In case you’ve missed it Professor Claire Squires is currently at the University of Melbourne completing a visiting professorship with her collaborator Beth Driscoll. Beth and Claire have been collaborating on a number of book festival related projects and coming up with some fascinating book festival inspired takes on traditional games. Keen to know more (and be invited to play) we asked Claire to tell us a little more about her ‘game-inspired, arts-informed thinking to research cultural events’. Over to you Claire.
Inspired by a trip to the Ullapool Book Festival, Professor Claire Squires (@clairesquires) of the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication and her international collaborator Dr Beth Driscoll (University of Melbourne; @beth_driscoll) have been thinking about book festivals in a slightly unusual way: as games.
The book festival provides an intriguing instance of the overlapping cultural, social and economic dimensions of contemporary literary culture. They also bring together a fascinating mix of people and organisations, and as academics (as well as booklovers) Squires and Driscoll are interested in the role festivals play in culture and in the publishing industry. Their new conceptual framework, detailed in the recently published article ‘Serious Fun: Gaming the Book Festival’, uses games-inspired, arts-informed thinking in order to research cultural events.
Game-inspired thinking uses games as metaphors that concentrate and exaggerate aspects of cultural phenomena in order to produce new knowledge about their operations. The lightly competitive form of the board or card game seems to work as a way of representing what goes on: the different players, the multiple aims, the wins and losses. In their research, Squires and Driscoll made a series of board and card games focusing on festivals: ‘Book Festival Boogie’; ‘Book Festival Top Trumps’; and ‘Bookfestivalopoly’.
Book festivals are regularly put into boxes by funding bodies, the media, and the literary world at large. One of their games, ‘Book Festival Top Trumps’, plays with this idea. Each card ‘scores’ book festivals against a range of criteria: attendance, prestige, programming, Twitter presence and the charming (but ultimately still measurable) ‘Unique Selling Point’. So, for example, Stirling’s Bloody Scotland has its writers’ football match; Wigtown has lobsters in the green room; and the virtual #ScotLitFest (conceptualised and created by Stirling alumni Stevie Marsden, Laura Jones and Heather McDaid) can be attended in your pyjamas. This game models the way in which festivals are sometimes pitted against each other. It allows players to take on the point of view of festival organisers, who must justify and promote their festival to a range of different stakeholders.
The most engaging and complicated game created by Squires and Driscoll is ‘Bookfestivalopoly’. This game is played from the perspective of the author, who must try and earn speaking fees and ‘critical acclaim’ points by landing on festivals arranged around the board, Monopoly style. Part of the satirical play of this game is realising that there is a hierarchy of festivals, from obscure niche genre festivals in small European countries through to the marquee events of Edinburgh and Hay (the Mayfair and Park Lane equivalents). The game highlights the bias of such hierarchies by putting Scottish festivals (Bloody Scotland, #ScotLitFest and Ullapool) near the top. (Australian events – the Byron Bay, Melbourne and Sydney Writers Festivals – ranked pretty highly too).
Squires and Driscoll’s games aren’t designed to be commercially produced; instead, they are thinking tools created as a research process. As a method, Bookfestivalopoly and the other games focus attention on the material, social and ideological dimensions of book festivals. In particular, they confirm the presence of neoliberal pressures and neocolonial inequalities in the ‘world republic of letters’. Squires and Driscoll’s research thus makes a contribution to knowledge about the role of festivals within contemporary literary culture, and provides a model for researchers of cultural phenomena who may want to adopt game-inspired, arts-informed thinking as an alternative to traditional disciplinary methods.
Squires and Driscoll’s future collaborations include Book Commerce Book Carnival, a special issue of the journal Memoires du Livre/Studies in Book Culture, and a minigraph in the Cambridge University Press Gatherings series focusing on the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Further details of their work are available from https://ullapoolism.wordpress.com/.
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