Category: project

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Punkfluencer (PSN Indonesia Conference 2023)

Will be presenting this topic at PSN Indonesia Conference 2023 in the coming weeks. My idea is still not fully formed yet, but what the hey.

Register here if you want to attend the conference (Note: it’s an in-person conference and the language is Indonesian)

The Discourse of Banning PUBG in Indonesia: The Conversation Podcast Interview (2021)

This video is from a podcast interview that I did for The Conversation Indonesia podcast show, SuarAkademia, in 2021. I was invited by Luthfi Dzulfikar, the producer of the podcast program, to discuss about the discourse of “fatwa haram” on video games like PUBG in Indonesia, which I personally think is ridiculous and historically clueless.

I gave my two cents about the long history of moral panic about video games, which usually revolves around the rising popularity of a new genre, or a new mechanic system (e.g. battle royale), and also briefly touched upon my current research on the early history of Indonesian video games culture. You can watch the full interview (in Indonesian) below, or listen to it here.

Locating Cultures in Video Games and Interactive Fiction: Keynote Talk

So last summer I was invited by a dear friend of mine, Puji Astuti Kasprabowo, to give a keynote talk at her institution, Universitas Negeri Semarang (UNNES). I was honored and excited to give this talk since this is my first proper talk about video game cultures at an Indonesian institution. Plus there is the University of Rochester connection.

However, I was also aware that academic/critical studies of video games are still in its nascent stage in my home country. So I had to make sure that my talk was as accessible as possible to those who are not familiar with video game studies, while still having enough substance for those already familiar with it. So below is my attempt to do so.

So, I would like to start this talk with a statement, that video games are a cultural artifact in the same way as literature, film, and any other expressive forms are. And as a cultural artifact, video games are a medium worthy of rigorous study beyond the influence of mainstream marketing and entertainment discourse. As Clara Fernandez-Vara states, “there is so much more that game analysis can talk about beyond the quality of the graphics or the difficulty curve.”

With this statement in mind, today I will be talking about the concept of global video game cultures. I envision this talk as one of many ways to discuss video games critically. And here, instead of discussing about global video game cultures from the perspective of conventional centers for the production and consumption of games, this talk will focus mainly on what Phillip Penix-Tadsen refers to as game cultures in the global south. The reason of this focus is because often times video game scholarship makes universal claims about global gaming cultures when in fact they talk mostly about Anglo-American, or to a certain extent, Japanese gaming practices. These biases leave the global south regions such as Southeast Asia or Latin America as “the Other” of global gaming culture, while in reality they are integral parts of it. So here a more heterogeneous and nuanced model of global gaming culture is needed.

To discuss about global gaming cultures, I will be dividing my talk into two parts. The first part will examine three main elements of video games, namely game development, in-game worlds, and play experience, to illustrate how culture is incorporated in these elements as well as how it can dynamically emerge from their interconnections. The second part of the talk will discuss about my experience teaching an undergraduate seminar on global video games at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, highlighting several assignments that are designed to develop students’ ability to recognize and situate the cultural impacts of video games globally, and to contextualize how video games can shape our perception, conception, and interaction with our contemporary cultures both at local and global scales. My hope is with this talk we could have a discussion that would enrich and expand our understanding about video games as a medium and as a culture.

And before I go further, I would like to clarify that in the title of this talk I included the phrase interactive fiction. In this case, I will use it interchangeably with video games because I would argue that any narrative-based video game is essentially interactive fiction, even though some scholars may argue differently.

I have to confess that my three categorizations of video game elements are a bit of oversimplification. Elements of video games are much more complex than just these three.

Ian Bogost and Nick Monfort, for instance, distinguish five elements that form a flat ontology of video games.

Meanwhile, Fernandez-Vara in her proposition for textual analysis of video games offers a model of nested building blocks that can be dynamically modified and deconstructed. In my case, my rationale for organizing the elements of video games into three is because I think it will be easy to follow and fits nicely with the triad of production, text, and consumption of video games.

And I also would like to clarify that these three elements are not mutually exclusive. Instead, most of the time they are interconnected with each other. So here we go.

In examining about how game development is inflected with cultural factors, I am going to first introduce a theoretical concept formulated by Bogost called “procedural rhetoric.” In brief, this concept explains how a video game can uniquely express an argument/meaning not through visual or verbal rhetoric, but through the game’s system of rules and mechanics. And this is where game developers/designers can incorporate certain cultural argument/belief into game design/development practices. Let me give you two game examples on how this works in terms of global video game cultures.

Gonzalo Frasca’s September 12th

The first one is September 12th: A Toy World, a game created in 2003 by Gonzalo Frasca, an Uruguayan video game designer and scholar. The game lets the player control and target a missile strike with your mouse to kill terrorist in a bustling town in the Middle East. The objective seems simple enough. Yet, the rules and mechanism of the game make it so that for every terrorist the player kills, many more rise to fill their place. The player will notice that the targeting circle is relatively large. And unlike many war or military games, there is a significant delay from when the player clicks the mouse to the launch of the missile itself. So the likelihood of missing the player’s target and killing civilians are really high. And when the player kills the civilians, others will mourn their deaths and morph into new figures of terrorist. So soon enough, the player’s game screen will be full of terrorists and there is nothing that they can do about it.

Frasca’s September 12th is a game that cannot be won. The only winning scenario is to not play it in the first place. And here the rhetorical argument of the game is quite clear, that the US-lead war on terror campaign after the September 11 tragic event is not working, that violence will only beget violence. And this argument is conveyed mainly through the procedural mechanism of the game that is simple yet elegant. Instead of telling the players its message outright, it allows them to simulate the process and come to their conclusion, perhaps through frustration.

Frasca’s game is part of his life-long project of creating “video games of the oppressed,” using the medium as a tool for education, socio-political awareness, and consciousness-raising. To quote Phillip Penix-Tadsen’s observation about Frasca’s project, “Frasca advocated for the appropriation of the means of game production by actors in the global south, and the repurposing of these technologies in ways that would benefit the region’s inhabitants.” And we can definitely see this in the case of the September 12th game.  

My second game example is Thunderbird Strike, a game designed in 2017 by Elizabeth LaPensée, an Anishinaabe and Métis game designer, as part of her activism against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline that threatens the environmental ecology of Indigenous land in North America. In the game, the player controls an Anishinaabe thunderbird that protects the Great Lakes of North America waterways from the oil pipeline. The game is strongly imbued with Anishinaabe’s visual aesthetics, but here I would like to discuss on elements of its procedural rhetoric.

Elizabeth LaPensée’s Thunderbird Strike

As the thunderbird, the player uses lightning energy from the clouds to either destroy pipeline materials, or to energize the fossilized animals and humans. The game mechanic is interesting here because it both describes the act of the thunderbird as an act of destruction and restoration. And this is reflected in the scoring system at the end of each level.

