Beyond games: Tinkering and Creative Appropriation of Video Games

The 2019 edition of the symposium was dedicated to amateur game designers, their preoccupations, their crafts along with their economic and political realities throughout the history of play.

Active fan communities have long been engaging with the object(s) of their fandom. Sports teams, popular movies, television franchises, videogames, comic books, toys and many other cultural phenomena have inspired generations of collectors and enthusiasts, who make, buy, sell and trade in different ways objects and contents featuring their favourite characters, personae, and iconography. From these communities also emerge fans of genres or franchises that hone their skills and use the tools they have available to go past what is offered on the market. They propose their vision to whomever knows of their work or stumbles upon their creation. Therefore, fanart, fanfiction, mods, Youtube videos and Instagram posts are where many of these cultures situate themselves. This includes the toy makers, fanzine creators, the DIY game and tech communities, the chiptune composers and many others that cast themselves beyond the role of fans to become artists. That said, in each case, a form of self-distribution of content occurs that often defines their marginality.

In the field of games, more precisely of videogames, it is not uncommon to come across that phenomenon since, historically, videogames were created following tinkering practices conducted in margins of official activities (Bertie the Brain et Nimrod, 1951; OXO, 1952; Tennis for Two, 1958; Spacewar!, 1962). In this way, many games that ensued (Computer Space, 1971; Pong, 1972; Zork, 1977; Ultima, 1981) were invented by enthusiastic fans of this new media (Crowther, 1976; Adams 1979; Williams, 1982; Fulp 2003). Role playing games were also born from the appropriation of the popular Kriegspiels (war simulation games) by its players (Barker, 1940; Wesely, 1969; Arneson, Gygax et Perren, 1971; Stafford, 1974). Still today, videogame and roleplaying game industries wouldn’t be as they are without the activity of their fans in margins of more official communities.

These activities by collectors, creators and tinkerers continue to grow in popularity, particularly since the arrival of the Internet where fans were able to gather, discuss and share their productions more easily. They even organise certain events (Comic Con, DCon, Maker Faire, Otakuhon, etc.) in order to celebrate their sense of belonging to these groups, in parallel to commercial productions. Some researchers have reported on this participative culture (Fiske, 1992; Jenkins, 2006; Postigo, 2007) and an entire field was also created around fan studies (Booth, 2010; Harris and Alexandre, 1998).

The Symposium’s program shed light on the vast ensemble of amateur practices that co-determined the history of games and video games.

Scientific direction:

  • Jonathan Bonneau, UQAM
  • Maude Bonenfant, UQAM
  • with the participation of Skot Deeming, Concordia University

Conference organization

  • Jonathan Bonneau, UQAM
  • Laura Iseut Lafrance St-Martin, UQAM
  • Patrick Deslauriers, UQAM