*RANT* Uppity Research Makes the Baby Mario Cry! *RANT*

So this is going to be a rant inspired by the article Ivy-Covered Console. I am glad that our work is getting some press, but it seems that this article is built on some frustrating biases.

First, let me say it. We all know that the only reason that this conference that the article is about is not the first videogame conference, nor is it the biggest. Yet it gets coverage in the New York Times which spends a lot of money with commercials trying to convince me to have it delivered to me even though I live in Indiana. Sure lots of people think the New York Times is hot shit, so in some ways it is great that this article exists. Of course the only reason why it exists is that this conference is taking place at an Ivy-League School. So at the heart of this article is elitism. Something I have little patience for. What do you expect from someone that has a Master’s degree in Popular Culture?

Again, I suppose I should be thankful that this isn’t yet another article that talks about how evil videogames are and features lots of unchallenged quotes from my favorite lawyer, Jack Thompson. However, much of what is written in this article just makes me sad if this is what the future of videogame studies holds.

I originally wrote a blow by blow account of why I dislike this article, however, I figured that came of as bitter for even me.

The article is basically an exercise in elitism written for an elitist paper. That is my problem with the article. In my opinion, videogames and videogame studies should not try to emulate elitist, exclusionary practices of the ivory tower. One sample passage reads, “Video-game studies is still a nascent field, too young to have a standard list of must-play games…” No, no, no. Lists are for suckers. Literature departments have spent decades realizing that their cannons were too narrow. Let us not have a cannon. A cannon by its very nature is exclusionary. So what if we all thing that Half-Life is the best thing ever and Codename: Nina is crap, but does that mean that we shouldn’t at least look at it and figure out how such crap came to be? Obviously there are only a certain number of games that one person can play, but the minute we, as academics, start making up a cannon of videogames, then we are putting up walls and limits. There is tons an tons of crap out there, but crap is worth looking at. If we have to start using a cannon to tell ourselves which games are “worthy” of out time, then we might as well go back to more traditional fields.

Then the article goes on to talk about Aristotle and Shakespeare. Now I know the writer of the article is not only trying to write an article about why videogames are worthy of study but is also trying to justify to his readers why videogame studies is worthy of having an article in the oh so prestigious New York Times. However, call me narrow minded, but there is a reason why I left my career in the English Department behind and part of that reason is so that I don’t need to talk about white guys who died before the light bulb was invented. Drawing on those names is an obvious attempt to justify our work, not only to ourselves, but the readers of the New York Times. I’ve made my opinion on this clear already. I’m taking a class right now with some wonderful people who are writing about 18th century literature. They are great intelligent people. However, you tell me, whose work is more relevant? Call me crazy, but if anyone has to justify their work, it ain’t me. As a field, I think that the attempt to legitimize our field is totally a waste of time. People who get it, already get it. People who don’t, never will. We don’t need videogames to be art. I’ve already written about that in the past. Art is exclusionary and elitist. Why would we want people like that to like us? Why would we want to be those people? Now I enjoy art, but I do not put definitions on what art is, and find definitional argumetns tiresome.

Finally, the article ends with, “But I don’t want to draw the comparison between Arc the Lad and ‘Ulysses,’ ” Dr. Palmer said, “because that would be very, very wrong.” You know what else is wrong? Being an elitist bastard. It is wrong to compare a game and work of literature? Fuck that. Now, his comment is a bit ambiguous. Why is it wrong? I would like to think that it is wrong simply because they are very different. I’ve never played Arc the Lad and have never read Ulysses (I never got around to that one when I was getting my Bachelor’s in English), so I don’t know. However, the most obvious interpretation is that Arc is not in the same ballpark as Ulysses. The only thing I can say to that to think that a videogame is a worthy comparison to a book is sad. Videogame studies is a new field and if we have such an inferiority complex that we cannot make some bold assertions with confidence, then maybe there isn’t any hope for us. I’m sure Dr. Palmer is a fine person, but that line needs some explanation.

