Arcadian Rhythms

I’ve recently received word that Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture, an open-access journal, will be publishing a paper of mine in a 2009 issue. The paper, “Arcadian rhythms: Gaming and interaction in social space,” is a revised and updated version of the paper I described in my post on ICA 2007. The paper describes a participant-observation study spanning several months, which saw me visiting a few different arcades to get a sense of how people play and socialize around games in a semi-public space. (UPDATE: The paper is now online.)

Part of what fascinated me about this subject was how many journalists and even some other academics described video arcades as havens of racial harmony and class equality—a development, I think, partially resulting from the fact that arcades are much more socially stratified around gaming skills and interests than any more normally recognized index of cultural belonging. The distinction between “hardcore” and “casual” players made by many in the gaming press may be an incomplete and problematic construction of who plays games, but arcade-goers appear to make similar sorts of divisions between themselves, both in terms of social organization and formal differences in the games they choose to play. (Some of this now reads like a retrospective of how the Wii has been capable of reaching new gaming audiences, but this research was first conducted before the Wii’s control scheme was even announced. Ah well—so goes the pace of academic research and publication.)

The first version I wrote of this (even before presenting it at a conference) was actually quite a bit longer because a good portion was devoted to discussion of the much-lamented “death of arcades,” which ultimately seemed better addressed in some other paper. I focused on this direction because I’m more interested in connections between gameplay and culture than in developments in the industry, but we’re probably overdue to see a paper comparing and contrasting the American and Japanese arcade scenes. In fact, it was somewhat challenging to find enough sites for this paper, as some of those I planned to visit had closed not long before I started the research. Two more of my four sites have been effectively closed since submitting the paper for publication.

“Arcadian rhythms” goes online in the fall of 2009, but please feel free to email me now (jason @ this domain) if you’d like a copy to look at in advance.