Furthermore, if September 12th is a game that you can’t win, then Thunderbird Strike is the opposite. There is no really losing state in this game, i.e. the player always wins. But winning in this game is not similar to winning in a game like say Fortnite or PUBG. There is not really a reward system for destroying the pipelines materials, or for bringing the fossilized animals to life. And there is not really a punishment system as well. In fact, the player can perhaps let the thunderbird flies without doing anything and they will still complete the level. So winning and losing are not really part of the procedural point of the game here. Instead, the gameplay highlights that the thunderbird’s journey focuses as much on cultural and ecological resurgence within a polluted ecosystem as it does about destroying the oil pipeline. The game here, as Stina Attebery argues, promotes a type of Indigenous posthumanism, which incorporates technologically hybrid posthumans alongside the toxic nonhuman kin that intermingle living and dead matter in our moment of late capitalism and environmental degradation.  

With both September 12th and Thunderbird Strike we can see how culture is inflected through the procedural design of video games. And before I move on to the second element, I want to clarify that procedural rhetoric is not only the domain of the so-called “serious games” like the two I just described here. All video games arguably have their own procedural rhetoric through their rule-based representation and manipulation. In fact, Bogost argues that procedural rhetoric can also be applied to other “play” like environment such as board games or traditional games.

In-game worlds, or the fictional worlds of video games, are probably one of the obvious ways to see how a certain culture is represented in games. And in the context of the global south, it is also where we can see a shared history of reductive and stereotypical representations of the cultures of the region by the developers in the global north. Most audiences in the global south grew accustomed to seeing their cultures depicted in games from outsiders’ perspective, one that shows in many instances the legacy of colonialism, orientalism, and imperialism. See for instance this screenshot from Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction (2010) game.

The two bilingual road signs that you see in this image highlights a kind of ignorance in depicting the Middle East as a region, or in this case Iraq. The sign on the right is written proper Arabic, while what’s supposed to be Arabic on the left sign is just squiggly pseudo-Arabic doodle with no meaning. And you see other instances like this in many games such as Call of Duty franchise, where countries in the global south are depicted merely as a location for the use of the western outsider, and not as sovereign nations with agency of their own.

Because of this shared history, many games developed in the global south, particularly those that deal with national or regional history, try to challenge the global north’s hegemonic and stereotypical portrayal of their nations/regions. Or, to borrow Souvik Mukherjee’s words, to “play back” to the discourses of empire.

One such game that I would like to discuss today is Nusantara Online, a now-defunct Indonesian massively multiplayer online role-playing game/MMORPG. The game was developed by Sangkuriang Internasional and Telegraph Studio in 2006, and was playable until 2013. Nusantara Online/Nusol used the history of three kingdoms in the Indonesian archipelago—Majapahit, Pajajaran, and Sriwijaya—as material for its in-game stories. In the game, players engage in a series of quests and missions drawn from the history of the three represented kingdoms.

Nusol’s use of Indonesian pre-colonial history as its narrative background is what I depicted elsewhere as “playable nationalism,” a ludic construction of digital nationalism that considers the “worlding” of Nusantara as idealized, yet playable environment. And it also highlights the principle of digital collaboration.

In building its nationalistic game, Nusol developers aimed to provide “authentic” illustration of the Indonesian archipelago’s pre-colonial past in visual and narrative forms. They did meticulous research to offer realistic modeling of its game-world and provide an immersive setting in which players can experience. (The game developers actually went to several archaeological sites such as Trowulan for the purpose of this realistic modeling, something that is actually quite rare for a local game development at the time) In the game, players also had a chance to encounter historical figures—both real and fictional—as non-playable characters (NPCs).

Sangkuriang Studio office

Situating the game within the larger framework of Southeast Asian gaming culture, Nusol was also part of the developing trend of networked localism that global blockbuster game developers rarely explore when they produce games that include Southeast Asia. There are other games in the region that adopt narratives of national identity building similar to Nusol, such as King Naresuan Online and 400 Online from Thailand.

Now, Nusol may be a reaction to the global north games’ stereotypical representation of the global south. Yet, I want to argue that it is perhaps too hasty to portray Nusol as a decolonial game project since there are elements in the game that complicate its postcolonial expression. There was a clear sign of idealization in the portrayal of Nusantara as the once-glorious past of Indonesia as a nation, as if the geopolitical concept of Indonesia itself was already there during the historical time period. And if you juxtapose Nusol’s in-game worlding with its procedural elements you find even more contradictions. The game’s racial classification based-on skin color, for instance, reveals a problematic classification. It can be said that there is a discrepancy between Nusol’s representation of its historical in-game world with the procedural elements of the game.

The second game that I will discuss here offers a much more successful combination of in-game world representation and procedural elements compared to Nusol. It is also the subject of my current research. The game is Never Alone/Kisima Inŋitchuŋa, a side-scrolling adventure-puzzle game developed by Upper One Games and first released in 2014.

The game came out of a collaboration between the iñupiat’s Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Alaska and E-Line Media, a New York-based video game education company. It is dubbed as belonging to a new genre of “world games” that intends to empower indigenous community around the world to share their stories in an authentic and engaging way.

The in-game narrative world of Never Alone tells a story about Nuna, a young Iñupiat girl, and an arctic fox, as they embark in an adventure to solve the mystery of the destruction of Nuna’s village. This game narrative is based on the popular traditional Iñupiat tale, “Kunuuksaayuka.”

The focus on the narrative world-building perhaps makes Never Alone less explicitly political as LaPensee’s Thunderbird Strike, the other indigenous video games that I discussed previously. Yet, it does not mean that it follows the same narrative and representational approach as mainstream AAA games produced in the global north.

Never Alone actually represents a distinct view of non-western approach in portraying culture in in-game world. The game’s heavy focus on storytelling is intentional, since storytelling is a medium of cultural transmission and a critical part of Iñupiat culture and many other Indigenous peoples. So the in-game story-building here is not merely a simple act of refashioning the Iñupiat traditional story for the postmodern age. Instead, it functions as an act of survivance, a critical concept in Native American studies. Referring to the works of indigenous scholars such as Anishinaabe’s cultural theorist Gerard Vizenor and LaPensee herself, survivance can be described as Indigenous self-expression in any medium that tells a story about their active presence in the contemporary world and that challenges the discourse of Indigenous victimry or tragedy.

Here, the element of survivance can be identified in how Never Alone focuses its story theme on the communal and collaborative aspect between human, nature, and spiritual being. Throughout the development of the game’s plot, the player will learn how the game is about developing respectful relations with non-human entities such as animals, the Aurora Borealis spirits, the Blizzard man, in short it is about developing respectful relations with nature. The English title itself suggests the theme of the game, that human beings are intimately enmeshed in webs of relationship with each other and with the other entities that inhabit the world.

