Janet Murray on why some players and critics still cannot tolerate narrative in games


When Hamlet on the Holodeck came out in 1997 it became the catalyst for a foundational debate in Game Studies, the tension between stories and games as distinct genres of human expression. I have never changed my own position on this controversy. I believe that games and stories are both forms of representation (neither one is more “real” than the other) and that they have shared many structural elements from ancient times onward as they continue to do in emerging digital forms. I reviewed the controversy again for the new edition of Hamlet on the Holodeck, updated and reissued from MIT Press this year, noting how the self-described “ludologists” had come to accept narrative strategies as legitimate parts of game design, and how many players had responded enthusiastically to new interactive narrative formats. Continue Reading

Feed-Forward Scholarship

Why Games Studies Needs Middle-State Publishing

Essay - Feed Forward Scholarship

In the next few pages I will outline two major forms of scholarship. One relies on feedback and the other on feed-forward. Let’s start with the former. Feedback scholarship shares a number of similarities with cybernetics. The phrase ‘cybernetics’ comes from the Greek word meaning steersman, as in the one who steers a ship. The man or woman steering a ship responds to the environment by adjusting the direction of the boat. In this case, the wind and the water provide feedback and the person steering the boat acts as a homeostatic mechanism, adjusting the course according to the feedback. Increasingly, I get the feeling that Games Studies is focused on maintaining the course but there’s not a lot of focus on the ultimate destination. In other words, Games Studies scholarship is inherently homeostatic. Continue Reading

Mimesis as Make-believe

On the Foundations of the Representational Arts

Review - Mimesis as Make Believe

Like all truly interesting epic endeavors, game studies has its own origin myth. It’s a story about battling against stories, with narratology and the study of videogames as essentially narrative on one side, and ludology and the study of videogames as essentially games or play on the other. Its battle sites were websites, and traces of its force can still be seen in gamestudies.org, grandtextauto.org, and others. And like any myth, it’s not exactly true, either because, as some ludologists claim, the narrative defenders “never showed up” or because, as others postulate, it was never a disagreement to begin with (see: Bogost http://www.bogost.com/writing/videogames_are_a_mess.shtml). But whether the conflict ever actually happened, there is a case to be made that it ideologically happened, as the myth is constantly returned to and debunked in an almost ritualistic fashion (as, for example, what I’m doing now). What is at stake here is a single question: How do we study videogames? Kendall Walton has no direct answer to this question. Though Mimesis as Make-believe was published in 1990, the closest it comes to any sort of digital medium is a few examples that touch on film. But I still think that its premise—that all forms of representation should be regarded as potential props for games of make-believe—provides a useful contribution to the ongoing myth of game studies. Continue Reading