Friday, 7 September 2007

Hardcore (the DiGRA column, not either of the other kinds)

Friday. Too hot. The weather is close and oppressive. Emerge from a sweaty and tedious meeting about the death to intellectual activity that is the UK RAE only to remember I have a big presentation to finish for next week, am months overdue for an abstract I owe a very patient colleague, have all the preparations for a new term to finish, need to crunch staffing numbers into another format demanded by the university etc. etc. So nice to see something online to distract me while I get my other thoughts in order – a new Hardcore column out of DiGRA, this time authored by Jose Zagal. Intelligent, thoughtful, nicely argued. Strange how the same issues crop up again and again, though – this reminded me of a debate immediately after DiGRA in Vancouver (assisted by Tanya Krzywinska’s call for game studies academics to play games in an early Hardcore column) about who/what game studies academics are/should be/should do. And this was ground, as Jose notes, that Espen Aarseth had covered fairly solidly before. So far so conventional.

Can’t fault the logic of the latest Hardcore – how do we nurture a subject community without excluding some people? At least, I think that is what he is saying.

I used to joke that admitting to game studies was a bit like joining AA. ‘Hi, my name’s Barry and I am a gamer. I had my last game of Quake 2 hours and 14 minutes ago...’ It just doesn’t work in these enlightened times. Damn game studies for getting all respectable on me. Seems no one is surprised any more when I tell them what I do. Everyone is a gamer now, or knows a reasonably well adjusted gamer. I suppose we could thank Nintendo, or simply time and demographics.

But this Hardcore seems to be making an almost counter-intuitive claim that game studies courses need to accommodate those who don’t (or more significantly won’t) play games. An analogy springs to mind from my past life a s a literature specialist. As a student you were expected to read books if you took a lit course (expected to, but...) and I see no difference expecting students on a games course to play games. There are platform/ accessibility/economic problems with accessing everything, but we have a range of pragmatic solutions to most of those problems. My gut reaction would be to say ‘tough’ and force anyone on a course to play. You just can’t engage in productive analysis if you won’t look at the thing in front of you.

More intriguing, I suppose, is the implication that games courses should be the source of the next generation of games scholars. While there is a logic to this, and I have a few ex-students of mine now happily or not so happily grinding the treadmill of academia, I wonder if it is entirely a good idea. It will certainly be a consequence of all those programmes of study and the PhDs we supervise. But I do think we will lose something if game studies becomes its own subject area with defined entry paths, rather than something people come to with a training from somewhere else. I certainly don’t want to work out how much sociology we should have under our belts to be equipped for game studies, or have to change the habits of an academic lifetime and have to deal with empirical research, rather than its conclusions.

Having been one of those who would publicly admit (confess?) to being a gamer as well as an academic I am actually quite happy when non-gamers from other areas look at games. They certainly see them differently than I do with my gamer-goggles on. Just thought I’d better check that I had said so publicly, before and yep I even added to a blog discussion of this issue 2 years ago:

We all have something to say — including those who sit outside with a little more distance than gamers like me (and Tanya, and you, and William, and Espen, and [insert many others here]), and the more voices the better.

Which is good. Rather the babble of interdisciplinary babel than the tyranny of dull agreement. I do worry about us falling into orthodoxy by default, and agreeing to canons and rules and regulations.

From Jose Zagal’s column:

How do newcomers learn what Game Studies is, and what should newcomers to Game Studies know about games? Due to the youthfulness of our field, our members currently come from a diversity of backgrounds and our paths into game studies were haphazard and indirect.

I guess I just like the notion of the haphazard and the indirect because that is where the most interesting work seems to have come from, at least for me.

No comments: