summer-sunshine-alcohol-drinkGames and Culture has now published “Through a Shot Glass, Darkly: The Study of Games in the Light of Drinking Games” in their OnlineFirst service. I wrote the article with Olli Sotamaa. Here is the abstract:

Drinking games have a history several millennia long. Yet the global community of game scholars has barely touched drinking and games, leaving the area for researchers of health and safety issues. This article is a think piece that approaches drinking games as games and as play, ponders what the study of games can learn from drinking games, weighs what is at stake in them, and connects them to discussions in contemporary game studies relating to materiality, modding, and criticism of the idealization of play.

I am particularly proud of this article.

Of course, it started as a joke. I cannot quite remember when we first discussed it with Olli, nor where the initial idea came from, but in 2014 we finally decided to submit a short paper on the topic to DiGRA. The whole thing was supposed to be, we told ourselves, a lighthearted review of research of drinking games as seen through contemporary game studies, for the benefit of the digital games research association members at a conference in the drinking capitol that is Salt Lake City, Utah. However, while researching this lark of an article, we realized that not only are we actually very interested in this topic and were using humour to initially shield our approach, but that there is much more than cheap laughs to be found by juxtaposing drinking and games. Indeed, both of us have important experiences with games and drinking (from SingStar and Uno to actual drinking games like Elk and I Have Never). Indeed, I once had a key moment of insight into the aesthetics of games with under the influence while playing Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers – a starting point for one of my current research interests.

Long story short, the short article was accepted and presented at the conference, the tone of the presentation was light, but the content was there – and it was well-received. We moved ahead, wrote a full article, and submitted it to Games and Culture. The review took a year, since one reviewer had issues with our light tone and another objected to the whole project. Yet, finally, here we are.

This article reviews what has been said about drinking games in other fields of inquiry, and connects those discussions to game studies. What is the connection between alcohol and play? What do drinking games, as a form, tell us about games? What can we learn about modding, folk games, or player bodies by looking at drinking games? The article conceived of as a think piece – or, readers willing, a drink piece – and I feel that it is fairly successful as such. I am rarely this happy and proud in an article.

We feel that the article merits a drinking game of its own. We shall be toasting this article the next time we meet with Olli. We also promise to raise a glass each time the article gets cited in an academic publication! Alcohol and a higher h-index, what could be better?


A few days ago Analog Game Studies published “The Mixing Desk of Larp: History and Current State of a Design Theory”. This article explains a design theory for creating and thinking about live action role-playing. The Mixing Desk of Larp model with its thirteen faders, developed to teach larp design at the annual Larpwriter Summers School (LWSS) in Lithuania, is explained in detail. The model has been developed as a community effort and its current form is contextualized in its history, in the general history of role-play related design theory, and the play tradition the model emerged in. It is a long article that I wrote with the creators of the Mixing Desk, Martin Andresen and Martin Nielsen.


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My article on the definitions of games was recently published in Games and Culture (OnlineFirst). In the article, I review some 60 conceptualizations of games from the last 70 years. It is sort of an alternative take on the third chapter from my dissertation, this time not focusing on ten key issues where the definitions disagree, instead of the historical progression.

Yes, I know. Do we really need yet another paper about defining games? I think we do.

For me there are two key reasons for thinking about what games are. First, the ontological question of what games are lies at the heart of inquiry in game studies. By making our ideas of what games are visible, we let others understand where we are coming from. It helps them position the studies we do. In addition, by offering different kinds of approaches to grasp the object of scrutiny in game studies we hopefully build a better understand of it.

I do not advocate that we should one single definition, but that we should somehow make our underlying assumptions more apparent in our works. Conceptualizing games in different ways useful – and sometimes fuzzy concepts are useful as well – especially when this is explicit. If I do not know what a researcher means when they say ‘game’, it is very hard for me to assess their scholarship.

Second, when working in a field called ‘game studies’, the question of what are ‘games’ is political. This is quite apparent for someone who works away from the heart of digital game studies. Definitions are quite telling as to what a researcher thinks lies at the center, what at the periphery – and what is irrelevant. It is interesting to consider what are considered “real games”, and what are branded as not-games, be they role-playing games, children’s games, genres enjoyed by women (solitaires a century ago, casual games just a few years ago), idle games, folk games etc. The trends in game definitions become quite apparent when surveying a larger sample.

Here is the abstract of the article:

In this article, over 60 definitions of games since the 1930s are reviewed in order to pinpoint what those definitions agree on and, more importantly, what they disagree on. This article is conceived of as a tool game scholars can use to better position themselves in regard to the concept of ‘‘game’’ by working out their answers to the 10 questions regarding game definition presented in here.

