Reinventing Analog Game Studies: Introductory Manifesto’. In this foundational piece, and as a reply to Aarseth, they openly questioned the evolution and state of the academic discipline: ‘Now, thirteen years later, it has become increasingly clear that the field of game studies needs a hack: not so much a 2.0, but rather a 0.5’ (2014, p. 2). In this sense, they argued that game studies could no longer focus on such a specific (and, in a way, outdated) concept as computer games and that they should integrate, in an open and transversal way, another concept that had been gaining strength in recent years: analogue games. According to Jonathan Sterne (2014), the popularity of the term analogue for certain modern cultural products is actually a symptom of a ‘non-digital’ position, an alternative (and sometimes opposed) reaction to a global culture centred on computers and digital technology. Based on this cultural framework, Torner et al. conceive analogue games to be ‘those products that are not always mediated through computer technologies, but which nevertheless exemplify contemporary cultural forms’ (2014, p. 2). These are cultural forms that, with the exception of the best-selling titles, are still marginal and underground, with great creative potential centred on invention rather than industrial logic, and where the figure of the author and their relationship with the users is more fluid and open than in the case of digital games (2014, p. 2).

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Analogue games, understood as cultural forms, actively participate in the recreational and social ecosystem of modern entertainment. These expressions are particularly interesting if they are conceived as a ludofictional world, that is to say, as an autonomous macro system of possible worlds but intimately linked to a world of reference from which the simulation of both possible and necessary actions is defined (Planells, 2017). That is, all ludic creation necessarily points us not only to a possible simulation of a reality, but also to a set of relationships with the historical moment of its genesis. The study of these relationships can be fully integrated into what is known as material culture, that is, ‘the study through artifacts of the beliefs – values, ideas, attitudes, and assumptions – of a particular community or a society at a given time’ (Prown, 1982, p. 1 in Begy, 2017, p. 4). Thus, artifacts, understood as the material objects produced by a culture, ‘can yield evidence of the patterns of mind of the society that fabricated them’ (Prown, 1982, p. 6 in Begy, 2017, p. 5) and, consequently, according to Begy, ‘artifacts such as board games necessarily fall back on cultural memory and tradition and that an analysis grounded in material culture can reveal these “patterns of mind”’ (Begy, 2017, p. 5). However, not all cultural artefacts can be studied following the same methodology, and, therefore, the game as an artifact (and as a ludofictional world) must find its specific approaches that avoid reductionist logics that assimilate it into any other medium. In this sense, Jason Begy (2017), considers that we can analyse the contemporary videogame as an artifact that, within the framework of the perspective of material culture, is impregnated with Lakoff and Johnson’s (1998) concept of structural metaphor. According to these authors, metaphor is not limited to a linguistic and formal resource typical of poetics, but constitutes a true system of cognitive conception of reality that allows us to structure concepts from others. Among the multiple categories of metaphor, the structural category is that which guides both human thought and action by establishing how one activity is structured in terms of another. For example, economic tensions within capitalism can be understood in terms of another activity: war. Accordingly, it is common to use warfare terminology when speaking of an economic ‘conflict’, the ‘counterattack’ of a national policy, or the ‘defeat’ of a company. War, used as a metaphorical semantic field, linguistically and cognitively articulates another activity (the capitalist economy) that adopts the metaphorical component as an intrinsic part of the discursive model. Therefore, for Begy, games use structural metaphors as well but, unlike other media, do so with their own essential particularity: simulation. According to the tradition that simulation has had in game studies, either as a

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ludological (Frasca, 2013) or fictional model (Planells, 2017), the conception of a metaphorical simulation allows to solve some classic problems in game analysis. On the one hand, the model proposed by Begy allows us to leave aside the classic debate on the historical representation of games and their necessary counterfactuality. If a game is limited to faithfully representing the past, then the player’s possibilities remain very limited, while if they are allowed great freedom of action and outcome, the game easily falls into counterfactuality. The metaphorical perspective does not invalidate this debate, but simply analyses the results. In the words of Begy ‘the goal here is not to understand games merely as games but as culturally situated material objects that are also games’ (2017, p. 19). On the other hand, the metaphorical approach also avoids strictly formalistic readings linked to game systems or representational models by focusing not so much on what is visible as on what is unconscious and which, in one way or another, is part of how a culture understands both the world it lives in and its past. Therefore, in this chapter I will use the concept of simulation of structural metaphors with the aim of analysing how European creators of board games reflect the multiple European realities. To this end, we have carried out various searches for titles by European authors in Board Game Geek (BGG), the largest and most relevant database on board games in the world. The first 500 positions in the general ranking of BGG have been explored, as have the first 100 positions in the ranking of wargames. Subsequently, more titles have been searched for through the database categories, mainly the historical and country categories, with the aim of finding games that are significant in terms of design but not as popular as others in the same database. Results linked to abstract games, the non-European context, and fantasy games or other fictional worlds have been eliminated. Similarly, games with a colonial theme have also been discarded. I wanted to avoid the loss of focus of the present study (games created by Europeans about European events) by overlapping this perspective with the area of knowledge of post-colonial studies and Orientalism (Robinson, 2014). I consider that there is already a remarkable corpus of research that investigates, in greater detail and extension, the European colonial question in analogue games, either from the perspective of the players’ interpretation (Gonzalo & Araüna, 2018) or from the critical and textual analysis of games as ideological objects (Borit, Borit, & Olsen, 2018; Foasberg, 2016; Wilbourne, 2018). Based on the chosen games, the titles have been categorised according to their thematic treatment of the European context. In this sense, the

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games have been divided into two large categories that are shown in a descriptive way in the following sections and by using as reference the most interesting games from the perspective of structural metaphors and European representations. Thus, the division into categories establishes, on the one hand, Eurogames that, based on structural metaphors of accumulation, reflect an identity of their own, and on the other hand those other titles (mainly wargames and hybrid-mechanics games) show Europe as a space of conflict at different levels: war, class struggle, insurgency, and the Democracy–Communism duality.

The European game in search of its own identity: Eurogames and the structural metaphors of accumulation After the 19th century, and especially in the 20th century, the most popular and common board game in all homes was the so-called “mass market” game, that is, games that were sold in large commercial surfaces and that were generally aimed at a wide and familiar public (Woods, 2010). This is where we find great successes, produced mainly in the US, such as Monopoly and Risk, among other popular titles. However, alongside the mass market system, during the 1960s and 1970s the so-called “hobby” games emerged in Germany, a broad category of titles that included wargames, role-playing games, thematic games, and, starting in the 1980s, also German-style games or Eurogames (Woods, 2010; Sousa & Bernardo, 2019). In this sense, the term Eurogame, although applied to games designed in Germany, ended up becoming a transnational label of the European continent. Eurogames, more complex author’s games where quality prevailed over mass production of the mass market (Catalan, 2016), evoke a structural metaphor that is basic to understand the current game. As Donovan (2018) explains, after the Second World War, West Germany rebuilt its cities and its culture, this time gathering children and adults around a table thanks, in part, to the boom in leisure time. In addition, war trauma banned war as a means of entertainment, so toys that used warfare as a theme were censored. In fact, ‘when Parker Brothers tried to release Risk in West Germany, the government’s censors threatened to restrict its sale, forcing a rewrite of the rules so that players were liberating rather than conquering the world’ (Donovan, 2018, pp. 157–158). Post-war cultural memory decisively impregnated the so-called Eurogame by creating games where cooperation or non-violent and constructive competition prevailed over destruction, strategy prevailed over chance,

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and simple and direct mechanics prevailed over f iction and complex simulation. For all these reasons, it is precisely in the world of fiction where Eurogames produce a greater abstraction. The centrality of mechanics (especially, according to Woods (2010), those oriented to the ultimate goal of accumulating goods) has relativised the importance of the gameworld to the point of being, sometimes, totally interchangeable with any other fictional world, although a large part of these games have, as their thematic goal (Woods, 2010, p. 107), historical references ranging from Antiquity (e.g. Stone Age (Bernd Brunnhofer, 2008) to the Modern Age (e.g. Lisbon (Vital Lacerda, 2017)). However, Wood’s analysis focuses mainly on the relationship between mechanics and fiction, and does not consider the level of structural metaphor that we are trying to trace herein. The hegemony of the accumulation model in Eurogames already brings us a structural metaphor that is linked to the specific theme. For example, in a classic game such as Agricola (Uwe Rosenberg, 2007), accumulation is the mechanism that explains the metaphor of survival in the rural environment of the Middle Ages. In this title, players must expand their farm in seventeenth-century Europe after a severe period of famine. In order to progress, it will be essential to expand the family (a key element in having a larger workforce, a characteristic of feudal survivorship) and feed its members. The penalty for lack of food, far from causing the death of a villager (a clearly conflicting and violent issue), is manifested by a begging card that takes away victory points at the end of the game. The structural metaphor of the survival and evolution in the rural environment gives way, beyond Agricola, to a whole set of European games that deal with the transition from the rural model to the industrialised cities. Alongside titles focused on monasteries (for example, Ora et Labora (Uwe Rosenberg, 2011) and Heaven & Ale (Michael Kiesling and Andreas Schmidt, 2017)), games such as Village (Inka Brand and Markus Brand, 2011) or Clans of Caledonia (Juma Al-JouJou, 2017) go one step further and simulate more complex systems in which rural reality is no longer limited to family survival. Thus, for example, in Clans of Caledonia, the focus of the ludic experience is on the transition that nineteenth-century Scotland experienced from the rural model to the industrial model, especially concerning the export of whisky. Unlike Agricola, the metaphor of survival embodied in the mechanics of feeding the family gives way to accumulation as a prelude to commercialism, with the clan as the basic unit rather than the small peasant family. On the other hand, in Village, the professional development of a group of characters in a small medieval European village and their evolution in different professions is proposed as a way to overcome the most

