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Bolton Lecturer Starts Teaching... in California

The following Press Release has just been issued by University of Bolton, where I currently teach. Cross-posted from

lcad_logoThis week, University of Bolton Senior Lecturer in Game Design Dr. Chris Bateman starts teaching... 5,285 miles away in Laguna Beach, California.

‘Laguna College of Art and Design (LCAD) first asked me to teach Game Narrative for them back in June last year,’ Chris explains, ‘but I had to decline because of my commitments at Bolton. But after thinking about it, I realised that with the high tech resources at both our campuses it might be possible to teach my class over the internet.’ That is what has happened. Using D2L’s elearning platform Brightspace, Chris will be able to teach his class on the other side of the world this Autumn.

‘I teach a world-class introduction to game narrative theory and practice in the BSc Game Design at Bolton,’ Chris adds, ‘and at LCAD I get to teach the subject as a Visiting Professor on a Master of Fine Art degree – which given the years I’ve spent defending the value of games as an artistic medium is a genuine honour.’ The class at LCAD is a modified version of a module Chris has taught at Bolton for many years, which in turn is based upon workshops he and a colleague used to run for both the BBC and Sony Computer Entertainment Europe when he was working as a full time consultant. The Bachelor's version of the workshops will also be used by Uppsala University, the oldest university in Sweden, for an Interactive Storytelling class commencing in January 2016.

Chris notes that his co-workers are amused that he’s working in Bolton and e-commuting to California: ‘They think I should have gone to California and e-commuted to Bolton instead! But I’m happy with how this worked out, and it’s a great partnership between two exceptional academic institutions.’

Sandy Appleöff, the Founder and Chair of the Art of Game Design MFA at LCAD, says that they particularly wanted Chris to teach the class for them. ‘We’d asked a number of professionals in the games industry to suggest someone to teach game narrative at LCAD, and Chris’ name kept coming up. It was a shame when he initially declined, but a great pleasure when he found away to make it happen anyway. Chris is globally recognised as an expert in game narrative, and is exactly the kind of professional we seek out to teach here at LCAD.’

Chris has enjoyed a highly successful career in game development, working on over forty five games including classic titles such as Discworld Noir and Ghost Master, as well as major global franchises such as Cartoon Network: FusionFall and Motorstorm: Apocalypse. He even self-funded an ‘artgame’ called Play with Fire that was featured in a travelling exhibition. Chris’ talents and work also go well beyond game development, stretching into groundbreaking academic research that combines game studies, neurobiology and philosophy. His work on the foundations to game aesthetics, published as the book Imaginary Games, is part of a long-term project combining philosophy and scientific research to help understand play and games. In 2013, he became the first person in the world to receive a doctorate in the aesthetics of games and play, via a PhD by Publication drawing from his existing work.

University of Bolton offers both undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Game Design, Games Art and Game Programming, and Chris teaches on all the games degrees in various capacities, although Game Design is the BSc course that studies Game Narrative under Chris tutorship. The University was one of the first in the UK to offer degrees in game development, and its graduates have gone on to work at major developers such as Rockstar North (based in Dundee), creator of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and TT Games (based in Knutsford), who are responsible for the LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Batman, and LEGO Jurassic World franchises. A team of game students from Bolton recently won two major prizes in this year’s Dare to Be Digital competition.

Laguna College of Art and Design is a world-renowned fine arts university located on the spectacular California coast line. It offers both Bachelors of Fine Arts (BFA) and Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) degree courses. LCAD is considered one of the best colleges in the United States for traditional and graphic arts, specifically digital game art, with graduating students quickly being snapped up by top gaming companies including Walt Disney Animation, Microsoft, EA, and Activision.

Open Letter to Official Charts Company

This is a copy of the email I just sent to the Official Charts Company, whose contact details can be found here. Cross-posted from

Everybody's Gone to the Rapture OST Dear Chris and Lucy at the Official Charts Company,

It has come to my attention that Jessica Curry's classical score to the digital game "Everybody's Gone to the Rapture" has been removed from the UK Classical Artist Album Charts, after having previously been an excellent performer in this category. Right now, thousands of enraged videogame fans are boiling with fury on the internet about this, and the knee jerk reaction has been that she has been removed because her soundtrack appears in a digital game.

If this allegation were true, it would be a tremendous act of disrespect to both musicians as a whole, and to games as an artistic medium.

