In the midst of returning to the States, I wrote a short commentary for The Conversation about a religious edict (fatwa) stating a popular game, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), haram in Indonesia. This edict has been issued by the Ulema Consultative Council (MPU) in Aceh. My commentary frames this edict as a case of moral panic surrounding video games circulation in the country. It is also a call for a deeper study of Indonesian video game cultures and their history. If you can read Indonesian, here is the link to the article!
Category: digital cultures
This post is about contemporary game culture and industry in Indonesia rather than its early history.
Last weekend, I went to Game Prime 2019. It’s the biggest annual game exhibition in Indonesia which gathers both major and indie game studios in the country. The event is mainly sponsored by the Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf), government-funded agency that supports the development of creative economy in the country. This is actually my first time attending Game Prime even though the event itself has been held for three years now.
In general, it was a good experience. I learned how rapidly the game industry in Indonesia has evolved in the last ten years. I still remember when I was first researching Nusantara Online game back in 2011, the industry was still sporadic. Now, not only are there many game studios flourishing all over the country, some of them have actually marketed their game internationally, such as Agate Studio with its premium game, Valthirian Arc: Hero School Story, or Digital Happiness’s DreadOut.
I also observed that a significant number of game studios in Indonesia have developed games in B2B (Business to Business) model, meaning they do not publish their games to the public, only for exhibition or their client’s events/programs. For instance, Agate Studio, perhaps the biggest studio that participates in the event given the number of their booths (they had 4 separate booths), made two games (Smart Bike and City Defender) for AXA Indonesia and one for Telkom (Sky Cage). I believe this strategy is pretty common among Indonesian developers since they need to keep their business sustainable.
On the other hand, I also saw (and played) several games made as side projects or prototypes by a small collective of developers or a single individual. I actually find some of these projects much more interesting than games made with B2B model. Because, instead of operating as gimmicky spectacle with little inventiveness in gameplay or narrative development, some of these alpha or beta versions displayed more creative excitement. For instance, I was interested in the game Kirana, an action RPG game developed by Kawarna Studio as a side project. The game uses the history of Singosari during the Mongol invasion as its background narrative and has a female protagonist. There is also Loveless–developed by only one person under the name of Teamless–which is a study of player agency in the form hybrid and non-linear dating sims/adventure game. The game’s visual actually reminded me of Undertale.
Of course there’s a sobering realization in me that many of these alpha or beta version games perhaps will never see the light of day given the developers’ limited resources and market demand. But, it’s still stimulating to see how these studios exhibited their passion project.
Another thing that I observed from the event is how Indonesian mainstream video game industry has started to think forward about platform and game ecosystem. In this case, Telkom Indonesia—the nation’s largest telecommunication service provider—is perhaps the main support engine for this development. The company has supported Gameqoo, a Stadia-like cloud gaming service, offering subscription-based gaming option for Indonesians. According to one of Gameqoo’s staff that I talked to, the company is also planning to bundle its service with Telkom’s Indihome cable and internet services in the near future. In addition to this, Telkom has also partnered with Agate Studio to create an ecosystem for local games called Oolean, which eventually will also be connected to Gameqoo. It looks like the semi state-owned company is now really serious in supporting domestic game industry, which is a good thing considering its half-hearted backing in the past.
At the indie level, a small game developer, Ginvo Studio, is also hoping to create a sustainable ecosystem for their games, which mainly consist of tabloid newsgames about all things viral in Indonesian internetscape. They actually have quite an ambitious plan to develop and sustain their platform by planning to release one newsgame every week, and I am actually interested in this studio and their games for my research. I will probably contact them in the near future.
I also noticed that some companies also utilize real digital currency reward system to attract gamers to use their platform, such as India-based Mobile Premiere League and Amcore’s game Jump,Bunn. I think this is related to the aggressive strategy of Indonesia’s digital wallet services that I wrote in my previous post and the rapid popularity of competitive gaming/e-sports.