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basic survival model. Unlike other games, per Inka and Markus Brand’s proposal, time is a mechanical element that quantifies the metaphorical balance of a quality life. The qualitative and personal impact is registered in a book that exercises the symbolic function of personal legacy and of foundational beginning of the history of the town. Accumulation is related, in a subsequent step, to what is possibly one of the most popular themes of European creations focused on Europe: medieval cities. The European medieval city represents, beyond a simple aggregation of individuals, a ‘collective individual’ (Pirenne, 1971) that establishes the European myth of civilisation and urbanism (Le Galès, 2002, p. 31), an ideal in which ‘the mutual cooperation of citizens inside the city goes hand in hand with openness to the outside and with the circulation of goods and ideas’ (Zidjerveld, 1998, in Le Galès, 2002, p. 31). The metaphor of the golden age of the medieval city as a reflection of a cultivated and referential European identity appears in multiple titles such as Caylus (William Attia, 2005), Notre Dame (Stefan Feld, 2007) Troyes (Sébastien Dujardin, Xavier Georges, & Alain Orban, 2010), Orléans (Reiner Stockhausen, 2014), and Coimbra (Flaminia Brasini, &Virginio Gigli, 2018). In all these games, the mechanics support the construction of the city as a common metaphorical project of prosperity and cultural identity, where survival in the rural world and the transition to a new mercantile model give way to social prestige as the main value. Thus, accumulation as mechanics defines the metaphor of social rise and opulence as a differential axis. Moreover, most of these games set such prosperity in a specific and particular symbol of the European context. Sometimes, as in Caylus, it is the privileges granted by the King (the ‘royal favours’) when participating in the construction of the castle. In the rest of the titles, the symbol of the monarchic power is transferred to the ecclesiastic and the bourgeois, giving priority to the mechanics of building cathedrals or establishing commercial routes. Among the many games analysed, one title stands out in which the mechanics of accumulation are oriented towards a very interesting metaphor: life as a high-society dance. Rokoko (Matthias Cramer, Stefan Malz, & Louis Malz, 2013), places the player in the position of a sewing craftsman and entrepreneur in Louis XV’s France who must create the best and most spectacular dresses for the King’s ball. The game is physically distributed in four halls and the King’s hall, where the different members of the aristocracy wear the dresses that the players manage to design and sell thanks to the work of artists and creators, along with luxurious and spectacular decorations designed for the party. In this way, Rokoko’s system of mechanics takes the accumulation model to a climax, the final dance, where the number of

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dresses per hall and the participation in the decoration of the ballrooms make the difference in the prestige obtained. Thus, the game uses dress design and aristocratic dancing as a metaphorical simulation of social advancement and the recognition of a higher social class (the aristocracy) by the craftsmanship of a lower social class (the player).

Europe as a space of conflict: war, class struggle, insurgency and the duality of democracy and communism As mentioned above, within hobby games there is a category called wargames, together with Eurogames and other forms of games. This type of gaming experience, which started as a commercial product in the 1950s (Catalan, 2016), can be defined as ‘[d]eep military simulations, usually for two players, with dice or other random system, which use maps that try to recreate the realistic environments, and a tendency to include miniatures’ (Sousa & Bernardo, 2019, p. 77). Historical recreation is not a pure simulation but is governed by the criteria of ludicity and playability, which are typical of the recreational experience (Gonzalo, 2016). Furthermore, wargames are often subject to intense debate because of their faithful or counterfactual nature within the context of the tension between a game as a simulation of events (i.e. the historical reproduction of what happened) and a game as a system of mechanics (i.e. the possibility of establishing different results) (Sabin, 2014). But what role does Europe play in this historical reproduction? One of the particularities of the representation of Europe in wargames is the absence of European authors in the main positions of the BGG ranking. The American hegemony over the design of the most popular wargames after World War II is partly due to its new world military hegemony, the absence of territorial conflicts on its own soil, and a Europe that is obviously not very receptive to games linked to war simulation (Alonge, 2019). In fact, the scarcity of European war simulation, far from being represented from a unified point of view (for example, from the idea of a European Union), generally opts for conflicts—either local or wide—that are focused on a specific territory. This is the case, for example, in Maria (Richard Sivél, 2009) and the War of Austrian Succession, Polis: Fight for the Hegemony (Fran Díaz, 2012) and the conflict between Athens and Sparta, Liberty Roads (Yves Le Quellec and Nicolas Rident, 2009) and the simulation of the liberation of France in the Second World War, or 1714: The Case of the Catalans (Ivan Prat, 2014) or Victus: Barcelona 1714 (Toni Serradesanferm, 2015) in relation to Catalonia and the War of Succession in Spain, games about the Spanish

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Civil War such as Spain 1936 (Antonio Catalán, 2007) and Crusade and Revolution: The Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 (David Gómez Relloso, 2013), among other titles. We can find, beyond the wargame, modern board games that have tried to reflect certain social, political, and cultural tensions from the perspectives of European states. Thus, for example, the game Liberté (Martin Wallace, 1998) reflects the mainly political conflict of the French Revolution—from 1789 until Bonaparte’s coup d’état in 1799—through the dispute between three sides: the radicals, the moderates, and the realists. Beyond the combat logic of a wargame, Liberté uses the historical evolution of events and control over territory as a model of pressure on the elected government, thus simulating the metaphor of the political instability of the time. A similar tension, but in this case a more social one, emerges in the game Barcelona: The Rose of Fire (Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello, 2016). Within the framework of the physical and economic expansion of late-nineteenth-century Barcelona, the game establishes a constant tension between an increasingly rich bourgeoisie and a popular class that becomes progressively more impoverished and more closely associated with revolutionary movements. The metaphor of social struggle is manifested in the system of mechanics between the creation of new buildings of greater prestige and, consequently, the increase of strikers in the Raval neighbourhood, the most popular area of the city. While the mechanics by accumulation maintains the objective of prestige (the Barcelona family most recognised by the city’s elites wins at the end of the game) the game introduces several elements of balance and strategy that are deeply symbolic and that transfer the metaphor of the class struggle between the workers’ movement (which grows thanks to a rising immigration rate throughout the game) and the new urban bourgeoisie. Thus, for example, urban development implies greater exploitation of the proletariat, the generation of strikers and, by accumulation, the creation of barricades and riots. For every striker of the player’s colour, prestige points are lost and the presence of soldiers (the repressive metaphor) advances the symbolic marker called ‘Bomb’. This Bomb will trigger different historical events that defined the factual relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, even reaching anarchy. In this way, the game of Barcelona: The Rose of Fire shows a mechanical balance of construction and management of events whose real potential lies in its metaphorical dimension: the complex social, political, and economic relationship that underlies class struggle. Along with these proposals of social style (the internal tensions of the European states and the class struggle) we can also find other games by European creators in which the historical conflicts are transferred to local

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scenarios in which the insurgent nature is emphasised before an external power. For example, the Second World War has taken the shape, in the case of Mali Powstańcy: Warszawa 1944 (Filip Miłuński, 2009), of a simulation of the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazi occupation and, more specifically, in the mail system organised by insurgents and carried out by children. In this cooperative title, the mechanics of delivering orders, the movement of the German soldier, and the flow of time can block roads for the insurgent couriers and send children to prison. In this way, the game establishes a system of covert persecution that, on a metaphorical level, is conceived as the tension between the insurgency and German territorial control. But Mali Powstańcy: Warszawa 1944 is not the only title that uses the relationship of and counter power to express local tensions in global conflicts. Days of Ire: Budapest 1956 (Katalin Nimmerfroh, Dávid Turczi, and Mihály Vincze, 2016) simulates the 1956 Hungarian Revolution that broke out in Budapest against Soviet policy and had its genesis on the night of October 23 of that year. In this case, the game proposes a double mode: cooperation between players as young organisers of the Hungarian insurrectional movement or, alternatively, a competitive mode, in which case the side of the Soviet army can also be controlled. Days of Ire introduces, along with the direct conflict between insurgency and established power, the survival of the rebel leaders, and the morale of the followers as a key mechanical element to achieve the metaphor of the ephemeral character of the Revolution. Finally, a couple more titles transfer the European social tension that originated between the two political and economic models that were imposed on the continent during much of the 20th century: capitalism and communism. First, Across the Iron Curtain (Karol Madaj, 2017) shows, on its board, a clear division between the communist red zone and the democratic green zone and proposes an escape game from one zone to the other. The aim is therefore to cross the Iron Curtain in order to flee to democratic Europe. The ludic proposal is interesting in how it conceives of a Europe divided into two blocks that were not only constituted by radically different economic models but also conceived as different and incompatible ways of life. Thus, in a recent interview, Dr. Neela Winkelmann, Managing Director of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience, stated: [T]oday’s young generation does not know how hard it was to lead a normal life behind the impermeable Iron Curtain […] the worst thing was not the lack of goods in the shops; it was the life in permanent fear, because all our human rights were being violated. Next was the isolation from the free, democratic world. People longed to get out of the Communist dictatorship,

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to live dignified, free lives […] we have re-created the situation during the Cold War, when people were trying to escape to the West, oftentimes with the assistance of helpers at home and abroad. The players are such escape helpers attempting to bring 30 refugees from 15 East European countries across the Iron Curtain in eight different ways. This is the first board game on the topic of the Iron Curtain worldwide. Its purpose is to educate on recent European history, on human rights and their violations during Communism, as well as inform about the geography and nations of Europe. (Platform of European Memory and Conscience, 2017).

This emphasis on vital and material conditions as defining factors of a European way of life was parodied a few years earlier by Karol Madaj (the author of Across the Iron Curtain) in the satirical Kolejka (‘Queue’) (2011). In this game, players are citizens of Warsaw (in fact, entire families) who queue up in front of a shop to obtain various goods. The aim of the game is to get all the items that each player has on their shopping list, a complex objective as the goods are unknown, scarce, and run out quickly. A mechanic that perfectly transfers the metaphor of scarcity in the Polish system appears with the order of placement of the meeples: first they are placed in the line of a particular store, and then you discover what goods will arrive at the stores (if they arrive at all). In other words, the relevant thing is to occupy different queues to maximise the possibility of getting something, assuming that some of the relatives will spend all day in a queue from which they will get nothing. A second interesting mechanism extends the metaphor of scarcity to that of mischief: in one phase of the turn (literally called ‘Queue Up’) players can use different cards with actions that modify the turn order. These cards are real actions that make it easier to obtain goods, such as queuing with people with children. Finally, the game uses the metaphors of scarcity and mischief as well as corruption. In the queues appear market speculators, characters that obtain goods to resell them, more expensively, in an area called Outdoor Market that, ironically, also has its own queue.

