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Megan Boeshart

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English 810

Final Paper -Being a Scholar of Game Studies

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Minecraft Screenshot

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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Paper #5: Epistemological Alignment

Rhetoric

Based on the research I’ve done so far in this class, I’ve realized perhaps how interdisciplinary Game Studies really is. (I feel like I’ve always known, but my work in here has helped gain more perspective on that). I definitely come to Game Studies as a long time gamer, but also as someone in English Studies, specifically with a focus in Rhetoric and Composition, which I think really shapes how I tend to view games for research. 

I think my background in Rhetoric is specifically one of the reasons I initially disagreed with

My infographic is the 4th picture in Google Images under "Rhet comp game studies" now!
My infographic is the 4th picture in Google Images under “Rhet comp game studies” now!

Jesper Juul’s discussion of narratology vs. ludology and just the overall debate between which one should the be the focus of the researcher. Thinking from a rhetorical standpoint, it seemed like a ridiculous idea to divorce a game from either it’s narrative or it’s game rules. In order to present a message to an audience, it means that looking at both could be useful, sometimes even at the same time. The debate continued into discussions about whether the OoS should be the player or the game–again, my connection to rhetoric makes me ask why would we only focus on one of these things? The game exists to be played, and the player shapes the gameplay experience, sometimes refusing to play by the rules, or by ignoring the narrative. Depending on a scholar’s research questions, it seems that the player, the game or both could be OoS within a research project. 

Composition and Pedagogy

World of Warcraft cover art.
World of Warcraft cover art.

The Colby & Colby article that I read, “A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom,” started making me think more about the use of games in the classroom. I think I still have a lot more to read here, to make definite decisions about where I am epistemologically, however, I really did like the article and could see clear uses for games within the writing classroom. It also made me consider that the steps involved in introducing a student to such as vast game like WoW that has a lot of potential as a site for writing, also brings about challenges that I’m not sure would work in a FYC classroom. The amount of time necessary to explain the game and get students used to the game and the larger community, especially one so well established, would likely make it impossible to meet many of the FYC goals and requirements. At least at my previous institution where I taught, students had to write at least 5 papers and I was trying to teach them about rhetoric, thesis statements, etc. There might be potential for gaming elements in an FYC class, but the classroom described in Colby & Colby doesn’t seem like an FYC course. 

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. 

My Research Interests

I mentioned at the beginning of the semester that I was interested in Feminist Game Scholarship. My research interests are still in this area and do have a feminist agenda. However, I chose to focus on Game Studies scholarship in general for the course because I felt like I needed more knowledge about the field as a whole that I didn’t feel I had at that point. I still feel I have a lot of reading to do, but I feel I have a firmer grasp on what topics scholars in Game Studies are talking about.

A lot of my research focuses on how women are represented in games and gaming events, as well as how female players negotiate their place within online video games and the larger gaming culture. I also want to start doing more with games and pedagogy, so I’m excited for Dr. Oulette’s course next semester on Games & Pedagogy. One of the current articles I’m working on in Dr. DePew’s class has to do with ethics in researching toxic gamer culture. It’s a response to Mia Consalvo’s call for more feminist game scholarship surrounding toxic gamer culture and the creation of an archive about the harassment of women within the gaming community.

The call and the surrounding discussion in feminist game scholarship clearly calls for ethical treatment in dealing with username information of women that are archiving stories of harassment. However, I started struggling with what to do with the information and usernames of the harassers. When should we also protect their identity? Or should we not?  My discussion with Dr. Moberly brought up issues of how we should deal with artifacts that were posted on public forums or publicly on social media platforms. Dr. Moberly and other scholars think that in the case of these public spaces, it is okay for the researcher to publish the username and/or fully quote the message. I’m still not sure I’m in 100% agreement. While I do agree with Dr. Moberly that people need to be accountable at some point, I also know that the retaliation against people online gets complicated and shady. I don’t want people, even jerks who harass women, to be doxxed and have their personal information distributed online or have threats made against them. So, I’m still trying to decide how to approach this. I’m finding it difficult.

Paper #4 – Theories and Methods in Game Studies

Common Theories and Methods

Aarseth’s article Playing Research: Methodological Approaches to Game Analysis that I discussed in one of last week’s PAB posts is really helpful in getting a general idea about theories and methods in games studies. Since game studies is so interdisciplinary, Aarseth describes the difficulty of having specific methods for game studies, because scholars pull from their own disciplinary repertoire of methods and theories. Aarseth sees this as a positive thing, but “critical self-awareness..should always be practiced” (7).

Aarseth and Smith, Egenfeldt-Nielsen, & Pajares Tosca do however provide simple tables to make it easy to see how different game studies scholars tackle research.

