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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Playing with Religion in Digital Games

From the emergence of the first generation 8-bit console games to the sweeping stories and design of some of today’s massively multiplayer online role-playing games (mmorpg), the presence of religion in digital gaming has been present in some fashion. The Legend of Zelda, God of War, Okami, World of Warcraft, to name a few, are all video games that incorporate some form of religion in their narratives. And with the proliferation of games in the last few decades, played by innumerable amounts of people daily, its effect may be more evident than we know.  

In Playing with Religion in Digital Games, UNCG Religious Studies professor Gregory Price Grieve and Texas A&M University Professor of Communication Heidi Campbell have compiled a unique collection of essays that examine the ways in which religious motifs are present in modern digital games and the ways in which they could be used to understand various cultures and cultural identities.  As Grieve says himself, "There is a notion that games and religion have nothing to do with each other. This book provides evidence that they do actually have a lot of similarities, and these similarities offer insights into aspect of how religion is performed."(

The collection has received accolade from trade news magazine Publishers Weekly, expressing,  “the essayists analyze digital games' depictions of religious imagery and theology and consider the implications of how different cultural groups receive and project these ideas. Many of the essayists examine the relationship between the historical and symbolic importance of sacred games/spaces and play as a meaning-making activity.”  (Publisher’s Weekly)

"The pieces here take fresh approaches to the topics and add valuable insight. The collection distinguishes itself most in its section on gaming as implicit religion—where authors discuss the ways in which some games imbue nonreligious activity with religious meaning. In these games, players experience "emotions and processes" that match religious emotions and processes, an area of gaming studies ripe for exploration."  (Stenis, 2014)

"This volume brings together the fields of religion studies and game studies in valuable ways. It helps us see the many and complex roles that religion and spirituality can take on within contemporary videogames, and it also explores how the practice of gameplay itself can be a religion-like experience. The many excellent writers included here demonstrate the value of cross-disciplinary approaches to understanding games, and also how digital games have become a key element of contemporary life—in both its sacred and its profane expressions." (Mia Consalvo, Concordia University, author of Cheating:  Gaining Advantage in Videogames

Stenis, P. (2014). Playing with Religion in Digital Games. Library Journal, 139(4), 96.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bull City Summer: A Season at the Ballpark

Bull City Summer: A Season at the Ballpark brings together a team of artists and documentarians around a season of minor league baseball to find stories and images on the field and behind the scenes that collectively present a microcosm of contemporary American culture engaged around a favorite pastime. The Durham Bulls are one of the most popular and successful minor league baseball teams in the country, with more players being sent to the Majors than any other minor league team. To diversify the documentation of the 2013 season, guest artists Alex Harris, Frank Hunter, Kate Joyce, Elizabeth Matheson, Leah Sobsey, Alec Soth, Hank Willis Thomas and Hiroshi Watanabe were invited to photograph the team in Durham. "The opportunity to photograph spring baseball in North Carolina was a no-brainer," Soth says. "The pacing of baseball arouses a kind of leisurely attentiveness that is analogous to photographic seeing. You look and look and then every once in a while, snap, you get a hit." (Publisher’s Website - Daylight)

Baseball is unique in the sports world. Unlike other team sports, which often constitute a battle over territory relying on brute force, baseball is typically quiet and understated. It can even be lonely. The project “Bull City Summer,”… explores these qualities of the game… “I think there's more poetry in baseball than any other sport,” said Sam Stephenson, the project’s director. “Baseball is more subtle,” he said. (Jordan G. Teicher, Slate)

[Essayists] introduce us to a familiar cast of characters: the elderly couple who've missed just 50 games in 30-plus years; the aging veteran playing out the string in Triple-A, four years removed from a World Series appearance with the Yankees; the Duke philosophy professor who, before succumbing to colon cancer in 2013, would "adopt" a player every year, bringing him cookies and the occasional CD filled with classical music; the Cuban first baseman whose league MVP award will get him no closer to the big leagues; the general manager who helped revitalize the club in 1980 and who claims at the start of one essay, "I'm a gifted salesman. I hate it, but I am."

Meanwhile, the photos highlight the play between the sort of regional authenticity that clubs sell to local fans and the generic ballpark experience found in dozens of baseball towns—Corpus Christi, Rancho Cucamonga, New Britain, wherever—around the country.
(Ian Gordon, Mother Jones)

Stephenson intentionally chose photographers with no sports or journalism background to work on the project, and he didn't give them any specific assignments when he sent them to the ballpark to take photos…The results represent a variety of photographic technologies and artistic approaches. Alec Soth used an 8-by-10 film camera. Hiroshi Watanabe shot in black and white with a medium-format camera. Leah Sobsey, meanwhile, created tintypes using 19th-century technology. “Baseball is extraordinary for the dedication to craft required and the repetition of routines. I think that's related to art. Great art is achieved through the same dedication to craft and trial and error and just plain work,” Stephenson said.
(Jordan G. Teicher, Slate)

Stephenson described [Kate] Joyce’s work ethic as “relentless,” and she attended about 60 games during the project. She captured some idiosyncratically poetic images that only a non-baseball fan would have even noticed, such as a mosaic of bubblegum wrappers that bullpen pitchers had turned into makeshift lawn darts.

As for Hunter, he approached Durham Bulls Athletic Park as if it were a natural landscape, creating stunning photos of the surrounding skies.

“It took Frank Hunter a long time to find himself in the stadium,” Stephenson said. “He’s really a landscape photographer, so he treated the stadium like a lake, valley or river. Frank is almost like a painter, seeing landscapes nobody else sees and revealing them with his camera. It took him most of the season to figure out. But that’s how art works. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and repetition to reach that higher level, just like baseball.” (David Menconi, News & Observer Online)