The “Lost” Appeals of Gaming

Back in February, I presented a paper at the Popular Culture Association conference in St. Louis on what I’ve been referring to around here as the multiple appeals of gaming. I’ve been coming back to the paper on and off ever since, poking and prodding it in an attempt to yield something I’d be proud to publish.

The basic point of the paper is to offer a rough typology of elements that players find “appealing” about games, providing an analytical vocabulary that critics, scholars, and developers can use in describing what “works” (and what doesn’t) in game, and why, without assuming that it’s the players themselves who exist in types. The appeals I’ve been looking at are those that I’ve heard or read players themselves describe, even if indirectly, when discussing how they engage with games. I’ve been describing these appeals lately mastery, story, sociality, and foolery (not too unlike what I called them in my early musings on this subject). Some other kinds of appeals have occurred to me as potentially worth discussing, though I haven’t heard other players specifically describe them as much—e.g., do the Wii and Dance Dance Revolution offer an appeal of physicality distinct from other kinds of appeals?

It’s occurred to me recently, though, that I’m leaving out a couple other kinds of “appeals” almost willfully, and maybe that’s just a bit too convenient for me. You don’t hear players describing these as things they like about games, but you might hear players note them as reasons why they play games.

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What Alpha Protocol Got Right

I recently picked up a discounted copy of Alpha Protocol, an “Espionage RPG” by Obsidian. I waited for it to go on discount because it generally got moderate-to-terrible reviews. (I saw a fan in an Alpha Protocol forum defending the game by exclaiming, “Alpha Protocol isn’t BAD, it’s MEDIOCRE!”) Apparently enough other players also waited for the discount to kick in before buying, as sales have been so low that Obsidian isn’t even planning to make a sequel. This disappoints me terribly, as Alpha Protocol had the potential to be one of the most important RPG series in the development of narrative gaming.

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The Epidemics Epidemic

I’d like to quote something from a recent article on the “narcissism epidemic” or “Generation Me” at the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The social sciences have too often jumped in feet first, raising unnecessary panics over video games, “fad” mental illnesses, and “crises” of sexual assault. I’ll acknowledge that it’s probably difficult to sell a book or get a government grant arguing that something isn’t a big problem, yet it is time for the social sciences to carefully consider the chasm that too often exists between the data that they produce and the claims they make to the scientific community and general public. Words such as “epidemic” should only ever be preceded by words like “smallpox,” and should henceforth be stricken from the social scientist’s lingo. (…)

The evidence just isn’t there for an epidemic of narcissism or anything else. Social scientists would do well to exercise a degree of caution when interpreting data. Just like with the little boy who cries wolf, people are bound to notice too many phantom epidemics. The price to be paid is the credibility of social science itself.

Of course I was thinking “video games” (and “comic books”) before I even got to the part of the article where the author mentions this. (Little did I know while reading this that the author, an associate professor of psychology at Texas A&M, has already written about his take on game “violence” in particular.) I recommend the article for all academics who will wring their hands over the next big cultural boogeyman, and to all professors who lament the moral fiber of “kids today.”

(And as an added side note: As someone who was bullied and played dodgeball as a kid, I’m a little offended by the commenter who calls dodgeball a “particularly horrific game (in which authority figures actually encourage normal kids to act like bullies).” Maybe the bullies were different in this person’s neighborhood, but where I grew up, bullies beat you up, up-close and personal, and did not invite you to play a game of dodgeball with them.)

Arcadian Rhythms: Gaming and Interaction in Social Space

I have a new article up, titled “Arcadian Rhythms: Gaming and Interaction in Social Space.” It’s published in Reconstruction, a peer-reviewed journal of cultural research available for free online. (And don’t be put off by the French theorist in my abstract. I’m pretty sure the piece is accessible overall.)

This article focuses on how people interact in arcades, and how social dynamics and the cultural connotations behind games influences who plays what and with whom. It’s not nominally about geeks or geek cultures, but this study did end up influencing how I thought about my dissertation research. When you get to the parts about how people insulate themselves socially, and particularly one moment in which a boy loudly proclaims upon winning a game, “I’m the One! I’m ****in’ Neo!”, you may see what I mean.

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“Geeks vs. Nerds” Revisited

Back in 2007, I started a post titled “Geeks vs. Nerds.” After the Geek Studies home page, it is the most visited page on this site by about 3,000 pageviews—and to be frank, the next nearest contender gets a lot of its traffic from people who are probably looking for porn. When I get called to be interviewed for a newspaper article, or when I get linked by a major blog, it’s usually thanks to that post.

In other words, people really, really want to know what the difference is between geeks and nerds.

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Zero Pronunciation

I am a big fan of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw’s Zero Punctuation reviews at The Escapist. They’re laugh-out-loud funny, irreverently witty, and more often than not, very much in agreement with my own tastes (if you can read between the lines and figure out which games he actually likes despite slamming them). I also think it’s hilarious that when you google “Yahtzee”, the Zero Punctuation gallery is the top result, indicating the disproportionate influence that geeks wield in determining what’s relevant on the web.

But that is not what this blog post is about.

This blog post is about “Zero Punctuation: Achieving the Cross-media Transformation of Ludological Hermeneutics,” a recent article from the Escapist. The author critiques Croshaw’s reviews as themselves critiques of gamer culture and gender norms. At first, I found it pretty spot-on, if a bit unnecessarily obtuse. Then, I started wondering if it was actually intentionally obtuse. I honestly wasn’t sure of what to conclude until I got to the end, where “Max Steele” claimed to have a Ph.D. from Miskatonic University.

I relate this anecdote for two reasons.

First, that’s a pretty funny gag right there.

And second, Lord help me, but I still found the article interesting, despite being nigh-impenetrable. I can’t decide whether this is a credit to the author or a sad commentary on academics’ willingness to inure themselves to overly complex writing. Maybe both. Or maybe I just used the word “inure” in a sentence without even thinking about it.

Geek Merch (and Geek Studies) in the News

Church clues me in that I’ve been quoted in an article for Canadian publication The Star: “It’s Hip to be Square: Nerd Merch Brings in the Bank.” (The nice thing about having a poor memory is that you can give an interview and still be pleasantly surprised later to see your own name in print.) The article describes the geek merchandise market, and includes profiles on a few retailers—some quite familiar to shoppers on the net, and at least one I didn’t know about, the Geek Chic Boutique in New Brunswick.

On a somewhat related note, I stumbled upon a post on Star Trek cufflinks, titled “Not Just for Geeks,” describing how geek fashion can still be quite elegant as well as a philosophical statement. (Despite noting that this fashion statement is not just for geeks, the author does describe himself as a geek and a nerd, in case you were wondering.)

Personally, I find myself stocking up on less geek apparel ever since I took on the assistant professor job and cut back on convention visits following the dissertation research. I just have fewer situations to wear the stuff, now. (That said, I wouldn’t mind replacing my old “Magneto Was Right” t-shirt, my original homemade one since destroyed in the laundry. Maybe without the text this time, for the love of cryptic imagery.)

Links: Back from the Dead Edition

I’ve just completed my first year as an assistant professor, and now face my first real summer break in goodness knows how long. I’m really excited to have some time to work on research, prepare new classes, sleep eight hours a night, and, of course, do some more blogging. I figure I’ll get back into the swing of things with some links I thought were interesting, and try to work my way back up to my usual rambling essays again in time.

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