9 February, 2017 - 24 March, 2017
Curated by Fritt Ord Foundation,
Digital Lives – a public debate project by the Fritt Ord Foundation
Who decides on society’s definition of culture, and how do we assign value to various genres and modes of cultural expression? Over the last few decades, video games have consolidated their position as pastime, interest and career among a wide swathe of the population. More than 500 million people say that they play video games every day, and for many – teens and adults alike – video games are the media products they engage and identify with the closest. Games are big business (having surpassed the movie industry in revenue) and presents new opportunities in terms of storytelling potential, aesthetics and technological development.
This is a vital, vibrant, new medium, which deserves to be taken seriously, and to be debated and analysed. Society needs more knowledge about the genre, for important debates about gaming culture and social interaction to be undertaken in a level-headed and informed manner.
Unfortunately, there is a notable lack of public spaces for discussing video games. Few mainstream newspapers report on individual games or on game culture in the same manner that they report on other types of cultural expression, such as music, literature, television and film.
In Norway, we’ve recently witnessed a decline in video game journalism, due to financial restraints at the major news organisations and media outlets. With revenue in the red, journalism about video games is not a priority. This has the effect of relinquishing key debates about challenges, opportunities, artistry, social impact and industry conditions to niche media, read by a dedicated but small subset of the general public. This development affects how we as a society talk and think about games, and the people who enjoy them.
Fritt Ord is a foundation established to protect and promote freedom of expression and free public debate in Norway, and it wanted to explore this under-reported form of cultural expression. Though the project “Digital Lives – New Words on Games”, the intention is to raise public consciousness about the position of games in society, and to promote critical thinking about games to a Norwegian audience.
The main component of the project was a call for essays about games as cultural expression. We were interested in a full spectrum from academic texts to personal essays. Participants were encouraged to write about their experiences, to analyse the content and artistry of games, or to reflect on problematic aspects of gaming culture, such as violence, anti-social behaviour and addiction. They could write about themes, or genres. Which games are satires, which are epics, which are simple entertainment? Which have made an impact?
The ten essays selected for the anthology reflects this diversity. We received texts that meditate on the connection between violent video games and the 2011 Utøya massacre that claimed the lives of 77 people. There was a beautiful essay on the unifying power of the mobile phone game Candy Crush, which touched on issues as diverse as language barriers, gender equality and Islam. The winning essay was a careful deconstruction of the lack of diversity of games, with Assassin’s Creed – Freedom Cry as a point of departure. The game takes place in Haiti, and you play as a former slave in conflict with the island’s white masters. It’s a powerful experience, with emotional and educational impact, especially as a player from the Nordic countries where there hasn’t been a lot of engagement with our colonial past.
In addition to direct participation from the 180 individuals who submitted essays for the competition, there were held five large, open public debates in Oslo and in Bergen. These spanned topics such as journalistic integrity of game journalists, the future of virtual reality, and society’s fascination with narratives from war and conflict. Furthermore, the project spawned a number of articles, op-eds and opinion pieces over a variety of media, discussing how video games are viewed by the wider society.
Moving forward, the winning essays will be published in a printed anthology, together with newly commissioned pieces about games in education, games as a social arena, and the relationship between games and art. The publication is due in April 2017. Furthermore, it is the hope of the Fritt Ord Foundation that future public debated about video game culture will be characterised by a better understanding of the genre. We hope to see new; exciting voices join the public debate, providing fresh perspectives and thoughtful analysis. Games are an integral part of the emerging digital present, and deserve to be included in the conversation that is arts and culture.
About the entries
The anthology Digital Life received texts from a wide variety of writers: teenagers, students and mature adults; from the parents of young gamers and from parents who are themselves gamers. Of 180 entries, there are 10 finalists. The following texts have been accepted:
- Emil Hammar – Digital slaves
- Jon Cato Lorentzen – Breivik and me
- Lasse W. Fosshaug – Turn on, drop in, Fallout
- Lene E. Westerås – Emergency landing with Candy Crush
- Peder Gjersem – Fag stands for faggot
- Sofus Fredriksen Greni– Fall out – A travelogue
- Halvard Grimnes Haga – A better world
- Frode Andersen – The white whale
- Cecilie Ofstad – When I play, I always want to seek out the connections
- Lise Lien – After office hours
The texts have been illustrated by Sandra Blikås, Magnus Voll Mathiassen, Kristian Hammerstad, Jon Arne Berg, Robin Snasen Rengård, Hanne Berkaak, Peter John de Villiers and Anette Moi.
The texts were selected by a jury consisting of Maren Agdestein, former editor of the blog spillpikene.no (gamergirls.no), Mathias Fischer, commentator in the newspaper Bergens Tidene, Jarle Hrafn Grindhaug, editor at the game website pressfire.no and Kristine Jørgensen, researcher of gaming culture at the University of Bergen.
About the Fritt Ord Foundation
The Fritt Ord Foundation is a private, philanthropic foundation working to promote freedom of speech, public debate, art and culture. The foundation was established in 1974 by Narvesens Kioskkompani, to secure an independent distribution of the printed word. The paramount object of the Fritt Ord Foundation is to protect and promote freedom of expression and the environment for freedom of expression in Norway, but will also support other aspects of Norwegian culture, and occasionally freedom of speech initiatives abroad.
Narvesens Kioskkompani (the Narvesen Kiosk Company) was Norway’s only distribution channel for newspapers and journals in the years immediately after World War II. The impressions left by the Occupation were still vivid in the minds of the Norwegian people. Political regimentation and the prohibition against all free speech had been daily reminders that a democracy cannot survive without freedom of expression. This freedom required not only that everyone could write and say what they pleased, but also that contributions to the social debate actually reached the people.
From the very beginning, the Fritt Ord Foundation’s activities were linked to initiatives such as supporting the newly established Norwegian Institute of Journalism, a grant programme designed to stimulate the exploration of issues related to freedom of expression and, not least, the Fritt Ord Foundation Prize. As funding increased, the institution was able to support a number of individual measures within its sphere of activity.
Today, the foundations provides between 80 and 100 million NOK annually in grants to projects within the four areas of media and democracy; information and public debate; education and scholarships; and arts and culture. It provides support for NGOs, festivals, conferences, public seminars, journalism projects, non-fiction books, documentary films, documentary photography, theatre productions, exhibitions, etc.