Felan Parker | Keywords in Play, Episode 16

“Keywords in Play” is an interview series about game research supported by Critical Distance and the Digital Games Research Association.

This episode we speak with Felan Parker about his work on cultural intermediaries and indie games. Felan is Assistant Professor of Book & Media Studies at St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto, and a scholar of media industries and cultures specializing in games, digital media, and film. His ongoing research, supported from 2016-2019 by the Indie Interfaces SSHRC Insight Development Grant, explores the production, distribution, and reception of independent or “indie” digital games with a particular focus on the role of intermediary actors like curators, critics, and community organizers in the cultural ecosystem of the game industry.

Dr. Parker is also co-investigator on the Swarming Comic-Con SSHRC Insight Grant, a collaborative ethnographic research endeavour that examines the famous San Diego Comic-Con and its cultural and economic resonance across entertainment industries. Other interests include game development in Canada, transmedia franchises, blockbusters and spectacle, authorship, genre, and analog games. His work has been published in leading journals and presented at conferences around the world, and he co-edited Beyond the Sea: Critical Perspectives on Bioshock, a 2018 anthology of essays on the influential game series. More on Felan’s work: https://stmikes.utoronto.ca/about-us/contact-us/directory/felan-parker

As a joint venture, “Keywords in Play” expands Critical Distance’s commitment to innovative writing and research about games while using a conversational style to bring new and diverse scholarship to a wider audience.

Our goal is to highlight the work of graduate students, early career researchers and scholars from under-represented groups, backgrounds and regions. The primary inspiration comes from sociologist and critic Raymond Williams. In the Preface to his book Keywords: a vocabulary of culture and society, Williams envisaged not a static dictionary but an interactive document, encouraging readers to populate blank pages with their own keywords, notes and amendments. “Keywords in Play” follows Williams in affirming that “The significance is in the selection”, and works towards diversifying the critical terms with which we describe games and game culture.

Please consider supporting Critical Distance at https://www.patreon.com/critdistance

Critical Distance is a community-supported project. Support us on Patreon, and join the discussion on Discord!

Production Team: Darshana Jayemanne, Zoyander Street, Emilie Reed, Bettina Bodi.

Audio Direction and Engineering: Damian Stewart

Double Bass: Aaron Stewart

Transcription: Charly Harbord


Darshana: You’re listening to Keywords in Play, an interview series about game research supported by Critical Distance and the Digital Games Research Association.

As a joint venture, Keywords in Play expands Critical Distance’s commitment to innovative writing and research about games while using a conversational style to bring new and diverse scholarship to a wider audience.

Emilie: Welcome back to Keywords in Play. This week, we’re talking to Felan Parker, who is an assistant professor teaching Stream for Book and Media Studies at St. Michael’s College and University of Toronto. His recent work has covered a variety of topics, including boutique indie publishers, streaming ambivalence, live streaming, and indie game development, and autonomy integration and the work of cultural intermediation in indie games, just to give you an idea of the variety of things that his recent work is covered. So, I decided for this episode, we will talk a little bit about the idea of cultural intermediaries, and what role they play in game studies and the development and spread of video games. So, as we can see from your recent publications, your past work has discussed publishers, live streaming, gaming conventions, and how games are written about in journalism and criticism. How do you relate the term cultural intermediaries to this broad variety of topics?

