Editor's Choice

Editor's Choice
Quibus Lusoribus Bono?

Roger Travis | 6 May 2008 12:44
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It would be wonderful if there actually were something like what Murray et al. describe as "game studies programs": not a discipline in itself, but a true interdisciplinary nexus, looking outward to the gamers around it working at various levels of their individual disciplines. Indeed, such a thing would quite possibly do what we need done for gaming.

Unfortunately, these "game studies programs" don't actually exist, and what do exist are several programs that take what Murray et al. describe as the "Georgia Tech approach." They all want to keep design and theory together, the same way Aarseth does in the earlier passage; they all want their students to be game developers; and (presumably without knowing it) they want them to distance themselves from gamers and develop serious games, with the "fun" part left out.

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When game studies scholars talk about the paradigm they want to establish for their discipline, they often call unfavorable attention to film studies. That discipline, they say, has failed to unite theory and criticism with production. But what if that so-called failure were remedied? We might well end up with filmmakers who hate moviegoers - not just disregard the commercial system to follow their own instincts, but hate, like Wilson hates gamers. As filmmakers and developers of popular games know, the audience is not the enemy.

Nothing that game studies scholars are doing is inherently wrong, on either the theoretical or design side. Game studies scholars need to be free to explore, to talk about whatever comes into their heads, to start academic journals that attempt to define (and exclude others from) their practice - that is, to do what every other discipline and pseudo-discipline does.

They should be free to teach whatever subjects they choose, to whatever graduate students they can attract to programs like "the Ph.D. in Digital Media." Likewise, graduates should be free to send articles to journals like Game Studies, and the editorial boards of those journals are free to accept and reject articles as they see fit, giving the impression that this is game studies, and that is not game studies, and the ability to make the distinction means that game studies exists.

On the other hand, they should also be free to design and produce the games they want to produce, some of which might interest actual gamers. Those games should be as persuasive or as serious as they like.

But the effort to force the two sides together - to create and maintain game studies (or digital media studies, or new media studies, or whatever else will get past their deans and boards of trustees) as a discipline - is propagating the mindset that leads to rants like Wilson's. And those rants give ammunition to those who want to tell gamers to "put down their controllers and grow up." These scholars are rejecting a task that we gamers, whether we're scholars ourselves or not, should demand that they undertake. The task is leading us to the promised land of mainstream culture, and right now game studies is lost in the desert.

Roger Travis is Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Connecticut. He blogs about the interference of Classics and gaming at livingepic.blogspot.com. In Spring 2009, Roger will offer an online course on videogames as a reawakening of Homeric epic.

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