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This category contains 16 posts

Submitting Final Research Papers

Please remember that your final research paper must be submitted by 11:59 PM on Friday. You should post your papers here and email them to me.

videogames, the humanities, and judgment

As we move toward the end of course, it is time for some summative thoughts. I suppose one of my real dislikes about English and the humanities in general is our tendency to make summary judgments about issues. It is an odd contradiction of sorts. On the one hand, we are more than willingly, perhaps even obligated by our discipline, to recognize the uncertainty of interpretation; we will say that a poem or novel or film or painting could mean different things to different people (within reason of course). In part, this keeps us in business. Otherwise the meaning of artistic works could be settled once and for all! On the other hand, we are equally willing to pass judgments that we hold to be as certain as we deem our interpretations to be uncertain. We are quick to say this or that is good or bad, art or not art, racist or sexist, or something.

It is safe to say that videogames produce aesthetic experiences in humans (setting aside any judgment on the quality of those experiences) and that they circulate sociopolitical/cultural/ideological values (setting aside any judgment on those values).We may say the same of any artistic work, indeed any object that humans participated in making. These are the objects we tend to study across the humanities. In this respect they are as worthy of study as object.

However, there’s another glitch. Our traditional methods don’t allow us to study everything. Conventionally we have decided to study those things that we think are the “best” (another judgment): Shakespeare, for example. 40 years ago, we decided that what we had thought of as best was culturally biased (i.e. dead white guys), so we diversified our selection. But we didn’t get rid of the idea that we should study what was best; we just tried to shift our notion of what “best” meant. Alongside this move, we also started to pay more attention to pop culture (i.e. what wasn’t “best”) and the historical contexts of our objects (which also meant studying material that wasn’t “best” but could inform our understanding of the best objects).

I suppose that studying videogames could fit alongside pop cultural studies of popular movies, television, genre fiction, and so on. But I don’t see that as the context in a class on new media. Instead, our more general purpose is to investigate the cultural operation of emerging communications technologies: videogames just happens to be the example. Clearly we make judgments about videogames from video game reviews to studies on their psychological effects. But as a scholar I’m not interested in making those judgments myself; I am interested in understanding how those judgments are made. That is, I am interested in the mechanisms.

How do videogames produce aesthetic experiences? When we look at McGonigal or Galloway we get some answers to that question. We can consider human psychology or we might look at game mechanics, at gamic action as Galloway terms it. How do videogames circulate social values? Bogost offers us a plethora of different ways this happens. Nardi goes in depth into a single game to explore its social function.

So I ask you: what can we learn from studying videogames as humanists? How might emerging media shift our understanding of the purposes and methods of the humanities (purposes and methods invented and designed to operate in a print culture)?

 

Ready Player One and Ernest Cline

For the final book in our course, I selected a work of science fiction. I did this for several reasons.

  1. You should be hip deep in your own research projects right now, so I didn’t think you would benefit from another dense academic text.
  2. I suspected (rightly) that many of you would be a little behind, so this week’s fairly light reading should give you a chance to catch up.
  3. As many of you are English majors, I thought you might be interested in the literary treatment of videogaming.

So, in relation to point #3, why Ready Player One in particular? It’s true that there are many works of science fiction that take up video games as a central theme, starting perhaps most famously with Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. What is especially interesting about Cline’s novel (without giving anything away) is that it takes us through the fanboy culture that has had a significant impact on video games. While the culture and business of the video game industry has certainly become more diverse over the last decade or so, there is this specific subculture of geeky kids who grew up in the 70s and 80s and become the core of game designers in the late 80s, 90s, and through the present. This novel explores that culture, admittedly in a loving, fanboy way.

A couple caveats. Clearly this is not an academic treatment, so we cannot take this as a complete study of video game history or culture. At the same time, I would warn against mistaking this culture for a strictly “white boy” thing, even though certainly there is a reason for that stereotype. As you’ll see, many of the cultural objects appearing in the book come from Japan (as many video games have). And, speaking from personal experience as someone who grew up in the 80s, it wasn’t that way. Many of the cultural elements here–the music, the movies, the popular arcade games, etc–cut across American society. At the same time, there is also a representation of a particular kind of geek culture and its fascination with fantasy, sci-fi, Dungeons and Dragons, comic books and so on.