Felan: Yeah, so culture intermediaries, and I have to shout out my collaborators, Jennifer Whitson, and Bart Simon, as well as a number of other graduate student researchers we’ve worked with, including Matthew Perks, who I’ve co-authored a couple of things with. This concept originates with Pierre Bourdieu, right, the sort of French sociologist of culture who kind of introduces this idea. And then it’s widely adopted in sociology, cultural studies, media studies, to sort of do a lot of different things. It’s a concept that is, is versatile; some might argue, too versatile, it covers too much. And there’s debates about that, but traditionally refers to, you know, actors, either individual or organizations that are positioned between producers and consumers of cultural goods, right. And I think when as, as it expands beyond Bourdieu or gets adopted by other folks, it kind of expands to encompass a wider range of different things, traditionally, it would be like a marketer, right, a marketer who sort of like successfully markets a product to an audience, but it kind of gets applied much more broadly. And that’s where we sort of came to it. And I think I have to give credit to Bart, for originally introducing us to this term, introducing me to this, this concept. But in games, it’s this idea that like, okay, there are game developers and their game players and there are powerful industry sort of powers that be like platforms and console manufacturers and things like this, major publishers. And then cultural intermediaries are like the connective tissue between those two things. Some of the earliest things that I looked at in that, in that context were things like the indie mega booth fee, sort of indie game focused festivals and showcases that too, we could, we could tell they were important, right? You sort of look at them, you go to a gaming event, especially a big gaming event, like Pax or GDC, and things like this. And they’re kind of front and centre, people are making a point of going there to learn about what’s new in indie games, or what the trends are. And that wasn’t just audiences. And that’s where I think the concept is really interesting and versatile is that on the one hand, of course, something like a publisher, or a festival for games is, you know, promoting games to a potential audience. That’s definitely part of what they’re doing. But what we’ve sort of observed in the research and interviews with many, many indie developers, as well as folks actually doing this sort of intermediary work is that they’re also involved in kind of like brokering between independent game developers and those larger powers that be right?! In making introductions to journalists, or you know, platform reps, these kinds of things, you know, running workshops, or, or sort of pedagogical things to help indies get a better sense of how to deal with Steam, or how to make their games streamable on Twitch and these kinds of things. It’s those kinds of things, and we sort of drew together this, this fairly large variety of different things, as he said, you know, publishers, you know, to a certain extent gaming conventions, or at least like, you know, organizations that operate within gaming conventions, local community organizations, as well I think are a really big one that was sort of, you know, your local here in Toronto, yeah, we have ‘Hand Eye Society’ and DMG both of which sort of, you know, do that kind of local-level cultural intermediation of kind of interfacing with game developers and the rest of the industry or in some cases outside of the industry as well, right, you know, with traditional cultural organizations like museums or granting arts grants and things like this, it doesn’t, it isn’t always necessarily obviously oriented towards commercial development. Although that’s been largely what I’ve been interested in is commercially indie development. There’s a long-winded answer, just sort of, say like culture intermediaries, it’s the connective tissue, right? It’s the kind of the things in between the other things that we often overlook, given our focus on sort of, you know, hot indie developers, or, you know, the incredible dominance of platforms and console manufacturers and things like this. There are also these other actors in the space that I think are way more important than they’re giving credit for.

Emilie: Yeah, and I think, I think a really interesting point that you make is, you know, because indie stuff is still kind of emerging, and it can take so many different forms, like you said, like, you know, the kind of very commercial stuff, or the more artistic stuff that may be more reliant on like specific arts funding or festivals, I think it’s, it’s really interesting how it also ties into, you know, the types of labour that go into video games. And also, these positions can be like, kind of unsettled. And you know, though very difficult to define, which I think is what you get with some of the work that you’ve done recently on how streaming and also like, specifically, the role of like, producer can be like, either, like very good or very bad or like, you know, very different things in different scenarios.

Felan: Yeah, for sure. One of my favourite anecdotes from the research is one of our, one of our participants who sort of occupied one of the kind of nebulous intermediary role. This was someone who had done game development and continued to be directly involved in game development, but also doing all this other stuff and, and, and he sort of told a story about like, going to GDC, or some other gaming convention and telling his boss like, I don’t know what to put on my like, what do I put on my name tag, like, I don’t really have a title, right? Like, these are people who wear so many different hats, and are kind of involved in lots of different types of work, and are often not super recognized for that work. Because that work flies under the radar, unless you’re very, very close to it, right. Unless you’re directly involved, you sort of see, it comes to the fore. But I think like, you know, whether, regardless, regardless of how sort of publicly, how publicly it is discussed, I think game developers, indie game developers, small scale developers, both commercial developers and the sort of more artistic or experimental or Avant Garde developers are intimately aware of and appreciative of the work that intermediaries do, even if they don’t necessarily use that term to describe it, right, the folks who kind of, you know, help the games get seen help the games get funded, help the teams themselves or the developers themselves do the work that they’re trying to do. There’s sort of a, like, a supportive apparatus and support structure for the creative process of making games and the economic processes of marketing games as well.

