Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Quibus Lusoribus Bono?

Roger Travis | 6 May 2008 12:44
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In his 2005 article, Aarseth writes:

Indeed, with such a wealth of diverse disciplines involved, how can there be a center, or consensus? Will computer scientists working on game design ever want to talk to cultural critics who are examining the ideological significance of game iconography? Are we naïve to think that there will ever be bridges among the technological, aesthetic, and ethnographic game research traditions?

The idea of a center, if you'll permit a bit of hyperbole, is the pernicious seed that's growing into the poison tree of a gamer-hating discipline.

It's a simple process. When you take or teach courses called, for example, Game Studies 101; when you hold a degree in "new media studies" (wink, wink); when you publish your research in a journal called Game Studies; or when you actually are a professor of game studies, you end up feeling like you know what games do - and what they should do.

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That wouldn't be so bad - it's business-as-usual for academics, in fact - if game studies didn't harbor what amounts to a desperate need to lay claim to ownership of game design as well as theory. It turns out that they don't just want to write articles and grant Ph.D.'s - they want to design our games, too.

Here's Ian Bogost, in a 2005 article co-authored by several Georgia Tech digital media faculty:

We need to investigate the ways in which games affect and alter people's perceptions about the world. Central to this process is an understanding of procedural rhetoric - the way that a videogame embodies ideology in its computational structure. By understanding how games embody rhetoric in their rules, we not only gain a critical vantage point on videogame artifacts, but also we can begin to consider how to design games whose primary purpose is to editorialize, teach, and make political statements.

Wilson talks at the end of his rant in GameSetWatch of "getting political." Ian Bogost is a proponent of "persuasive games." Both these ideas stem from a facet of game studies that Aarseth addresses a bit later in his 2005 piece:

Inevitably, the only powerful nexus among these diverse approaches then becomes design. Humanists, technologists, and social scientists come to¬gether through a common interest in outstanding design. Game design will have to unite the insights from social science, technology, and art, and so becomes the overruling discipline whereby all the other approaches are measured.

Simply put, game studies' focus on design is what makes Wilson hate gamers. Gamers who won't get political, who won't be persuaded, threaten to throw a wrench in the works of his discipline. Game studies as a discipline, Aarseth says, must seek to overrule those who don't see the field as a marriage of design, theory and criticism, thereby creating a sort of monolith of game-studies-approved gaming practice. And Wilson tells us that gamers don't fit the bill as an audience of these efforts.

In the co-authored 2005 Georgia Tech article, one of the authors (presumably Janet Murray, author of one of the earliest examples of gamer-hating game studies criticism, Hamlet on the Holodeck), tries valiantly to hide the problem:

If the Game Production programs rally around the cry "You play games, now learn to make them"; and if the Game Studies programs declare, "You play games, now learn to study them," then we might respond, "You must make games to study them, and you must study games to make them."

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