Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Once upon a Bit: Ludic Identities in Italy, from Militant Nostalgia to Frivolous Divertissement

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Once upon a Bit: Ludic Identities in Italy, from Militant Nostalgia to Frivolous Divertissement

Article excerpt

Games and culture rely on a multi-faced interaction. Even if several scholars and game designers highlight the importance of the relation (e.g., Salen & Zimmerman 2003; Sylvester 2013), the interpretation of the second term is often rough and quite abstract - i.e., the so-called 'core culture' described by Crane (1992) as the mainstream culture that surrounds and leads us. By the way, the issue becomes more problematic if we focus on concrete and grounded settings: indeed, usually culture becomes something more fragmented and incoherent when we are on the field and put it to test.

In addition, the exploration of peculiar cultures (e.g., subcultures, game-related lifestyles) is getting harder in comparison with the past: cultural identities are now more fluid, plural and relational (Hall 1997), and several Western values and reference systems (political ideologies, religions, etc.) have been reformulated (Griswold 2012). Consequently, current cultural frames appear multi-perspectival and not defined at all. In other words, a coherent 'scene' - i.e., a social phenomenon with clear and unique boundaries to study (Straw 2001) - is demanding to picture. In addition, media have become an important landscape of references (Coundry 2005) for identity and community affiliations across productive and institutional processes (Thorton 1996; Abercrombie & Longhurst 1998), problematizing the analysis. Unsurprisingly, neo-marxist (Hebdige 1979) and functionalist (Parson 1960) views on culture, based on social classinfluenced aggregations and static values, have showed all their limits and must be declined on a more flexible and subjective level.

Similarly, games as cultural practice entail a challenging topic exacerbated by the popularization of digital entertainment; with its economic and technological evidence, it exercises a relevant influence on other gaming markets, from wargames and tabletop roleplaying games (RPG) to boardgames and live action roleplaying games (LARP). This contraposition between digital and non-digital plays can mean a significant frontier to assess. If we interpreted identity as a socio/cultural construction based on differences (Hall 1996), videogames are a forced reference for every type of gamer: with a business of 100 billions of dollars (Gartner data) and a population of consumers that has crossed the 1 billion in 2015 (Spil Games data), they represent the most important sector of the global entertainment. From an empirical point of view, the comparison with digital games can work as a key-tool in order to elicit non-digital gamers' consciousness and then their own culture.

Thus, in order to understand how digital entertainment affects traditional gaming identities, I have conducted a qualitative research involving through in-depth interviews 64 subjects connected to non-digital gaming sectors in Italy. The article is structured as follows: in the first paragraph the theoretical framework is presented and the concepts of identity and culture are framed according to gaming practices; in the second, I describe the research design and method; the third focuses on the results and the fourth is about conclusions and further developments.

Exploring identity, culture and games

The identity as fluid play

Even though identity is a controversial word with uncountable definitions, in Social Sciences the common interpretation pictures it as the merger between two different processes:

* Identification: what makes an individual similar to other ones.

* Individualization: what makes an individual unique (Sciolla 2007).

These tendencies can be synergic as in contraposition, fluid as rooted. They should be visualized as the sides of a dynamic dialogue, whose balance vary embracing multiple types of relations. Concerning this bond, Ricoeur (1990) proposes the concept of 'narrative identity' interpreted as the effort acted by people with the aim to stage an inner coherence in their actions and positions. …

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