And this narrative theme is also neatly incorporated in the procedural elements of the game. In the game, the player both plays as Nuna and the fox and work together to solve puzzles. The game mechanic also makes the player aware that they are part of a network of relations within the game environment. For instance, they learn that the blizzard wind can knock them over, but also can be used to aid their jump. They also learn that the bear can kill them but it is also an important part in completing the player’s final adventure quests. So here, the procedural elements of the game suggest that we humans should not fight against or try to conquer nature but instead respectfully engaging with it for our own survival. In this way, as Kateryna Barnes suggests, the game becomes a pedagogy of relationality with the environment or land through an indigenous lens, as opposed to a western colonial perspective which sees nature as a threat to be harnessed.

So, with the examples of Nusol and Never Alone, we can see how culture can be represented in in-game worlds of video games from the global south’s perspective with plurality of approaches and varying success.

Okay, now we have come to the last part of my first section, which is about locating cultures in play experience. Play experience here is having to do with the agency of the player in video games. As scholars such as Alex Galloway and Fernandez-Vara assert, the figure of the player is a necessary and integral part of video games. Without player input, video games are not complete, and this is what makes it unique as an expressive medium. Often times in their interaction with system of rules in games, players also try to break these rules and create goals for themselves. Players can also communicate and relate to each other through the game, and this is what turns the activity of game-playing into social activities. So here you can see how, as Fernandez-Vara argues, by necessity video games are a medium that establishes a dialogue between the game and the players, and amongst players.

I would also like to point out that scholars who are more interested in player experience, or who adopt a play-centric approach in examining video games, have frequently criticized the procedural rhetoric approach that I discussed in the first part of this section. According to the play-centric scholars such as Miguel Sicart, proceduralism marginalizes the ways in which people play by stipulating that meaning largely precedes the act of play and that proceduralism grants power and influence, perhaps too much, to the game designer and developer.

For the play-centric scholars, thus, actions and meanings cannot prefigure play. Different players may have distinct experiences in playing games, and thus making sense of them differently as well. It is the unfolding of meaningful experience through the process of play that is the emphasis of the play-centric game scholarship. Now, I myself think that the play-centric criticism towards procedural rhetoric is quite valid in many ways. Yet, I think a rigorous study of video games should pay equal attention towards the three elements that I discuss here.

And in terms of locating cultures in play experience, I would like to focus on one phenomenon in the context of the global south gaming cultures. That phenomenon is modding.

Modding is an umbrella term that encompasses a large number of practices of customizing, tailoring, or remixing games or game contents by players, in order to suit their desires and interests. It is perhaps the type of play practice that challenges the concept of procedural rhetoric the most, because it demonstrates how players can have the control to significantly alter the systems of rule of a game beyond what the game designers have programmed it to do. That is why in some cases modding practice is actually heavily regulated and sometimes even forbidden. Nonetheless, there are games like Minecraft or Europa Universalis series that are deliberately designed to be modified by their players.

Modding can also be utilized by players, particularly from the global south, to represent their own cultures. For instance, a group of Indonesian players developed a mod of a historical real-time strategy game Rome: Total War-Barbarian Invasion, which they call Nusantara: Total War.

In this mod, they strive to accurately represent the history of military invasions in Nusantara region from the time of the first Portuguese invasion of Malacca in 16th century, to the conclusion the Dutch-Portuguese wars in 17th century. What is also interesting about this mod is that the modder group promotes a pan-Southeast Asian perspective rather than a strictly nationalist Indonesian one like we see in Nusantara Online game. They are aware that the geopolitical concept of Nusantara is not limited to just Indonesia only, but also covers region such as Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. That is also the reason why they were actively seeking modders from other Southeast Asian countries to collaborate. This type of modding practice can be seen as a response to the hegemonic and Eurocentric perspective of historical games made in the global north, which as I mentioned before usually place non-western peoples and cultures outside of history.

However, here I would still be cautious in characterizing modding as a wholly progressive approach to play back against the hegemonic discourse of the global north in terms of play experience. As Rhett Loban and Thomas Apperley discover in their study of Europa Universalis IV modding practice by Indigenous player from Oceania, portraying the perspective of Indigenous people, or in other words marginalized communities, through modding is difficult. Particularly because of the centrality of very Eurocentric elements that are embedded in the game software. Thus, unless these communities of players create entirely new games, they still have to deal with the hegemonic procedural elements of these games in their modding practices.    

Okay, so after learning about global video game cultures, comes a question for an educator like me: how can you teach it in a college setting? In this section, I am going to tell a little a bit of story about my experience teaching a global video games seminar at my current institution.

I have the opportunity to teach a seminar course called Global Video Games: Cultures, Aesthetics, Politics. In this course we mainly discuss the things that I just described throughout my talk today. And here I would also like to share with you that most of my students are either only familiar with mainstream and US-centered AAA games such as Call of Duty, NFL Madden, or Mario Kart, or they are interested in video games but would not really call themselves gamers. Very few of them are familiar with indie gaming, let alone global gaming cultures. So for most of them, the course was their first experience in learning about video games seriously and critically.

So the first thing I did was to tell them the same statement that I made at the beginning of this talk, that video games are cultural artifact and I want them to treat it as such. And I also assured them that it’s okay if they are not familiar with global gaming cultures because that is actually what we’re going to learn in the course. There’s actually no requirement that you have to be a gamer in taking this course. And I also made them aware from the very beginning, especially to those who are familiar with mainstream AAA games, that the games we’re going to play and study in this seminar are probably the ones they have never heard of/played before. And that’s intentional, because again I want them to expand their knowledge about video games from a global perspective.       

To engage my students with the material, I organized my course so that in our twice a week meeting we first discuss about video game theories and general concepts such as procedural rhetoric and play-centric approach. And then in the second meeting, we would focus on a specific game or a case study. This way they would be familiar in the way scholars talk about video games and examine them critically, and also have the opportunity to apply the theoretical concepts they have learned from the first meeting.

I also asked my students to play the games we discussed every week. In this case, we normally play one or two games a week. This game session is a crucial part in my course because just like a close-reading is necessary in analyzing literature, close-playing a game will also give students a chance to explore elements in a video game that would help them in expanding their interpretation and analysis of it.

And to enhance my students’ understanding about global gaming cultures, I designed several assignments that would help them develop nuanced perspectives on video games. And I am going to briefly talk about two of them.

So, one of the assignments that I asked my students to do is a video essay assignment. This assignment is designed as a substitute for a formal term paper. Here, I encouraged my students to provide a critical analysis of a video game in the style that is already popular in global gaming cultures, a video format. I also let them adopt a fictional persona in making their video essay if they were comfortable with it. With this assignment, I wanted my students to practice their medium-specific analysis of video games and applying critical theories and methods that we had covered throughout the course.