Emilie: Yeah, I guess, kind of building on your recent or ongoing research, what would be like some major kind of trends or issues in that area that you would notice? Um, because I think, I think, you know, people always talk about it, like, oh, it is kind of always, always changing. And, you know, there’s always, you know, all these different things that are people are either saying, like, oh, yeah, this is the key to like getting your game noticed, this is the key to success, or like, oh, like, this is over, like, no one’s making any money doing that.

Felan: Yeah, like, by the time you’ve heard about it, it’s probably already over, right. That’s the thing about doing it as a researcher too, right is the time you’re like actually publishing something, it’s way too late. But the good thing about podcasts and things like that, but I mean, we, in a number of our papers, we sort of touched on the idea of like, which, you know, concept borrowed from, from business studies and something and the idea of like, you know, blue oceans and red oceans, right, the idea that like, well, if you’re one of the first people to be on Steam, or to have your game streamed widely, or whatever the, you know, whatever the next big thing is, then you probably you’re probably going to do pretty well, right? You’re gonna take advantage of that. But by the time you’re the, you know, 100,000,000th person to do it. And that’s not necessarily to like, I don’t want to necessarily ratify the sort of indie-pocalypse thing of like, oh, there’s too many games, and there’s not enough audiences. But I think they like the kernel of truth in the indie-pocalypse kind of hype, is that it’s very, very precarious, right. Like making indie games, indie game development continues to be extremely precarious. No matter how many success stories we read about, no matter how many sort of like one weird trick to get your game, you know, to an audience and to be successful. It’s, it’s a crapshoot, right. It’s still very precarious. And there are significant labour issues involved in indie game development that get overlooked because it’s indie and you’re doing what you love and it’s a passion project, or it’s art or whatever. But really many of the same labour issues that exist in the mainstream industry, the existing indie as well just sort of in a different form, maybe or manifest in different ways. And so like, you mentioned, like producers in the idea of one of our old chestnuts at this point in the project is the idea of the missing producer in indie, right? The idea that you go into you leave the mainstream industry or you sort of, you know, strike out as, as the recent graduate or whatever you strike up to sort of start your dream indie project, and a bunch of the work involved in making games, in particular, the sort of so-called non-creative work of, you know, again, marketing or business development, or, you know, dealing with festivals and venues and things like this producer work, right, the work that’s traditionally done by a producer, just kind of it doesn’t go anywhere, right, it still exists, that work still needs to happen. But it ends up being a sort of double shift for the developers themselves, who sort of taken on in addition to being the artist, or the creative director, or the level designer, or whatever. And I think one of the one of the key arguments that I would make about cultural intermediaries in the indie game space is that they kind of fill those gaps, where they, where possible, they provide some of that some, some light production work, even though they would never call that and they’re often not credited in the actual games release. You know, where do you go to learn more about how to get your game on different platforms as well, it might be your local community organization or the festival that your game was accepted into, right, they’re sort of doing this sort of curatorial work, and that, you know, bringing a game to audiences work, but then they’re also doing pretty significant behind the scenes support work as well. And I think that becomes really apparent when you look at indie developers who have that kind of network who are connected to those sorts of intermediaries and those who aren’t, right, if they’re, you know, maybe you’re based in a part of the world where you don’t have access to that as much, or, you know, or for whatever reason, you, you sort of haven’t made those connections, that’s like automatically at a disadvantage, right, in terms of, again, sort of finding an audience getting a game on different platforms and these kinds of things. And I think that’s like, that’s in a way old hat at this point for indie games, right? Like, I think it’s increasingly well-known at least in you know, critical circles that yeah, like indie games, commercial Indie games are very, very precarious industry. And there’s all these issues around it.