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]

Smith, Egenfeldt-Nielsen, & Pajares Tosca’s Four Major Types of Analysis

Table 1.1 in Understand Video Games: The Essential Introduction
Table 1.1 in Understand Video Games: The Essential Introduction

While both tables attempt to put English studies within one of the categories, I think English Studies ends up in a number of the categories. This attempt isn’t explicit–rather, the charts break English studies up into a number of subdisciplines such as cultural studies, comparative lit, literary criticism, etc. Clearly game studies has a lot of roots within other subdisciplines of English studies in terms of methods and theories that are used.

Where Does Theory Belong?

Discussions of methods were very common in a lot of the sources I looked through. However, discussion of theories was much less common. Aarseth wrote the following in 2003:

“As long as there are no really outstanding computer game theories (or, as it happens, hardly any at all), it would seem more important to present a well-argued analysis that commands previous scholarship and breaks new analytical ground. Importing and applying theories from outside fields such as literature or art history can be valuable, but not always and necessarily; and often non-theoretical, critical observations can contribute more to the field than a learned by theory-centered discussion” (6-7).

The Understanding Video Games book gave theoretical inspirations in terms of the discipline, but did not really complicate this any further. Since game studies is so interdisciplinary, it seems likely that is expected that scholars will use theoretical lenses from their own disciplines for research. However, Aarseth does seem to also be saying that theory could be limiting, and that there are alternatives for analysis.

Ethnography in Game Studies

At least when studying games within English studies, ethnography stood out to me in particular because of my interest in virtual worlds as objects of study.

Dr. Moberly and I discussed my interest in game studies, particularly in terms of my object of study, massive multiplayer online games, or MMOGs. Dr. Moberly introduced me to the authoritative piece, particularly concerning MMO virtual worlds,

Cover art for My Life as a Night Elf Priest
Cover art for My Life as a Night Elf Priest

Bonnie Nardi’s book My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft, as the book to take a look at when considering doing ethnographic study within MMOGs. While I’d heard about the book before, I hadn’t realized that it was viewed so positively even by game studies scholars in English.

Nardi also co-wrote the Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method to help scholars begin ethnographic study of virtual worlds. The book details how to do observations, interviews, and other data collection within these spaces. The handbook which appeared two years after Nardi’s book My Life as a Night Elf Priest is likely a response to the growing interest in virtual worlds as a place of study.

Cover art for Leet Noobs
Cover art for Leet Noobs

The same year, for instance, another ethnographic account of World of Warcraft called Leet Noobs: The LIfe and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft was published. While Nardi’s book was primarily concerned with an overall account of WoW, Chen specifically focused on a raid group of about 40-50 players.

Ethnography and ethics also came up in one of my PAB posts about McKee and Porter’s article, Playing a Good Game: Ethical Issues in Researching MMOGs and Virtual Worlds. Part of the article included interviews that McKee and Porter did with several researchers doing research in virtual worlds such as Second Life, City of Heroes, and Lineage I & II. While the Ethnography and Virtual Worlds handbook covers data collection and analysis, it also covers ethics. McKee and Porter’s article is firmly focused on ethics and how researchers negotiate ethics within virtual worlds. This article, if it isn’t at the forefront of researcher’s minds as their entire virtual worlds, should be I think. The article forces researchers to confront their own epistemology and views of research, which is necessary when involving human participants.

Researcher Credibility

A common trend discussed by the researchers interviewed by McKee and Porter, as well as discussed in the Aarseth methods article, was the importance of the researcher as also a player of the game. The researchers interviewed with McKee and Porter discuss credibility in terms of how the researcher appears to participants within the study. “In virtual worlds, researcher credibility has less to do with one’s academic credentials and prior publications and much more to do with one’s standing in the communities–what level a player is, how well-known a resident is” (19). Aarseth complicates this further. He goes beyond credibility that the researcher needs to reach participants, but also readers of scholarship. He argues, “If we have not experienced the game personally, we are liable to commit severe misunderstandings, even if we study the mechanics and try our best to guess at their workings” (3). He discusses a description of a Doom II mod created by Eric Harris (one of the Columbine shooters). The reviewer describes the characters in the mod as not able to fight back and says that it resembles the Columbine shootings. Another writer’s walk through however, does not fit this description. Aarseth says that he’s more likely to believe the second writer’s walk through because the walk through proves that the 2nd writer has actually played the game. The initial reviewer’s description made it seem as though he had not actually played or even seen the game being described.

References

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

Boellstorff, Tom et al. Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method. Princeton University Press, 2012. Print.

Chen, Mark. Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. Print.

Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Simon et al. Understanding Video Games: The Essential Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2008. 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.

Nardi, Bonnie. My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft (Technologies of the Imagination: New Media in Everyday Life). University of Michigan Press, 2010 May 25. Print.