Conclusions The political, economic, and social reconf iguration that the European powers underwent after World War II decisively changed the way their societies related to the culture of play. This was particularly intense in Germany, the main loser of the global conflict, whose physical and symbolic reconstruction also affected certain essential aspects linked to leisure time

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and the concept of games. Thus, German games or Eurogames were born in a context in which play was no longer a simple child’s experience but a familiar part of everyday life. Moreover, after the traumatic experience, Eurogames have distanced themselves from war as an admissible theme to explore other playful worlds that fit better with construction mechanics, the control of chance, limited time, and cooperative strategies. As it has been shown throughout this chapter, in Eurogames the mechanics of the accumulation of goods and resources predominate, which is later linked to different construction strategies. This mechanism emerges, in a metaphorical and structural way, as the identity reflection not only of a Europe undergoing reconstruction after the Second World War, but also as the identity and historical process of medieval Europe. This identity is related to a double metaphorical dimension: accumulation as the activity of the European subject and the spaces linked to accumulation as symbols of historical Europe. In the case of the European subject, and their personal development through the mechanics of accumulation, we find a metaphor for evolution over time: titles such as Agrícola evoke the medieval peasantry and its daily activity as a manifestation of survival, while the arrival of the great medieval cities, trade across territories, and the relations between the different social strata that comprise the corpus of citizenship implies an accumulation oriented towards the metaphor of prestige and social recognition (as can be seen in games such as Orléans or Troyes, among others). It is precisely the iconic European medieval city that will be the space where the mechanics of accumulation will most strongly unfold the metaphor of the national and European identity symbol. In these cases, Eurogames are not limited to accumulating in order to obtain social recognition, but the construction phase will legitimise the notion of prestige in a physical symbol typical of Europe. The medieval castle and the cathedral being the main examples of this (on Eurogames and their relationships with and influence over European videogames, see the introductory chapter in this volume). On the other hand, games designed by European creators have also found in the different continental conflicts a strong source of inspiration to simulate European particularities. Far from the Eurogame model, European wargames are less popular (with some exceptions) and are referenced less often in comparison with American wargames, to the extent that European military history (its reflection, its identity, and its discursive perspective) is, today, in the hands of American designers. In a complementary way, European designers have tried to reflect conflicts linked to the different class struggles, the rise of insurgencies against foreign occupations, and

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the complex relations between the capitalist bloc and the communist bloc, all of which are key issues for understanding European identity during the 19th and 20th centuries. For all these reasons, the European game simulates a Europe that is fragmented and linked to its local cultural roots, and which manifests itself in a double aspect: accumulation as a metaphor for social evolution and progress, and confrontation as a metaphor for social conflict, whether in the face of economic injustices or external enemies. Finally, it is worth concluding with a recognition of analogue games as an emerging but traditionally ignored area within current game studies. The growing presence of modern games in today’s leisure time, their greater complexity in terms of themes and design, and their close link with the cultural ecosystem should boost their research within the framework of academic theory. In this sense, understanding the analogue game as a cultural artifact allows us, firstly, to avoid the constant debate on historical representation to understand the concept of simulation in all its complexity, and, secondly, to understand the game as a metaphorical and structural system that is already part of our cognitive, discursive, and linguistic ways of understanding the world in which we live.

References Aarseth, E. (2001). Computer Game Studies, Year One. Game studies, 1(1), 1–15. Alonge, A. (2019). Playing the Nazis: Political Implications in Analog War Games. Analog Game Studies, 6(3), 1–16. Begy, J. (2017). Board Games and the Construction of Cultural Memory. Games and culture, 12(7–8), 718–738. Borit, C., Borit, M., & Olsen, P. (2018). Representations of Colonialism in Three Popular, Modern Board Games: Puerto Rico, Struggle of Empires, and Archipelago. Open Library of Humanities, 4(1), 1–40. Caillois, R. (1958). Les jeux et les hommes. Paris: Gallimard. Catalán, A. (2016). Estudio sobre la evolución del juego de mesa y su transformación en producto editorial (University degree dissertation). Instituto Superior de Educaçao e Ciencias. Donovan, T. (2018). It’s All a Game: A Short History of Board Games. London: Atlantic Books. Foasberg, N. M. (2016). The Problematic Pleasures of Productivity and Efficiency in Goa and Navegador. Analog Game Studies, 1(3). the-problematic-pleasures-of-productivity-and-efficiency-in-goa-and-navegador/

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Frasca, G. (2013). Simulation versus Narrative: Introduction to Ludology. In M. J. P. Wolf and B. Perron (Eds.), The Video Game Theory Reader (pp. 243–258). New York, NY: Routledge. Gonzalo Iglesia, J. L. (2016). Simulating History in Contemporary Board Games: The Case of the Spanish Civil War. Catalan Journal of Communication & Cultural Studies, 8(1), 143–158. Gonzalo Iglesia, J. L., & Araüna N. (2018). Digitalizando la experiencia analógica de juego: el caso de los juegos (post) coloniales. In D. Aranda, J. Sánchez-Navarro & A.J. Planells (Eds.), Game & Play: La cultura del juego digital (pp. 87–105). Sevilla: Ediciones Egregius. Huizinga, J. (1938). Homo Ludens. Paris: Gallimard. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors We Live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Le Galès, P. (2002). European Cities: Social Conflicts and Governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Lévi-Strauss, C. (1964). El pensamiento salvaje. México: Fondo de Cultura Económica. Pirenne, H. (1971). Les villes du moyen âge (Vol. 5). Paris: Presses universitaires de France. Planells de la Maza, A. J. (2017). Possible Worlds in Video Games: From Classic Narrative to Meaningful Actions. Pittsburgh, PE: ETC Press. Platform of European Memory and Conscience (2017, June 11). World premiere of ‘Across the Iron Curtain’, educational board game hosted at the IPN Educational Center in Warsaw on 13 June 2017. https://www.memoryandconscience. eu/2017/06/11/world-premiere-of-across-the-iron-curtain-educational-boardgame-hosted-at-the-ipn-educational-center-in-warsaw-on-13-june-2017/ Prown, J. D. (1982). Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method. Winterthur portfolio, 17(1), 1–19. Robinson, W. (201 4). Or ient a l ism a nd Abst ract ion in Eu roga mes. Analog Game Studies, 1(5). orientalism-and-abstraction-in-eurogames/ Sabin, P. (2014). Simulating War: Studying Conflict Through Simulation Games. London: Bloomsbury. Sousa, M., & Bernardo, E. (2019). Back in the Game. In N. Zagalo, A.I. Veloso, L. Costa, and Ó. Mealha (Eds.), Videogame Sciences and Arts (pp. 72–85). Cham, Switzerland: Springer. Sterne, J. (2014). Analog/Analogue: A Speculative History of the Not-Digital. Culture Digitally. Torner, E., Trammell, A., & Waldron, E. L. (2014). Reinventing Analog Game Studies. Analog Game Studies, 1(1). reinventing-analog-game-studies/

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Wilbourne, D. (2018). Colonial Discourse and Cultural Memory in Eurogames. David Wilbourne. colonial-discourse-and-cultural-memory-in-eurogames/ Woods, S. (2012). Eurogames: The Design, Culture and Play of Modern European Board Games. Jefferson, NC: MacFarland. Zijderveld, A. C. (1998). A Theory of Urbanity. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

About the Author Antonio José Planells de la Maza is an associate professor at TecnocampusPompeu Fabra University. His doctoral thesis focused on the possible worlds of videogames. He is the author of many research articles, conferences, and monographs, including Possible Worlds in Video Games: From Classic Narrative to Meaningful Actions published in 2017 by ETC Press.

10. Naturalist Tendency in European Narrative Games Nelson Zagalo

Abstract Since their dawn in the USA and Japan, digital games have mostly explored escapism. Europe followed the same trend for a long time, but for the past decade European digital games have started to move towards realism and then naturalism. This chapter traces the universe of recent dramatic European digital games by analysing their aesthetic approaches, from their design to their imaginaries. Instead of trying to provide a complete history or genealogy, I focus on certain significant cases that will shed some light on dominating trends and ways of understanding interactive fiction in the European space. Two recent European games—Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Disco Elysium—are analysed in detail in order to explore a reorientation of European games towards a naturalist approach. Keywords: European Games, Game Aesthetics, Game Design, Game naturalism

Since their dawn in the USA and Japan, digital games have mostly explored escapism. Europe followed the same trend for a long time but, for the past decade, European digital games, following on an already established tradition in the continent, have started to move towards realistic drama and, subsequently, towards naturalism. This chapter traces the universe of recent dramatic European digital games by analysing their aesthetic approaches, from their design to their imaginaries. Instead of a complete history or genealogy, I focus on certain significant cases that will shed some light on dominating trends and ways of understanding interactive fiction in the European space. Two of the most recent European games—Kingdom Come:

Navarro-Remesal, V. and Ó. Pérez-Latorre, Perspectives on the European Videogame. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2022 doi 10.5117/9789463726221_ch10

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Deliverance and Disco Elysium—are analysed in detail to demonstrate the reorientation of European games towards a naturalist approach.