And I think that we see new solutions to that problem emerge all the time, right?! Some of them are bogus, some of them are maybe more substantial. The two most recent things that I publish are about two different two different things, right. One is one is about the sort of rise of what I call the boutique indie publisher. In particular, I was really interested in Annapurna Interactive, as a branch of very popular well-known indie movie financing/producing company and Annapurna Pictures and the way that companies like Annapurna Interactive or Devolver Digital or maybe like Raw Fury, and these kinds of things, kind of stepped back into the picture after the sort of supposed escape from publishers that indie represented, and are the kind of kinder, gentler face of a publisher where you retain your IP rights, and they’re not going to gouge you quite as much and all of these benefits. And without question, like they are incredibly valuable for indies in all kinds of ways. But at the same time, there is this sense of them kind of like, I don’t know, depending on how, how hard you want to go like maybe homogenizing, indie or marginalizing important experimental practices, often the practices associated with more marginalized developers in place of this kind of highly marketable, highly polished version of indie, that in a lot of cases is like, reproducing, whatever is kind of already popular, right? Whatever is already seen to be marketable. And like, again, I’m kind of of two minds of this, because like I, I really like a lot of the games that Annapurna Interactive has put out, and you and I’ve talked about this in other contexts like they put out good games, they’ve supported some really interesting developers. But at the same time, there is this sense of like, these are all people who are already well tested, you know, like they’re supporting developers who already have quite a bit of sort of reputation in the indie space, or who have already received a bunch of funding, or who’ve already been, you know, in a lot of cases who have already won awards for the games that are not yet released. And then Annapurna comes in and puts this extra layer of polish and sort of marketing and commercial or financial support into these games that are already poised for success. And I think that you know, a point that you have raised and that other folks have raised that I think is really important, is that idea that like will a lot of work went into like the community that produced these games in the first place. That is kind of skewered by the publisher. That’s the sort of prestige publisher, right? And I think being critical of those processes of prestige and, and sort of cultural status is always really important and sort of thinking about like, well, what isn’t represented still in this sort of like boutique double-A, whatever we want to call it, that sort of mid-tier commercial space? And there’s lots that isn’t represented, right, like there is it is still fairly homogenous in terms of the identity of the people making these games and the types of games that they’re making. Yeah, so I think that’s, that’s one of the one of the fair that one of the more recent, maybe developments, at least recent from an academic perspective. And the other thing is, is, is streaming and obviously, again, you know, streaming is well, well integrated into the industry at this point, it’s nothing new. But I, the most recent thing I published with with Matthew perks was this paper about how indie game developers see streaming because again, it’s one of those things that gets promoted and sort of put forward and think pieces and, you know, advice columns, and things like this. And on social media, as like, that’s the that’s it if you get your game in the hands of streamers, and they play it that boom, you’re done. And it follows actually a very, very traditional understanding of a cultural intermediary, right? There’s this idea that like, yeah, well, they’re the intermediary, they have an audience if they play your game in front of that audience, you’re made. And of course, it’s not that simple, right? Like there are success stories that we can point to, but they’re few and far between, and a lot of them and like the more success stories there are, the less likely it is for other people to have that kind of success story because with streaming, oftentimes, people just keep playing the same game for extended periods of time, or your game is one of dozens and dozens of games that are played by a variety of streamer, a variety streamer. And so like, does yours stand out or is it just part of, part of the content? And what we heard during from the developers that we talked to was a deep ambivalence about streaming right as sort of a sense of like, well we have to do this because it’s what we do now, like everyone does streaming now, one way or another, like you’re so you’re sort of always already in relation to streaming, whether you’re, like hostile to it or not, as an indie developer, you’re supposed to worry about streaming. But the actual benefits, the amount of work that it takes to sort of deal with streamers, and sort of, it’s kind of a whole other level of community management that you have to do when you’re dealing with streamers. Is not, it’s most of the people we talked to, we’re not like, yes, we love it, it’s so good for us. It was sort of like, well, it’s a lot of work. And sometimes it seems beneficial. And other times it doesn’t at all, and we really have no idea if it helps. And to a certain extent, that’s just, that’s cultural industries I like because it’s very, these are very uncertain fields. But I think that there is a very marked difference between the sort of popular or maybe sort of mainstream understanding of like, how, like, what streaming does for developers and the sort of on the ground perspective, and that’s where I think doing, you know, empirical work, whether it’s interviews or participant observation, or you know, studio ethnography is, which, which is not something I’ve personally done, but you know, colleagues have done, I think, is really important to get away from the kind of, I don’t know, the, you know, the sort of industry hype, I guess, around different things, and just sort of look at like, well, what is what is the day to day like, for someone who is working in this field? What are the, you know, what are the boring, mundane economics of indie development? You know, that kind of stuff is actually really important, I think, to understand what’s going on in the industry and in the medium at large.