One of my students’ video essay

The other assignment that I developed in my course is a collaborative game project. Here, I asked my students to work in a small group to develop a simple game that creatively demonstrates their engagement with the course material that they have explored throughout the semester. This hands-on experience is an integral part of my pedagogical approach in all the courses that I teach, because I believe that students would gain a much better understanding about media cultures when they shift their position from being passive media interpreters into engaged participant-observers.

Since my course is not a technical game development course, I emphasized to my students that I did not expect them to create a technically-sophisticated game. Especially since most, if not all of them did not have any game design/development experience before taking the course. Rather, I challenged them to engage in a process called “theory by design” developed by Walter Holland, Henry Jenkins, and Kurt Squire, where instead of working through ideas in an expository fashion, they would do so through creative development, putting themselves in game developers’ shoes.

It’s also because of this reason that I chose two simple platforms, Scratch and Twine, for students to utilize. Scratch is a simple programming platform developed by MIT for the purpose of teaching kids how to code. While Twine is a free and open source tool to create interactive fiction developed by Chris Klimas. So I asked my students to explore these two platforms in a workshop and pick the one they are most comfortable with for their project. As a side note, I highly recommend Twine here for those of you who study literature and want to delve into interactive fiction. It is a simple yet robust platform for making text-based games or interactive fiction, with a relatively low barrier of learning curve.

One of my students’ game project

So, throughout my talk today, I have tried to illustrate how video games can be a medium that offers people ways to understand the world, as well as how the ways people understand the world can shape the production, circulation, and consumption of video games. I approach this through the framework of global gaming cultures with the emphasis from the global south perspective, because I believe that this perspective can enrich our viewpoints about the role of video games in culture, and provide a more nuanced understanding of games as a truly global phenomenon. I have to admit that there are still many elements that I neglected in my exploration of global gaming cultures here. But I hope that it can be a starting point in thinking about what and how video games can mean to our society.

Punk dancing

Keynote Paper – Punk Scholars Network Indonesia Conference 2020

So last fall I was invited to give a talk about punk in Indonesia for Punk Scholars Network Indonesian branch. It’s part of the Network’s annual international conference and symposium.

I was excited but also nervous to give a talk at this conference. It’s been a long while since I wrote anything about punk (14 years to be exact). And I also felt humbled since the other keynote speakers were punk scholars whose work about Indonesian punk/underground communities I really admire. I almost said no actually, but after some thought I agreed to be one of the speakers since I wanted to start writing about punk again.

So below is the text of my talk. It’s sort of an update to my last writing about Indonesian punk. It’s far from a smart take, but it did make me want to write about Indonesian punk again. And I also want to give a shout out to Muhammad Fakhran al Ramadhan for giving me the opportunity to give this talk.

Dancing Pogo with the Culture Industry Revisited: A Distant Reading of Indonesian Punk Cultures

Let me start with this statement: Although I grew up with punk during the new order regime and wrote a couple of papers about punk in Indonesia that I presented more than a decade ago, I have not been in direct contact with the Indonesian punk scene for more than 10 years ever since I left Indonesia to study and now teach here in the States. So today I am going to update my thoughts about contemporary Indonesian punk cultures as a distant reader. I am going to do it through revisiting the last paper I wrote and presented about Indonesian punk, titled, “Dancing Pogo with the Culture Industry”; hence the addition of the word “revisited” in my presentation title for today. I hope it makes sense in the context of the theme of today’s conference, “doing local, doing global” and is worthy of discussion. I truly appreciate any kind of feedback from the audience here.

In the old version of this paper, I used the framework of the culture industry formulated by Frankfurt School theorists, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, to examine the emergence of punk in Indonesia as a counterculture movement and I am going to do that again. For those not familiar with Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s formulation of the culture industry, for them it is a concept that refers to the commercialization of culture and how it perpetuates the dominant ideology. Back then, I argued that the emergence of punk as a counterculture movement in Indonesia, in the words of Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s, was “made to pass through the filter of the culture industry.”[1]

Punk was initially exported to Indonesia in the 1990s as a commercial package of “anti-establishment” music via major label distribution of commercially hyped groups such as Green Day and the Offspring. At the time, the Indonesian youth (I was one of them) were classified, organized, and labeled as the target market by the culture industry in their global expansion. Although as my fellow keynote speaker, Jeremy Wallach, points out, “the Indonesian punks’ tastes quickly turned to less hyped but indisputably seminal bands from the 1970s and early 1980s, particularly the Ramones, the Exploited, and the Sex Pistols.”[2] This kind of incorporation, I argued then and now, significantly marks the development of the Indonesian punk movement up to the present.

In the old version of this paper, I described how initially, the culture industry presented the Indonesian youth with naturalized forms of punk. In this case, punk had already been predesigned as, to quote Horkheimer and Adorno again, “feeble resistance which that very industry has inculcated in it.”[3] The culture industry had already understood that one of the characteristics of the global youth culture is its spirit for resistance. As Dylan Clark states in his chapter, “[t]he image of rebellion has become one of the most dominant narratives of the corporate capitalist landscape: the ‘bad boy’ has been reconfigured as prototypical consumer [original italics].”[4] Therefore, when the culture industry brought punk to Indonesia, it promoted punk’s rebellious ideology in order to capture the youth as consumer. Through such apparatuses as commercial magazines and radio stations, the culture industry encourages Indonesian youth to buy its cultural package. To quote Leslie Haynsworth, “by promoting [the] artists’ countercultural stances, the corporate music industry and the mainstream music press are disseminating—and more importantly, endorsing—subcultural values, practices, and iconographies [original italics].”[5] One such instance in my memory was when Hai magazine published a special “HaiKlip” issue on punk in 1996, featuring Green Day, the Offspring, and Rancid.

In my previous examination, I also connected my framework of the culture industry in the development of punk in Indonesia in the 1990s with the context of Soeharto’s new order regime. The new order state, with its repressive and ideological apparatuses, tried to control the lives of the people including the youth. One of the state’s tools to control the youth is through family institution.

In his study of Indonesian “street kids” (anak jalanan) as a form of subculture, Kirik Ertanto argues that according to the new order’s State Law “family decision-making is used as a tool to achieve national development…. The youth is perceived as valuable national asset. Therefore, efforts to produce improved human capital should be executed as early as possible.”[6] This condition prompted the repression of youth by their parents as the extension of the state’s apparatuses. This is one of the reasons why some Indonesian youth were absorbed by punk as a cultural product. They were more than eager to accept punk’s ideas of anarchism in order to resist the parent/state repressive culture.

