Mod Theory began in 2019 as an experimental method for discussing landscape inside computer games, with a particular focus on platform studies, the political unconscious and climate change. Prompted by the geographical restrictions of 2020 and our interest in using virtual environments as a place for theory, the May 2020 seminar series will be held in the sandbox environment Garry’s Mod (Facepunch Studios 2003), augmented by voice chat and live video streaming. Please tune in to our live stream. We will edit the sessions and upload them to YouTube in good time.
Seminar 1: Game Objects & Representation
Monday May 18th. 16:00 Greenwich Mean Time.
Session 1 invites scholars who seek to define what objects in games actually are. Computer games are often misread by focusing on what things look like rather than what they mean to the player. An object in a computer game can function in many flexible ways, but it is inevitably defined by the rules. This seminar invites scholars to respond to the tension between representation (what game objects look like) and ludic ontology (what game objects become as revealed by play).
Olli Tapio Leino
Seminar 2: Space, Grids and Ruins
Tuesday May 19th. 16:00 Greenwich Mean Time.
Seminar 2 invites scholars who are interested in the philosophical status of constructed space within virtual worlds and games. Inspired by the workings of the Digital Geographies Specialty Group (Royal Geographic Society), speakers will to respond to the tabula rasa of the game map, the digital ruin and the game-space.
Seminar 3: Landscapes and Playgrounds
Monday May 25th. 08:00 Greenwich Mean Time.
Seminar 3 invites scholars whose compare computer games to both landscapes and playgrounds. Drawing links between sandbox games and the Situationist architecture of Constant Nieuwenhuys (Nelson 2017), we will question whether the ludic space of computer games replicate Situationist psychogeography and derive, or whether we consider games as a process of landscape exploration, or if modding and server surfing is something altogether different.
Seminar 4: The Political Unconscious of the Simulation
Thursday May 28th. 06:00 Greenwich Mean Time.
Seminar 4 invites scholars who respond to the political unconscious of technological networks, and the ability of these structures to signify the political unconscious (Jameson 1981). With a special focus on climate change and Benjamin Bratton’s theory of planetary scale computation (2015), scholars will reflect on how online environments aggregate user-generated creativity into a portrait of our political unconscious.
Stephanie Boluk & Patrick LeMieux
Mod Theory is a multidisciplinary investigation into sandbox game platforms as an expression of the contemporary political unconscious. Today’s digital economy is structured by precarity and play, prompting questions about the relationship between new media and platform capitalism and paradigmatic environmental changes. The complex materiality of game platforms and the procedural nature of their experience require that we think beyond content or representation and instead sketch a cartography of playable digital landscapes sprawled across precarious platforms, often interlaced with politically-charged symbols and practices. These incoherent environments are our ‘cognitive maps,’ lenses that bring the contemporary interrelation of natural, economic and digital surroundings into focus. Mod Theory 2020 builds on our previous discussions of the cartography of digital games and examines four topics – representation and the ontology of objects in digital games, space, grids and ruins in virtual space, the landscape as playground, and the political unconscious of simulation. The seminars will occur over four separate evenings in May 2020 in a speaking venue built within Garry’s Mod. Audience members will be invited to join the chat and watch the live stream. We will conclude by inviting speakers to a plenary session for a recap and general discussion on themes raised during the event. Text chat, voice chat and game footage will be recorded, edited and uploaded to the Mod Theory website and YouTube as a record of the 2020 event. Depending on interest from participants, we will seek to produce a publication based on the seminar presentations.