PAB 4.2 – Methods and Video Games

Playing Research: Methodological Approaches to Game Analysis 

by Espen Aarseth

Summary

Aarseth begins the piece by discussing who is studying games–the interdisciplinary nature of game studies is staggering. He argues that this interdisciplinarity also has made it difficult to have a methodology for games, because scholars are looking at them from so many different angles. His focus of the paper is to present method, rather than theory, “since the approach is empirical, and not limited to any particular theoretical result or model” (1). He also distinguishes between ‘games,’ and says that this is particularly interested in games in virtual environments, so this fits some computer games, but also some non-computerized games such as Dungeons and Dragons, for example. He explains that these games have three dimensions and these three dimensions have types of game research perspectives associated with them:

  • 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]

He refers to some other work done by scholars such as Lars Konzack, who sets out seven layers that are necessary for a scholar to look at when analyzing a game: hardware, program code, functionality, game play, meaning, referentiality, and socio-culture. Aarseth complicates this structure, by explaining that Konzack’s system seems to place equal importance on all seven, when depending on a scholars interests and research questions, it makes more sense to focus on two to four of those layers, rather than all seven.

He argues that there are three main ways of gaining knowledge about games. “Firstly we can study the design, rules, and mechanics of the game…e.g. by talking to the developers of the game. Secondly, we can observer others play, or read their reports or reviews…Thirdly, we can play the game ourselves” (3). He argues that while the first two can be immensely helpful in informing an argument being made, it is most important that the scholar plays the game being analyzed. He makes this point multiple times over the course of the article, also making the comment that the player should be relatively skilled at the game being analyzed.

In response to the questions “How do we analyze games?” he says, “It all depends on who we are, and why we do it” (6). He offers the following as tips, or reminders, as we do game research:

  • Choose games that will not only confirm our hypotheses, but also potentially refute them.
  • Instead of theory, “it is more important to present a well-argued analysis that commands previous scholarship and breaks new analytical ground” (7).
  • Using and applying theories from other fields can be valuable, but not always.
  • Playing is essential. It should be used with the other ways of gaining knowledge previously mentioned.
  • Analysis should contain reflection on the sources used.
  • “Critical self-awareness..should always be practiced” (7).

Things Change

Based on my reading for Paper #1, when I read Espen Aarseth’s editorial letter in the first issue of Game Studies, it seemed clear in 2001 that Aarseth was particularly focused on making game studies it’s own discrete discipline, and he saw the work of scholars in fields like English as colonizing games. His stance on this seems to have changed a bit by 2003 when he wrote this article, and this stance likely explains why video games analysis methods are elusive. He writes, “It seems clear that there cannot be only one field of computer game research. Already, approaches from AI/computer science to sociology to education explode the field in almost a dozen directions…With such variety, how can we even dream of creating a single field for the study of games” (1-2).

This seems like a very different approach from the one in 2001–the recognition of game studies as interdisciplinary, and that it should be interdisciplinary is important I think to an overall understanding of the articulation of methods for game studies, and the difficulty of determining what methods are and are not appropriate for game studies.

This also presents a challenge for me as I begin to do my own work in game studies, because it requires me to be critically aware of how I’m approaching games in terms of the larger game studies scholarship community, but also to be aware of the methodologies and what is accepted within English Studies.

Dimensions of Game Analysis

I briefly want to return to Aarseth’s list of game dimensions and what disciplines would likely be interested in studying which dimension.

  • 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]

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 in World 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.

References

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

Paper #3 – OoS in Game Studies

Introduction

I found myself beginning to get at some of the questions for this paper in my previous posts (you planned that all along, didn’t you, Dr. R?). Juul, in particular, was a scholar that began to talk about this issue, trying to determine exactly what the OoS in Game Studies are. Do we study games or the players?

Arriving at Games or Players?

I think the infographic that I previously made for one of my PABs is really useful here to retrace this question a little bit in terms of the literature. GameStudies

Originally, the literature seemed primarily focused on the game: is a game a set of rules or a narrative? The game (that could be a digital game, but tabletop/card games fall into this as well) was the object of study and researchers were primarily concerned with looking at how we determined if something was a game. The focus on narrative likely points to the colonization of disciplines like English that Espen Aarseth discussed in the first issue of Game Studies. This dramatically opens up though not long after. Aarseth is writing this first issue in 2001.

By 2005, Juul is already beginning to argue that the real question in Game Studies should be what is our object of study? He comes to two different ideas, according to Bogost, games or players?

I asked after I wrote the major questions paper, Why not both?

Objects of Study

The reality is that researchers have been seeing both games and players as objects of study and in some cases, researchers are considering both at the same time. All of the articles in that first issue of Game Studies are focused primarily on the game as the object of study, looking particularly at narrative. It was in this issue that Juul was focused on the narratology/ludology debate still in 2001. Games often seem to be compared to other mediums of narrative such as books and film, solidifying that connection as a reason to study games too.