I am hopeful this is not the case, but I urgently request a clarification as to the reason for the declassification of this album from your charts. Examining your Eligibility Rules suggests that, since Jessica has clearly composed in a classical form (rules 3 and 6) and is capable of live performance (rule 5), it should qualify.

However, I am uncertain of the intended meaning of rule 9, which states "Original soundtracks and scores performed in a classical style, by either a single artist or various artists, will not be eligible for the Classical Artist Album Chart." Nonetheless, since "The Complete Harry Potter Film Music" appears at Number 29 in your chart, it would seem that there is no prima facie reason that Jessica's soundtrack should not qualify.

I would be grateful for a swift clarification on this matter.

I have worked for many years to secure the case for games qualifying as artworks, a situation that has now become unimpeachable in terms of the philosophical arguments. We still, however, face tremendous prejudice from the media establishment. I hope and trust that the Official Charts Company is not part of the ongoing bigotry against games as an artistic medium.

Your sincerely,

Dr. Chris Bateman


Their reply:

Hi Chris 
I am out of the office so apologies for the brevity of my response 
Both the Jessica Curry release and the Harry Potter album you refer to appeared in the Classical Artist Album Chart in error. As you rightly note, soundtracks are not eligible for this particular chart, and we treat movie and game soundtracks in the same way. 
The Classic FM Chart is compiled by ‎the Official Charts Company and includes Classical Artist Albums, Compilation Albums and Soundtracks. Everybody's Gone To Rapture OST appears in this chart at #7 I believe, so we completely agree that this is a classical body of work and included it as such
We produce the Official Soundtrack Chart each week and both of these albums are of course eligible for this chart also
‎Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions, or would like any further detail
Many thanks

Think for Yourself?

They LiveAn extremely common demand made by non-religious folks is that you ought to ‘think for yourself’. On the surface, this seems like a reasonable request – certainly, the people who make this claim believe it is morally exemplary to do so! But what does it mean to ‘think for yourself’ and what moral weight can this directive bear?

It is worth observing that the demand to ‘think for yourself’ is often made against the background assumption that if you are part of a religious tradition you do not think for yourself. This appears to be based on two separate but related assumptions: that religious folks do not think for themselves because a centralised autocratic institution dictates norms of behaviour, and that ‘thinking for yourself’ is necessarily a mode of freedom. The latter claim is largely the converse of first, based on the logical connection that says ‘either you think for yourself, or an institution thinks for you’, and the problem with this is that it is solely by drawing against traditions and institutions that any kind of thinking or language is possible. The trouble with the former assumption is that it doesn’t describe contemporary religious institutions outside of purely fictional narratives very accurately.

Of all the world religions, only Catholicism has a central bureaucracy and single leader, and yet Catholics (if you actually talk to a reasonable number of such people) are generally far more independently minded about their theology and religious practice than protestant Christians who – despite their branch of that religious tradition having expressly broken away for the purpose of ‘thinking for themselves’ – all too often align around congealed interpretations of their scriptures. (I personally find it fascinating that an education system that purportedly discourages independent thought creates so many independent thinkers, and suspect this says more about schools than religions). If we move away from Christianity, the situation is even less one of outsourced thinking: the norm for global religion is distributed religious practice, with no centralised elements whatsoever.

There is, however, at least one way that religious folks can be said to not ‘think for themselves’, which is that when they face moral crises they will turn to their co-religionaries or (local) community leaders for advice. This is, however, what is required in this situation, since the best philosophical and scientific evidence suggests that you can only operate in a moral context when you are embedded in a common moral community and can engage with others in what in Chaos Ethics I have termed moral representation. A person who solely ‘thinks for themselves’ i.e. who never checks their reasoning, ethics, or assumptions against another person cannot be relied upon to think reasonably, or to reason morally, because humans naturally skew their reasoning towards their own benefit.

This question of ‘thinking for yourself’ also takes a strange turn when we bring in psychologists and psychiatrists who provide life advice and moral representation to their patients. This relationship is parallel to that between a religious community leader and their congregation; only the framework of reason and morality is distinct, as it is when we move between religious traditions. Is a person who is extolled to ‘think for themselves’ prohibited from seeking psychological assistance? I doubt this is the intent of the phrase. Indeed, I suspect that this kind of secular (and allegedly scientifically grounded) advice-seeking is something that would normally be encouraged. Similarly, the advice to ‘think for yourself’ is turned on its head in the context of scientific consensus, which advocates of this phrase typically align with while opposing those (such as people who dispute the reports of climate scientists) who ‘think for themselves’ on empirical issues, and thus where independent thinking is both mocked and disdained. In this regard, ‘think and verify’ might be a better phrase to bandy about.