In terms of genre, survival horror game seems to be on the rise besides RPG. I believe this happens because of international achievement of DreadOut. Many studios aspire to achieve the same level of success, if not more, with their games. For instance, Storytale Studios has Pamali and Ozysoft has Pulang: Insanity. Personally, I am interested in the development of 4Happy Studio’s game WhoIsHe: Let Me Out. It has the vibe of What Remains of Edith Finch, which I really like, and a touch of Indonesian culture. It’s also developed by a studio not from the island of Java (4Happy Studio is from Batam island), which is refreshing. I hope the studio will complete the game in the near future.
Game Prime also had a section for old arcade games, which brought back nostalgic memories in me (especially of Galaga and Street Fighter!).
It also has a separate section for tabletop/board games. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to visit each booth and talk with the game developers/creators, but I bought two board games, Circus Politicus and Bluffing Billionaires, that I plan on using in my Global Video Game Cultures seminar this fall.
All in all, I am glad that I went to the event and I hope I will get a chance to go to the next one.
Having to go back to my home country, Indonesia, twice in a span of a year have made me realize a significant change in many aspects of life here. Of course changes are expected when you left your country for more than a decade, so I already anticipated that. But one of the most vexing changes for me is this somewhat aggressive shift in the country towards the so-called “cashless society,” where you are made to use digital wallet services even though you do not really want to. Perhaps a couple of personal anecdotes will illustrate why I feel this way:
One time my family and I drove to a mall in Bandung, and this was during the first couple of weeks of our stay. When I tried to get into the paid parking lot (parking is rarely free in my country, especially at malls) I was struck with the sign: “No cash payment, [a digital wallet brand] only.” I asked the parking assistant about the sign and he confirmed it, I couldn’t pay with cash to park there. He told me that I could buy the digital wallet card from him though. I declined his offer and backed my car out of that mall because I did not want to use unfamiliar (at the time) transaction method and also felt that I was forced to use it.
This experience happened after I learned that there is no more cash payment option for toll roads. You have to use digital wallet service to pay for your toll fee, although in this case you have several options to choose. I am not sure if this is a nation-wide practice, but I assume it is. Later on, I also learned that at some malls when you buy food in their food courts you cannot pay with cash nor credit/debit card anymore. You can only use either a certain brand of digital wallet or the mall’s own service. I was annoyed that when I wanted to buy a bottle of water because my son was thirsty, I could not do it right away. I had to opt to use one of the services.
At this point, perhaps you might call me a whiner because digital wallet services are a convenient method for economic transaction. Or perhaps you might think that I am anti-progress because this turn to cashless society is Indonesia’s step towards realizing the so-called “Indonesia 4.0,” embracing economist Klaus Schwab’s conception of “Industrial Revolution 4.0.” However, I want to point out that there is a difference between forced “progress” and a participatory one. And I also think that Indonesians need to discuss socio-cultural implications of this aggressive shift towards cashless society from multiple perspectives, not just from the discourse of technopreneurship.
Here, I am reminded of the classic works by Langdon Winner and Neil Postman. Postman, in his book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, argued that any technological innovation never has one-sided effect, and that we have to simultaneously consider what new technologies can do and undo to society. Meanwhile, Winner in his seminal essay “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” explains the political nature of technologies in everyday settings and how the creation and operation of any technology require specific social arrangements. Winner’s most cited example, the height of bridges on the Long Island Expressway in New York, is the one that resonates with me the most in the case of Indonesia’s digital wallet ecosystem. Similar to Winner’s Long Island Expressway example, where its “master builder” Robert Moses deliberately designed the height of the bridges to discourage the presence of buses and consequently limiting access of racial minorities and low-income groups to Jones Beach, the adoption/enforcement of digital wallet services at some malls or toll roads in Indonesia is a case where technological architectures are being used as a method that constrains certain behavior (cash transaction) while encouraging another (digital wallet transaction).