Researchers in the social sciences have been looking at player motivation and prosocial behavior in social games such as MUDs (multi-user dunegons) and MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role playing games). One particularly famous researcher in this area is Nick Yee, who studies self-representation in games and social behavior/interaction of players within games. Unlike looking specifically at the game, the research is primarily focused on players and the social setting created by multiplayer games.

Mark Chen’s book, Leet Noobs, that I wrote about in my last PAB post, is focused on both the game (World of Warcraft) and it’s environment, as well as how players negotiate the game and socially interact together. He connects his work to a larger notion of new media literacy in order to legitimize it.

Researchers within Rhetoric and Composition have wrote about the use of games in the classroom, such as Richard Colby and Rebekah Shultz Colby, in the article “A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom,” that I wrote about in one of my PAB posts. They have also co-edited a book with Matthew S.S. Johnson called, Rhetoric/Composition/Play through Video Games: Reshaping Theory and Practice of Writing. “The collection explores games as rhetorical objects, as texts equally as sophisticated as their media counterparts (films and books), and as foundations on which a classroom curriculum can be built” (cover). It is interesting to me that there is a specific reference to other texts such as films and books mentioned on the cover of the book, in order to reiterate the notion that it is legitimate to study games and for them to be used in a classroom context. The book was published two years ago, and yet, over 10 years after Game Studies launched it’s journal, researchers within the field are still trying to legitimize their study to other scholars.

My Research

My surprise at scholars not considering both players and games as legitimate objects of study likely tells a lot about where I stand and what I use for my own research. I think that the object of study is likely primarily focused on the research questions of the scholar. It really depends on what the researcher wants to find out. However, I think in many cases it is absolutely necessary to consider both the game and player(s) when looking at games, especially because players don’t even necessarily play the same way.

My previous research has looked at the ways women rhetorically negotiate their place as “female gamers” in World of Warcraft. In my own work, it seemed necessary to both rhetorically analyze how women were represented within the game as well as talk with players about how they navigated the place, in order to really have an in depth understanding. Perhaps a lot of my reasoning for wanting the focus to be on both the game and on players is that I tend to gravitate towards studying multiplayer games.

References

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

Bogost, Ian. “Videogames Are a Mess My DiGRA 2009 Keynote, on Videogames and Ontology.” Ian Bogost. Ian Bogost, 3 Sept. 2009. Web. 30 Sept. 2015. <http://bogost.com/&gt;.

Chen, Mark. Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. Print.

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.

Juul, Jesper.  “Games Telling Stories? A Brief Note on Games and Narratives” Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research 1.1 (2001): n. pag. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Shultz Colby, Rebekah and Richard Colby. “A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom” Computers and Composition 25 (2008): 300-312. Web. 13 Sept. 2015.

“Nick Yee’s HomePage.” Nick Yee’s HomePage. Nick Yee, n.d. Web. 11 Oct. 2015. <http://www.nickyee.com/&gt;.

PAB 3.2 Ethnography and WoW Raiding

Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft

by Mark Chen

Summary

Mark Chen’s book is an ethnographic study of a World of Warcraft raid group in Vanilla WoW (the term used for the original game before any expansion packs were added.) He discusses his introduction to the game and 8 month immersion process before joining a raid group and documenting the 40-person raid group that met up each week (1-3 times) to “raid” the dungeon Molten Core over a period of 10 months—October 2005-July 2006. Chen’s chosen OoS seems to be the specific players as much as it is the game.

Chen’s particular focus seems to be on expertise acquired through gaming and how that can be seen as a type of literacy. He also focuses on issues of communication and chat norms within the game, cooperative strategy, coordination, and camaraderie (I think he likes alliteration).

When every raid member dies in the boss encounter.
When every raid member dies in the boss encounter.

The book tackles issues such as level grinding and gear acquisition for being “raid ready,” how strategies for boss fights were put together and executed, division of labor within the group, dealing with failure (which is pretty much continuous wipe fests in WoW raiding– meaning you die over and over again as you try to work out what the team is doing wrong), and social dilemmas such as deciding who in the raid gets rare loot that bosses drop after defeat. He also goes into more detail about the specific group members and their roles and responsibilities, schedule and raid roster changes, and the drama of the meltdown that led to the dissolution of the raid group.

He also breaks up the larger chapters by focusing on specific instances within the game that he experienced outside of raiding in order to elaborate on the larger community and virtual world. He discusses questing, chat norms, roleplaying, player theorycrafting about in-game items and encounters, and his own tension between being a researcher and player.

Chat Norms

One of my particular favorite sections of the book is the interlude section that is only a few pages long called “Chat Norms.”  Chen describes coming across another player while questing. He starts a conversation with the other player and feels frustrated when the player responds in short and curt replies and later doesn’t respond to his messages. He tries to offer advice to the player for finding a quest item and whispers (private message) the player to see if it worked out. The player doesn’t respond.