Then, I also made a note about the class dynamic in the introduction of punk to Indonesia. I argued that the Indonesian upper middle class youth had a mediatory role in bringing punk and its anti-establishment, anti-consumerism, and anti-authoritarian ideologies to Indonesia, since for a non-English-speaking country like Indonesia it was almost impossible for the working class youth to be able to directly access punk products from countries such as the US and the UK.[7] Through the mediation of the middle class youth as both “the prestige seeker and the connoisseur,”[8] punk products were disseminated to other youth who do not have direct access to them via bootlegged records and xeroxed copies of zines, such as Profane Existence, Maximum RockNRoll, and EqualizingxDistort. I argued here that this “illegitimate” chain of distribution had in many ways disrupted the position of the culture industry as a hegemonic commercial practice. Reflecting on this, the mediation of the Indonesian middle class youth perhaps also explains why certain punk groups got popular among Indonesian punks compared to their contemporaneous compatriots, something that mystified Wallach at the time of his study of Jakarta punks.[9]

Hardcore fans explode into a mosh pit in a community center in Malang

This was also where I pointed out how through the “unwilling” incorporation with the culture industry, which I frame as a kind of pogo dancing, Indonesian punk developed their utopian goals as a counterculture movement. In this case, I questioned Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s argument that the culture industry “not for a moment … [allows its consumers] any suspicion that resistance is possible.”[10] At the time, I argued that it was through their “dance” with the culture industry, that punk in Indonesia was able to posit themselves as, in Stacy Thompson’s words, “the placeholder for the possibility of a cultural form that resists its own commodification.”[11]

In order to support my argument at the time, I described several phases in Indonesian punk’s dance with the culture industry. First, I looked at the mimicry phase of Indonesian punk where they started to imitate “conventional” punk fashion (studded leather jackets, doc martens boots, mohawk hairstyle), form their own bands—first performing covers of seminal punk bands and then writing their own songs—and also produced domestic version of punk zines. I argued that although this phase might confirm Horkheimer’s and Adorno’s assertion that “[i]n the culture industry…imitation finally becomes absolute,”[12] it was not a simple and immediate reaction.

To prove my point, I chronicled how the imitation of punk fashion by Indonesian youth at this mimicry phase was at first, following Dick Hebdige’s formulation, a semiotically rootless and perhaps a costly one. I asserted that studded leather jacket and doc marten boots do not semiotically signify “working-classness” in Indonesia.[13] Yet, I also pointed out that the shock value of that kind of punk fashion can still be regarded as “a symbolic violation of the social order,”[14] at least initially. I also pointed out the nuance in the local punk bands’ preference for using English lyrics despite their lacking language skills. The use of English lyrics, I argued then, could also be perceived as a subcultural reaction against Indonesian major label companies who generally restricted its use.

            Then I moved to discuss the next phase when the figure of punks gradually became widely recognized in the Indonesian popular culture landscape. Here I focused on how the culture industry started to see local punk groups as a marketable product, which happened around the same time when pop punk bands such as Blink 182 and Sum 41 dominated international rock charts in the early 21st century, and when MTV broadcast its programs in Indonesia through syndication with a national private station. I mentioned how, similar to what has happened in the US or the UK, major record labels started to seek potential local punk bands to market them to the public, such was the case with Superman is Dead (SID) from Bali and Burgerkill from Bandung.

            Yet, I also argued then that in this post-mimicry phase many Indonesian punks have now become familiar with the philosophy of DIY, anarcho-punk, and anti-fascism. I asserted that just like some of the Indonesian punk bands went “mainstream,” some others grew more political and took a harder stance towards the culture industry. Here, I mentioned the emergence of countercultural collectives such as Forum Anti Fasis, Kontra Kultura, Utopian, and Akar Jelata in Indonesia as examples of the progressive movement within Indonesian punks.

            I ended my argument back then with kind of a naïve assertion that despite their inability to break away from the culture industry’s master discourse, Indonesian punks were realizing their utopian goals as a counterculture movement in the post-Soeharto era with their progressive, anti-hierarchical, and self-reflexive mindset. Here, I cited a portion of song “Suatu saat nanti” (Someday) from the seminal anarcho-punk band from Jakarta, Bunga Hitam to prove my point.

            Now looking back on my argument, I actually find it somewhat too optimistic and lacking depth. Not only did I trap myself into the monolithic thinking of the culture industry, I neglected to attend to the richness and diversity of Indonesian punks themselves. For one, I did not necessarily consider the role of built environment and social contours of major cities and regions such as Jakarta, Bandung, Denpasar, and Kuta in shaping Indonesian punk scenes and cultures and how these places and spaces are simultaneously shaped by the existence and development of their local punk scenes. At the time, I was not yet aware of the work by another of my fellow keynote speakers for today, Emma Baulch, who has examined the complexity of localization or hybridization of global media forms, such as punk, within the local cultural logics of “Balinese-ness” in Bali underground scene.[15] I was also not yet aware of Sean Martin-Iverson’s work that looks into the dialectic of “territorialization” and “deterritorialization” in the development of the Bandung hardcore punk scene and their orientation as part of global hardcore punk scene.[16] To put it simply, I failed to consider the messiness in Indonesia punks’ pogo dancing with the culture industry as I treated it more like line dancing.

A crowd goes crazy for Straight Answer in Jakarta

In addition, things have drastically changed in Indonesia and in Indonesian punk scenes themselves since the last time I wrote my essay. For example, now Indonesia has a self-described “metalhead” as president (for better or worse), social media platforms such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, and Instagram have also become so popular in the country, and there is also a worrying phenomenon of socio-political polarization in the country, mostly based on religious identity and populist nationalism. All of which I believe have affected local and global expressions of Indonesian punks.

So today I would like to attend to some of the messy entanglements that I have recently observed in the pogo dance between Indonesian punks and the culture industry, or more accurately culture industries, since the singular term assumes a monolithic domination while the plural forms better reflect the complexity and contradictions within its operations. I am going to start with the phenomenon of the “religious turn” of Indonesian punks, something that my fellow keynote speakers Hikmawan Saefullah, or “Papap,” examines in his article, “Nevermind the jahiliyyah, here’s the hijrahs,”[17] and will also most likely be discussed in detail by him today. Examining the emergence of religious underground collectives and hijrah groups that undertake Islamic proselytization in the scene, such as the One Finger Movement, the Ghuraba Militant Tauhid, and The Hijrah Youth Movement, Saefullah suggests that this religious turn within the Indonesian underground scene is “a result of the absence of a coherent political Left within the subculture and the high financial and social cost of maintaining underground culture and ideology.”[18]

