Blurring the boundaries between Video Games and Gambling: China, the West, and the Future of Commercialised Play
Tuesday April 11, 2017
2:30pm – 4:30pm (MDT)
Senate Chamber, 326 Arts & Con Hall, University of Alberta, Edmonton.
Light refreshments will be provided at the venue.
What are some of the challenges posed by new digital sports that are reshaping our understanding of online real-money gameplay? This lecture examines the ongoing blurring of boundaries between video games and gambling, through a comparative examination of North America and China. It focuses on two case studies: fantasy sports betting and "eSports" (professional video gaming). The first part explores the ongoing FBI and Department of Justice investigations into fantasy sports in the United States. These investigations were sparked by the deliberate blurring of practices of gaming and gambling; legal rulings will have significant implications for our understanding of this rapidly-growing betting arena. My discussion of eSports, meanwhile, explores the sudden and rapid growth of this phenomenon, seeking to unpick two particular elements of professional video game competition. Firstly, I demonstrate the blurring of work, play and labour that exemplify this form, and how professional and aspiring-professional gamers are transforming leisure activities into full-time employment. Secondly, I consider the rise of an unregulated and unmeasured "black market" of eSports betting, and attempts to capture and regulate this large volume of digital financial trade. The final part of the lecture explores the unique case of eSports in China, highlighting a tension between state support for high-tech digital entertainment industries and concerns over the long-term effects of video game play. The talk will conclude by offering a set of possibilities about where these developments might lead in the future, before opening up a discussion about how the blurring of video gam-ing and gambling complicates previous understandings of work and leisure, and gambling and play.
Dr Mark R Johnson is a visiting research fellow hosted by the KULE Institute, the China Institute, the Political Science Department, the Alberta Gambling Research Institute and the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies. He has been invited to the University of Alberta to share his expertise on eSports and fantasy sports competitions, which currently occupy interesting unstable positions between government-regulated gambling and commercial gaming enterprises. With billions of dollars circulating in betting markets on the outcome of these competitions, this research on gambling's and gaming's digital frontiers is both timely and important.
Bio: Dr Johnson is an early career researcher who recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Game Studies/Science & Technology Studies at the University of York (UK). He has an impressive track record of international collaborations and grants and has published with international leaders in the fields of gambling and gaming studies. His forthcoming book with Bloomsbury Academic Press is titled The Unpredictability of Gameplay. As a successful game designer, Mark also brings a strong record as a public intellectual on gaming issues; he has discussed eSports and professional gaming with BBC World News, a range of national and international newspapers, and is a freelance writer on game culture/history/criticism for Rock Paper Shotgun, Vice Gaming, Paste Magazine, Kill Screen, First Person Scholar, Five out of Ten Magazine, Memory Insufficient and Imaginary Realities. A co-host of Roguelike Radio game design podcast (1,000,000+ lifetime hits), Dr Johnson is also the sole writer of one of the world's most read blogs on procedural generation (1,250,000+ lifetime hits) and game design more generally.