Unlike the Long Island bridges though, it’s not racist ideology that motivates this “modality of constraint,” to borrow Lawrence Lessig’s term, but it’s market force. In my preliminary research, I learned that Indonesia is a huge untapped market for e-money market. According to one Google/GfK digital wallet study in 2018, despite the rapid growth of digital finance apps since 2010, only fewer than 40% of Indonesians with smartphones have used financial services apps. Even among the minority of e-money app users, only 11% are average daily users according to the same study. So it is understandable that these financial companies are being aggressive in making Indonesians use their service, even if it means forcing them through strategies such as the paid parking scheme that I experienced.
In my opinion, the aggressive strategies of some digital wallet services in Indonesia is somewhat an extension of what Silicon Valley giants like Google and Facebook have been doing to the internet ecosystem (in fact Facebook will soon join the digital wallet business with their cryptocurrency product, Libra). Some websites today limit how you sign up for their services. They only let you sign up either using Facebook or Google, with no other options (or a tiny-looking option that users often overlook). This strategy has now found its way out of the pure digital realm of the internet and into the daily lives of Indonesians. With the growth of digital wallet/e-money services and their strategies, I am guessing that many Indonesians will probably experience (or perhaps are already experiencing) a divided and sometime exclusive “merchant ecosystem,” where you can only use a certain type of service and not the others.
Of course for many Indonesians, this may be a good thing. Especially with various shopping discounts offered by these digital wallet companies these days. However, we need to also seriously consider how new technologies disentangle the structures of everyday life in the country. There are several lines of inquiry that I think we can consider. For instance, how the digital wallet ecosystem affects the role of malls as commercially-constructed public sphere in the country, or how digital literacy (or a lack thereof)—as related to age, class, and gender—influences the adoption of digital wallet services, or how data mining and tracking used in digital wallet services to build “a single customer view”—as one digital wallet service is planning to do—will shape the life of Indonesians in the future. These are the conversations that should also take place alongside the celebratory remark about cashless society.
Kicking off 2017 by drafting syllabus for my spring course on global video game cultures. Excited to teach this course for the third time.
I did a major overhaul of the material since there are several new works that came out recently, which I think should be included in the syllabus, like Philip Penix-Tadsen’s Cultural Code, Mia Consalvo’s Atari to Zelda, and Henry Lowood and Raiford Guins’s edited volume, Debugging Game History.
You can check the draft here. Do share your feedback with me if you have any!
Last month I went with Joanne Bernardi, a professor of Japanese here at University of Rochester, and Nora Dimmock, my supervisor, to Bucknell University Digital Scholarship Conference.
It was by far the best conference I went to this year. The keynote talks by Tressie McMillan Cottom and Safiya Noble were great and really relevant to our current digitally-mediated culture (I will try to write a short review of their talks in a different post). We also went to see several engaging panels, among them were compelling presentations about digital humanities projects done by undergraduates at Lafayette College and Gettysburg College.
Our team gave a presentation on Re-Envisioning Japan (REJ) project, a collaborative project that we are involved in. As the principal researcher, Joanne gave a brief background history about the project, which is a public archive of digital surrogates of an original physical collection of travel and educational ephemera about Japan during the early to mid 20th century, and its significance in terms of research and pedagogy. She also explained the challenges that have driven the project’s initiative to migrate the contents from WordPress to Omeka platform. Then Nora explained how the project has opened the way for close collaboration between library and faculty here at U of R. The project has not only bridged the gap between scholarship and teaching, but also introduced new critical practices in the library in terms of participatory curation, metadata structure, technology framework, and team-building. Following up Nora’s explanation, I explained my roles as a newly-joined member of the project, which include collaborating with the team to create a sustainable and transportable data model that will create a much stronger archive platform both in the front-end and the back-end, and creating an interactive timeline for REJ‘s film collection. At the end of our presentation, Joanne gave a brief showcase of two things that the REJ group is currently working on as “future directions” of the project: “Encounters” and “Routes.” The group has developed the “Encounters” since the previous CLIR Postdoc fellow was here. It is basically an interactive tool that will enable users of the REJ archive to dynamically curate the objects in the collection in a real-time. Meanwhile, “Routes” will be a multimodal web-publishing platform embedded in the REJ archive that will accommodate academic scholarship about the collection. These two tools will reflect REJ‘s main objective: to create an online archival platform that is organic, creative, and collaborative.