I could not agree more with his analysis. However, I would also like to add that this religious conservative turn can also be understood through a larger picture in the landscapes of the cultural industries in Indonesia. Just as punk productions got commodified by the force of the cultural industries, which demoralized some of the participants in the Indonesian punk scene according to Saefullah, the country has also witnessed the marketing and commodification of piety in Islamic teachings in the post-Soeharto era. As discussed by scholars such as James B. Hoesterey and Marshall Clark, in the post-new order era there is a boom in the so-called “pop Islam,” which incorporates genres such as sastra Islami (Islamic literature), film Islami (Islamic film), and sinetron Islami (Islamic soap operas), along with other products that “breathe Islam” and the popularity of pop preachers like AA Gym or the late Jefri Al Buchori.[19]

The introduction and rapid popularity of social media platforms have also contributed to this growth of popular branding of Islam, especially among the middle class, in the form of microcelebrities and influencers. Emma and Alila Pramiyanti, for instance, discuss about one phenomenon related to this: the hijabers of Instagram.[20] I believe the phenomenon of the religious turn in Indonesian punk scenes cannot be wholly detached from this broad context. Perhaps, the Indonesian punk scene has become the latest pop culture victim of this “brand Islam.”

Another thing that I have also observed from afar is the incorporation of nationalistic themes in punk productions, especially in the so-called “mainstream” punk groups. Consider for instance this lyrics from Superman is Dead (SID)’s song, “Jadilah legenda” (Be a legend):

Listening to the lyrics, I cannot help but wonder if this song were released during the new order era, perhaps the Soeharto regime would be pleased with Indonesian punk’s patriotism, even if there is an interpretation that this song is dedicated to the working class.  SID is not the only group which incorporates nationalistic theme into their songs, I have also observed similar adoption in the songs from such groups as pop punk Pee Wee Gaskins’ “Dari mata sang garuda” (From the eye of garuda)[22], the seminal alternative punk band Netral’s “Garuda Di Dadaku” (Garuda on my chest),[23] and many other bands as well.

Perhaps this “nationalistic turn” is one of the impacts of the shift in using the Indonesian language as the preferred lyrical language among Indonesian punk groups, something that Wallach argues as enabling punk bands to more successfully position themselves as the voice of local youth and develops a sense of the underground as a national scene.[24] Perhaps this is also another consequence of the absence of the coherent political left in the subculture that Saefullah mentioned in the case of the “religious turn” in punk. But again, I would like to look at this nationalistic punk phenomenon as a part of a larger trend in the Indonesian cultural landscape in post-Reformasi era. Indonesian punks’ incorporation of nationalism develops around the same time when nationalism, or expressions of “banal nationalism” to borrow Michael Billig’s formulation, re-emerges as a marketable product for the youth.[25] I am somewhat familiar with this because I have done research on the phenomenon of digital nationalism in post-Soeharto era. From nationalistic-themed movies such as Merah Putih (Yadi Sugandi, 2009), to nationalistic video games like Nusantara Online (Sangkuriang/Telegraph, 2010-2013), to patriotic social media events like “upacara bendera digital” (digital flag-hoisting ceremony), the concept of banal nationalism has been re-branded into an appealing and marketable product for the Indonesian youth. And Indonesian punks have experienced this as well.

Of course there are oppositional voices against this nationalistic turn in Indonesian punk scenes as can be seen in the song from Bandung’s legendary hardcore punk band Turtles Jr., “Bakar bendera” (“Burn your flag”),[26] or a more blatant one from Bandung’s anarchopunk band, Milisi Kecoa, “Ganyang nasionalisme” (“Down with nationalism”).[27]

Yet, things get complicated when you also have punk groups that adopt a nationalistic attitude while simultaneously embracing the spirit of anarchism. I find this tendency in groups such as Rebellion Rose from Yogyakarta that claims “nasionalisme adalah harga mati” (“nationalism is non-negotiable”) to emphasize its absoluteness, while also promoting anarchist values.[28] Even the public face of anarcho-punk in Indonesia, Marjinal, recently released a single titled, “Indonesia Memanggil” (“Indonesia Calling”), which has lyrics like this:

Perhaps the marriage between nationalism and anarchism in Indonesian punk has not necessarily turned into the adoption of national-anarchism as a rebranding of totalitarian fascism yet, but it does not mean that it will not turn into a dangerous territory given the global history of fascist cooptation of punk as seen in the skinhead/bonehead phenomenon, and the recent embrace of populist nationalism in Indonesia.

There is also a phenomenon of folk culture revival in the Indonesian punk scene, which I think of it as a kind of offshoot of this nationalistic turn. One example of this is Punklung, who combines underground style with traditional Sundanese bamboo percussion instrument such as calung and angklung. I believe one of the presenters in this conference is going to discuss this in detail and I am looking forward to it.

The last thing that I would like to discuss in regard to the complexity of the Indonesian punk’s pogo dance with the culture industries is something that I am myself also complicit in, which is the adoption of popular social media and streaming platforms such as Youtube and Spotify in the local and global circulation of Indonesian punk’ productions. This is of course not unique to Indonesia only since these platforms are popular globally. However, it adds another layer of messiness in the adoption of principles like DIY, or anarcho-punk by the Indonesian punks.

Let’s use Youtube for example. This digital platform has grown from amateur video-sharing platform to become one of the world’s most powerful digital platforms covering not only music but also things like make-up tutorials, how-to videos, and other stuff. It is also my go-to platform to get my fix of Indonesian underground scene. On Youtube, I can watch music videos from some of my favorite bands like Turtles Jr., Jeruji, Sendal Jepit, and many more. The platform also enables me to discover newer bands like Joey the Gangster and Saturday Night Karaoke. In a way, Youtube has become one of the principal media for many Indonesian punk groups to participate in the global underground marketplace.  

However, Youtube is also a for-profit platform. In fact, Youtube and other popular digital platforms have been categorized by several media scholars as the representative of “platform imperialism,” or “platform capitalism.”[29] Youtube is also not neutral in its technological design. With its algorithmic architecture that creates a particular participation framework that calculates how many times a video is watched/clicked, how many people like/dislike it, how many people share it on another platform, etc., Youtube has encouraged a certain mode of usage over another.[30] And this can create interesting circumstances for Indonesian punk groups, especially those who espouse DIY ethics.

For example, Marjinal’s music video “Luka Kita” (Our Pain) from their official Youtube channel has garnered more than nine hundred thousand views on Youtube, liked by 9.6k people, and disliked by 224, and have 609 comments. What does this mean for the anarcho-punk band? Do they care about this transparent data of those who like and dislike their video? Do they monetize from the views? Do they read the comments? Perhaps they do, perhaps they don’t. Yet, these algorithmic metrics are the principal logic of Youtube platform, and it is hard not to notice them, or not care about them when we use the platform.

