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Introduction

As I’ve become better acquainted with Game Studies and trying to find my positioning within the field, one of the initial ways this course has been helpful is that it has helped me begin to put the building blocks together. In many ways, I’ve felt like I’m working on some large giant project in Minecraft, built block by block. I’ve been slowly putting pieces together and finding the pieces that fit, though the larger project is still a bit fuzzy, probably because not all of the blocks are even there yet. It’s oddly exhilarating—like after hours of staring at the puzzle, a piece finally jumps out and fits in just right. I still have a lot of pieces to look at and put together, but I’m finding it easier to do that.

I’ve been really interested in game studies for a while and I’ve done some game research on my own, but this was the first semester I got to really explore game studies from multiple angles or approaches (such as Game Studies as its own discipline, video game ethnography (1)(2), and using games in the writing classroom) and consider more seriously how I might conduct research in game studies where it intersects with Rhetoric and Composition. I think finding that intersection is really important for Game Studies in particular because it is such an interdisciplinary field. However, since Game Studies doesn’t particularly have it’s own theories and methods (Aarseth), but rather pulls from multiple disciplines, having another discipline to pull from is necessary. English, especially Rhetoric and Composition, definitely has a stake in Game Studies, but so do scholars from other disciplines and I think it is useful for me to continue to read from those other perspectives as well.

At the intersection of Rhet/Comp & Game Studies

I’ve realized that a lot of where I stand epistemologically on debates within Game Studies is related to my background in Rhet/Comp and trying to see things from a rhetorical perspective. A lot of the debates in the game studies field have been about binaries—narratology vs ludology, or are we supposed to study the game or the player. I’ve found myself consistently saying, “Shouldn’t we be looking at both? How they inform each other? What other intersections are at play here? Certainly it isn’t just these two.” In fact, I’ve found myself really surprised that the debate seems to be so either/or. And I think that maybe this is one of the ways I could help contribute to the field in a meaningful way.

I think one of the ways that Rhetoric and Composition provides a substantial intersection for game analysis is that it can work within all of Aarseth‘s dimensions of game analysis.

Aarseth’s Dimensions of Game Analysis

  • Gameplay (the player’s actions, strategies and motives) [sociological, ethnological, psychological, etc.]
  • Game-structure (the rules of the game, including the simulation rules) [game design, business, law, computer science/AI]
  • Game-world (fictional content, topology/level design, textures, etc.) [art, aesthetics, history, cultural/media studies, economics]

It seems to me that looking at this from the rhetorical triangle would including looking at all three dimensions, or at least projects focused in rhetoric could include all three. If a project is undertaking multiple dimensions of game analysis, it is more likely to avoid binary or reductionist assumptions and it also relies on a triangulation of methods for reliability, which I think is important, especially because Game Studies isn’t always seen by other disciplines as serious, and a lot of the job of Game Studies people seems to be having to defend gamifying or using games as an object of study.

My Research

Most of my previous research has been focused on massive multiplayer online games (MMOGs), particularly focused on issues of gender. I’ve written about other video games, like Disney Princess Wii games, but mostly my work has been focused around WoW how the game constructs gender, but also how women rhetorically navigate discussing gender in the game place. As I thought about Aarseth’s three dimensions, the list of the dimensions he presents makes it seem as though each discipline would likely look at only one dimension. This may be overly simplistic, or it may be that many disciplines do in fact only look at one dimension. But,  I realized that work on games through the discipline of rhetoric and composition likely looks at more than one dimension at once, rather than only one. For instance, when I looked at how women rhetorically negotiated gender inWorld of Warcraft, all three of these dimensions seem like points worth looking at, but I did dedicate chapters to both discussions of gameplay and game-world, because it seemed like otherwise the picture wasn’t complete.

I think that looking at the gaming community and the social nature of gaming that has well extended outside typical massive RPG games like WoW is where a lot of my interest is. I’m still trying to feel out where to move forward from here. I think a lot of that is feeling like I have a lot I need to read and I’ve already started created a long reading list since I’ve started this class, as I just keep finding more and more things to read.

McKee & Porter’s article, “Playing a Good Game: Ethical Issues in Researching MMOGs and Virtual Worlds,” has helped orient my thinking about MMOGs as a research place and I’ve already seen ways that I could have done my research previously more effectively. I’ve found myself in the defining the virtual world as place, rather than space because as McKee and Porter argued, “The position that sees MMOGs and virtual worlds as places–particularly as real places rather than as simulated places–views ethical issues of harm and risk differently from a view that sees them as spaces” (17).  McKee and Porter say, “researchers taking this perspective see the game or simulated world as a real place, and, thus, treat avatars and players in such worlds as also real” (17). I’m not sure I could align myself differently even if I tried as I consider my (vast) time investment in virtual worlds. Their article, as well as other digital writing research ethics articles, has made me really take into consideration ethical responsibilities of the researcher in taking on research in virtual places.  

I’ve currently been working on a piece about risks for the researcher and participants in work on toxic gaming culture. There seem to be a lot of unique challenges with research on topics like this because the atmosphere surrounding discussions about harassment of women and other marginalized groups in gaming culture has been such a hotbed of controversy with threats of violence, both cyber and physical. Pulling from digital writing research has been really helpful for working through the difficulties this has presented, but it still definitely left some gaps that I had to make arguments for filling. McKee and Porter provide a theoretical framework for researchers as they work through ethical issues that deal with these virtual places using rhetoric and heuristics (visual) in order to avoid ethical relativism.  “What this mapping strategy visualizes is Sveningsson’s point that neither the public-private continuum nor the sensitive-nonsensitive continuum by itself is a sufficient basis for deciding wheter informed consent is necessary. A researcher must take both continua into account” (11). I found the heuristics framework useful for making these arguments because it allowed me to map out the potential risks involved and to consider that against issues such as researcher credibility and anonymity, however, it wasn’t just reduced to ethical relativism, which is one of the first issues I encountered when I initially wanted to discuss ethical issues of doing feminist Game Studies scholarship on toxic gamer culture. It also made it easier to navigate the controversy surrounding the issue.