Introduction The world of digital games has for decades been dominated by imaginaries manufactured almost exclusively in two regions of the globe: the USA and Japan. This parallels the origin of hardware and technologies, with the first games appearing on major mainframes in the USA, such as SpaceWar! (1961), and many early big hits of gaming culture, such as Pac-Man (1980), originating in the arcade machines of Japan. This trend would continue over several decades and intensify through global platforms: on the American side, Xbox and Windows PC; and on the Japanese side, PlayStation and Nintendo. Both countries would create great fantasy blockbusters, but while the USA turned to military fantasies such as Doom (1993) and Halo (2001), the Japanese focused on superpowers through games such as Final Fantasy (1987) and The Legend of Zelda (1986). These two hubs have diversified—specifically, with the expansion of the Action-Adventure genre that gradually encompassed the old graphic adventures, FPS, and RPGs—and thus created a whole new cultural space within videogames, one less defined by game mechanics and increasingly by narrative genres. Therefore, games with a military background (Höglund, 2008) in the USA and Japan—such as Call of Duty (2003) and Metal Gear Solid (1987)—have incorporated more narrative concerns, bringing the game medium closer to film by using a so-called ‘cinematic realism’ (Gaut, 2010; Giordano, Girina, & Fassone, 2015; Wolf, 2015). Europe had followed this trend earlier with two French games, Another World (1991) and Alone in the Dark (1992), and the British blockbuster Tomb Raider (1996). The medium’s fictional universes were not only being modelled after Hollywood action films but videogames were also building socially realistic worlds (Atkins, 2003), as can be seen in the American Half-Life (1998) and the Japanese Silent Hill (1999) (Carr, 2003). Narrative games, with the background of adventure, fantasy, science fiction, and horror, were gaining new and interesting avenues, but there was still something missing: a certain sense of drama. Videogames continued to lack the capacity to stimulate melancholy and sadness (Zagalo, Torres, & Branco, 2005). The medium offered immensely rich external worlds, located in American and Japanese landscapes, across the globe and even outside of it, but continued to lack discussions on the human condition, something common in literature since the ancient Greek tragedies, which

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were concerned with the dramatisation of humanness. Although some dramatic sequences could be found in previous games—see, for example, the opening of the Finnish Max Payne (2001)—one of the first great artefacts to attempt to penetrate these dimensions was the French Heavy Rain (2010), a game that made it evident that the emotional dimensions of human tragedy could be translated into an interactive language, with a dramatisation process that opened a whole new world of possibilities concerning the use of interactive narratives (Zagalo, 2017). The question these games addressed was no longer about graphics or representation; as Galloway argues, ‘realistic narrative and realistic representation are two different things’ (2004). Quoting from Jameson, Galloway explains that ‘realism’ is, however, a particularly unstable concept owing to its simultaneous—yet incompatible—aesthetic and epistemological claims, as the two terms of the slogan ‘representation of reality’ suggest. Formally, literature, through various writing systems, cannot be more realistic than computer graphic images. The core of aesthetics in games emerges then from the referents, the “who” and “what” they evoke, and if they bear any relation to reality. As Green (2016) states in his discussion of The Last of Us (2013): Naturalism, an offshoot of realism, the literary movement seeking to show life as it is really lived, takes this focus on verisimilitude and places it against the backdrop of human beings who cannot overcome their natural environments or even themselves.

This chapter presents, first, the way in which realism allowed drama into the world of European videogames, giving an account of the thematic universes as well as of the transformations in the interaction design. The support for realistic dramatic environments is further explored in the following section, which studies the relationship between European and American imaginaries, identifying fantasy traits that specifically emanated from the American imaginary. Finally, taking into account these dramatic environments and focusing on some successful cases centered on European imaginaries, this chapter illustrates how naturalism has been incorporated as a narrative aesthetic into the medium of videogames.

Dramatic interactive realism After the success of Heavy Rain in 2012, Germany would surprise the whole gaming sector (Keogh, 2013; Payne, 2014) by using one of the most

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averse-to-drama genres, action war games, to insert a set of choices that would alter the typical emotional experience of the genre (Jørgensen, 2016). Spec Ops: The Line (2012), created by Yager Development, aimed at putting the player at the centre of war, not only to experience the euphoria of shots, but also to experience the morality of war, especially through the choices the player faces, making of it one of the most dramatic games of the last decade. To achieve this, Yager subverted the genre. As Orland, the game writer, explains: We wanted to kind of lure people in with a strong sense of familiarity, like “I know these characters, this setting”. We wanted people to feel, “Oh, I know this… I know how it’s going to play out”. Then once people stop expecting things, that’s when we can surprise them, and we can get them in the state of mind that [protagonist Captain] Walker is in. (Orland, 2012).

The changes of genre tropes start in the middle of the game, progressively asking more and more direct questions, increasingly doubtful and morally complex. The end of the game is impressive: even though the possibilities of responding are multiple, the design of the narrative flow pushes the player towards some specific choices, showing a concrete authorial intention and not merely a set of choices. Spec Ops: The Line was conceived as an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1902), one of the canonical books of British literature, which also served as the inspiration for Apocalypse Now (1979). The bar was high, both for the creators and the critics of the medium, still unused to this type of register. However, the critics managed to respond quite well and to levels rarely seen with, for example, Brendan Keogh writing an entire book dedicated to the analysis of the game: Killing Is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line (2012). The number of questions this game raises makes it one of the most compelling games in the representation of the relation between war and the human condition, which, in some ways, justifies why it was created in a country such as Germany. The origin of Spec Ops: The Line is most probably not mere chance or coincidence. A similar case is presented another game that addresses the moral issues of war, This War of Mine (2014), created in Poland and set during the Yugoslav wars. This game also received positive recognition from critics, and an even greater recognition from the public, for the strong moral choices it gives to players. Germany and Poland were two of the countries most involved in the Second World War, hosting a majority of the larger Nazi concentration camps—places that entail the greatest moral problem of the War and which left deep scars in the continent. Hence, it is no wonder that

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those in the heart of Europe question the effects of war as often represented in American videogames. But drama is not just about choices, or even moral choices. Perhaps more relevant, as Heavy Rain demonstrates, is the ability to introduce meaning and emotionality in interactivity (May, Bizzocchi, Antle, & Choo, 2014). One of the games that achieves the creation of meaning through interactions, connecting them to the inner feelings of the characters and players, is the Swedish production Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (2013) (Clementi, 2015), created by Joseph Fares. Fares, in an interview with Mahardy, explains that ‘[Brothers] is the story of a little boy growing up to be a man. But it’s told in an interactive way, a way I couldn’t have done in a film. You’re physically part of this story. And I’m proud of that’ (2013). The first thing that should be analysed is the premise of controlling two characters simultaneously in a three-dimensional space, something that is not easy in cognitive terms. The right hand controls a character with one of the analogue sticks, and the left hand controls the other. This requires an additional exercise of concentration since we have to divide our attention between two characters. Fares did not just want to break established conventions and rules: he had a very concrete objective with this concept and never gave up on it, even when the studios asked him to do so. And the truth is that the genius of the game ends up being exactly this—the mandatory requirement for both brothers to be controlled by a single player. The youngest character, because he is smaller, often manages to pass through narrow areas or climb to high areas and thus help his brother. The oldest brother is the strongest and can swim, and hence is the one who takes his brother on his back through deep waters. The older brother also takes the lead, asking people for directions, while the youngest is many times oblivious to what is going on and just wants to play. They are two, but after a while, they are inseparable and completely interdependent: they work as a pair, not as two separate entities. The game spends the first two thirds of its time developing this relationship; it does so in such a way that behaviours and expectations about the functioning of the characters, about the way each one depends on the other, are rapidly internalised. Empathy grows in relation to both brothers, partially because players understand and assume these dependencies, but mainly because they physically control both characters, and know that one cannot work without the other. Once the players have naturalised these dynamics, Fares pulls the rug out from under the player’s experience. Something terrible happens to one of the brothers, and suddenly the player does not know what to do with some of the controls they had been using until then. This is a climactic moment for

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Brothers, and arguably one of the great moments in the history of interactivity, with the experience emerging from the transformation of mechanics. The small and slight character, who just wanted to play, suddenly gains a new sense of self, transforms himself inwardly, grows up, and does what he could not do before. This is not simple storytelling and does not merely show the evolution of a character: rather, it puts the receiver in the place of an agent and makes him feel through the meaning produced by interactivity. Players are physically part of the story because they participate in the discovery of new actions while interactivity expresses the inner world of that character.

Americanism and the Self-referential Imaginary If Europe was able to introduce more dramatic approaches into interactive language, it was thanks to an increase in the affordances for realism in the development of fictional worlds, with characters endowed with family extensions, professions, and, of course, real places. However, if we look at the places and social dimensions used as a fictional cradle, an odd pattern emerges. Heavy Rain is essentially a French work, but nothing in its content, in terms of place and habits, has any relation to its origin. If we look at other games created by Quantic Dream from its studio in Paris, namely Beyond: Two Souls (2013) and Detroit (2018), no cultural markers from Europe can be found there either. In the same way, it is difficult to find any marker of German culture in Spec Ops: The Line; the universes of these games do not attempt to represent their countries and cultures of origin.

American Cinematic Reality Another immensely relevant interactive drama, Life is Strange (2015) better illustrates the case. The game might easily have been a book in terms of how it treats realism. Despite focusing on teenage characters, it goes far beyond what we have seen in much of what has been called young adult literature. The psychological treatment of the characters and the interactive possibilities of moral choice allow the player high levels of reflection and self-awareness. This was evident in the awards granted by Games for Change 2016, namely, the Most Significant Impact award. However, when we look at its fictional world and its company and creators, we find again the same dissonance: the creators are French, their cultural heritage is markedly European, yet the universe represented is explicitly American.