Along with this treatment of video game history, the novel is set in a near, dystopian future. However it is also a world where gaming has become a central medium for culture and life, so in a way it is an opportunity to think through some of McGonigal’s propositions. It is also an extrapolation of the gaming culture Nardi investigates.

I won’t give you a particular reading schedule for the book. I’m sure you’ll find it a light read.

Alex Galloway and Gaming

Gaming is the last academic book we will read for this course (Ready Player One is a novel). It is a short but challenging book. Perhaps the most theoretical/philosophical of those we have read in this class. If McGonigal’s book focused on psychology and Nardi’s book focuses on sociology, the Galloway’s focuses on the functionality of gaming itself. The subtitle to the book is “Essays on Algorithmic Culture.” Algorithmic culture would be the cultural effects of the algorithms of games, the interactive, programmed mechanisms that drive video games. As the title also suggests, these are essays (plural), which means each chapter is a fairly stand alone part. The first chapter does work as an introduction, but each following chapter address an independent subject. Of all the books we’ve read, I think this one gives you the best sense of what “video game studies” is like, at least within the humanities. The basic move in these essays is to examine how different algorithms in different kinds of games intersect with ideology and cultural values.

Since there are five chapters, we will try to address one per day over the next five days. It does seem like folks are a little behind so we might end up going into next week.

Here is info on Alex Galloway:

Home Page

Twitter

Research Blogging Assignment

This week begins the second half of our course and our research project. As noted in the syllabus there is a research blogging activity. For this activity you will post 10 times (in addition to your regular participation). How is a “research blog post” different from a regular one?

  1. You must post in the “games research” category.
  2. Your post must discuss your research activity and/or a piece of research that you have found.

At least five of your posts should discuss a piece of academic research on video games that you have read as part of your research project. You should think of this as a blog version of an annotated bibliography. As  such you should include MLA style bibliographic information (I recommend easybib.com to create these) and a link if available. Then you should summarize the research (say 100-150 words). Finally you should offer some assessment of the source. Do you think you’ll use it and how? How does it relate to things we’ve read in class? What is interesting, valuable, or provocative about it?

You can write more than five of these posts if you want, but you can also write research blog posts that discuss your research process. You could post part of your essay as you’re working on it, for example. You could discuss challenges that you are facing (e.g. trouble finding a particular kind of research or narrowing your topic or whatever).

For your first post, I’d like to see 200 words or so describing the project you want to do. What is the question you want to answer? Why do you think it is important? Who else do you think cares about this question (i.e. who is your audience?)? What are the first steps you will take to get this project going?

Games Research

Due Date: 6/28

Requirements

  • 2000-word minimum/ 3000-word minimum (optional)
  • 5 cited sources, at least 2 must be scholarly (from an academic journal or book

n.b. you have the option of producing something other than the traditional research essay (e.g. a video, a slidecast, or other multimedia project). Please send me an email describing what you’d like to do.

The purpose of this assignment is to investigate an matter of concern surrounding video games. I hope that our readings have already provided you with a wide range of possibilities: psychological, sociological, economic, aesthetic, political, and so on.

Here is a brief list of gaming journals from the University of Michigan that might get you started. Of course you should also consult our library databases. For example, a quick search at the library revealed over 1000 scholarly, full-text articles on World of Warcraft. Your challenge will be narrowing your search effectively as there is plenty of interdisciplinary research out there. Not surprisingly there is a lot of research out there on topics like video game violence and addiction. Most of the research focuses on the potential negative effects. However, there is also research on the business of gaming, the potential value of gaming in education, and the cultural study of gaming (for example, Game Studies).

I suggest the following approach.