“Once a technology is admitted, it plays out its hand; it does what it is designed to do. Our task is to understand what that design is–that is to say, when we admit a new technology to the culture, we must do so with our eyes wide open.”
– Neil Postman, Technopoly
So this is my attempt to re-boost my adventure in the academic blogosphere. I really am having a hard time maintaining my personal blog this year despite my aspiration to do so due to several interrupting life events. Now that I have relieved myself from most of my commitments as a grad student (it’s about time!) and that life is less stressful at the moment, I figure I need to start revamping this blog again as a space for my personal ramblings and musings about media technologies.
So as my first post-hiatus post I choose to write about my experience attending the latest Theorizing the Web (TtW) conference in Brooklyn, NY, last April. I’ve heard about this conference for a while during my involvement as HASTAC Scholar so I was excited when the organizers of TtW accepted my presentation abstract on videogames and nationalism in Indonesia. This is the kind of conference that I really want to go to learn about critical perspectives about the internet and/or digital media cultures both from academics and tech journalists/insiders. Plus, it’s a “pay-what-you-can” conference, so no worries about those steep conference registration and membership fees. And I can’t say I’m not glad that I finally participated in it. It was a really enriching two-day experience.
In this conference, I presented my paper in a really cool panel titled “Consensual Hallucination: Fantasy in a Public Life.” But I’m not going to talk solely about my panel in this post. Rather, I’m going to highlight several presentations that caught my attention during the conference. On the first day I had to move back and forth in between “Tales from the Script: Infrastructures and Design” and “World Wide Web(s): Theorizing the Non-Western Web” panels. This is always my problem whenever I attend conferences and I’m sure I’m not the only one. There are always interesting panels that happen at the same time!
From the “Tales from the Script” panel I learned about the idea of end-users as networks in Karen Levy’s presentation The Myth of the End User. In the presentation, Levy reminded us that rather than thinking of end-users as individuals we have to start to think of them as a constellation of power relations and institutional entanglements, mediated through technologies. With this framework, we will be able to see and think about the role of technological infrastructures and social motivations (like mistrust, gossips, etc) in the promotion/distribution of not only technological products but also things like Nexafed and fertilizers. I missed seeing David Peter Simon’s The Do-Gooder Industrial Complex presentation, but still enjoyed Jason Q. Ng’s, Tolu Odumosu’s, and Dalia Othman’s presentations in the “World Wide Web(s)” panel that look at various aspects of digital cultures in China, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Middle East. They discussed topics like censorship, infrastructure, and activism in non-western contexts, which I think is really important to talk about to avoid the tendency of western-centric attitude in talking about new media technologies.
In the next session, I sat on the “Screenplay: Nation, Ideologies, and the Games They Play” panel. This is the panel right before mine and it’s about video games, so I sat through the whole thing. There were three presenters in this panel, Cameron Kunzelman, Daniel Joseph, and Catherine Goodfellow. They all brought up interesting arguments about videogame cultures, but the one that’s more memorable to me was Goodfellow’s presentation about Russian gaming cultures and its relation to videogame ideology in Eastern Europe. To certain extent, I felt like we should’ve been in the same panel since we’re talking about videogames and national identities.
In my panel, Lauren Burr presented a paper on the creative misuse of social media with examples like @TheoryBear twitter bot account (which I also follow by the way!) and the #OccupyMLA “netprov” movement. There was also Amy Papaelias and Aaron Knochel who gave a presentation on a collaborative project they’re doing together to explore the notion of “transformative play,” especially on the issue of race. The last one was Molly Sauter who talked about the concepts of “civic fiction” and “bridge blogger” along with their complexities, giving an example of the elaborative hoax of Tom MacMaster with his fictional “A Gay Girl in Damascus” weblog that has caused quite a backlash after gaining mainstream media attention. Despite my wish to be in a videogame panel, I think the TtW organizer did a great job putting us in the same panel.