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This is not something exclusive to France or Germany. It is something that we can see in speculative fiction like Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (2017) or in a simple prison escape fiction such as A Way Out (2018), two works created entirely in Sweden which are, however, set in entirely American places, culture, and stereotypes. More accurately, they are set in an American cinematic reality; that is, one that is influenced by the American cultural landscape that Hollywood cinema has distributed worldwide (Ibbi, 2014; Maisuwong, 2012). The ease with which the contours of what is American can be recognised all over the planet is probably the main culprit of this. Pursuing global sales and pushing to escape the limitations of each European country, European creators not only started to develop their games with English as the main language but also use American culture to make exporting their works easier. It is inevitable to think that there is a serious problem of cultural cannibalisation within the world of videogames since this does not seem to happen in other European media, such as books and film—at least not to this scale. Perhaps this is because these other media have been regarded by European funding programmes, such as the MEDIA programme, as more deserving of public support, and this has managed to maintain cultural values and references from various regions of origin. Creating digital games, in addition to being a collective effort, requires a great amount of resources, and this puts a lot of pressure on the creators to push for financial success. Consequently, we could say that this problem arises not from an aesthetic will but rather as a result of the cultural domination of the Hollywood imaginary. This imaginary served as a backdrop to games made in America but also in Japan—see, for example, Silent Hill (1999-) and Metal Gear Solid (1998-). Europe, despite having sought a more elaborate path in narrative structures, has not managed to escape the dominance of American cultural imperialism (Rampal, 2005).

Dungeons & Dragons The American influence on the cultural imagery of European videogames does not come from Hollywood alone. Two of the most successful fantasy universes in the European industry, Divinity: Original Sin (2014) and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015), although seemingly based on European medieval culture, are the descendants of one of the main engines of American fantasy: the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). D&D is a profoundly American universe, despite the links that critics have established with the British Lord of the Rings (1954). Gary Gygax has

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always referred to the literary genre of ‘sword and sorcery’ (Gygax, 2000) as the main influence of his creation. This genre arose from the merging of Conan the Barbarian (1932), by American author Robert E. Howard, and the American magazine Weird Tales (1922), which published authors such as HP Lovecraft. We can see relations here with European culture, namely the Arthurian cycle and The Three Musketeers, but in essence, ‘sword and sorcery’ universes are a pulpier variant in which fantasy surpasses realism. Of course, D&D is not entirely alien to Tolkien: just as the writer uses geographic and linguistic logics to structure his narratives, the game uses ludic strategies to distribute its narratives. If the content is pure fantasy, its form is strongly grounded in reality. This can be seen in the Belgian Divinity: Original Sin (2014) and the Polish The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015). Especially in the latter, the total rationalisation of the narrative processes manages to create interactive choices within the storytelling. If Tolkien drew complete maps and created new languages to support his fictional worlds, D&D provides an entire narrative system capable of allowing anyone to create new stories and roles. The Witcher 3 elevates the D&D system through the automation of the process, creating a highly interwoven system of internal narrative relations that allows the player to choose different options and experience the consequences of their choices and actions. This is indeed immensely rich and yet it is more of the same in the field of fiction and cultural representation. Robert Kurvitz, an Estonian game designer, about whom we will talk in the next section, said that D&D-based RPGs are ‘calcifying. The internal generation engine of western pop culture is just very self-referential in general’ (Brown, 2018). Here, Kurvitz refers to formal repetition, and mainly about the content, which seems to be more like a closed universe. RPGs in general always deal with the same fantasies, tales of power or military dominance, failing to discuss more humble and humane problems, which, as I have been arguing, could really serve in enhancing the dramatic aspects of videogame narratives. To understand how this could be achieved, the next section analyses two recent European games that use the mechanics of RPGs, but that clearly avoid the realms of fantasy.

New Naturalist European RPG In 2017, Europe gave the world an action-RPG that, on the surface, seemed to spring from common genre tropes, including the magicians, tribes, and religions dear to the D&D universe, but transfigured by a mixture of distant

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concepts, primitivism and technological futurism: the Dutch Horizon Zero Dawn (2017). As it advances, players realise that the game is not, after all, trying to place itself in the fantasy genre: everything is logically deconstructed, linking all the elements of those worlds to the contemporary real world. In other words, this is not fantasy but something closer to scientific speculation, one that belongs to the domain of hard sci-fi. At first glance, Horizon Zero Dawn (HZD) looks very similar to Far Cry Primal (2016), but the latter was little more than an exploratory toy, devoid of a clear artistic intent. Perhaps the work that we can most readily associate with HZD is the British production Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (2010), written by Alex Garland. Even so, HZD raises the discourse to a level of literary erudition, with the script being awarded in multiple festivals, something that is linked to its speculative argumentation of futuristic minutiae. It reminds us of another European work of great intellectual scope, the Swedish SOMA (2015), a game that uses Descartes and Jung to inquire about identity and self. In HZD, however fantastic and out-of-reality on the surface, everything has a logical explanation, solidly based on speculative science. In an interview, Hermen Hulst, the managing director, explains with the following: There is magic without fantasy in this game, everything you experience in this game should be grounded in science fiction. The designers should be able to explain the reason why there is a certain way […] we’ve done anthropological research and found that the way a culture is created and comes to existence is determined by the resources that are available. (CNET, 2017).

After HZD, two more games pursued the same approach to speculative realism and naturalism and pushed it even further: the Czech Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and the Estonian Disco Elysium. An in-depth analysis of both of these games will allow us to draw some more final conclusions about current European aesthetics.

Case 1: Kingdom Come: Deliverance (2018) Kingdom Come: Deliverance (2018) presents itself as a historical game, located in the centre of Europe in the region of Bohemia (today, the Czech Republic) in the year of 1403. Castles, weapons, combat techniques, clothes, and utensils are presented with considerable realism, thanks to the research of several

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teams of architects and historians. The event chosen as the game setting is a war between the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund and his brother Wenceslaus IV, King of Bohemia. However, the story is set in a real but seemingly unimportant small village, Skalitz (Střbridná Skalice), and our character is but a young man, the son of the local blacksmith, with very few skills. He does not even know how to handle swords. The game presents this realistically represented past in the shape of an open world that the player can navigate in a seemingly free manner, as well as several narrative constraints on the main character, such as the tragic loss of his family right at the beginning of the story. We start, then, with a desire for revenge, but as a blacksmith apprentice with no fighting skills we are unable to beat even a mere soldier, dying immediately if we try to engage in combat. We are forced to flee, to seek refuge, and to learn to deal with our world. Nobody knows us, so nobody wants to know about us. To make matters worse, in our interactions with other inhabitants, we will be judged, not only by the way we speak but also by how we dress, our hygiene, the way we behave, and the way we cowardly give up a fight. Player agency is huge, but the world, due to its naturalism, ends up being quite punitive, given the pseudo-freedom of living in those times and the rules imposed by its communities. Therefore, Kingdom Come: Deliverance achieves a great fusion between gameplay and narrative, making one depend on the other to create a unique experience, one in which the player inhabits the world and needs to act in character. For this purpose, the gameplay uses a multitude of verbs, all based on natural human phenomena: walking, running, riding, buying, exchanging, hunting, haggling, stealing, taking, cheating, fleeing, surrendering, learning, training, obeying, disobeying, kill, fight, repair, wash, hide, treat, eat, sleep, rest, wait, date, help, seek, investigate. This also explains why the game goes beyond combat and fighting, making this naturalism the central aspect of its aesthetic. As creator Dan Vavra states: My philosophy, let’s say, is that the gameplay experience generally should be natural, believable, it could be complex, but shouldn’t be complicated. (Gameumentary, 2018). The open-world presented is enormous: 16 km2. Players can go through the same zones repeatedly and not feel the effect of repetition due to the detailed art used to make the world as realistic as possible. Stone paths, grass, buildings, clothing, utensils, weapons, the atmospheric system… everything follows real and highly detailed references to provide an intense and rich experience of the time period, the Late Middle Ages (Dragons, 2018). In discussions around the game, there is a tendency to mix simulation with realism (Allan, 2018;

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Knight, 2019), forgetting right away that this is an RPG in which simulation and strategy are supposed to exist. The question does not concern simulation but realism, pushing it further to elicit a naturalistic experience that is closer to reality. The tragedy imposed on our character, and more particularly the lives of non-player characters, who are imposed upon us by the necessities created by the game design, provide the game’s narrative strength: As free as you are to do as you will in the world, vital information is often a persuasion skill-check away: improving your skill means nattering to people, which means having conversations that you don’t really want to have so that you can return to a conversation that you’ve already had, repeat it, and do better this time. (Thursten, 2016).

What Dan Vavra was looking for was a far cry from other RPGs such as Skyrim, which, as he contends, are limited to presenting an ‘American vision of a medieval fantasy world […] more like Disneyland’ (2013). In Kingdom Come: Deliverance, naturalism is distinguished by giving life to real people who could have existed and with whom we can interact at every moment, reacting in line with their values, and not merely providing an enchanting experience. It is a universe made up of choices: You’re just one little guy caught up in the events of the world, you won’t have a major impact on world events. This game isn’t so much about what the end result is, more about how you get there. (Chillies, 2018)

As a whole, Kingdom Come: Deliverance exudes passion thanks to the strength of an artistic intention that kept the idea alive for seven years (Gameumentary, 2018). Vavra never left the Czech Republic, and started his own company there just to bring his intention to life. He began to seek funding, in September 2011, before launching any development. In 2013, the first real problems arose when the prototype was ready and international publishers started saying they liked it, but that they did not want a historical game, arguing that the public did not want realism but fantasy. Then Kickstarter became involved in the project, not to finance the game but to demonstrate that there was a market that was interested in that type of game. The crowdfunding “oxygen” ensured further financing and allowed a higher number of people to work in the development team, which increased from fifteen to 40 and, eventually to 100 people over four years. In the end, the game sold more than two million copies, surpassing the releases of both Divinity: Original Sin titles put together.