This article is nice in that it gets the general public aware, but it represents a lot of what I hate about academia and what I am actively trying to work against. If videogame studies is going to be about consciously replicating the biases and elitism of old disciplines, it will be at the cost of the work by people on the fringes who have made it possible to study videogames in the first place. We need to stop legitimizing our work and simply start doing our work. If we do that, then the quality of the work will legitimize itself without having to buy into the elitist establishments of the academy or newspapers.

Videogame Studies Gets All High Falutin’

An article appeared in the New York Times today titled “The Ivy-Covered Console”. It is an interesting read.

There are several things about it that irritate me, however. I will try to get to some of them later, however, let me mention something included in it that I had never thought of before. In the article, they mention that some videogame researchers are doing what they call, “close gameplay,” “in which a researcher plays critical scenes of a game repeatedly, analyzing the details, perhaps searching for an anomaly the programmers have buried in the code or simply arriving at some resolution.”

This is the first I’ve heard of this. Does anyone actually do this? And if so, what do you get out of it? It seems to be a very odd thing to me. If anyone out there practices “close gameplay” let me hear about it.

I’m too busy doing original research to play some silly game!

It looks like for the foreseeable future my Friday nights will be spent playing Counter-Strike. All in all, there are worse things I could be doing. I like CS a lot. What I’m going is some ethnography on a group of guys (and they are guys) who play CS in a lab on campus on a regular basis.

Of course, I’m not just playing, but observing, and interviewing people. That is where it gets interesting. I’ve turned my hobby into a job. I know that I’m not the first to observe this, but interesting things happen when you turn your hobby into a job. As I said, I like Counter-Strike. And it is fun to play with other people face to face. I’m new to this university, so it is nice to meet some folks outside my department as well. However, because I’m studying these people (and myself just as much) it isn’t just fun and games, but it is work. Playing Counter-Strike on Friday nights is a job.

Certainly, I haven’t got a lot to complain about. As a graduate student, I am getting paid to play videogames and hang out with people. However, the dynamic is different now that this is for an external purpose — that is my dissertation and the ethnography class I am currently taking. A group of my friends were getting together to play some cards that same night and I couldn’t because I had to go observe people. So of course when I did stop by the card game around midnight (I know, I left the gaming early!) the first thing I told them was that I would have been there earlier, but I was out doing original research and I didn’t have time to sit around all night and play silly games.

Well, I thought it was funny. But it points out that taking on this project means that I have to make some (however small) sacrifices.

My point in this is not to complain. I know I’m pretty lucky. It is as a warning. Think about it before you turn your hobby into a job because when you do, it changes things. in four years (hopefully!) when I finish this dissertation, I certainly hope that I won’t be burned out on playing videogames. Of course if I am, that will just be another chapter for the dissertation, “How Studying Videogame Players Made Me Burn Out and Never Want to Play another Videogame Ever Again.”

90% of everything

I’ve had some free moments in the past couple days so i’ve started reading some videogame studies articles I’ve been meaning to get around to. Some of them are pretty good. But lots of them are not. To be nice. I know it isn’t a new observation, but 90% of everything is crap. Now that videogame studies seems to be the hip new thing (I was here first posers! 😉 ) there is more and more to read and more and more of it seems less than earth shattering. Of course many may say that of my work, but I’m not naming any names here so be kind! It is kind of sad though to see the field filling with mediocrity.
Of course I was pleasently surprized when the Popular Culture Association program was put online. There are several videogame panels. Quite a big difference from two years ago in Toronto when there were three of us videogame people on one panel. Of course, there is that 90% of everything is crap and the PCA has certainly adhered to that rule the two times I’ve gone in the past. Oh well, I can be that ass in the audience who askes rude obnoxious questions.

MTV does videogames

Over at Gamegirladvance, there is an article about MTV using game footage in videos. Actually, it seems that all the examples that people have are EA games. So rather than MTV getting into gaming, is EA getting into videos becasue I’m sure they don’t care if it is MTV or MuchMusic or Fuse that airs their promotional material, just as long as it gets aired. Of course it is also probably the case of big corporation EA getting into bed with (presumably) even bigger corporation Viacom.

