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.
So this is a post that I’m imagining only the smallest portion of the smallest portion will know what I’m talking about but here goes.
So I’m thinking about liminality and liminal vs. liminoid in videogames, specifically in Counter-Strike. So Turner would certainly say that playing videogames at a lan party was a liminoid phenomenon. However, what about the world of the game itself? Again, specifically in Counter-Strike, which is basically war, would that be a liminal space or a liminoid space? I am thinking that the world of the game is liminal, especially if we look at it from the perspective of the characters. If so, then playing Counter-Strike is a liminoid enactment of a liminal performance. Of course there is all that Turner’s social drama stuff as well. I wonder how that fits in?
I”m editing an article for publication and as always happens in situations like that there are always little bits that have to be cut out. Cutting the out is always painfull and so rather than just deleting the paragraph I thought I would post it here. So here is something for people to mull over:
In the often cited “Visual Pleasure in Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey writes that one of the pleasures of film is scopophilic, or based on looking (324). “[The] brilliance of the shifting patterns of light and shade on the screen helps to promote the illusion of voyeuristic separation” (Mulvey 324). However, in a FPS, the player is voyeristically looking at the main character because the player is the main character which means there can be no voyeuristic pleasure in playing a FPS because there is no one to watch. Indeed, even if one were to attempt to stop playing the game in order to look at one of the other characters and subject the character to a objectifying male gaze, the character would in all likelyhood shoot the player in a direct rejection of the voyeristic gaze. Additionally, what occurs while playing a Shooter is not a separation, but an immersion in that by using the first-person perspective, the player is encouraged to forget that they are playing a character and to feel as if they themselves are in the game. The pleasure in playing a First-Person Shooter is not in looking but in doing.
I ran across a paper that might be of interest to anyone out there talking about gamers and the kind of gamers taht attend LAN parties. Jeroen Jansz and Lonneke Martens have written a paper called Gaming at a LAN event: the social context of playing digital interactive games” (pdf file, google also has a cache of an html version)
It is a pretty basic paper where they gave a survey to some gamers, but it might come in handy some day, so I thought I would post an entry about it.
There are a couple more stories on the addiction within the game Achaea. Terra Nova points to an article on Wired called Virtual Dopers Crave High Scores that has a couple quotes from the developers. It is an interesting read.
Over at games.slashdot.org there is a story entitled, “Drug Addiction Integrated Into Achaea MUD” that while doesn’t have many details, talks about an interesting gameplay element that the MUD has recently added. While not the first online game to add adiction (according to a couple posters over at slashdot A Tale in the Desert also has addictive drugs.
The addition of addictive drugs which have negative consequences is an interesting subject. What is the purpose of having such a thing in a game? Is it to lend it a feeling of reality, to make the gameplay experience more realistic? Is it moralistic and attempting to teach us the drugs are bad? Does it turn addiction into entertainment?
I’ve not played either game, so I don’t know how the drug addiction is implimented except from what is written over at slashdot, and I can’t offer any great insite. However it is certainly worth pondering what this does to the gameplay experience, especially in a world where we are told that some drugs are bad and yet every other commercial is for a drug that we are supposed to ask our doctor about. Are there good drugs in these worlds? Are there fairly harmless stimulants? As the games we play become more complex, there are more complex question that need to be asked.
So I finally got around to adding some links to other game blogs. If there are any that I missed, leave a comment.
The ESA has released their annual “Essential Facts” brochure (PDF file) with their statistics about who is doing what in regards to videogames. Yet again this year there is not one word of race. It would be nice if someone somewhere with the resources would do a study to see what the racial breakdown of videogame players is. It would also be nice if the ESA would release their raw data. I can understand why they don’t because this is designed for the general public, but it would certainly be nice to have more specifics on the data. I mean these numbers are already suspect in my mind because they come from the industry and so are spun in the best possible way. However, without even knowing how the data was gathered, what questions were asked, or how the questions were phrased, the data is next to worthless for anything by a soundbite — which again, is what it is designed for. It is just kind of sad that the most complete statistical data on the gaming industry is unacessable to the people who are really the most interested in it.
I made it through my first year of my phd. I’ve got an incomplete, but I’m working on it, i swear!
So E3 has started. Amazingly, I am soooooooooo unimpressed by what I’ve seen today. It seems like there is a huge concentration on graphics and physics. Not a whole lot of talk about gameplay going on…
Oh well, no exciting new games just means more time to catch up on my work.
Once again the narratology has returned. Both those links have some interesting points. However, this whole debate, imho, like the violence debate, is misguided.
Why does it matter if videogames have narrative or not? What is the end goal of that? It seems to me that the end goal is to study the relationship between the player and the game and how that relationship comes about. If that is the end goal, then why does it matter if it is narrative or not? If taken in the larger context of ultimately finding out how we interact with these games, then it doesn’t really matter all that much what theories we use to get there, does it? As long as we get there, the road doesn’t matter all that much — within reason of course. I’m not saying the ends justify the means here, just that in academia we sometimes get so worked up about who people put on their works cited list that we froget to actually read the paper, so to speak.
I always say that I don’t study videogames, I study the players and their relationship to the games. I suppose there are those that do study just the game, but even then, we do all this bluster about “interactive” and “ergodic” and whatnot, so is it even possible to theorize about videogames without talking about the role of the player at all??
I am probably a ludologist but, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. What I’m calling for is a refocusing on what we are really studying. If we study videogames, we have to study the people playing them, don’t we? So then, if I think, Narratology is for losers (that is an April Fool’s joke in case you haven’t seen it), and you don’t, it doesn’t really matter because my opinion doesn’t stop you from doing your work.
I’m studying people. How about you?