Yet, I also believe that this is a much more complex situation than the discourse of “sell-out,” or simple commercialization. Because there are some Indonesian punk groups who have visible presence on Youtube, but still circulate their music independently.[31]

In addition, those who resist participating on Youtube can still have a “phantom” presence on the platform. For instance, Jakarta anarcho-punk band Bunga Hitam is well-known for their stance against any type of non-DIY media. Yet, you can still feel their presence on Youtube in the form of videos posted by their “fans,” who sometimes also request their audience to like and subscribe to their videos.

This entangled situation happens because digital platforms like Youtube operate within a dual logic of commercialism and community that relies on the existence of network(s). To paraphrase Ulises A. Mejias, while networked platforms are responsible for privatizing and commodifying social relations, they also have made sociality more vibrant and interconnected, making it easier (not harder) to express oneself, exercise one’s rights, organize against injustice, give voice to minorities, democratize knowledge and cultural production, and so on.[32] Thus, in the case of the Indonesian punk’s adoption of digital networked platforms, perhaps it is because their benefits outweigh the costs.

So, to end my presentation, I would like to offer a kind of reflection about this updated pogo dance between the Indonesian punk and the culture industries. First, it surely creates a much messier and entangled landscape of Indonesian punks and their politics. But if you think about it, pogo dancing or moshing is always messy and can be chaotic. There can be antagonism. Even fights sometimes break during pogo dancing. So perhaps this messiness is always expected from punk. Second, while it seems that the Indonesian punk may lose their oppositional and progressive valence considering the religious and nationalistic turn within their scene, as well as their adoption of various digital platforms that privatize and commodify social relations, I am still cautiously optimistic with their persistent potential as resistant alternative community that can disrupt and challenge the contemporary forces of the culture industries. Lastly, perhaps with its ambivalent characteristics as “both resistant and [commodified][33]” the Indonesian punk scene is not striving to accomplish a utopia as I initially suggested. But it is more for developing a heterotopia, a counter-site “in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted.”[34] Thank you.

[1] Horkheimer, Marx and Theodor W. Adorno. “From Dialectic of Enlightenment,” in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, 1st Edition. Vincent B. Leitch, et al. (Eds.), New York: W W Norton & Company, 2001: 1226

[2] Wallach, Jeremy, “Living the Punk Lifestyle in Jakarta,” Ethnomusicology 52.1, 2008: 99.

[3] Horkheimer and Adorno, 1223.

[4] Clark, Dylan, “The Death and Life of Punk, the Last Subculture,” in The Post-Subcultures Reader, David Muggleton and Rupert Weinzierl (Eds.), New York: Berg, 2003: 223.

[5] Haynsworth, Leslie, “‘Alternative’ Music and the Oppositional Potential of Generation X Culture,” in GenXegesis: Essays on “Alternative” Youth (Sub)Culture, John M. Ulrich and Andrea L. Harris, Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2003: 55.

[6] Ertanto, Kirik, “Anak Jalanan dan Subkultur: Sebuah Pemikiran Awal,” KUNCI Cultural Studies Center, Esai dan Teori, 2000,, accessed November 27, 2006

[7] My use of the word “products” here follows Stacy Thompson’s materialist theory of punk economics that situates punk’s material productions and social relations within the broader fields of music industry, the commodity form, and contemporary capitalism. See, Thompson, Stacy, Punk Productions: Unfinished Business, New York: SUNY Press, 2004.

[8] Horkheimer and Adorno, 1239.

[9] Wallach, 99-100.

[10] Horkheimer and Adorno. 1232.

[11] Thompson, 134.

[12] Horkheimer and Adorno, 1228.

[13] Hebdige, Dick, Subculture: The Meaning of Style, New York: Routledge, 1988: 63.

[14] Hebdige, 19.

[15] Baulch, Emma, Making Scenes: Reggae, Punk, and Death Metal in 1990s Bali, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007.

[16] Martin-Iverson, “Bandung Lautan Hardcore: Territorialisation and deterritorialisation in an Indonesian hardcore punk scene,” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol. 15: 4, 2014: 532-52.

[17] Saefullah, Hikmawan, “Nevermind the jahiliyyahs, here’s the hijrahs: Punk and the religious turn in the contemporary Indonesian underground scene,” Punk & Post-Punk, V. 6:2, 2017: 263-289.

[18] Saefullah, 264.

[19] Hoesterey, James B. and Marshall Clark, “Film Islami: Gender, Piety, and Pop Culture in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia,” Asian Studies Review, V. 36, 2012: 207-26.

[20] Baulch, Emma, and Alila Pramiyanti, “Hijabers on Instagram: Using Visual Social Media to Construct the Ideal Muslim Woman,” Social Media + Society, October-December 2018: 1-15.

[21] Superman is Dead, “Jadilah Legenda,” Sunset di Tanah Anarki, 2013, Sony Music Indonesia.

[22] Pee Wee Gaskins, Ad Astra Per Aspera, 2010, Alfa Records.

[23] Netral, The Story Of, 2009, Kancut Records.

[24] In Martin-Iverson, 540.

[25] Billig, Michael, Banal Nationalism, London: Sage Publication, 1995.

[26] Turtles Jr., Bintang Mati, Kuyangora Records, 2008

[27] Milisi Kecoa, Kalian Memang Menyedihkan!, Self-released, 2010.

[28] Rebellion Rose, “Artist Bio,” Reverbnation,

[29] See, Jin, Dal Yong, Digital Platforms, Imperialism, and Political Culture, NY and London: Routledge, 2015; and Srnicek, Nick, Platform Capitalism, London: Polity, 2016.

[30] Although this does not necessarily mean that this mode of usage is absolute.

[31] I can categorize Turtles Jr. in this category for instance.

[32] Mejias, Ulises A., Off the Network: Disrupting the Digital World, Minneapolis: U. Minnesota Press, 2013.

[33] Thompson, 135.

[34] Foucault, Michel, “Of Other Spaces,” 1967,  

Traces of Play Pt. 2: Game Prime 2019

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.

Agate’s Smart Bike game for AXA

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.

Teamless’s Loveless demo

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.

Ginvo Studio’s promotional material for their tabloid newsgames’ ecosystem, Gemvi

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.

4Happy’s WhoIsHe: Let Me Out demo

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.

Bluffing Billionaires and Circus Politicus

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.

Indonesia’s “digital wallet” ecosystem and socio-technical change

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.

Even traditional food stalls such as this one are conditioned to employ digital wallet method for transaction

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.

