Same old story, same old song and dance

From time to time there are always those who like to pull out that good old, “How can you theorize games if you don’t know how to program them?” and argue that videogame scholars need to know programming in order to really understand what is going on in a videogame. While I don’t deny that there is some validity to that and I, myself, have a tiny little bit of programing experience (Logo, baby! I made a shooting game and everything!). However, there is another part of the story. I’m going to go out on a limb and argue that all the programming in the world isn’t going to help you really understand videogames because there is more to games than the software and hardware. There is the wetware, to go all cyberpunk. Yes, I’m talking about, once again, the people who play the games.
Therefore, I’m going to turn the question around, “How can you theorize games if you don’t know anything about ethnographic methods?” and I argue that videogame scholars need to know some anthropology, folklore or performance studies to really be able to articulate what is going on when we play games. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t study videogames, I study the people who play them.
Anthropologists and Folklorists have been studying people for a long time now. They have written a whole lot about what people do in social situations. We should probably spend some time thinking about that. The more I think about videogames, the more I realize that the scholarly study of them really does require a unique background of information. There is the new media stuff, certainly, and there is the human computer interaction stuff, but there is also the good old fashioned human to human interaction too. We are people and we are doing things. What we are doing is just as important was what we are doing them with. So game scholars, take that intro to programming course, but make sure you also that that intro to ethnography, anthropology, performance, or folklore class, too.

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  1. Stewart Woods

    I’ve been thinking along similar lines to this lately, specifically with regards to sociology and the ways in which people behave under particular circumstances – I can’t say I’m that excited about sociology 101 but I am by the possibilities of narrowing potential in-game actions by another means other than a lack of options or invisible walls.
    Which is to say that I think a sociological insight could reduce somewhat the problems of unlimited possibilities in the design of multi-player games.
    (Oh, and I’m not that bad at lingo either)