  1. Do some brainstorming about the different questions we have discussed. Try to identify the ones that interest you the most.
  2. Review the works cited in the books we have read. Maybe there are some articles in there you’d like to explore further.
  3. Take a look at some of the resources that are out there, like those gaming journals. What kind of research do they do? What connects with your interests?
  4. Conduct some cursory, informal research on the web and in the library databases to see what you can find in your topic area.
  5. Once you find a one or two good articles, you might also check out their works cited pages.
  6. Overall I expect that you will read around a dozen articles. You won’t end up citing them all as some will turn out not to fit with your topic.
  7. Steps 1-6 will be the topic of your Games Research Blogging. You will post ten times on your research process (in addition to your regular participation, as stated in the syllabus).

From there I am guessing you have a good idea of how to proceed.

 

Game Analysis

Due Date: 6/21

Requirements: 1000-word minimum

Note: This is an optional assignment that you may complete in partial fulfillment of the A or B contract.

Where the review is a common, journalistic genre, the game analysis is an academic style essay that is analogous to the close reading of a literary text. As with close readings, the game analysis does not require you to do extensive research (i.e., it’s not a research paper). So think about the kinds of questions you might ask in conducting literary interpretation:

  • What is the deeper meaning conveyed by the text/game? (e.g. is PacMan about consumerism?)
  • What feelings or thoughts is it trying to evoke? (e.g. What is BioShock Infinite saying about racism?)
  • What devices or mechanisms are used? (How do the cut scenes in Assassins Creed 3 depict Native Americans?)

You could think about this assignment as writing another chapter in Bogost’s book. Our next book, Alex Galloway’s Gaming will provide some additional examples of game analysis.

Game Review Assignment

Due Date: 6/21

Note: This is an optional assignment that you can complete in partial fulfillment of the A or B contracts.

If you are not familiar with the style and format of game reviews, I suggest that you take a look at the following sites.

Here are a few salient features of video game reviews:

  • review current games (released this year)
  • indicate the platform on which the game is played (e.g. xBox, PS, iPhone, PC, etc.)
  • describe the game without spoilers
  • consider a range of qualities (graphics and sound, storyline, characters, playability, replay value, etc.)
  • summarize their findings

If you are going to do a review, you will need to have access to, and play, some recent game. That doesn’t require you to lay down $60 for new console game. You can choose a cheap or free phone game instead.

As stated in the syllabus, your review should be a minimum of 1000 words. You should post it to this website in the “game reviews” category.

Participation Alert

Hello folks, we are falling behind in participation. There are around 210 posts and comments on the site and we should be at 300 by Monday. If you don’t have at least 12 comments and/or posts by Monday then you have fallen off the pace and may be in danger of not completing your contract.

My Life as a Night Elf Priest Reading Schedule

Monday: Part 1

Wednesday: Part 2

Friday: Part 3/Finish

As I have already mentioned, this is an anthropological/ethnographic study of World of Warcraft. You probably have some familiarity with WoW since it has been around more than a decade and has millions of players. WoW is the most popular game within the genre of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs – Wikipedia). There are thousands of YouTube WoW videos, so if you are a total n00b, as Nardi puts it, you can check them out. However, the first part of the book provides a good introduction to WoW, as well as some basic information demographic information.

I find part 2 the most interesting. Here you will be introduced to activity theory, theories of play, and related concepts that I believe provide an excellent foundation for understanding the social and psychological operation of gaming.

Part 3 then looks at specific topics in relation to WoW: gaming addiction, theorycrafting (Wikipedia), gender, and a comparison of play between China and North America. Each of these is a good example of the kind of games research you might do in relation to a MMORPG.

Reading Response: as always, you are required to post/comment a minimum of 3 times this week. However, you also need a total of 25 posts/comments by the end of the session, so you should aim for at least 12 total posts/comments by the end of this week (our halfway point). Also keep in mind that starting next week,  you will begin your research projects and research blogging, which means an additional 10 posts. So I hope you are not leaving yourself a lot of work for the end.

So what should you write about? I think we are doing a good job of figuring that out so far. You can write in  general response to the reading, take up a specific issue or concept, link us to news and current conversations about MMORPGs, discuss your own gaming experiences in relation to the book, and, of course, comment on others.