More Than Affordances

Limitations and the Systems They Create: A Review of Ian Bogost's Play Anything

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Throughout my time in Grad School, I have been intensely curious about the word play and increasingly disenchanted by the idea of game studies. If play and culture are inexorably intertwined then it seems to me that studying games does little, whereas studying play in things that are not games can give unique insight into culture itself. However, in order to really get at this concept one would have to embrace the work of Johan Huizinga in a way that is often overlooked, discarded, avoided, or reduced to absurdity – the magic circle. When I found out that Ian Bogost was writing a book specifically about this concept of play, I was excited to see what he had to say on the subject. To that end, Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, & The Secret of Games may be one of the important books on the study of play I have found. Unfortunately, the book will most likely remain largely ignored because it is nearly impossible to pin down what the book exactly is. Continue Reading

Designer Lenses

A Review of Jennifer deWinter’s Shigeru Miyamoto

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“Beware of Heroes.”

Frank Herbert offers these words as an overarching thesis for his novel Dune, which chronicles the exploits of Paul Atreides as he rises, unwittingly, to his destiny as an intergalactic messiah, fuelled by prophecies of genocide he can foresee, but can no longer forestall. Continue Reading

Book Review

8th International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling

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The word “Interactive” is a much abused and rarely defined buzzword. Espen Aarseth notes this in his 1996 book Cybertext where he observes how the word “Interactive” is more of a marketing term with little academic depth, a slogan that brings to mind “computer screens, user freedom, and personalized media, while denoting nothing”.1 More recently, Miguel Sicart in Against Procedurality has criticised a trend within game studies to unduly fetishize the digital and structural aspect of games. 2 Nowhere are these trends more apparent than in the recently published conference proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling. The term “Interactive Digital Storytelling” is supposed to tie the papers together, but does so with little definitional cohesiveness: signifying branching paths, collaborative fiction, digital spaces, authoring tools and simulation games all at once. This reflects a worrying trend in game studies, a trend which fetishizes the digital while neglecting to explore the theoretical implications of the games that are actually being discussed. Continue Reading

A review of The Video Game Debate:

Unravelling the Physical, Social, and Psychological Effects of Digital Games

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When I told a friend that I was reviewing The Video Game Debate, I was asked, “What debate?” I briefly explained––perhaps too generally––that the “debate” in the title referred to all that talk about whether or not video games are good for us. You know, whether video games make us lazy or prone to committing violence or are rotting our brains or making us antisocial weirdos, etcetera, etcetera, that kind of stuff. My friend responded, “I thought that debate was over.” Continue Reading

Playing with the Past

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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. Continue Reading

Unraveling Anthologies

A review of Unraveling Resident Evil

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Over the past few years on listservs, social media, and at conferences, I’ve seen more calls for anthologies focusing on a single game rather than a theme. Single-topic anthologies are common enough outside of game studies, but this does indicate a certain level of canonization (which has been traditionally resisted) occurring in the field. Continue Reading

Miguel Sicart’s “Beyond Choices”

The Design of Ethical Gameplay

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It’s no stretch to say that many videogames are viewed as an avenue for posing ethical questions to modern players. “Morality points” and “moral choices” are well-publicized features of various types of games, such as the Renegade/Paragon bar in Bioware’s Mass Effect RPGs or Dishonored’s (Arkane Studios, 2012) options to deal with major targets via murder or various sinister yet non-lethal responses. Yet as the title of Miguel Sicart’s book Beyond Choices suggests, perhaps merely focusing on presenting choices fails to reach games’ true potential for raising ethical questions in an interactive medium. His book instead urges players, developers, and academics alike to embrace not just the possibility that games can address deep ethical questions, but to explore the ways that the medium is especially well suited to do so.
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