Spring Seminar 2024 Report 

By Antonio Pomposini, Daphne Bachmann, Joonas Palsio, Juan Belío, & Niilo Kajala

This is a post sharing experiences of student volunteers for the Game Research Lab’s Spring Seminar 2024, a conference in Tampere where researchers in the field of Game Studies can present their ongoing projects to a select audience, following a chosen topic.

Meta – Framing and Discourse 

This year’s Spring Seminar theme, meta, seemed to be well-received among seminar presenters and participants. To put this in context (and consider the seminar meta itself), the last three seminars have been themed Party!, Gamebooks & Monstrosity. A bit more concrete and restricting compared to this one, right? After all, “meta” suggests that it’s a bit all over the field – inside, between or beyond any specific game(s). Some kind of meta can definitely be pointed at among all kinds of games and play. Seminar participants therefore arrived with many different and far-reaching, but also overlapping and interweaving approaches to meta and games. 

In the seminar papers and discussions, meta was addressed in at least two distinctive ways: metagaming and meta of games and games research. 

Metagaming, defined by Richard Garfield in 2000 as presented in the Keynote presentation by Boluk & LeMieux, can be understood as “how a game interfaces beyond itself”. A relevant and illustrative example of metagaming can be examined in Magic the Gathering, a collectible card game originally designed by R. Garfield, which was mentioned in at least five different seminar presentations. In Magic, players are able to customize their decks for any given match or tournament. Their card picks and preferred strategies are influenced by what they think other players will be bringing to the table. A lot of important game-influencing strategic decisions are made between games. Building and adjusting decks, studying and discussing a specific format are not actual gameplay – but metagaming.

MtG Legacy metagame example in spring 2024 (source of the screenshot: MTGGOLDFISH)

Meta of games and games research is a more open-ended concept. A great example of that would be the Meta Game of the seminar that promoted awareness of the contents of the seminar through fun nomination challenges. Then again, building on the Spring Seminar meta, here’s an exemplary quote from the call of papers for this year’s seminar: 

Do we need meta game studies, and what might that be? Ten years ago, our theme was ‘Critical Evaluation of Game Studies’; a decade later, this seminar is in a way an opportunity for meta-reflections on that earlier theme. 

What is happening around Game Studies beyond the actual research? What is being researched and how, what is left out or marginalized? How does the expected research meta of the seminar influence your submissions?

Structure of the Event 

All these questions form the backbone of an event which is characterized by its plurality of perspectives and topics of choice, as well as research talent from various levels of ability and parts of the world. The Spring Seminar is a wonderful opportunity for any researcher to present a draft of their current project in a serious environment that is nonetheless informal and prone to familiar laughter. Throughout the day, the conference presents sessions of three to four presentations, that are connected loosely by a theme, such as “Meta as Scaffolding” or “Sparkling Capitalism”.  

The presenter is given a brief ten minutes to show the state of their research, however advanced it might be. They are then provided with commentary by the selected experts invited to the seminar. In this edition, we were glad to have Stephanie Boluk, Patrick LeMieux, and Sebastian Deterding join us as our experts. Their insightful comments were often geared at providing constructive feedback to the speaker for them to develop their research more effectively and highlight its strengths. As is usual, the floor is then opened for the rest of the attendants to ask any other questions that might not have been addressed yet. 

Beyond the general structure, what really makes each Spring Seminar shine is the diversity in the topics being handled. From the morbidity of fake phone advertisement (Kati Alha), the current state of Nordic Esports (Usva Friman & Matilda Ståhl), to the use of “Truck Meta” in Korea (Solip Park).

Photo: Joonas Palsio
Photo: Niilo Kajala

The Meta Game 

As part of this year’s Spring Seminar, The Games as Art Center organized a meta game that conference participants could play as they took part in the seminar. Inspired by The Metagame by Macklin, Sharp & Zimmerman (Local No. 12), the idea of the game was for participants to nominate conference papers for awards related to the broader discourse and the conference. The nominations were often funny, tongue-in-cheek, and satirical, but also wholesome on occasion. 

Participating in the metagame added an additional level of playful engagement with the papers, as audience members took to nominate them and react to other nominations. What was surprising is how quickly the participants began creating their own categories (as opposed to ones provided by the game), creating their own metagame around the game. 

By the end of the seminar, there was an award ceremony where each paper received the award that got the most votes for. Additionally, in the meta spirit of the game, there were awards related to player participation, such as “the cheesiest comment”, awarded to Doruk Balci and Rainforest Scully-Blaker or “the most made-up categories” given to Jaakko Stenros. Bernie de Koven was also awarded the seminar’s theoretical godparent award, and the two battle cries for the seminar were “Be the meta you want to see in the world” and “Live your life to the fullest, nerd!!”.

Social Gatherings – the Meta of Any Conference 

Although the Spring Seminar is only two days, there are plenty of opportunities to network and connect with (other) experts. Even before the seminar started, there was already a casual hangout at Restaurant Plevna, where everyone had the opportunity to talk to friends and colleagues or make new ones.  

The first seminar evening was spent at Oasis. Oasis, also the topic of one of the presentations as a meta-method for games research, serves as a space to connect researchers and students already. Using it to socialize amongst each other at a conference that is about games and more specifically meta, just makes sense. It is a comfortable space that the organizers filled with snacks and drinks. Add some interesting people to the mix and you will create an atmosphere that becomes the perfect environment for some enriching debates.  

The second evening and the seminar, after a race to the finish line to complete the meta-puzzle that Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux had provided, were rounded off by a tour through the Finnish Museum of Games. First, because nourishment is important after listening to and engaging in academic discourse for two whole days, we ate cake, sandwiches, and had some delicious lemonade. Then, Niklas Nylund, researcher at the museum, gave a tour. He covered the newly opened exhibition on Japanese romance games, with a short talk by curator and researcher at the Centre of Excellence Joleen Blom, the exhibition on Nokia’s flopped console N-Gage, and an exhibition celebrating 50 years of Dungeons & Dragons.

Photo: Joonas Palsio
Photo: Niilo Kajala

On Being a Part of the Event 

As student volunteers, helping organize and run the event is not only informative, but also fun. Of course, we get to develop skills and knowledge that help in organizing similar events in the future, but more importantly so, we get to participate, socialize and interact with the researchers and presenters.  

One of the great benefits of being in the program is how approachable the researchers at the Game Research Lab are. These are not only figures you read about in books and articles, but people you can talk to and share experiences with. This expands through the seminar, as scholars from all over the world, not only Finland, gather to share what they are interested in, and the social program enables meeting these people even more.  

What we volunteers found really valuable by participating in the seminar is how it connected us to a broader discourse in Game Studies. We learned what people are working on now, what discussions are being had now, and what are possible avenues for future research. It not only helps us learn what’s “hot” in the field, but also feel a part of the wider Game Studies community.

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