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Case 2: Disco Elysium (2019) The year 2019 saw the emergence of a completely unexpected international award winner: Disco Elysium (2019), which was developed in Estonia. If the setting was important in Kingdom Come: Deliverance because of its historical events and practices, it is crucial, as part of this analysis, to interpret the subtext under the needs, desires, and motives of its characters. Disco Elysium dares to discuss one of the most debated topics of the end of the decade: the ideologies and political theories responsible for much of what we have come to know as polarised societies (Maher, Igou, & van Tilburg, 2018; Samantray & Pin, 2019). In this case, it does so totally imbued with the spirit of people who lived for 70 years under a communist dictatorship but, having liberated themselves and opened up to capitalism almost 30 years ago, have not yet found their promised paradise. Interacting with the different people and activities presented in the game and following all the freedoms of choice provided therein inevitably throws players into a universe of contradictions, something already well explored by Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich in her book Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets (2013). The connection to Alexievich established here parallels the intentions of the team behind the game itself. As the director, Robert Kurvitz argues in an interview: Games are the last medium with potential for real experimentation and avant-garde thinking. What we want to do is to use this potential to salvage what’s left of literature – the fastest shrinking, worst affected medium of all. […] It’s up to games and their audience to lift literature out of the squalor. However beaten, however confined to small nations, novels have an unparalleled ability to change people’s lives. The very, very few books that are actually good can make something out of the mess we are. Novels give grace and form to the failure. (Platt, 2016).

Hence, it is no wonder that Disco Elysium presents such an amount of text. Its success despite such use of text is surprising. The action map is limited, but it becomes a gigantic world thanks to the strength of the text, namely the depth of the dialogues and the detailed reality. Not being a historical work, its influences are contemporary and come from multiple media: Planescape: Torment (1999) is its game design model; from television, True Detective for its narrative design; and the paintings by Ilya Repin and Jenny Saville provide the foundations for visual art. For its ideas, Disco Elysium grounds itself in literature: China Miéville’s The City & the City (2009) offers

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the context for the creation of two opposite worlds as two sides of the same coin; the Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic (1972) and the foundational work behind Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) provide all the strangeness and distrust that qualified life under the Soviet regime. However, the emotional side of the universe of Disco Elysium is inspired by another author, also mentioned by Kurvitz: Émile Zola, the father of literary naturalism, from whom we need to evoke the following words: I tried to make of it a purely human study, apart from every other interest, and go straight to the point; the action did not consist in any story invented for the occasion, but in the inner struggles of the characters; there was no logic of facts, but a logic of sensation and sentiment; and the dénouement was the mathematical result of the problem as proposed. (Zola, 1868).

We can say that Disco Elysium follows this approach completely; we have a murder that at first seems to be all that matters, mainly because of the strength of the detective narrative, but also, when we reach the end, we realise that it did not matter. When the case is unravelled, and when we find the identity of the murderer and listen to his motivations, we understand that what was really at stake was the people, their ways of life in each part of the city, their relations with the different powers, all their anxieties and needs, their memories and experiences of the past, and their hopes. To give life to all that inner feeling of the characters, and at the same time keep the expected player agency, the team created a complex system of interaction based on a combinatorial text engine that allows players to evolve their protagonist depending on multiple layers of commands for personality. The game begins with choosing a personality from 24 psychological profiles, each of which will affect the way our character behaves. These profiles are then influenced by a second layer, the so-called ‘Thought Cabinet’, which allows players to ‘internalise’ different thoughts provided by the interactions and relationships they have with the other characters throughout the game. These thoughts, in turn, influence the avatar’s personality, almost like beliefs, and cannot be easily erased, thereby affecting the growth of the character and how they relate to and with the world, something that is strongly triggered by the game’s dialogue system, as Kurvitz tells us in an interview: The real work began with our dialogue editor. Here we explode the novella’s spine into a thousand-armed monster of skill checks and choices […] Usually “open world” games leave their dialogues purposefully vague

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so you could do them in any order. There’s not much interplay between them. Minute information isn’t carried from exchange to exchange, unlike in real life. We’re not like that, we’re very detail oriented. You come up with a weird idea looking in the mirror somewhere, you can then mention it to a dockworker somewhere else. And get unexpected results. (Platt, 2016).

For this approach, the amnesia of the protagonist is fundamental because it allows the character to serve us, beginning as an empty shell. We can follow any of the personalities or paths; it is up to the player to choose sides. The character is identified as a detective and disliked by several others, but enough space is offered to alter this image, or to simply intensify it. As in Kingdom Come: Deliverance, he is neither a hero nor an anti-hero, just another character entailed by the plot with a job to do. In the meantime, he will also try to understand who he is, something he can only do by striving to understand the rest of the characters. Once again, there is strong passion in the ideation and creation of the game. If Vavra worked seven years to put the game on its feet, Kurvitz says that the idea behind Disco Elysium came from his adolescence, from the time when he played D&D and imagined an alternative city to the one in which he lived in Estonia, with the awareness of being located ‘on the outer reaches of civilisation, in a god forsaken Eastern Europe’ (Platt, 2016). Accordingly, D&D serves as the foundation of the game system, but the game universe is deeply contaminated by the desires and wants of real lives, as well as from their miseries and failures.

Conclusions and discussion There is an indie spirit beneath these great projects that can be fully felt in the words of creators such as Robert Kurvitz and Dan Vavra, projects that start with small teams whose members suffer for years to achieve success. They denote a clear authorial intention (something discussed in this book by Mercè Oliva) on the path of what had already happened with European cinema in the 1960s. An escape from spectacularity and fantasy, replaced by character-driven stories, providing great agency to players through different methods supported by moral choices with consequence. One feels that this innovation is served more by literature than by cinema, with the main characters being commoners, with the freedom to grow but who are nevertheless conditioned by the world they inhabit. Not everything is

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possible here; in most cases, the result of different actions is the same, but the player/character is free to define their path, to process choices, and to build themselves as they wish, regardless of the overall world. There is a set of existentialist traits (a European philosophy discussed in this book by Stefano Gualeni and Daniel Vella) in these approaches that transcend fantasy, due to the way the stories condition the impact of external actions, reflecting them and, in turn, offering an expanded internal discussion of feelings, wants, and desires—as if acknowledging the impossibility of being what we want, even in a fictional world, as if that fictional world had an obligation to represent life as it is. Dreams and aspirations are left out, or rather they are represented only inwardly, as they rarely affect the real world outside. The discussion and analysis presented throughout this chapter aimed at comprehending the aesthetics behind many relevant European narrative games of the last decade. We have seen an evolution occurring not only in Europe but all over the world. However, as discussed here, European developers seemed to feel the need to incorporate literary traditions, and with this they opened new spaces for realism and drama in a medium tired of fantasy. In the two European games analysed in this chapter, Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Disco Elyseum, there was a need to establish a logical connection with the real, even if that reality does not mirror an existing one. The world-building felt the need to follow scientific rules that would apply as they do in actual reality; these games worked as simulators of reality, allowing creators and players to explore the rules that govern our worlds through consistent alternate worlds. Naturalism helped to push for that simulation, for the need to use the same conditions and play with them, and to exercise the hypothesising of possible moves and learn with it. Naturalism is not merely exceeding realism; naturalism is a search for meaning using experimental methodology. It creates experiments through narrative art, puts agents playing by the rules inside the world, and watches while the story emerges—and, in the videogame case, lets the players react in order for them to understand what happens. Therefore, both Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Disco Elyseum push game naturalism much further than other games that push for realism, through detailed environments and visual f idelity, by offering true narrative agency to players, and putting them inside the worlds not just to make them feel empathy for the characters, but to let them experiment with the naturalist world represented therein. This approach creates what we can define as the European naturalist RPG.

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Thursten, C. (2016, February 29). Kingdom Come: Deliverance Brings Bloody Realism to RPG Combat at Last. PCGamer. kingdom-come-deliverance-hands-on/ Vavra, D. (2013, February 11). Interview with Dan Vávra (Warhorse Studios). RPGCodex. Vavra, D. (2018, May 28). Designing Historical Open World RPG. Steam Community. Wolf, M. J. P. (2015). Video Games, Cinema, Bazin, and the Myth of Simulated Lived Experience. Game: The Italian Journal of Game Studies, 4, 15–24. https://www. Zagalo, N. (2017). Narrative Design of Sadness in Heavy Rain. Journal of Science and Technology of the Arts, 9(2, special issue). Zagalo, N., Torres, A., & Branco, V. (2005). Emotional Spectrum Developed by Virtual Storytelling. In G. Subsol (Ed.), Virtual Storytelling 2005 (pp. 105–114). Zola, E. (2004) (1868). Thérèse Raquin. London: Penguin Classics.

About the Author Nelson Zagalo is scientific coordinator of DigiMedia – Digital Media and Interaction Research Center, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Digital Media & Interaction, and associate professor at University of Aveiro. He has written the books Interactive Emotions, from Film to Videogames (2009), Videogames in Portugal: History, Technology and Art (2013), and Engagement Design: Designing for Interaction Motivations (2020).

Conclusions (for now) European Videogames, Europeanness in Videogames Víctor Navarro-Remesal & Óliver Pérez-Latorre

We hope this has managed to prove something: it is very difficult to conceptualise the ‘European videogame’… but there are plenty of viewpoints from which to explore it and plenty of reasons to do so. Looking at videogames in Europe is not the same as looking for European videogames, nor are either of these the same as looking for Europeanness in videogames. The complex realities of Europe as a geographical, political, cultural, economic, and historic space create a highly demanding task for scholars, gamemakers, and regulators in the region. Our primary goal in this book has been to point out that challenge and gather some of the resources needed to grapple with it; we hope the reader is now better equipped to continue identifying and interrogating the tensions and through lines of European videogames. Here are some final reflections on them for now.