Emilie: Yeah, I think I think that’s like, so related to the idea that you said, you know, so many of these issues come down to access, it’s like, you know, who, who kind of gets these opportunities? Or who are the ones who kind of, you know, get in first while it’s still viable, and, you know, you know, don’t end up being the ones like trying to catch up once it’s completely swarmed, like in the in the case of Steam or, you know, or in the case of being kind of the game that everyone wants to stream or something similar to that?

Felan: Yeah, for sure. Like, like Brendon Keogh, has, you know, in various venues, in various ways made the point of like, that’s only a problem if we understand the only goal to be commercial, like to make it a job and be a commercial success, right. And one of the issues that I’ve encountered time and again, I think, in studying indie game development, is this assumption of like an entrepreneurial default for indie game making, whereas of course, there’s a million different ways to make games, you can do it as a job, you can do it as a hobby, you can be an artist, you can do it as a you know, like, like starting a band or whatever. Like there’s, there’s so many different ways of approaching this. But there tends to be this default of like, well, if you’re going to do it, for real, you have to treat you have to think of yourself as an entrepreneur. And so indie game developers get sort of, you know, interpolated into this, like self-perception of them. So being an entrepreneur, even though in a lot of cases, and we talked about this in the missing producer, paper, in a lot of cases, that seems very at odds with their expressed values. And you know, like, like, if you really boil down to it’s like, well, what do you want? As well, I just want to like be able to keep making games one way or another. That’s actually very different from like an entrepreneurial mindset. So, you’re sort of applying a particular entrepreneurial toolset to achieve goals that actually are not necessarily compatible with that. And again, I think you know, that that’s, that’s ideology I play, obviously. But I think it’s also a sense of like, like, what is the possibility space that is shaped by, you know, again, the cultural intermediaries, the people who sort of, you know, hold the purse strings of the industry, the people who control the chains of distribution in the industry have sort of shaped a particular space that is difficult to see beyond unless you happen to be in the sort of scrappy weirdo queer indie scene in your local metropolis. You know, like, that’s not necessarily everyone’s experience of indie. And so again, there’s the, this is, so, you get funnelled into this entrepreneurial mindset, I think.

Emilie: Yeah, I guess that kind of leads me to like another question that I had, which is kind of related to a lot of the examples that you gave where, you know, a lot of these a lot of these festivals or venues or so on, you know, they can be, you know, tied or based in something else. So, you know, like, Annapurna is kind of coming out of like independent film distribution, or like, a lot of these festivals are usually like, at a specific arts organization or arts venue. In your research, have you found it either, like challenging or an opportunity, or maybe a little bit of both that kind of have to bridge these different worlds and like approaches? Because I think, you know, the games industry has, like, a very specific language had very specific priorities. And obviously, like, taking it into like, films or festivals, or like art venues, you know, that that’s also like, totally different. So I guess, how do you handle that? And like communicate across that?