Chen’s way of trying to explain this is almost funny to me. He tries to figure out what may have been going on with the player– maybe he had a bad day, maybe he was busy doing something else– that must be why he is acting in this particular way. This other guy just doesn’t get it. He writes, “At the time I felt slightly jilted…The more I think about this, though, the more I am willing to believe he just did not have time to talk to me or he just did not understand the situation’s social norms” (52).

Or Mark, he just didn’t want to talk to you. This sounds maybe a little mean, but I’m talking from experience as a player of WoW. While I didn’t play in Vanilla, I did play in the following expansion pack. Despite the fact that WoW is a multiplayer game, a lot of people DO NOT play for the social aspect, or at least they don’t all the time. And I don’t think that’s actually out of the norm, despite what Mark’s sense seems to be. Through my own research, I’ve talked with players who enjoy playing solo and primarily leveling alternate characters through questing. Actually, I enjoy doing that a lot too. While I enjoy raiding on my main character and I know a lot of people that I talk to through my friendships running dungeons, raiding, and being in my guild, I often also like to play by myself. In fact, women that I’ve interviewed before, while acknowledging that they have many friends within the game and enjoy socializing, did mention that they rarely talk to players they don’t know through general chat channels.

More Questions

I spent a lot of time specifically looking at Chen’s methodology section. One of the things that struck me was the time frame for his work. He writes, “During the time of data collection for this project, WoW had a level cap of 60, which means that characters started out at level one and could only advance to level 60, at which point no more XP could be gained. (The level cap at the time of writing this is now 85)” (11).

Timeline: 

WoW release (Lv. 60 cap): Nov. 2004

Chen’s Raiding Group: October 2005-July 2006

Burning Crusade release (Lv. 70 cap): Jan. 2007

Wrath of the Lich King release (Lv. 80 cap): Nov. 2008

Cataclysm release (Lv. 85 cap): Dec. 2010 – Chen says his data is being put together in writing. 

Mists of Pandaria release (Lv. 90 cap): Sept. 2012 – Chen’s data is published. 

Warlords of Draenor release (current content; Lv. 100 cap): Nov. 2014.

5-6 Years?

I’m well aware that ethnography takes a long time. I’m aware it takes a long time to begin working with the data. But 5-6 years in the writing? By the time Cataclysm had come and was wrapping up, the game was incredibly different than it was in Vanilla WoW. The quest zones for low level players weren’t even the same–they were redone in Cata. I began playing WoW in 2007, a few months after the release of Burning Crusade. For starters, Chen is discussing a 40 man raid group. 40 mans ended when Burning Crusade came out for current content. Instead, 25 man raids became more common, with also a 10 man raid being available. As the game has progressed, 10 and 25 have both become staples as the raid size.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with it still being published. The research is still useful. But this huge shift in the structure even specifically of what he was dealing with in his research (raiding), let alone the rest of the game and the significant changes that were made to overall gameplay, weren’t really discussed at all, despite the fact he was putting the work together 5-6 years later (some games don’t even last that long). It just seemed like a major oversight to me that would probably do a bit of a disservice to other researchers interested in taking something like this on without realizing how much a game can change in a few years time.

References: 

Blizzard Entertainment. World of Warcraft. Activision Blizzard, 2004-2015. Online.

Chen, Mark. Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. Print.

PAB 3.1: Ethical Issues in Researching MMOGS and Virtual Worlds

Playing a Good Game: Ethical Issues in Researching MMOGs and Virtual Worlds 

by Heidi A. McKee & James E. Porter

Rationale

An ethical piece at this point might seem a little strange, but I think it fits closely into the topic of OoSes particularly for Game Studies. My reasons for choosing this specific article are twofold. First, that I think ethics is incredibly important in terms of how a researcher approaches a virtual object of study in an ethical way. The article makes a very salient point: how the researcher views the OoS is very connected to if they view the virtual world as space or place. Second, the article begins to get at Juul’s question that I mentioned in my last paper: Do we study games or players?

At least for me, and my question of ‘How about both?,’ I think this article made me think of nuancing that question a little bit. This gets complicated, even when we talk about games because different games have different purposes and different levels of interaction of player to game and player to player and these are necessary to consider when deciding what to study and how to go about doing it. While I do think that the approach will depend on the type of game being studied and Juul likely wasn’t focused on MMOGs, it also depends on what we as researchers want to know. I do, however, feel that it would be hard to separate the game from the player in research.

Summary

McKee and Porter are primarily focused in the article on Virtual Worlds or MMOGs (massive multiplayer online games).  These games are social games in that many players take part in the game and interact with both the game and other people (or at least that’s the assumption). Their primary focus is on ethical issues in investigating these places (spaces could also be used here, but I’m particularly using places to situate myself based on the terminology in the piece).

