Decisive Book Reviews
The Study of Play
Almost two years ago, halfway through my doctoral course, I found myself in Finland at the “Critical Evaluation of Game Studies Seminar,” where, above all the “big names” in the field of Game Studies who spoke there (among which were Aarseth, Deterding, Juul, and Mäyrä), one thing was indelibly imprinted in my memory: Canadian sociologist Bart Simon’s characterisation of Game Studies as a true, undeniable “bulwark of uselessness”. As a customary “tank” player in MMOs, always relishing the role of defending my teammates in our small, unnecessary virtual struggles, the image stuck strongly.
Instead of examining a specific game on Episode 7 of the First Person Podcast we turn a eye, an upraised eyebrow, and a single tear towards Nintendo and its recent decisions. Four disapointed Nintendo fans look at the many controversies and rumours currently surrounding both Nintendo as a company as well as their current and upcoming games. In this episode we cover the Fire Emblem localization, Nintendo’s lack of reaction to GamerGate, Nintendo firing Alison Rapp, the launch and staying power of Miitomo, and the rumours about implementing a choice between male and female link in the new Zelda game. Beyond this will also discuss larger issues of localization, how sexuality is depicted in games, and wonder how many different varieties of “hard core” gamers we’ve encountered.
So I’ll start with quick praise for Emma Vossen’s piece and the inspired and inspiring video for SSHRC. It’s a brave reflection on graduate student precarity, academic responsibility and this idea of middle-state publishing. That Emma is doing this in the context of game studies and in the spirit of inclusiveness and positive change is even better. I am a faculty member. I read it in all its middle state glory and I want to honour the valuable labour and contribution there with a response. Maybe it’s better to be outside academia for Emma’s arguments to take hold. I don’t think so. Her arguments are at the heart of our vocation as academics (and certainly as game studies scholars). Maybe Emma thinks this makes it harder for her to get an academic job, I think the opposite and many of my colleagues will agree.
A sizable subset of game studies focuses on history, whether in the form of the history of videogames (Carly A. Kocurek’s Coin-Operated Americans) or the preservation of videogames (James Newman’s Best Before; Raiford Guins’ Game After). A third approach is to examine how the videogames themselves depict history, and that approach is taken in Matthew Wilhelm Kapell and Andrew B. R. Elliott’s essay collection Playing with the Past: Digital Games and the Simulation of History. Playing the Past joins the ranks of other recent history-focused videogame essay collections, such as Early Modernity and Video Games by Tobias Winnerling and Florian Kershbaumer and Digital Gaming Re-imagines the Middle Ages by Daniel Kline, but distinguishes itself with a firm vision of what videogames have to offer studies of history.
Shelter is a game about figuring out what the hell to do next. You play as a mother badger trying to guide her children to a new den. Gameplay consists of roving across predatory landscapes, securing food in the process, and feeding this food to your kids. This sounds fun. For me, it was not.
If you are an academic you are probably achingly familiar with the phrase “publish or perish”, which has become the motto of our broken system. Publishing has become a numbers game and as someone in game studies, it’s hard not to see it as a game. If as a grad student you ask someone with a job how to get a tenure track job, they will often tell you the exact same things: “It’s very difficult to get a job but if you publish X many journal articles in journals of X quality and go to conferences X Y and Z and then cast your net wide enough you will get a job.” That is the formula I’ve heard 100 times: publishing along the party line = job. After you get a job, you might have to write a book to get tenure, but that book must be for an academic audience and must be published with a “good” academic publisher.
With the emergence of the active Web 2.0 user and their relationship with affective labour, more media consumers have transformed into producers. Despite the liberation that this has offered some, cyberspace has allowed institutions to wield corporate and political power over Internet users by providing the tools for them to effectively commodify themselves (Hermosillo). Through collective intelligence, which Henry Jenkins qualifies as the mobilization of the skills of the masses, companies have been accused of appropriating online user-generated content for commercial purposes. As a result, theorists such as Tiziana Terranova have insisted that the new digital economy that is run by “free labor” consumes culture by embracing productive activities while simultaneously exploiting them.