A certain (European) view on videogames Is it possible to speak of a European videogame culture? This question involves a previous one related to European cultural identity. Certain historical references are usually cited when this question is addressed, such as classical culture, Roman law, Christianity, and the Enlightenment, along with fundamental ideas such as citizenship, democracy, reason, and cosmopolitanism (García, 1993; Pagden, 2002; Harrod, Liz, & Timoshkina, 2015, pp. 4–5). Starting in the 1960s, the European Union project centralised the concept of ‘Europeanity’ or ‘Europeanism’ as a possible identity shared by nations, appealing to the cultivation of peace and harmony on the continent after the tragedy of the two World Wars. Since then, the EU project has often been criticised for having focused on the monetary and administrative aspects of its union while ignoring the social and cultural

Navarro-Remesal, V. and Ó. Pérez-Latorre, Perspectives on the European Videogame. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2022 doi 10.5117/9789463726221_conc


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dimensions, the idea of ‘the Europe of the people’ (Demossier, 2009, p. 49). A flag and an anthem were created (moves paradoxically inspired by the old national identity model). Undoubtedly valuable initiatives were promoted, such as the MEDIA programme to support audiovisual production and the Erasmus university exchange program. Sociocultural integration, however, did not progress as planned. The ‘no’ votes to the European Constitution from France and the Netherlands in the 2005 referendum were a harsh message. The 2008 economic crisis complicated the situation, generating tensions between wealthy countries and those in the Mediterranean and the south, which were severely affected. These tensions recently remerged in the COVID-19 crisis. On top of this comes the UK’s recent exit from the EU. In any case, as Everett (2005, p. 7) points out there has not been, and probably will never be, a clear or single definition of European identity. This should not be considered a bad thing since the formation of cultural identities is always a complex and constantly changing process, even more so, if possible, in a place like Europe, characterised by a great diversity of nations and languages. The idea of a ‘European videogame’ inevitably shares this status as a notion permanently open to change and debate. In fact, immersed in a globalised market, many European game developers work with and for multinational publishers headquartered in the USA or Japan, which in many cases hold the intellectual property rights of their productions. Answering the question of ‘what is a European videogame’ is like plunging into quicksand. And yet, this book shows that there is undoubted cultural richness and distinctive features in the past and present of the European videogame: from areas such as content creation (game developers) to recent narrative and design trends, from the influence of transnational European traditions (analogue Eurogames, Franco-Belgian style comics), to local/national history and culture. If there is or could be something resembling a European videogame cultural identity (multifaceted and unstable), it would not simply reside in the videogames themselves. It would consist of a particular way of seeing and relating to videogames in Europe, including creators, players, and other significant agents in the medium such as journalists, scholars, museum directors, etc. In this ‘certain view’, two interpretative horizons merge: first, European culture ‘external’ to the world of videogames itself, as a ‘filter’ or shared cultural imaginary that can lend its own nuance to our way of understanding the medium; and second, the culture of the European videogame itself in relation to its histories, references, fan practices, trends, and so on.

Conclusions (for now)


A ‘double hermeneutics’ of videogames and culture in Europe A ‘double hermeneutics’ runs through the contributions to this book: from European culture to (European) videogames, and from European videogames to (European) culture beyond the videogame sphere. The particularities of each chapter add different approaches and angles to these hermeneutics: for example, the reader has seen studies that apply theories that originated in Europe (auteur theory) to our understanding of contemporary European videogames, comparative analyses with other media and European cultural references (comics by Hergé, and Goscinny and Uderzo), and cultural studies based on particular socio-historical frameworks that extend beyond the videogame itself (Spanish history and cultural idiosyncrasy, communist Czechoslovakia). Other contributions stem more from the discovery and exploration of singular or ‘forgotten’ aspects of the history of the European videogame, opening up later to broader cultural connections and reflections (French videogames from the 1980s and their affiliations with other areas of French culture, the ‘clone’ videogame phenomenon of the Dragon microcomputer, the amateur creation and distribution of sex videogames in 1980s Finland). Finally, other chapters have been geared towards inquiring into current trends in European videogames (the ‘naturalistic’ trend in recent European productions) or in-depth looks at European philosophical and cultural traditions that can help us understand the medium and its European specificities (application of existentialism to game studies, Eurogames and board strategy games). In the end, both approaches, one more deductive and the other inductive, are closely intertwined in most of the chapters and converge as a common space in a cultural reflection on the complex relationships between the ideas of videogames and Europe. These double hermeneutics and exchanges have always borne in mind an obvious reality: that foregrounding European culture when reflecting on (European) videogames should not mean forgetting the importance of the influence of other cultures in the European videogame, particularly the impact of the American and Japanese industries and cultures. The European videogame, just like Europe itself, is defined by a dialogue among a plurality of agents, both within its territory and with other geopolitical agents. The European videogame is transnational, which is no exception—videogames are strongly transnational as a medium. These ‘double hermeneutics’ can exist at various levels. As we pointed out previously, together with videogame creators, ‘narrators’ of and ‘commentators’ on the medium such as journalists, cultural agents, and scholars can put more or less emphasis on the ‘European perspective’ to analyse


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and reflect on specific works and the medium in general. Without a doubt, these hermeneutics play a fundamental role in constructing the medium’s European imaginary. The fact that auteur theory, so closely related to French art and cinema, has had so little presence in the contemporary debate on ‘indie games,’ as Oliva shows in this volume, is a relevant example of that. Concerning the role of cultural institutions and policies, neither the passive attitude of waiting for a European sense of community to emerge by itself, as a simple by-product of economic union, nor the opposite extreme, seeking symbolic shortcuts and promoting some kind of European pride, seem adequate—neither in general nor in regard to the European videogame. The idea of (trans)national pride is usually associated with the construction of an idealised past, which the historiographic studies in this volume clearly challenge. The perspectives included in this volume value historical analyses of the European videogame industry and culture without falling into nostalgic or romantic views. In fact, most of them emphasise critical reflection on certain aspects of those pasts or the way they are understood today.

The European videogame as a networked cultural region Experiences such as Interrail and the Erasmus programme can be inspiring: they are not so much about institutions trying to define European identity or trying to promote a sense of belonging but about creating spaces and platforms for dialogue and exchange where they may more genuinely emerge. The creation and/or reinforcement of cultural networks around videogames has a noticeable potential in academia; EU research and development programmes have been promoting collaboration between universities from different countries for a long time, and the European game studies network, with all its strengths and weaknesses, has become an international hub in the field. Europe has several specific game museums and permanent exhibitions (in Berlin, Rome, and Karlsruhe, among other places), united in and represented by the European Federation of Game Archives, Museums and Preservation Projects (EFGAMP). Other areas such as the specialised press, videogame conventions, and libraries could benefit from the creation or enhancement of similar networks that contribute to the cultural dissemination of videogames and make the ‘European factor’ visible. The pieces of the European videogame puzzle are there: in many cases, they just need to be made visible and connected. From there, new initiatives on digital culture and videogames could be undertaken by applying this European view.

Conclusions (for now)


This book has attempted to shed light on some of these puzzle pieces and to start looking for ways to connect them. It never set out to be exhaustive, but rather to foster dialogue not only with and among the scholars united in it, but also with and among future readers and scholarship. There are many geographical and thematic gaps in this collection waiting to be filled by new voices, nuances waiting to be added to what we have presented here, new layers to be built upon our proposals. As mentioned in the Introduction, getting a full picture of the European videogame will require a far bigger project than this one: it is a long-term endeavour, a collective effort that can only be carried by a polyphony of voices. If we are made of stories, as thinkers such as Paul Ricoeur and Jerome Bruner argued, cultural identity must be a fundamentally narrative matter. In this sense, it is not so much the European videogame as the narrative about the European videogame that (it remains to be seen whether for the better) will be crucial in the process of building a shared imaginary for videogames in the European region. Let’s write that narrative together.

References Demossier, M. (2009). The Political Structuring of Cultural Identities in Europe. In M. Demossier (Ed.), The European Puzzle. The Political Structuring of Cultural Identities at a Time of Transition (pp. 49–66). Oxford: Berghahn Books. Everett, W. (2005). European Identity in Cinema. Bristol: Intellect. García, S. (1993). Europe’s Fragmented Identities and the Frontiers of Citizenship. In S. García (Ed.), European Identity and the Search for Legitimacy (pp. 1–29) London: Pinter for the Eleni Nakou Foundation and the Royal Institute of International Affairs. Harrod, M., Liz, M., & Timoshkina, A. (Eds.) (2015). The Europeanness of European Cinema. Identity, Meaning, Globalisation. London: I. B. Tauris. Pagden, A. (2002). The Idea of Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

About the Authors Víctor Navarro-Remesal is a an associate professor in media and game studies at Tecnocampus, Pompeu Fabra University. He is the author of Libertad dirigida (Shangrila, 2016) and Cine Ludens: 50 diálogos entre el juego y el cine (Editorial UOC, 2019) and the editor of Pensar el juego. 25 caminos para los game studies (Shangrila, 2020), in addition to having authored many


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chapters and papers in the field. His research interests are player freedom, Zen-inspired games, Japanese videogames, and game preservation. Óliver Pérez-Latorre is a senior lecturer in game and media studies at Pompeu Fabra University (Barcelona, Spain). He has published articles on videogame analysis and culture in the European Journal of Communication, Game Studies, Games and Culture, Convergence, and Social Semiotics. He is the author of El Lenguaje Videolúdico. Análisis de la Significación del Videojuego [The Videoludic Language. Analysis of Video Game Meaning] (Ed. Laertes, 2012).

