Playing with the Past

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

Why Write About a Book?

An Editorial About Book Reviews

In fact, if there’s anything I regret from my tenure as review editor, it’s not going far enough to promote different perspectives. I wish I had dedicated more time to pursuing a wider diversity of reviewers, and, especially in the early days of FPS, I regret pushing reviewers to hit that formal, authoritative tone instead of pursuing their own voice and position. It’s to that end, in fact, that I’ve been very grateful for the review model pioneered by Elise Vist, as I think it really draws out the multitude of approaches that can be brought to bear on long-form criticism, asking what a given work meant to the reviewer’s research, to the field, the classroom, and to the reviewer personally. These are questions worth asking. Most of all, though, I regret not stepping further out of the academic field in terms of the books themselves. I’m proud of how multidisciplinary the reviews are—we’ve got reviews about ethnography and sociology, genre and gender, games for health and game culture. There’s some edging towards criticism outside of academia, but not enough. Further, I would have liked more reviews on things that blur the line of engagements with games entirely: gamebooks, game art books, longform criticism like Leigh Alexander’s Lo-Fi Let’s Plays. Chris will have his own vision of where the Book Reviews will go, but these are my own roads not traveled. Continue Reading

What is Your Quest?

From Adventure Games to Interactive Books by Anastasia Salter

However, What Is Your Quest? is not just an historical account. Without being overtly confrontational, What Is Your Quest? pushes game studies outside of the boundaries its practitioners sometimes take for granted, and that, for me, is where the book’s value lies, even beyond its work documenting the adventure genre. Rather than rehash old debates about narratology and ludology, Salter considers adventure games not just from the perspective of videogames, but also from the perspective of multiple media types and users. I think the best example may be Salter’s frequent and persistent use of “fans” to refer to adventure game enthusiasts. In popular culture discussion and academia alike, games are often segregated away as unique and separate from other media forms. What is Your Quest? Is not a fan studies book, and doesn’t go much further in this direction than some references to Henry Jenkins. But by means of the single word “fan,” rather than just gamers or players, Salter keeps her discussion rooted in a larger discussion of new media economy, intertextuality, and transmedia. Continue Reading

Video Game Spaces

Images Play & Structure in 3D Worlds by Michael Nitsche

Game designer Warren Spector once said that well-designed games “provide compelling problems within an overarching narrative, afford creative opportunities for dealing with these problems, and then respond to players’ choices with meaningful consequences” (Jenkins and Squire). The term he chose for this matrix of creative design and player choice was “possibility spaces.” Space is a constant across almost all videogames, and it comes up frequently in videogame discussion in a variety of different ways: stage design, level structure, gameworld, playground, virtual world, sandbox, hub, PvP zones, instances (in an interesting conflation of space and time), arena battles. For all these frequently bandied-about terms, there’s a relative lack of theory surrounding what space in games means. Von Borries, Walz and Böttger’s 2007 anthology Space Time Play does an admirable job displaying the scope of the issue, but the book is more a survey that aims for breadth rather than depth. Michael Nitsche’s Video Game Spaces: Image, Play, and Structure in 3D Game Worlds goes beyond their starting point in order to fully investigate how players and designers orient and narrate journeys through 3D game worlds. While the book can meanderat times, at its best it is a detailed analysis that raises new perspectives and tools for discussing videogames. Continue Reading

The Game Culture Reader

Edited by Jason C. Thompson and Marc Ouellette

Jason C. Thompson and Marc A. Ouellette’s edited collection of essays The Game Culture Reader begins with an attack on established game studies—or perhaps not so much an attack as a very pointed prodding to shake off existing lethargy and “game culture by culturing games” (5). To that end, each of the twelve essays making up the collection investigate game studies within broader humanities traditions, from gender studies to Burkean rhetoric to Bourdieu’s cultural capital. Continue Reading