So the demand to ‘think for yourself’ transpires not to be advice to think independently – which anyway, would be both impossible (since our linguistic concepts are maintained collectively) and undesirable (since thought without cross-checks is self-serving and apt to mislead). Rather, it risks becoming a demand that you think within the same framework of reason and ethics that the person making the assertion holds. Which at this point means that it has become simply a non-religious version of the very complaint being levelled against the religious alternatives i.e. it is an insistence of adopting specific norms of reason and ethics, namely the secular descendant of the Enlightenment tradition of reason and ethics. This is a great tradition – one that both religious and non-religious people are participating in – but it cannot be elevated to the sole source of norms without transgressing its own values of freedom and autonomy.

The one good thing I can say about a demand to ‘think for yourself’ is that at least it is a positive claim. I would rather hear this than incoherent fantasies like ‘the world would be a better place without religion’, which is only a secular version of an all-too-familiar religious bigotry that insists everyone who isn’t like me is necessarily inferior. There are authentic moral values being espoused in the claim to ‘think for yourself’ – it is just that in its most basic form, ‘thinking for yourself’ is also likely to lead to terrible vices. In this, as in all ethical affairs, we need to be part of a community if we hope to live up to our chosen moral standards. Besides, we now have plenty of people who ‘think for themselves’ and it isn’t helping any more: what we need is not a greater supply of autonomous thinkers, but better forms of collective reasoning. And this requires co-operation between everyone, whether they ‘think for themselves’ or not.

Man of Straw

Print_2.tifThe most frequent ad hoc rebuttal levelled against me, both on my blogs and in blind peer review, is that the argument that I have advanced is a ‘straw man’. What the respondent means is that I am not arguing against actual people, but that I have created a more generalised, abstracted opponent. This is certainly the case! I do this often as part of my arguments. But this is not a straw man argument.

A straw man argument is when you respond to someone’s claims by making an assertion that dodges their argument entirely by substituting a different argument. Now this cannot be the case when you are abstracting a general argument (as I frequently do) because – quite clearly! – if I am arguing against a generalised position, I am not arguing against a specific opponent. You are certainly entitled when I make such abstract arguments to insist I identify examples of that generalised position, and I can pretty much always do this. But complaining that I’ve made a straw man argument just isn’t going to work, in part because that’s not what I’ve done.

This year, I have argued in numerous places against the kind of digital exceptionalism that treats ‘videogames’ (whatever they might be) as a medium that cannot be dealt with by methods suitable for other media. The nature of my objection is that ‘videogame’ isn’t a category that is going to hang together upon close inspection, and that therefore arguing for new methods for studying ‘videogames’ is a problematic line of attack. Numerous academics take this stance – Jesper Juul has done so very cleverly and eloquently in various places, and others like Graeme Kirkpatrick who align with him make even stronger assertions of the same kind. Kirkpatrick’s brilliant book Aesthetic Theory and the Video Game, for instance, states: “The book sides with ludology in asserting the novelty of the video game as an object of study and the importance of this newness to understanding its distinctive place within contemporary culture.” That’s what I call digital exceptionalism right there.

My claim of digital exceptionalism is one you will find laid out in several places, such as this year’s Player Practices serial, or my DiGRA 2015 talk The Gaiety or Meditations on Arcade Player Practices. It is, ironically, a straw man argument to claim that my accusation of digital exceptionalism is a straw man argument (as more than one blind peer reviewer has done this year!). That’s because when you accuse me of making a straw man argument when I am arguing in the general, you have not engaged with my argument but replaced it with a different argument – the (fallacious) argument that I am making a straw man argument. I think there is a saying about rubber and glue that applies here…

So please, be more careful when you apply the term ‘straw man’. When you abstract a position to argue against it, you are not advancing a straw man argument. You are, in fact, just making an argument. And you are entitled to have people consider that argument on its own merits, no matter how generalised the position being argued against. Dismissing it with a straw man argument that claims it is a straw man argument is really the last straw.