Colour Commentary: Worlds 2021 is here

The League of Legends World Championship in Reykjavík, Iceland is underway

For the past few years, I’ve fallen out of touch with playing League of Legends. But right around this time of the year, when the world championships begin, I constantly find myself catching the action, entranced in the esports competition that never fails to impress. 

When my high school friends and I discovered the game in 2010, we had synchronized schedules which enabled us to indulge in our near-nightly tradition for most of my teenage years. 

Since then, League of Legends has grown exponentially both in-game and externally from a competitive perspective. While esports and other titles in the gaming industry have subsequently evolved in turn, many gamers credit the early days of League as the birth of the thriving community of gamers we see today. 

I’ll load into Summoner’s Rift, the classic and most commonly played map in League of Legends, from time to time nowadays, but my days of grinding solo queue and teaming up with four of my best friends with the far-fetched hopes of going professional are long gone. Definitely for the better.

But I can’t lie; seeing some of the familiar and legendary faces I grew up watching in the League of Legends scene battle it out against the budding young players that are on the cusp of greatness reinvigorates my itch to play the game. 

Last year, the World Championship was held in Shanghai, China, in front of a whopping crowd of zero for all the games except for the finals amid the pandemic. I still had a good time watching the tournament but admittedly, the experience with no fans left a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, this year’s edition of the tournament in Reykjavík, Iceland, will not have a live audience as well.

As is the case every year, teams gather from a number of different regions to compete for the chance to hoist the Summoner’s Cup and earn the title of World Champion. And as usual, the teams from Korea and China are slated as betting favourites to win it all, with teams from Europe lurking close behind and capable of the dramatic upset on occasion. 

North America will once again try to put an end to their everlasting disappointment in international play. I’m rooting for them, but I’ve honestly grown numb to the annual heartbreak and I’ve learned to not take it personally. 

Now please excuse me as I shamelessly reacquaint myself with the game and load into Champion Select. 


Break it down for me: Video games

Concordia professor says academics need to start paying attention to the growing industry

According to EEDAR, a gaming industry analytics firm, 65 per cent of the United States population played video games in 2016. In 2015, consumers spent a total of $23.5 billion on video game software, hardware and accessories.

The gaming sector is rapidly becoming a juggernaut in the media industry, and academia is starting to pay attention.

Carolyn Jong, a contract instructor and PhD student at Concordia University, designed and teaches “Video games and/as Literature,” one of the few undergraduate courses at Concordia where students look at games from a cultural perspective. The Concordian met with Jong so she could explain why academics should pay attention to the industry.

Why do games matter? Why is it important to study them?

They’re a test case, an example, for where our economy is heading and where our culture is going. You should pay attention to it for the same reason you pay attention to any major medium that plays such a significant role in both our economy and our culture.

Mainly, there are two reasons: one is economic and the other is cultural. Economics and culture are interconnected, and it is really important to look at how they interact with each other in relation to video games.

Let’s start with the economic side.

There is a shift in what we call the “First World” or western developed economies towards a focus on immaterial labour. There is a lot of focus on the cultural industries, on technology, on communications, logistics, all that sort of stuff—and the game industry is obviously part of that. From that, you’re seeing a shift in how work places are being organized and in how and where capital in our society is being invested. It’s important to pay attention to those shifts. A lot of us [in the developed world] are employed in these industries, or want to work in them, so they have big implications for all of us.

Also, video games are always pushing for technological development. It’s sort of an arms race where, between game developers, they are constantly trying to improve the technology, like graphics. The gaming industry pushes for technological improvements. Every year or so, new graphics cards, new processors, new consoles come out. That pushes for the consumption of more hardware, like fancier computers and new consoles. We need to look at how the gaming industry is driving the consumption of computers and other digital technologies and the impact it has on the environment and the people working in those industries.

Can you give us some examples?

A lot of the raw minerals used in computer chips are mined in Africa. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo is a really well-known supplier of coltan, which is a mineral mostly used for making electronics. The working conditions in most coltan mines are terrible. It’s pretty much slave labour. But a lot of the consumption of electronics isn’t happening in those countries. It is getting shipped out, usually to China or to other manufacturing areas, and then that gets shipped again to wealthy western nations.

Without [the exploitation of these people], there would be no game industry. We wouldn’t have the devices that we need to make video games, let alone play them.

How do video games affect us culturally?

Video games are such a big part of culture that it has an impact on people’s general sense of who we are. It does pay to pay attention to how games might be influencing the way that we think about ourselves. Often, it happens at a subconscious level—it’s not an explicit part of the message that is in the game, but it’s just part of the logic of the game or how the game works. You are not realizing that you are internalizing some of these things, but you learn to take certain things for granted or accept things as normal because you are participating in those games. For example, you can internalize through video games stereotypes about socially-constructed gender roles or racism.

Let’s talk about something we can learn from all that. You did research on “Gamergate,” when prominent female and trans game critics, developers and journalists who wanted change in the industry were harassed by a group of male gamers. There were death threats and rape threats. Is gaming part of an identity that some people are afraid of losing?

In a capitalist system, we are encouraged to identify ourselves through the clothes we wear and through the things we buy—through consumption. If you play games, you are a gamer. That’s part of your identity, right? And you start to be on the defensive if someone is being critical of the thing that you like. For example, if someone is critical of a TV show that you like, it feels almost like a personal attack on you because part of who you identify as comes from your consumption of that thing.

