What to Read If You Want to Study Video Games
No Nintendo Power, oddly enough.
Video games, gaming, and gamers are enough of an established field of study that there are academic conferences on the subjects, but not so established that there's anything like a Canon of the Seminal Works of Video Game research. So naturally, at the Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) 2015 conference, the 40 attendees put together just such a list for future Video Games 101 courses.
In May, DiGRA 2015 was held in Germany at Leuphana University of Lüneburg. The theme was "Diversity of play: Games – Cultures – Identities," an issue that no doubt took on special, even personal importance at DiGRA after the group found itself on the receiving end of Gamergate's ire in November. Around 40 academics and professionals who research digital games got together to "address the challenge of studying and documenting games, gaming and gamers, in a time when these categories are becoming so general and/or contested, that they might risk losing all meaning."
Mia Consalvo, a professor of game studies and president of DiGRA, posted notes from the conference's Teaching Game Studies Workshop today, which included tips about keeping students engaged—if what they say about video games and attention spans is true, I could see how this could be a problem—along with notes on things that haven't worked and a list of popular readings.
Given that video games can be studied a lot of different ways, by a lot of different fields, no reading list is going to be a fit for every class or discipline. But if you're curious what kind of things the Kids Today™ are reading in their video game classes—or if you are one of those college kids who needs evidence that video game class is a real thing—check out what constitutes "Popular Reading" in the field and the notes that were included about them.
Given that the field is so new and tech savvy, the types of publication are pretty varied. Some of them, like Johan Huzina's piece, are older pieces from anthropology. A few are blog posts. At least one of them is a YouTube video.
I've linked to the pieces wherever possible, so feel free to take this opportunity to start—or decline to start—your career as a video game academic:
- Johan Huzinga's "Homo Ludens," (not the whole thing, but reading selections)
- Roger Caillois's Man Play and Games. (same as above)
- Brian Sutton-Smith's Ambiguity of Play because of the rhetorics of play and the frames that we put on play.
- Clara Fernandez-Vara's book on doing game analysis, Introduction to Game Analysis
- Have them select papers out of the DiGRA library and participate in an online discussion then take it into the class as well.
- First issue of Games and Culture has some nice, short pieces that are fairly accessible.
- Marcia Kinder's Playing with Power
- Eugene Provenzo on Nintendo Kids
- David Sudnow Pilgrim in the Microworld
- Persuasive Games—the [Ian Bogost] blog post, The Rhetoric of Video Games in Salen's edited collection
- Miguel Sicart's Game Studies response "Against procedurality"
- Extra Credits piece on Missile Command
- Jerked Around by the Magic Circle by Eric Zimmerman (Gamasutra post) and selected academic comments
- Jaakko Stenros on game definitions presented in the Critical Evaluation of Game Studies seminar, coming out in a special issue of Games and Culture next year ("The Game Definition Game: A Review of the Meanings of 'Game' ")
- Likewise there is Jonne Arjoranta's published article to recommend: "Game Definitions: A Wittgensteinian Approach"
- Modern classics like Salen and Zimmerman, Juul, Murray
So there you have it. Academia isn't all fun and games, even when the subject matter is.