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).

McKee & Porter visual heuristic
Visual heuristic

McKee and Porter also interviewed researchers that were currently working on research in virtual worlds such as Second Life, City of Heroes, and Lineage I & II.

Figure 3 in McKee & Porter, 2009. Page 15.
Figure 3 in McKee & Porter, 2009. Page 15.

One of the specific areas that McKee and Porter focused on was how researchers viewed a virtual world in terms of place or space. If researchers viewed the internet as space, they likely saw the location as medium of text, and saw the things they were researching as published text in the public sphere that was open to use for research. Researchers that viewed the internet or virtual worlds as a place were more likely to see the location as a community or world, the object of study as players. Clearly it isn’t as cut and dry as one side or the other, but it does present a continuum of mapping views of research of virtual worlds like MMOGs.

McKee & Porter also looked at harm and risk to the larger community of players being studied and how researchers negotiated that in their work. They discussed that many researches did not evaluate the risks of their research the same way that an IRB did, for example.

They also discussed researcher credibility which boiled down to a researcher needing to spend a significant amount of time within the community of study in order to be credible and trustworthy to participants. This also included levels of transparency to members of the community as researchers.

Situating Myself

This particular article really made me begin thinking about my own research, which is primarily focused in MMOGs, though I like studying games outside of MMOGs too. Specifically, I’m currently interested in Mia Consalvo’s call to document toxic gamer culture that I wrote about in PAB 1.2.   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.

There’s some dilemmas I’m encountering in my own head as I continue to try to work out how to approach this call for documentation. The researchers that McKee and Porter discussed said many things that resonated with me.

“I refuse to use any of the data that would show anyone in a poor light or raise any issues about their own integrity” (Steinkuehler interview, 25). All the researchers made some comment about not wanting to harm the community through their research.

In one sense, I’ve seen the struggle of the gaming community to be seen as legitimate, as well as scholars working to make video games a legitimate area of study. However, as a female gamer, and as a gamer that has seen some of the toxic culture in games harm other players in very real ways, I’m still working out how to negotiate this research. The water seems murky and I’m kind of afraid the Loch Ness monster lies below. I don’t want to represent the community in a negative way, but the truth is that this toxic gamer culture exists and that since it is harmful to many within the community, it seems absolutely necessary to document these issues. How to go about doing that ethically is still eluding me a bit, though I’m slowly starting to generate an idea of what that might look like.

P.S. For anyone that reads the article or this and is interested in playing the games mentioned by researchers as their places of study. Second Life and Lineage II are both free to play. City of Heroes (which I played for awhile) however, is no longer available to play anymore.

Second Life

Lineage II

References

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.

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.

Paper #2: Major Questions in Game Studies

The Narratology vs Ludology Question 

There seem to be multiple threads of questions within game studies, including the use of games in the classroom. However, I decided to focus on the question of are games rules or narrative? The question has seemed to consistently come up in game studies, starting near the beginning of the development of defining “Game Studies” with a formal name. Even after scholars have said that the debate is over, it continues to reappear in blog posts,
in the teaching of games studies, and in scholarship which makes it all the more fascinating. The question arose out a much simpler question, “What is a game?”  

Timeline of Scholars Discussing the Issue

Some of the first scholars that begin talking about narratology and ludology are Espen Aarseth, in 1997, in his book Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, and  Gonzalo Frasca in his 1999 article, LUDOLOGY MEETS NARRATOLOGY: Similitude and differences between (video)games and narrative.” However, the debate that begin to rise out of these discussions, was, as Ian Bogost describes, “Gonzalo Frasca tried to remind us at the very first DiGRA conference six years ago…these two concepts were never intended to be opponents in the way a Las Vegas marquis-worthy label like “Ludology vs. Narratology” suggests.” Rather, the scholars didn’t want to reduce video game discussions to only being about narratives, as they saw games in more nuanced, complicated ways.

Bogost argues that the entire debate originally was to set up a movement from viewing games through a functionalist approach to a formal approach. Setting up ludology and narrative meant that either choice would be a formalist approach.

In other words: Formalism vs. Formalism = Formalism wins

However, Bogost discusses that these pieces, as well as work from other scholars on narratology vs ludology caused some confusion and that the debate ensued from there.

From Ian Bogost's blog post, "Video Games are a Mess." http://bogost.com/writing/videogames_are_a_mess/
From Ian Bogost’s blog post, “Video Games are a Mess.”

Based on other pieces that I’ve read and my understanding of the threads I’ve been digging through, this also seems to be a push from Game Studies scholars to establish Game Studies as  legitimate and separate discipline from other areas of study. I want to return briefly to the Games Studies Journal Year One issue editorial written by Espen Aarseth. He writes, just before he heads into the next section about creating a new discipline

In this issue, the debate about narratives’ and narratology’s relevance to game studies is clearly visible. This is a debate that shows the very early stage we are still in, where the struggle of controlling and shaping the theoretical paradigms has just started.

