Decisive Book Reviews
The Study of Play
It was a hazy, mid-May afternoon in when PES United faced off against Merseyside Red in one of the greatest games in the English League’s history. It had to come down to this: Merseyside Red had stolen the title from PES United the previous season when PES United’s captain Iouga went down with an injury—and the club’s chances went down with him. In the off-season Merseyside Red swooped in to sign Ordaz, who had made his name with PES United.
What does it mean to be immersed in something? This is a question I’ve been asking myself for the last year or so. As a member of the Games Institute, which is part of the IMMERSe network, this question is one that pretty much pervades my 9-5 existence. It’s not always at the forefront, but it’s always there.
This January we sat down to discuss the history and significance (or lack thereof) of the award “Game of the Year” (GOTY). We then discuss some of the games that were put forward for the title this year, and our own personal favorite games of 2015.
Video games can resemble movies and mountains, novels and the novelty of a trip to France, and even people. However, because playing them evokes commonalities of form and effect with a multitude of other experiences, society largely treats the video game as a patchwork media monster rather than a distinct medium. In How to Talk about Videogames, Ian Bogost puts forward an initially puzzling idea: that to make sense of what video games are, what they do, and how they do it, game critics should treat their subjects like toasters.
At their heart, adventure games are about exploration and discovery. Players must connect with the world around them to solve puzzles and progress forward, making player/game space interaction a key component of the genre. When looking at the design of these games, investigating them through the dual lenses of semiotics and affordances can help describe the subtle nuances of interactivity and game design, which can make or break player experience. According to Saussure (1983), semiotics is the study of signs, symbols and the meanings these have in communication, while Norman (2003) argues affordances describe human interaction with objects and spaces.
“The aesthetic of play is merely a set of provisional constraints that allow us to make certain interpretive moves, nothing more. It makes no truth claims about itself, because making a truth claim is a forbidden move within the aesthetic.” – Brian Upton, The Aesthetic of Play (P. 305).
Game scholarship tends to require researchers to assume a detached perspective on their materials of choice. While our first Nintendo console may have wowed us as children, and while modern games like Fallout 4 may continue to draw us into hours-long play sessions, we have to set aside our emotional relationships with such titles when it is time to get to work. No academic journal is going to publish an article on how sad The Last of Us made us, or how excited we were to finally vanquish those pesky Aztecs in Civilization. We might record such responses from others if, for example, we take an ethnographic approach in our research. But it is our own feelings, and our own affective responses to the games we play, that are often silenced. But what are we losing by adopting such a perspective?