Index #metoo movement 145 Aarseth, Espen 98, 107, 194, 205 Across the Iron Curtain 202, 203, 206 Agricola 198, 204 Alexievich, Svetlana 220, 224 Almodóvar 44 Alone in the Dark 23, 66, 210 Another World 27, 210 Asterix 31, 67, 68, 151-168, 170-172 Asterix & Obelix 152, 154-156, 159, 162-164, 170, Attentat 1942 24 auteur 134, 139, 141, 144, 165 Auteur theory 229, 230 auteur politics 31, 131, 132, 142, 146 auteurism 131, 142, 146, 148, 149 Banjo Kazooie 164 Barcelona 50, 152, 15, 158, 160, 201 Barcelona: The Rose of Fire 201, 202 Victus: Barcelona 1714 200 Barlow, Sam 131, 133, 135, 137, 139, 147 Barthes, Roland 133, 147 Bauman, Zygmunt 161, 162, 171 Battlefield 28 Bepa Quest 76, 78, 81-83, 86 Berlin 11, 31, 161, 164, 230 Beyond: Two Souls 214 Billy La Banlieue 59, 69 Bit Managers 151, 152, 154, 156, 157, 160-163, 165, 166, 168 Blasphemous 29, 55 Boulder Dash 99, 100, 108 Bourdieu, Pierre 133, 134, 136, 142, 143, 145, 147 Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons 213, 224, 225 Bug-Byte 25 Cahiers du Cinéma 133 Caillois, Roger 16, 33, 193, 205 Capitán Sevilla 52, 53, 57 Caylus 199 CD Projekt RED 23, 29 Centre for Games and Play at Utrecht University 9 Cervantes 55, 159 Chahi, Eric 27, 65, 74 chansonnier 59, 60, 70, 71 Cioran, Emile 158, 172 Clans of Caledonia 198 Coimbra 199 Coktel Vision 24, 68, 71-73 comic books 31, 68, 151-154, 157, 159, 163, 165, 167-170 Consolemania 155, 157, 160, 164, 173 Core Design 23 cracking 98, 101 Creative Assembly 29

Cuthbert 120-125 Cuthbert Goes Digging 120, 123 Cuthbert Goes Walkabout 120, 122-125 Cuthbert in the Jungle 121-124, 126 Czech Republic 11, 29, 34, 104, 109, 217, 219 David Cage 131, 133, 141-150 Days of Ire: Budapest 1956 202 Dear Esther 133, 139, 149 Deconstructeam 24 demo scene 27, 101, 104 Delphine Software 24, 27 Detroit: Become Human 133, 141, 143-145, 148, 150 DICE 28 Dinamic Software/Multimedia 25, 39, 42, 46, 49, 50, 52, 54, 55 Disco Elysium 209, 210, 217, 220-222 DIY 31, 75, 76, 84, 85, 87, 140, 149 DMA Design 23, 25, 27 Donkey Kong 31, 111, 112, 117-120, 122, 124-127 Donkey King 117-120, 123-126 Dontnod Studio 23, 24 Douglas, Alexander S. 21 Dragon 32 31, 11-114, 116-121, 123-126 Dragon User 115, 118, 119 Dungeons & Dragons 215, 225 Eastern Europe 11, 29, 222 École de Bruxelles 154 École de Marcinelle 154 EGDF 20 Emilio Butragueño Fútbol 49 Enslaved: Odyssey to the West 217 Eurogame 15, 16, 26, 34, 193, 197, 198, 200, 204, 206, 207, 228, 229 European Union 11, 12, 17, 115, 172, 200, 227 Europeanness 30, 31, 151, 152, 160, 162, 170, 227, 231 Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture 133, 136, 138, 149 Everyday the same dream 24, 137, 190 Everyone is a Wally 25 Existentialism 175, 176, 190, 229 Far Cry 217 Finland 9, 12, 16, 23, 27-29, 34, 75, 76, 78, 81, 84, 85, 87, 89, 94, 108, 229 Flashback 23 Foucault, Michel 24, 132, 137, 148, 190 France 11, 16, 18, 19, 20, 23, 32, 49, 59, 60, 63, 65-67, 72-74, 79, 92, 94, 149, 153, 154, 157, 161, 162, 164, 168, 170, 171, 199, 200, 206, 215, 228 Frenchness 159, 160, 161, 162 French touch 24, 27, 33, 74 Franco-Belgian 68, 151, 152, 154, 160, 161, 164, 165, 168, 170, 228

234  Freddy Hardest 52, 53, 58 Freedom ou les Guerriers de l’ombre 24, 71, 72 Froggy Software 24, 61, 62, 63, 66 Gaelco 50 Game Studies 7-9, 12, 15, 29, 30, 32, 34, 35, 41, 58, 88, 112, 124, 127,149, 175-177, 179, 187, 193-195, 205, 206, 224, 226, 229, 230-232 Germany 16, 24, 26, 28, 33, 51, 72, 92, 94, 98, 101, 102, 164, 170, 197, 203, 211, 212, 215 Gilabert, Isidro 157, 166, 172 Goody 52 González, Alberto 163, 168 Goscinny 31, 68, 152, 154-156, 158, 159, 164, 167, 172, 229 Grand Theft Auto 23, 25, 170 Habermas, Jurgen 152, 172 Heaven & Ale 198 Heavy Rain 133, 141-143, 147, 149, 150, 211, 213, 214, 226 Helsinki 141 Helttaa Helmaan 76, 78, 80, 81, 86 Hergé 31, 68, 152, 154, 165, 166-172, 229 Horizon Zero Dawn 217, 224 Huizinga, Johan 8, 13, 16, 33, 193, 194, 206 Human: Fall Flat 133, 138, 140, 147 I.L. L’Intrus 63-65 Ibáñez, Francisco 31, 51 indie game 27, 28, 131, 133-141, 143, 150, 230 Infogrames 22, 23, 27, 59, 60, 62, 63, 65-70, 73, 151, 152, 154, 156, 157, 159, 160, 162-169, 171 Inside 28, 133, 135 Institute of Digital Games 9, 192 ISFE 19 Italy 16, 18, 23, 27, 29, 33, 50, 149, 153, 154, 164, 170 Japan 15, 16, 18, 19, 21-23, 30, 51, 77, 87, 88, 92, 93, 95-97, 110-112, 209, 210, 215, 228 Jensen, Arnt 137, 140 Jet Set Willy 25 King 28 Kingdom Come: Deliverance 209, 217-220, 222-226 Knight Lore 100, 109 Koulu3 76, 78, 79, 83-85, 89 La Abadía del Crimen 22, 47, 57 La Molleindustria 24, 187, 190 La pulga 25, 40 LARP 9 Le Vampire Fou 59, 63 Lemmings 24, 27 Levi Strauss, C. 193, 206 Liberté 201 Liège Game Lab 9

Perspec tives on the European Videogame

Life is Strange 24, 214, ligne claire 166, 168, 170, 172 Limbo 28, 133, 135, 137, 139, 141, 148, 149, 150 Ludology 32, 175-177, 179, 187, 191, 206 Lyon 153, 157, 158, 163 Madrid 44, 49, 16 Mali Powstańcy: Warszawa 1944 202 Malta 9, 17 Manic Miner 25, 100, 108 Max Payne 28, 29, 211 McLuhan, Marshall 189, 190 MEDIA Programme 21, 215, 228 Même les pommes de terre ont des yeux 24, 66 MicroHobby 42, 52 MicroManía 42, 54 Miéville, China 220 Mikro Gen 25 Mikrobitti 82, 85 Minecraft 28 Molyneux, Peter 25 Morin, Edgar 170, 171 Mortadelo y Filemón 51 MUD 22 naturalism 209, 211, 218, 219, 221, 223 Netherlands 27, 29, 94, 228 New Frontier 161 Nintendo 18, 95, 112, 118-120, 125, 184 Nintendo Acción 154, 159, 161, 162, 164, 166-168, 171 Nintendo Player 154, 156, 157, 159, 160-164, 167-169 North & South 27, 68, 152 Olé, Toro 54, 55 Ora et Labora 198 Orléans 199, 204 OXO 21, 22 Pajitnov, Alexei 23 PAL 18 Paris 15, 66, 158, 214 Patti, Dino 135-137, 140 PC Fútbol 50 PEGI Code 19 Pedercini, Paolo 24 Perfect Dark 164 Pinchbeck, Dan 136, 138, 139 Platform Studies 92, 113, 116, 124 Playdead 28, 131, 133, 135-137 Polis: Fight for the Hegemony 200 porting 92, 98, 101, 102, 104, 106, 111, 115 Portugal 23 Quantic Dream 23, 133, 141, 144, 214 Rayman 23 Red Strings Club 24



Region 18, 19, 23 region-specific 75, 126 networked cultural region 230 Remedy Entertainment 28 Bartle, Richard 22 Rockstar 25 Rokoko 199 Rome 31, 230 Rovio 23, 28 Sakalauskas, Tomas 131, 133, 138, 140 Sharp MZ-800 30, 91-95, 102, 106 Simulmondo 29 SOMA 217 Spain 11, 19, 20, 22, 39, 40, 42, 43, 45, 47-54, 92, 115, 153, 154, 167, 170, 200 españolada 43, 54, 55 Spanishness (españolidad) 40, 43, 44, 162 Spain 1936 201 Spec Ops: The Line 212, 214 Spirou 68, 152, 165 Steiner, George 17, 153, 154, 157, 162 Strip-tease Ventti 76, 78-80, 86 Strugatsky, Arkadi and Boris 221 Super Mario Bros 184, 185 Super Play 155, 164-171 Supercell 23, 26, 28 Superlópez 51, 52 Tarkovsky, Andrei 221 Tetris 23, 29 The Case of the Catalans 200 The Chinese Room 131, 133, 139 The Smurfs 67, 151, 152, 159, 160, 162, 168 The Witcher 29 The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt 215, 216

This War of Mine 212 Through the Darkest of Times 24 Tintin 31, 67, 68, 151-155, 158, 160-162, 164, 166, 169-171 Tintin in Tibet 152, 164-169 Tintin: Prisoners of the Sun 152, 157, 165 Tomb Raider 23, 210 Topo Soft 40, 46, 48-50, 55 Tramis, Muriel 71, 72 Troyes 199, 204 Trubshaw, Roy 22 Ubisoft 15, 20, 23, 64, 67, 73 Uderzo, Albert 31, 68, 152, 155, 159, 167, UK 11, 12, 16-18, 20, 22, 27, 42, 46, 49, 50, 52-54, 61, 73, 92, 94, 100, 104, 112, 114, 115, 117-120, 122-124, 126, 153, 154, 160, 152, 154, 155, 170, Ultimate Play the Game 22, 27, 100 US 44, 49, 61, 86, 112, 119, 126, 146, 197 Vavra, Daniel 218, 219, 222, Village 198 VIGAMUS 31 Wales 12, 114, 115 wargame 196, 197, 200, 201, 204 Worms 23, 27 Year Walk 29 Zapffe, Peter Wessel 175, 176, 179, 180 Zola, Émile 221 Zombi 23, 66 Zweig, Stefan 158, 162 ZX Spectrum 22, 42, 91, 94-96, 98, 99, 106, 112, 114