He discusses narrative very closely in relation to what he contends are problems with the current state of Game Studies. “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.” It seems as though scholars are equating the discussion of narratology with the colonization of other disciplines, which they see as a problem to situating Game Studies as its own field. So, it seems that the question is largely about epistemology about what Game Studies is, but also in where people align themselves on the issue of discipline and where Game Studies belongs within the departmental framework.

Aarseth directly addresses pieces within this first issue of the journal, which includes, Jesper Juul‘s article, Games Telling Tories? A Brief Note on Games and Narratives that I used for my PAB post.  In the 2001 article, Juul seems tentative on where he sees narrative playing out in games studies but he does acknowledge, relating back even to his own work, that ” Games and narratives can on some points be said to have similar traits. This does mean that the strong position of claiming games and narratives to be completely unrelated (my own text, Juul 1999 is a good example) is untenable.”

Juul’s work seems to evolve over time though, along with this debate. By 2005, Juul has reevaluated his views again in his book, Half-real: Video games between real rules and fictional worlds. Discussed by both Colby & Colby from my other PAB post last week and Ian Bogost, Bogost explains that, “Games, argues Juul, can be both ludic and fictive, without giving up either their systemic nature or their fictional one.”

Ian Bogost goes on to talk more about Juul, explaining that, “More recently, Juul has offered another take on the current state of game scholarship. The old problem of ludology and narratology has passed, he argues, and in its place we find a new one, which he calls the Game/Player Problem.”

Before I address this supposed “shift” in debate, I’m going to provide a succinct infographic to simplify some of this a bit.

GameStudies

Is the Debate Really Over?

I was curious if this debate actually seems to over as Juul implies, or it still something very much anarratology-and-ludology-10-728live in Game Studies. Based on what I found, I think that while there seems to be less focus on complete dismissal of narratives or gameplay rules, this is still a debate or at least a topic of interest in game scholars.

First, I looked into classes teaching Game Studies. I found some slides that point to this discussion happenarratology-interactive-fiction-by-sherry-jones-april-5-2015-37-638ning in classrooms where video games are being studied. The slides featured here are from Slideshare and were published in 2012 and 2015 on the site. These two slides in particular show that attention is still be paid to the debate in discussions among gamers and in game studies classrooms.

Also, the debate is still being discussed in journals, such as reconstruction: studies in contemporary culture. One of the most recent calls for papers from managing editor Marc Outlette reads in part:

Even though it might be considered a relatively new discipline, Game Studies has galvanized around a readily recognizable set of determinisms. Indeed, the necessity of differentiating between video and computer games instantiates highlights an important pair. Conversely, it might be argued that a set of determinisms have galvanized around Game Studies, not least of which is the ongoing duel of the ludology and narratology dichotomies.

Players or Games?

Maybe I’m rushing into saying this, but why is this a “this or that” question? It seems much more likely to me that a complete picture of study involves the study of both–not necessarily that everyone needs to look at both in every study, but that a solid understanding of video games involves work on both players and games, as well as the intersections or convergences of players and games seem inseparable. My own interests are particularly within the MMO communities, like World of Warcraft. These are highly social games, even if players choose to play solo (which begs the question, why?!), but at the same time, the game itself is also very important in studying this space.

Perhaps Game Studies could benefit from attempting a more nuanced look at the dichotomies that continuously seem to be set up whether that is in narratology vs. ludology, players vs. games, or as Marc Oulette discussed, relying on the male vs. female dichotomy sex role theory used by many scholars studying games and gender. Why are we setting up these dichotomies? What purpose does it serve? How is it limiting the potential that our work has?

References
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 J. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997. Print.

Bogost, Ian. “Videogames Are a Mess My DiGRA 2009 Keynote, on Videogames and Ontology.” Ian Bogost. Ian Bogost, 3 Sept. 2009. Web. 30 Sept. 2015. <http://bogost.com/&gt;.

Creber, Chris. “Narratology and Ludology.” Narratology and Ludology. SlideShare, 27 Jan. 2012. Web. 30 Sept. 2015. <http://www.slideshare.net/CharisCreber/narratology-and-ludology&gt;.

Frasca, Gonzalo. “LUDOLOGY MEETS NARRATOLOGY: Similitude and Differences between (video)games and Narrative.” (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 29 Sept. 2015. <http://www.ludology.org/articles/ludology.htm&gt;.

Jones, Sherry. “Narratology vs Ludology.” SlideShare. SlideShare, 14 July 2014. Web. 02 Oct. 2015. <http://www.slideshare.net/autnes/metagame-book-club-game-studies-week-2-narratology-vs-ludology-with-sherry-jones-july-29-2014&gt;.