Felan: For sure, yeah. I mean, I think like, from an academic perspective, in terms of like, you know, the method of doing research and things like this, like I draw a lot on non-game studies work. I, you know, work on media and cultural industries, more generally, the cultural intermediaries literature, also, like going back a little further, when I was doing my dissertation research, like the sociology of art and aesthetics was a big sort of area that I read, read in and sort of informed my work a lot. And so part, part of the answer is just like, and again, this is, I’m just like borrowing from Brendan again, but like a better game video games aren’t special, right? Like you keep like you can, you can use these, these sort of theoretical and methodological toolkits for all kinds of other spaces to talk about games. And then games will actually shed light in interesting ways on those other discourses, right, it’s not to say that they’re so unspecial that you can just uncritically apply frameworks from other media or other disciplines. But I think you can put them in productive dialogue and come up with really interesting work. Now, that said, in the last three or five years or so, there’s been a huge influx of great work from, you know, my peers and colleagues and friends doing work on indie games doing work on, on game production in general. And so, like the ‘Game Production Studies’ book, edited by Jan Svelch and Olli Sotamaa, that came out, I guess, last year is super, super great, highly recommended available open access. And so now I think we’re hitting a point in this sort of subfield of game production studies where a lot of us are in dialogue with one another. And we are sort of building a kind of, you know, a citation apparatus and, and a language for doing this kind of work that is maybe a bit more specific to games. And I think that’s great. I’m really excited by that. And I think that’s gonna really, you know, that book along with like, like Paolo Ruffino’s book that I’m in ‘Independent Video Games’ and the other way ‘Indie Games in the Digital Age’, the editors names escape me, which I think you’re in, like these, these are agenda-setting books, right? They are, they are really establishing a sort of jumping-off point, I think, for the next the next generation of research in this area. The other thing, though, is, is on the sort of game making side, right on the on the, the industry or, or art side of it, is that kind of like, the way that games get kind of bottlenecked into entrepreneurial language and also technical language, right, this sort of idea of like games, as technical artefacts, has always been a bit of a thorn in their side in any kind of, you know, cultural legitimation process or whatever. And one of the things that is really interesting to me is the way that in certain contexts, cultural intermediaries are trying to work counter to that or to bridge that gap into other areas, right. And so whether it’s, you know, a film festival programmer who’s interested in games and wants to sort of make that space for it, or, you know, one of the examples from the research that we’ve done was the idea of like, literally running workshops for independent game developers, to teach them to talk about themselves in their work as art and artists, and so not in like, we’re gonna make this a legitimate art form sort of cultural status way, but just in a very pragmatic way of like, if you can talk about yourself as an artist and your game as an artwork, rather than as like a budding transmedia franchise or whatever, then that opens up actually, at least in the Canadian context where there is some cultural funding available, that opens up avenues for continuing your career as, as a game maker or your vocation as a game maker that are not necessarily directly tied to like marketing commercial games to an audience or doing forever games as a service or whatever, right? Like there is a growing understanding and appreciation, I think, for games in cultural funding apparatuses. I think it’s still, you know, I think it still happens that you’ll end up with someone, you know, people on a committee who are like games, funding games with arts money, that’s, that’s madness. But nevertheless, I think like, you know, again, I think there are people who are trying to work against that. And at often at the local level, where, you know, they’re particularly attuned to whatever funding is available in a particular region or municipality, and yeah, like, sort of finding ways for finding ways for game making to exist, that are not completely bound to that, that entrepreneurial trajectory, I think. And you know, that’s really interesting. It’s not necessarily something that I’m, I’ve spent a lot of time studying and researching, because of my interested in media industries, I sort of gravitate back to like, well, what’s going on over here, like, let’s look at the mess, that is commercial game development. But I think there are two sides of the same coin in many ways, I think that they kind of, they develop in parallel and intention with one another, where, you know, whatever is going on at the experimental margins is always feeding a little bit in and also vice versa, right, like whatever opportunities might exist in in the more commercial space are always there. And there is always that kind of possibility of jumping streams a little bit or gradually drifting streams and finding more if you know, it, could we can look at someone like Bennett Foddy, you know, sort of going from being experimental, jank core games weirdo/professor to release a, like a very successful commercial game with ‘Getting Over It’. And I don’t know that that was like, I don’t know that that was a super intentional move on Foddy’s part. But nevertheless, that game was released and marketed very much as a commercial title, in contrast to his previous work.

Emilie: Earlier, you kind of mentioned, you know, like, the ideas of like streaming or these storefront platforms, or these particular publishers, you know, they might have an ambivalent or unpredictable relationship as cultural intermediaries for the people making games. But I guess we could close on, you know, what you think is like the most interesting or positive way that you’ve seen, like cultural intermediaries kind of making space for these games?