I saw one of the MTV/EA segments and left this post over at gamegirladvance:

Recently MTV has been jumping on the videogame bandwagon. They
had a videogame countdown show and more recently a “Video Mods” show
which took videogame footage and set it to music. I found a link that
talked about it here.

The one video I saw was a remix of N.E.R.D. song, which is of course
fronted by Pharrell of the Neptunes and is of African decent. Number of
non-whites in the “video mod”? zero.

work is so hard!

I’ve started doing my ethnographic work here. I spent the evening playing Counter-Strike with a handful of gamers. It was interesting to get to play against experienced players again (I was the worst one there) as well as to put on my ethnographer hat and study them. My little research subjects.
I spent three hours playing. So what was the first thing I did when I got home? Started playing Grand Theft Auto. Maybe there is something to this videogame addiction thing.

insert witty comment here

I read Sarah Thornton’s Club Cultures again the other day. I read it first three years ago before I decided to turn my interest in videogames into my vocation. It and Dick Hebdidge’s Subculture make interesting reading. While reading them I couldn’t help but think about videogame players. Are videogame players a subculture? WHat consists of subcultural capital for a gamer?

I think that obviously he who has the best computer has a certain amount of capital. Also, there is a certain amount of bragging rights to being able to say that you played Counter-Strike earlier than the other guys (beta 3 baby!). But is that enough to make a subculture? I don’t know. I am not sure what calling gamers a subculture gets me and my research. If gamers are a subculture, then so what? Is this a question worth pursuing? Is a label meaningful? Is it useful? I’m not sure. Something to think about.

I’m Dreaming of a White Dungeon

Since the weather here is frightful, I thought I would give a little update on my reading material.

I finished Dungeons & Dreamers recently and found it to be interesting and entertaining, if a bit scattered in its focus. Like Masters of Doom, it is a non-academic historical look at gaming, with particular interest paid to RPG’s specifically the role that Dungeons and Dragons and the Ultima series had in the development of videogaming.

I might write up a formal review for Reconstruction, the web journal that published me last review, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Let me just say that I found the first half that focused on Garriot to be very interesting and once it moved away from him I found it to be rather fragmented in focus and not nearly as personal or as interesting. It is a good light read and fun. I think I would recommend Masters of Doom over it. However, that may be simply due to my stronger interest in FPS games than RPGs.

I study things that people actually do

Over at Thinking With My Fingers, there is a post about academics having to justify their research. I must be pretty lucky. I really don’t recall ever having to justify studying videogames and people who play them. Maybe it is a matter of being in the right academic climates. I really do not see how I should have to justify my research when I run into people studying 17th century left handed poets.

People are playing videogames at this very moment. Can people who are resistant to videogame research say the same thing about their work? Are people spending hours a day engaging with it?

As I always seem to do in questions like this, rather than attempt to justify something which seems infinitely more relevant than 75% of the things I see going on at most universities, I have to ask why people care what other people think of their research. Basically, if you don’t like what I’m doing based soley on the principle that it is not a valid subject, then there is a pretty damn good chance that I think you are an elitist ass and your opinion doesn’t matter to me anyway. While I love being in school, there are certainly enough elitist snobs here, they can go hang out with each other, they don’t need to bother me.

Now, if you don’t like my work because you think it is inferior or flawed or just plain bad work, but the subject material is valid, that is another matter. I make no claims to my work being good, just valid and relevant.

Gamers a Documentary

I purchased Gamers: A Documentary back before Thanksgiving. I usually review books as soon as I finish reading them. For some reason it didn’t occur to me to review this documentary untill just before Christmas.

I submitted it to an online journal some fellow Bowling Green alums are running called Reconstruction. The review is now up.

So head over to Reconstruction and read my review. You might as well read the whole site as well. They’re smart kids doing interesting work. Rock on.