Game Studies — Where to Begin? 

I mentioned in one of my PAB posts the even narrower niche of Game Studies that ADA: The Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology defines in their 2nd issue: Feminist Game Studies that was published in June 2013. One article within the issue, written by Mia Consalvo, “Confronting Toxic Gamer Culture: A Challenge for Feminist Game Studies Scholars,” called on scholars to look beyond just the game itself, but to look at the gamer culture and the prevalence of hate speech towards those who fall outside of the assumed default white, heterosexual, male player. However, the more I considered this as a place for my own research, I do feel that it really is a theoretical lens to be applied to Game Studies, rather than it’s own sub discipline, so I decided to focus my history on Game Studies.

Even starting there is difficult. While there have been several calls for Game Studies to have its own discipline, most of Game Studies is still housed within other disciplines, including English, likely because questions of some Game Studies scholars focus on narratology. Since English has such a close relationship with narrative, it makes sense how it has come to house Game Studies scholars.


As I spent time researching, I came across some tensions concerning the beginning of game studies and the place of game studies in academia. One of the main tensions is the call by some for Game Studies to have its own discipline separate from the many disciplines that currently house it. The Editor-in-Chief of Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research, Espen Aarsethcalled for the development of Game Studies as its own discipline in the very first issue. He references Game Studies in English, mentioning English as a colonizer: “Games are not a kind of cinema, or literature, but colonising attempts from both these fields have already happened, and no doubt will happen again” (Aarseth). His discussions seem reductionist in the discussion about how other disciplines have contributed to Game Studies, but that seems to be based on the focus to emancipate Game Studies. In some ways his call has been answered–he now works in the Center for Cogamestudiesmputer Games Research at the IT University of Copenhagen. (Side note: All the faculty are male. All but one of the PhD students are male.)

On the other hand, Frans Mäyrä, in his book An Introduction to Game Studies

Game Studies is faced with the double challenge of creating its own identity, while at the same time maintaining an active dialogue with the other disciplines…the majority of game studies will continue to be practised by individuals who are nominally situated in some other field: in literary, film, or media studies, or in departments of communication research, sociology, psychology, computer science, or in some of the other numerous fields where game studies is currently exercised. (5)

The interdisciplinary nature of current Game Studies can make it difficult on new scholars though. “students focusing on games may find it hard to get the advice, support, and understanding they need while engaging in the academic study of games” (5 Mäyrä). I can definitely see this linking to my own scholarship. I received my Masters in English with a focus on rhetoric and composition. While I could use tools from my training there and apply them to games, especially the rhetorical training, the help from faculty members was minimal. I don’t want this to sound bad– in fact my mentors were very supportive of my research ideas, of my work, and of using games in papers that I completed– but most of the faculty members had little to no experience even playing video games which meant that the feedback I received was limited by their own experiences. Perhaps herein lies the difficulty of game studies being so interdisciplinary and being housed in so many departments. I do think that the interdisciplinary nature means that scholars come with a lot of different perspectives and offerings for the field and I don’t see that as a weakness.

Setting a Time & Place for the Emergence of Game Studies

Espen Aarseth sets Game Studies beginning very recently historically, 2001, in the first issue of Computer Game Studies.

2001 can be seen as the Year One of Computer Game Studies as an emerging, viable, international, academic field. This year has seen the first international scholarly conference on computer games, in Copenhagen in March, and several others will follow. 01-02 may also be the academic year when regular graduate programs in computer game studies are offered for the first time in universities. And it might be the first time scholars and academics take computer games seriously, as a cultural field whose value is hard to overestimate.

2001 seems very recent though, and other scholars trace back Game Studies much further. Frans Mäyrä points to the early 1900s as a place where scholars first took an interest in games (though not computer games/video games as we know them now) and he considers them to be classics in the field: ethnographer Stewart Culin’s Games of the North American American Indians (1907) and History of Chess by Harold James Ruthven Murray (1913).

Mäyrä also discusses the International Simulation and Gaming Association (ISAGA) that was established in 1970 that has organized annual conferences and the academic journal Simulation & Gaming has been published since 1970, “making it the oldest regular publication in the field” (7).

Why Did Game Studies Come About?

Mäyrä discusses what led to the disciplinary formation of Game Studies in terms of the close relationship between simulation and games. “There exists a rich tradition of using various kinds of simulations for learning purposes–learning by playing may even be called the oldest learning method there is” (6). He discusses the emergence of war games as a way to learn strategy and tactics. He traces this history to 18th century Germany and also connects it to the 1950s East Coast War Games Council, “an organization which arranged a series of symposia and also published proceedings, including presentations from these meetings in the 1960s” (6).  The Simulation and Gaming Association followed soon after. Other avenues such as play behavior research in sociology and psychology also spurred interest in game studies.

It’s interesting to see the emergence of game studies coincide so closely with war, especially since newspaper articles like, “Playing War: How the Military Uses Video Games,” in The Atlantic have come out with in the last couple years. It also brings up even more questions about where Game Studies belongs as a discipline and where scholars can continue to contribute to the field.

goole search - military training and video games
Google search of military and video games. The articles listed are from the past couple years: 2013-2015. The articles detail how the U.S. military uses video games as training tools.

Works Cited:

Aarseth, Espen. “Computer Game Studies, Year One” Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research 1.1 (2001): n. pag. Web. 09 Sept. 2015.

Consalvo, Mia.  “Confronting Toxic Gamer Culture: A Challenge for Feminist Games Studies Scholars.”Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology 1.1 (2012): n. pag. Web. 31 Aug. 2015.

Mäyrä, Frans. An Introduction to Game Studies. London: SAGE Publications, 2008. Print.