I think I’m more familiar with research on games outside of the classroom. However, I’d like some of my future research to include the use of gaming in the writing classroom.

Video Games in the Writing Classroom

Seeing that connection between Rhet/Comp clearer has made me a lot more interested in gamification and how to use games in the classroom, specifically in the first year writing classroom. Teaching is something that is really important to me. I’ve only taught in college writing classes for two years, but pedagogy was something that I thought a lot about, and a lot of my coursework in my Masters was focused around pedagogy. While I was able to do a lot of my work in my Masters on games, the faculty that taught in the program weren’t really familiar with gamification or including games in the classroom, so I hadn’t necessarily brought in games specifically. I did a lot with pop culture in the classroom and some students chose to talk about video games for papers, but that was the extent that I’ve included games in my courses so far.

All of my teaching experience has been in the FYE classroom, so perhaps that’s why I want to look at how games could be used in this context more. I found Colby & Colby’s piece A Pedagogy of Play helpful as a starting point for considering how a game like World of Warcraft could be used in a writing classroom. My experience playing the game really helped me access some of the difficulties and benefits that an implementation of a game like this would be for the classroom.The Colby & Colby piece really made me consider the accessibility of games for my students, too. I remember commenting in the PAB that the WoW game and gameplay time subscription would cost about 100 dollars alone, and that’s only if students also had a computer that could play World of Warcraft. I don’t necessarily think this completely negates the potential of the idea or of implementing it, but it leaves me thinking that planning a writing course that includes gaming has to take these things into account carefully.

I also realized in this respect, that a lot of my knowledge about how other scholars have utilized games in their classrooms, especially Rhetoric and Composition scholars, is limited. This is an area of scholarship that I need to become more familiar with, especially before considering implementing this in any of my own classes.

cover_largeIn order to start taking steps towards more familiarity with games in the writing classroom, I took part in a day long workshop on games in the classroom this semester here on campus at Old Dominon. I felt that it was really useful in considering how we could potentially create our own games in the classroom for our very specific goals and student populations. Specifically, we made an on paper prototype of a game that could be used to teach argument in the writing classroom. I came up with the suggestion that we might use a courtroom style-like game such as Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney. I thought it would fit well with vocabulary when talking about argumentative research papers such as evidence gathering and argument. Specifically, the workshop also made me consider the possibility of creating games for the classroom, rather than relying on already premade games. That’s something I’d like to read and learn more about. Because of the workshop and some of the articles I read about games and the classroom, I also decided to take Dr. Ouelette’s class next semester on games and pedagogy, so I hope that will also lead me in some new directions.

Theories and Methods 

Maybe the area where I need to most continue my research is on theories and methods in Game Studies. One of the difficulties that I’ve run into is that there isn’t a lot consensus about theories and methods since the field is so interdisciplinary. I’ve tried to be strategic in choosing classes like Theories of Networks that might be beneficial for learning more about potential theories and methods that would be useful for research in Game Studies.

 

Professionalization 

I think that one of the challenges for me is that I need to establish myself as a scholar of Game Studies and as a scholar of Rhetoric and Composition, as someone who is capable of filling a generalist position in an English Department in order to secure a tenure track position and to move forward within the Department of wherever I end up. I think to help me do that, I need to be aware of current scholarship that is being published and which journals to look for these kinds of articles in, attend conferences that will be places that I can hear about new work being done at the intersection of English Studies and Game Studies, as well as carefully consider where I may want to publish my own work that would be beneficial to me as both a scholar of Game Studies and English Studies.

So far, I think that my CV currently shows that Game Studies and Rhetoric/Compostion are both sincere interests of mine, as I’ve presented at several conferences in both areas, some of them being specifically at the intersection of the two, like presenting at Feminisms and Rhetorics about narratives of female gamers. There are, however, some conferences that I think I should attend that I haven’t yet, including Computers and Writing. I think it might also be useful to seek out games and pedagogy related conference panels at Cs this coming spring.

Conclusion

I’d originally came to the course thinking about focusing on Feminist Game Studies as my subdiscipline. I think this is still something that I’m striving for, but I felt like and still do feel like I still have more to learn about Game Studies in general, so I can be a useful contributer to Feminist Game Studies. I think there are certain goals that I’ve met, but I still have more to read and learn about to help me become a better scholar so I can contribute to the field in a meaningful way.

Works Cited

Aarseth, Espen. “Computer Game Studies, Year One.” Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research 1.1 (2001): n. pag. Web. 19 Sept. 2015. <http://www.gamestudies.org/0101/editorial.html>

Aarseth, Espen. “Playing Research: Methodological approaches to game analysis.” Proceedings of the Digital Arts and Culture Conference. 2003.

Colby, Richard, Matthew S.S. Johnson, and Rebekah Shultz Colby, eds.Rhetoric/ Composition/play through Video Games: Reshaping Theory and Practice of Writing. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.

McKee, Heidi A. and James E. Porter. “Playing a Good Game: Ethical Issues in Researching MMOGs and Virtual Worlds.” International Journal of Internet Research Ethics. 2.1 (Feb. 2009): 17. Web. 27 Sept. 2015.

 

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