Juul, Jesper.  “Games Telling Stories? A Brief Note on Games and Narratives” Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research 1.1 (2001): n. pag. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Oulette, Marc. “Reconstruction 16.3: Game Studies and Determinism.” Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture. N.p., 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2015. <http://reconstruction.eserver.org/upcoming.shtml&gt;.

PAB 2.1 – Games Telling Stories?

Games Telling Tories? A Brief Note on Games and Narratives by Jesper Juul

Summary

Juul takes on an ongoing debate that over 10 years later doesn’t seem to be over between ludology and narratology, a question I’ll be discussing in the next paper.  Juul sets his article up with a simple question, “Do games tell stories?” The answer in short: Sometimes. Sort of.

Juul first looks at standard arguments made for games being narratives, focusing on the idea that narratives help us make sense in our lives and everything is narrative ergo games are narratives. He seems to lean closer to the idea that “Games share some traits with narratives.” In fact, he even says, “This does mean that the strong position of claiming games and narratives to be completely unrelated (my own text, Juul 1999 is a good example) is untenable.” Juul seems much more interested in a nuanced approach, believing some games have narrative features, but not all of them. And those that have narrative aren’t necessarily like narratives in books or movies.

To exemplify this, he discusses the translation of narratives between mediums. He mentions how a Pride and Prejudice movie would seem at least very familiar to someone who had also read the book. However, a move to a game doesn’t translate as well. He use Star Wars (Atari 1983) as an example. He describes the limited scope of the movie that the video game captures and says, “if we imagine the title removed from the game, the connection would not be at all obvious.”

Last, Juul discusses temporal differences in narratives in movies/books versus games. He says that in movies/books, we’re seeing a story that has already happened and we understand that. Most games, everything is in the present.

Wait? Why is this debate even happening? 

It’s interesting that this article comes from the first issue of Game Studies that I discussed in Paper 1. The issue I discussed by editor Espen Aarseth called for the creation of a new discipline, free from the colonization of other disciplines. Hm…games as narratives? I’m feeling English all over this. And this is likely one of the results of the colonizing disciplines like Aarseth discusses (interestingly enough, he has a background in comparative lit). However, the overall larger debate between narratology and ludology is likely one that is also about whether Game Studies should be it’s own discipline or not.

Many of our in class readings discussed similar situations for other sub disciplines of English–deciding whether to leave the department or not is never an easy question. And like some sub disciplines of English, like Linguistics, it seems as though Game Studies has split off into it’s own thing in certain ways, such as the creation of Video Games Studies programs as well as Game Labs, like the one at MIT, while many games scholars are still housed in other disciplines, including English.

Getting Back to that Star Wars Thing

atari star wars screenshot
Screenshot from Star Wars (1983) for Atari.

It’s hard for me to agree with Juul’s conclusion about the Atari Star Wars game that “if we imagine the title removed from the game, the connection would not be at all obvious.” Here’s a screenshot from the game, which by the way, is quite dated (almost 20 years), even when Juul was writing in 2001. I think that even without the name Star Wars in the title of the box there are some very specific ways in which a player might make connections between the game and Star Wars (if they’d seen the movie) just based on this screenshot. Take for instance the death start in the background. Also, in particular, the TIE fighters. I’d say similar things about other Star Wars games that are necessarily story driven that came later, like Nintendo 64’s Stars Wars Podracing. 

Questions

I was left with a couple of questions when I finished Juul’s piece. First, he’s writing in 2001. He focuses primarily on Atari and arcade games to make specific points. In some ways, it’s useful to do so. For instance, his example using Tetris shows that games don’t have to have a narrative at all in order to be appealing to audiences. However, in his discussion about movie/game translations and narrative “flashbacks”, he’s writing when games are being released such as Final Fantasy X (lots of flashbacks, cut scenes), Grand Theft Auto 3, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (yes, it was a video game too!) and James Bond in Agent Under Fire were all coming out. Even if we wanted to be generous and look prior to 2001, James Bond Goldeneye was already out for N64. So why not use these as examples? Instead, to illustrate his points, he was using games that almost, if not, 20 years old.

The last question I was left wondering was one that I’m not sure I have an answer to. Were there really people who believed that all games were narratives no matter what? Were there really people that firmly believed all games were entirely unrelated to narrative? If so, WHY?! I guess to me it doesn’t make much sense. It’s more likely that there’s a more nuanced perspective that needs to be taken. Hopefully looking more closely at this discipline question will help me make sense of it.

References:

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.

Juul, Jesper.  “Games Telling Stories? A Brief Note on Games and Narratives” Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research 1.1 (2001): n. pag. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Star Wars. Atari. 1983. Video game.

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