21591855529_f7d9e538fd_zTwo weeks ago, on Sunday 20th of September, we stepped into the fantasy world of office stock photos. Eleven people left behind this flawed world and instead inhabited a world of dynamic team work, joyous camaraderie, and the security of all things forever trending upwards. This was the larp Täydellinen ihminen (Eng. The Perfect Human), played in Helsinki.

21788299311_fb4b4f98ff_zAlthough I’ve played role-playing games since the late 1980s, larped since the mid-1990s, and studied role-playing games for almost a decade, I rarely actually design, create, or run role-playing games. Täydellinen ihminen is only the second larp where I have a role in the design. It seems to me that many game scholars have a wish, sometimes hidden, that they’d rather design than study kick-ass games. I am not like that. I love just studying, evaluating, documenting, contextualizing, and understanding the works of others. But sometimes there just is a concept or an idea too juicy to stay away from.

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SuomenPelimuseoSuomen pelimuseo avataan itsenäisyyden juhlavuonna, tammikuussa 2017 Tampereelle. Pelimuseon joukkorahoituskampanja päättyi eilen, ja se onnistui yli odotusten. Museo keräsi yli 85.000 euroa lahjoituksina, mikä on suurin joukkorahoituspalvelu Mesenaattin kautta kasattu summa.

Minulla oli kunnia olla mukana Tampereella puhumassa joukkorahoituskampanjan julkistustilaisuudessa Vapriikissa 31. maaliskuuta. Pidin siellä lyhyen puheen. Julkaisen sen nyt tässä Suomen pelimuseon varmistumisen kunniaksi.

Suomalainen leikin ja pelin tutkimus varjoteatterista roolipeleihin

Tunnumme elävän pelien kultakautta. Pelit, erityisesti digitaaliset sellaiset, tulevat vastaan olohuoneessa ja luokkahuoneessa, kulttuuri- ja taloussivuilla, työssä ja vapaalla. Pelit valtaavat kaikki uudet digitaaliset alustat, mutta samalla eletään myös lautapelien uutta nousua. Pelit halutaan myös valjastaa hyötykäyttöön, oli sitten kysymys pelillistämisestä tai pelioppimisesta. Elektroninen urheilu nostaa suosiotaan, ja ammattipelaamisen eri muodot vilkkuvat nuorison haaveissa. Pelit eivät tietenkään liity vain haaveisiin, vaan myös pelkoihin. Ongelmapelaamisesta puhutaan, samoin addiktiosta – ja toisaalta digitaalisista kuiluista. Ei siis ihme, että viime vuosina on alettu puhua ’pelien vuosisadasta’, ’pelaajien yhteiskunnasta’ ja ’kulttuurin leikillistymisestä’. Pelit ja leikki paitsi tuntuvat tulevan vastaan joka käänteessä, ne ovat yksi avain tämän aikakauden käsittämiseen.

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Award: Best PhD

11952734_10153007984021345_6126941914586621155_oLast Thursday, at the opening ceremony for the school year, I was awarded the best PhD award of the year at the University of Tampere. Well, two awards were given out, so one of the two best. The other one went to Ira Virtanen for her speech communication work Supportive Communication in Finnish Men’s Friendships.

The room was packed, mostly with first year students. There was noticeable, confused yet positive reaction to both works among the students that had the feeling of “Men’s emotions and grief play? This is university?”

You can download both for free from Tampere University Press.

Picture by Frans Mäyrä.

Lectio Praecursoria

image1A Finnish defense begins with the defendant giving an introductory lecture called lectio praecursoria. This lecture should explain to a general audience the main thrust of the argumentation in the dissertation, and to contextualize the meaning and impact of the dissertation in the society.  This is the lectio I delivered on May 9th.

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Playfulness and play are deeply rooted in our cultures, in the way we socially interact with each other, and even in the biology of our bodies. Playfulness and play are, to us humans, ever-present. Play is older than language. It is older than culture. It is older than humans. Indeed, play is not only human, or even just mammalian. It is an exaggeration to say that if it has a spine, it plays, but the exaggeration is not huge. Play is primal.

In recent years certain formalized patterns of play, namely games, have been particularly visible in public discourse. The prominent role of designed digital game products in economy, society, and culture has drawn increasing public attention to them, and there are numerous initiatives to adopt games and game-like structures outside the traditional domains of games, for purposes such as learning and value creation. Continue Reading »