Felan: Yeah, I think and I, again, like I’m sort of, of two minds about it, right? Because I think, on the one hand, I think that these cultural intermediaries, again, whether they’re platforms, or journalists, or community organizations, or whatever else, I think they are crucial to the circulation of the idea of indie games, or the idea of games as cultural objects, I think, for better or for worse, they are, like, pretty important infrastructure for that concept to continue to exist. I think that in some way, they, you know, in a more pessimistic view, I think that maybe there is sort of like an apparatus of cultural intermediaries that kind of exists semi-independently from the actual process of making games, and developers come and go, but the apparatus stays the same, if you know what I mean, right? There’s sort of like, there’s always, there’s always more like, again, it parallels in a way the mainstream industry, right, where there’s always a fresh generation of, of, you know, starry-eyed wannabes, who are going to join the industry to replace people who burn out, I think a similar thing happens in indie games, so there’s always someone who’s gonna who’s willing to sort of put it all in the line, you know, leverage, whatever, you know, familial wealth they have, or family, you know, parental wealth, to go indie and like be then try to be the next big thing. And the intermediaries are there to sort of let those people run through and the people who stick around tend to be the ones who have commercial, small majority that the small minority that have commercial success. And that’s sort of like, I think a very, very standard, a very, very familiar critique of cultural intermediaries is the idea that they’re gatekeepers, right? They’re cultural gatekeepers, they decide who’s in and who’s out, like any kind of curational process, right? There’s this there’s, there’s selectivity there. And in many cases, though, that, that curation process, intentionally or not reinforces, you know, existing systems of power and hierarchies and things like this. And I think that like, at base that is true, that is the thing that happens and I think that’s something that we need to be to attend to as, as critical game scholars, it’s really important to pay attention, not only to what kinds of games we’re seeing but how they come to, like how do we see them, right? Like how do they end up, end up being on the front page of Steam, or how do they end up you know, receiving a Critical, Critical Distance, you know, critical compilation even right, like all of these different elements are participating in the processes by which some games are, you know, gain that status and others don’t. I think in some ways, that’s just also how culture works, right, like it to a certain extent, while we should be critical of what hierarchies are being reinforced or challenged in that process. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that process of curation because that’s just what we do with culture, right? Like this is this is how we, as humans, sort of like filter all the culture that exists, right. It’s like we listen to other people’s thoughts and recommendations. And I think that there is space in, in the critical study of cultural intermediaries in the game industry. And I think there’s space more generally just in the game’s ecosystem, to recognize the value of those cultural intermediaries while also problematizing you know, the ways in which they may be having negative effects. And I’m thinking here of a research from outside of games, like from people like Beth Perry, who’s done some really interesting stuff on revaluing cultural intermediaries more in like, kind of more traditional arts communities. But the idea that like, again, okay, they are gatekeepers, but like, what else are they? What else do they do? Right? And there, there is, I think I would go, I would go so far as to say that there’s nothing inherently about the sort of socio-cultural or socio-economic position of the culture intermediaries, that necessarily means that they are going to be gatekeepers in a bad way, right. I think that in a lot of cases, the things that we know and love in indie games, like the things that are in or in more experimental sort of martial practices are thanks in part to processes of cultural intermediation. And I think recognizing that and digging into that, and you know, for folks on the more practical side, like, actively trying to participate in those processes in ways that are good, and that are not just sort of shitty gatekeeping is really important. I think, if nothing else, making that work visible through the research is intended to help that kind of, you know, revaluing happen.

Emilie: Yeah, that’s great. I think that’s a great note to end on. So, thank you so much. And I don’t know if you if you have any recent research, you want to shout out at this point?

Felan: I don’t I don’t think so. I think the streaming paper is the most recent thing. So, you can go read that in Convergence. It’s, it’s open access, so anyone can read it, regardless of whether you have an institutional affiliation. And thanks so much for having me. I think that Keywords in Play is an awesome initiative.

Emilie: Yeah, thank you.

Darshana: We hope you have enjoyed this episode of Keywords in Play. For more great ideas around games check out criticaldistance.com. Or take a dive into the DiGRA archives at DiGRA.org.