There was a shift in the 80s and 90s in the video game industry to find a target market; it turned out to be young men and teenage boys. It made sense, because they tend to have the most disposable income. But it shaped the culture around games. All of a sudden, publicity only showed white boys and men playing games. For decades, you had women and girls playing games who didn’t really feel it was theirs. They felt it wasn’t something they were supposed to do. It was a boy’s thing. We ended up with a video game culture that, by and large, privileges straight white middle-class cis-men.

That ended up with a toxicity in the culture. There was an understanding from these men of: “we own games” or “games are ours.” It’s not that conscious, but that’s how they think about it. They were hostile to anyone who wasn’t a straight white man. They saw them as outsiders.

You’re doing a PhD on video games at Concordia. How is it going? How is it viewed in the world of academia?

It depends. Right now, there is a lot of focus in the government about promoting video games, because it brings jobs and some other economic benefits. There are huge subsidies in Quebec that go to the major companies in the industry. That’s influencing academia as well; as government policy shifts in that direction, that also means there’s more funding for projects that look at digital stuff in general, and at games in particular.

But it’s still slow. There is a fear in academia that, if there’s money going into studying games, that means there will be less funding for studying literature or for film or for other stuff. But that is just a reflection of the way the institution works. We need to look at what is creating that lack of funding in the first place, instead of fighting each other for what gets studied at the university.

Also, academics are used to being experts. I think it can be scary to be presented with something that you might not be familiar with, and then reject it or not pay attention to it. But again, that’s institutional. In academia, you have to pretend to be an expert because, if you’re not an expert, then what value do you have for the institution?

But with younger people who want to work in the industry and who are coming into university, there is a huge demand to study games. So that change is going to happen, one way or another. I just hope the critical aspect of game studies doesn’t get left behind. A lot of people are coming into it looking for a career in games, and often the programs that are set up to cater to that aren’t about teaching you to be critical of the medium or to think about it deeply or reflect on it. They turn you into a cog inside a machine. You just learn the skills to gain a job in the game industry.

Increasingly, universities are moving in that direction. I’m a bit concerned by that. But that’s not just a problem with games, that’s a problem everywhere. It’s just very obvious with games, because it’s happening very quickly.

“Break it down for me” is a series of articles where The Concordian meets with experts from our university to learn more about pressing issues in our society.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Photo by Olivier Sylvestre

Student Life

Diversity is no game: bringing reality to gaming

A University of the Streets Café discussion with three Montreal game developers

University of the Streets Café held an open conversation titled “Representation and Identity in Video Games: Whose Stories are Told Through Gaming?” on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

The conversation was moderated by Rémy Paulin Twahirwa, a Master’s student studying political science at l’Université de Québec à Montréal [UQAM].  He is interested in researching how new technologies impact contemporary politics and social movements.

The event covered topics such as diversity in gaming, how to make gaming accessible to wider audiences and how gaming can improve people’s lives.

Photo by Ana Hernandez

At Concordia’s Technoculture Arts and Games Research Centre (TAG), located in the EV building, a group of about 15 people gathered in a colourful room complete with game consoles, computers and ornaments, scattered across the room.

The discussion featured three game developers: Lateef Martin, the founder of Miscellaneum Studios, Jana Sloan van Geest, a game writer working at Ubisoft, and Tuuli Saarinen, a designer who’s worked on various independent games.

Like the University of the Streets Café’s other discussion series, the conversation was held as an open forum. The guest speakers and the moderator led the talk but questions were welcomed and encouraged at any time from attendees.

“I’ve always been very interested in how games are designed,” said Saarinen. “For me, the driving force has always been figuring out why I felt like games are not what they could be. I’ve always felt that they could be more,” she said. Saarinen began developing games after her background in research on gaming led her to game design. She brought her passion for the narrative aspect of video games to the discussion.

“I realized that it was all about what kind of stories were being told, and how they were being told. For me, it’s always been about finding the most natural way for games to tell stories,” she said. Saarinen said she believes that diversity should be an integral part of video games in order to improve the gaming experience for as many people as possible.

Diversity is not something the gaming industry is known for. A 2015 self-selected survey from the International Game Developers Association found that 75 per cent of the worldwide gaming industry is male and 76 per cent of the industry is white.

Martin is currently working on his game “Z’Isle,” which has an open Kickstarter, an online funding platform through which anyone can donate to help fund the project. The world of “Z’Isle,” according to the game’s website, is a world complete with Montreal-based zombies, “incorporating themes of survival, social equity, and sustainability.”

Martin dedicates his game-making career to delivering entertainment “with a mandate to represent people of colour, women, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized communities in a positive light.”  He believes that diversity is important in video games because they reflect real societies.

“Negative stereotypes and tropes can be very damaging,” Martin said. “A lot of people tend to downplay it [by saying] ‘it’s just a game’, ‘it’s just a movie.’ Oh yeah? Close your eyes and think of the word ‘pimp.’ What do you see? I’m pretty sure it’s a black guy. That’s because we’ve been taught that all our lives.”

On a more positive note, Martin described video games as “an incredible way to connect with people and give them an experience that could change their lives.”

Exit mobile version