There we two plenary sessions on the first day of TtW: “Sex Work and the Web” and “Theorizing Big Data,” but the highlight of my first day was the second one with Zeynep Tufecki, Kate Crawford, Janet Vertesi, and Winter Mason as the panelists. Tufecki talked about the limits of big data analysis that relies too much on algorithmic method and data visualization. For her, which I totally agree, we should resist looking at only one method of big data and start to closely read it. With this kind of approach we could see where culture comes in big data analysis, or in her words this is when big data turns into “ground data.” She uses the example of twitter feed activity during Gezi Park protests in Turkey, where people just drop hashtag because the topic is so dominant. Meanwhile, Crawford discussed about the affects of big data, talking things like the Squeaky Dolphin surveillance program and the surveillance anxiety, where anxiety affects not only those being surveiled but also those who surveil. Her talk reminded me of Foucault’s elaboration of Bentham’s panopticon concept and disciplinary society. Vertesi’s presentation is similar to that of Crawford’s but with a more concrete and personal case, i.e. her own experience. She talked about how it was so hard for her to hide her pregnancy from the eyes of big data both online and offline and pointed out how pregnant women are actually incredible values for marketers. You could also read her post-conference interview here. Mason’s talk was actually the most controversial in the plenary session since he represented the side of big data, or Facebook to be exact. His presentation on targeted advertising drew quite a stir among the audience, both offline and online. I could observe how some if not many people among the audience (myself included!) criticized his take on big data and this was also apparent during the Q&A session. Despite my disagreement with his take, I have to admit that Mason’s presence in the panel was necessary to create a dialogue (however intense) between big data industries and people like me who are concerned with issues like surveillance and targeted marketing strategies and I applaud the TtW organizers for the decision. I also can’t imagine how the audience would react to his talk had they already been aware about Facebook’s emotional contagion experiment at that time.
On the second day, I regretted that I did not get to see Patrick Sharbaugh’s presentation on meme culture and civic engagement in Vietnam at the first panel on internet memes, “Gone Viral: All Watched Over by Memes of Loving Grace” because I woke up late. I was also late to see Joel Penney’s presentation on memes and the persuasive political power of the web. The only full presentation I saw in this panel was Robert Horning’s talk on the idea of the “viral self” and “post-authentic” culture, which was quite intriguing for me.
The second panel I went to was “Streetview: Space, Place, and Geography,” which was pretty interesting. The highlights of this panel include Mathias Crawford’s elaboration on the concept of “procedural communities,” which I love to learn more since in his presentation he juxtaposed it against Anderson’s “imagined communities” and Jay Springett’s exploration of the “stacks” and “stacktivism” as geopolitically dominant power.
I had to skip the next two sessions because I had to meet my friends from Indonesia who I have not seen for years. But I was glad I was not late for the last keynote session, “Race and Social Media.” I was excited to see Lisa Nakamura, André Brock, Jenna Wortham, Latoya Peterson, and Ayesha Siddiqi presenting various cases, from personal to general, around the issues of race and social media such as the #NotYourAsianSidekick on Twitter. Nakamura’s astute statement in this panel that algorithm is ideology in executable form became my fave quote from this conference. I think it really hits the spot and represents the spirit of TtW (IMHO) as one of the venues where we try to disentangle the somewhat mystifying operation of this executable ideology.
P.S. Most of my reports of the panels here are based on my scribbles during the conference. So do excuse me of glossing over. I also learned that the TtW organizers have uploaded the complete video archive of the conference panels on Youtube, so I do encourage you to watch them through this link here so that you get to see the whole conference panels (I’m actually going to watch all the panels I have missed!).