In How to Do Things with Videogames, Ian Bogost argues about the increasing ubiquity of video games, saying “I’ll take for granted that videogames are already becoming a pervasive medium, one as interwoven with culture as writing and images. Videogames are not subcultural form meant for adolescents but just another medium woven into everyday life” (7). It is this growing pervasiveness–in popular culture, in politics, and in academia–that demands the further development of critical ways of thinking about, writing about, studying, and playing digital games. The recent bumper crop of video game scholarship, academic and industry conferences dedicating time and space to games, and film, television, and other media’s appropriation of video game aesthetics and mechanics is matched only by the millions, even billions of dollars in research, development, and sales. Even the University of Washington has been recognized for its pioneering work in gaming, computer science, and biochemistry with its Foldit program making national headlines. Mark J. P. Wolf argues in “Game Studies and Beyond” that game studies should be at the forefront of these trends and “could be the nexus point where a variety of approaches and explorations intersect…the video game medium itself is fast growing and interesting enough to warrant its own field of study even if there were no other applications for it” (118).
It is in this enlarging context that the Keywords for Video Game Studies graduate interest group works to continue the provocations, critiques, and conversations successfully engaged this past year. The Keywords group hopes to widen individual, departmental, campus, and campus interest and involvement in game studies, rallying around questions such as: Why are video games important as historical, aesthetic, political, poetic, mass media objects? What might video games reveal about the world we live in, about the culture that produces them, consumes them, and plays them? Moreover, how do we talk about them, write about them, think about them?
Drawing inspiration from Raymond William’s influential Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society and the new Keywords for American Cultural Studies book and website, our graduate interest group hopes to lay the groundwork for a similar project, “Keywords for Video Game Studies.” The Keywords for Video Game Studies working group proposes to further identify and interrogate the key terms, the key moves, and the key players in video game studies. In 2010-11, we tackled terms and concepts like “play,” “power/control,” “immersion/interactivity,” “avatar,” “pedagogy,” and “gamer.” Last year, 2011-12, we expanded our repertoire to interrogate “democracy,” “altplay/fandom,” “time,” “gold farming,” “hack/mod,” and “research/design.” Our project is to add to this vocabulary, particularly identifying issues and concerns that are currently underdeveloped and underrepresented. Williams argued, “I have emphasized this process of the development of Keywords because it seems to me to indicate its dimension and purpose. It is not a dictionary or glossary of a particular academic subject. It is not a series of footnotes to dictionary histories or definitions of a number of words. It is, rather, the record of an inquiry into a vocabulary: a shared body of words and meanings…” Our working group is dedicated to collecting and contributing to a video game studies shared body of words and meanings.
“Keywords for Video Game Studies” sprang from the individual work of the first cohort of investigators, who put together a “keywords” roundtable at the Eighth Annual Meeting of the Cultural Studies Association at the University of California-Berkeley in March 2010. Now, the Keywords members continue to build a network of peers, colleagues, and allied scholars in their own teaching and research, by presenting their work at regional and national conferences (including Digital and Media Learning, Modern Language Association, THATCamp, and others), by representing the Simpson Center and the University of Washington as HASTAC Scholars (a few of the organizers are nominated this year), and through the collective work of the University of Washington’s Critical Gaming Project, which gathers undergraduates and graduates
dedicated to the critical study and teaching of games, primarily digital and social games. The Critical Gaming project is dedicated to the idea that video games (and games in general) occupy an important part of our lives and media ecology, that games can be both “serious” and “fun,” and that games are necessary objects of inquiry and analysis. The CGP hopes to foster game research and pedagogy at the university level and to develop productive interactions between departments, disciplines, scholars, players, fandoms, and the general public. To accomplish these things, the CGP maintains a collective blog and web archive, networks to other like programs and projects at other universities and institutions, develops original courses and focus groups on games at UW, promotes and publicizes gaming events on campus and beyond, and provides an intellectual and avocational space for scholars, teachers, and players to share their work and their interests. (from the CGP website)
Our graduate interest working group will continue to bring together interdisciplinary perspectives to engage with and articulate the in- and out-of-game richness and complexity of video games, including games like Braid, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, Second Life, Bioshock, Call of Duty, Farmville, and Civilization. Our working group wants to build on the successes of the last two years to continue to foster (particularly at the University of Washington) the critical engagement with video games and video game culture to address the design of games (as computational, protocological, rhetorical, and aesthetic artifacts), the theorizing of games (looking at narrative, interactivity, race/gender/sexuality), and the pedagogical and political potential of games. Through close readings of games, real-time demonstrations and close playings (critical gaming), and discussion, our working group hopes to highlight central questions, keywords, and even dissonances in video game studies and video game theory.
Our framing questions have been expanded and include:
- What key terms and core concepts animate the field of video game studies? What terms, issues, and concerns need further definition, recognition, and articulation?
- How has the development of these terms and concepts shaped the field? Who are the major writers, scholars, researchers, and developers in the field?
- In what ways do these terms and concepts provide a foundation for further video game scholarship? What are the affordances and limitations of video game scholarship, publication, and pedagogy?
- What are the central tensions, challenges, and antagonisms in video game studies? How is video game studies in conversation with the video game industry and mainstream players and popular culture?
- How do we as students, scholars, and game players shape the future of video game studies, video game development, and video game pedagogy?
- How does video game studies contribute to the larger goals, domains, and concerns of the digital humanities?