Tracing Indonesian Videogames History pt. 1

This is the first post related to my current research project on Indonesian videogames history (Disclaimer: thoughts are still scattered and disjointed):

As Inaya Rakhmani and Hikmat Darmawan (2015: 250) assert in their chapter about videogames culture in Indonesia, the exact history of videogames in the country is difficult to trace due to a variety of reasons. Archival awareness was not, and perhaps still not, high among Indonesians, especially for things considered trivial such as videogames. There aren’t really any exact record of what videogame titles first introduced to the country, or when. Statistical data on gaming is almost nonexistent, particularly during the early years. So, most narratives about Indonesian videogames history depend on the memories of people who participated or are still participating in the culture, i.e. gamers. Based on this collective memory, Rakhmani and Darmawan suggest that the development of videogames in Indonesia can be traced as far back as the mid-1980s.

While I cherish Rakhmani and Darmawan’s oral history/interview approach, I am interested in examining the scarcity of record about Indonesian videogames history, specially by means of popular distribution. My goal is not to provide the ultimate history of Indonesian videogames (that would be a rather foolish and impossible task), but to offer glimpses of what videogames discourse looked like (if there was such a thing) back in the early days. I think by doing this type of research, it will enrich our understanding of contemporary videogames culture in the country.

So, the first thing I did is to look for popular periodicals that were around during the estimated period that Rakhmani and Darmawan suggest. In this case, I examined two periodicals, Intisari and Variasi Putra Indonesia, from late 70s to late 80s. These two periodicals are by no means the representation of Indonesian popular culture back then. They are just ones among many, and they are, in this case, accessible to me.

Perusing these two periodicals, the first thing that I stumbled upon is this Graffiti jeans ad:

Graffiti Jeans Ad, Variasi Putra Indonesia, No. 397 (24-30 July 1981)


Graffiti Jeans Ad, Intisari, No. 217 (August 1981)

The ads show three hip-looking youths (by 80s fashion standard), posing next to what looks like a coin-op pinball machine. I am intrigued by the fashion and the machine. Well, mostly the machine.

The machine maybe just a prop for the ad. Yet, associating the aura of “hipness” that the ad promotes, the pinball machine may also suggest that it was part of a trendy youth culture back then. This may not be surprising if we connect it to the history of videogames in the US, especially coin-operated arcade. Coin-operated machines were already part of popular culture dating back to the Victorian-era amusements like the Kinetoscope.

However, 1981 was the heyday of videogame arcades in the US. As Carly A. Kocurek (2015) points out, “[b]y the early 1980s, mainstream media outlets from Life magazine to the New York Times were reporting on the youth trend, and arcades had become mainstays in shopping malls, strip malls, and small-town storefronts across the Unites States” (2). If we were to align the youth trend in the US with that in Indonesia, then the more appropriate background prop for the Graffiti ad would be a Space Invaders (Taito, 1978) arcade machine, or perhaps Sea Wolf (Midway, 1976). But what we see here is a much older coin-op machine (by the US standard).

Then perhaps videogame arcades were not yet popular in Indonesia back then (I rather doubt it). Perhaps arcades were still a novelty for upper-middle class youth as Rakhmani and Darmawan suggest. Yet, if they were a novelty, where did they play them? At home? (I also doubt it)

It is also interesting to note that this ad was the only non-game ad that used game-related background (at least in the two periodicals). And the appearance of this ad is very rare. From 1979 to 1990, it only showed up twice in Variasi Putra and once in Intisari (there are of course other Graffiti Jeans ads, but they did not use the pinball machine as a background prop anymore).


Works Cited:

Kocurek, Carly A. Coin-Operated Americans (Univ. Minnesota Press, 2015)

Rakhmani, Inaya and Hikmat Darmawan. “Indonesia.” In Mark J. P. Wolf (Ed.). Video Games Around the World (The MIT Press, 2015)

nutshell encounter

Archives in Between Recap

This post is a follow up from my last post about the digital humanities workshop I organized for AAS 2017. Well, I ended up not attending the workshop itself because of my visa situation (what a bummer!). But, the workshop itself went pretty well (thankfully!). The University of Rochester’s Re-Envisioning Japan (REJ) team (Joanne Bernardi, Nora Dimmock, and Tracy Stuber) and the Lafayette College’s East Asia Image Collection team (Paul Barclay) successfully facilitated the workshop.

The workshop itself comprised four activities:

  1. Introduction of the two projects
  2. Hands-on activities: Object Encounters, Twenty Questions with an Object, and Metadata and Tagging
  3. Concluding comments (recapping projects)
  4. Q & A

Here are some of the photos from the workshop (courtesy of Nora Dimmock):

And here is the link to the REJ team’s powerpoint presentation.


Archives in Between

This coming March, I will be organizing a collaborative digital humanities workshop: Archives in Between-Digital Humanities and Material Culture in East Asian Studies, at the Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference in Chicago .

This workshop is part of an on-going collaboration that my CLIR fellow cohort, Michaela Kelly, and I are initiating.

It will feature two large-scale, on-going digital humanities projects at the University of Rochester and Lafayette College: Re-Envisioning Japan: Japan as Destination in 20th Century Visual and Material Culture and the East Asia Image Collection. Both are faculty-library collaborations offering innovative pathways for East Asian Studies scholarship, research, and teaching.

So, if you are planning to be at the conference, do come to our workshop session!

Here’s the link to the workshop flier that contains more info, including the location and time: link




RE-ENVISIONING JAPAN: Recuperating Ephemeral Histories through Collaborative Digital Curation, DH Pedagogy, and Web-based Publication

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.

You can check out our presentation slide deck here. And if you want to see REJ’s “old” look, click here.

‘Programming’ the Archipelago Featured in My Campus Library Newsletter

So, recently I was featured in my campus library e-newsletter. I was actually humbled by the invitation and thought it was nice that someone thought my project is worth-featuring. So here is the link to the text version (there is also a link to the video interview).

It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (danah boyd) – Collaborative Book Engagement

Around five or six months ago I volunteered to co-direct a collaborative book review project as a HASTAC scholar. It’s a kind of “crowdsourced” book reviews where you invite people to review sections of a book instead of the whole thing. This is actually the second project of its kind launched by HASTAC (I also participated in the first one). This time we choose It’s Complicated: the social lives of networked teens by danah boyd. It’s a really good book if you want to learn about youth engagement with social media from the perspectives of the youth themselves, and it’s highly readable. I’d have still recommended it even if I didn’t get involved in this project.

In this project, I partner up with another HASTAC scholar Megan Farnel and we work together with the HASTAC Scholars Director, Fiona Barnett. And couple days ago we finally launched the finished version of this project. We’ve gotten twenty-two people writing nineteen reviews and one pedagogical resources (excluding Megan who also wrote the review for the book’s intro). They all come from various academic backgrounds and have taken diverse approaches in writing their reviews.

For me, to be involved in this project is a really rewarding experience, both personally and professionally. And I’m really happy with how it turns out.

You can check the project here!

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