When we set about studying video games, where do we begin? For Ben and me, that question has a few different answers; and I can imagine the differences ramify pretty spectacularly for people of different generations, with different backgrounds and interests than our own. So we contain multitudes, as the poet says. The Video Game Academy hopes to honor those differences, while standing squarely on the common ground that subtends them.
First of all, we start from an abiding love of the games we’ve grown up playing, and a philosophical wonder at how to account for it. There is an unavoidably mythic quality to every beginning, as Sloek argues–and that includes the epistemological–which veils in mystery all attempts to grasp it. On the other hand, we have to work with certain objectively communicable principles if we want games scholarship to be taken seriously, and to be able to speak to questions beyond its academic niche.
For we have a commitment to teaching and learning, to developing ways of investigating games and what they might mean on their own terms and eschewing the shallower forms of “gamification” or the reductive impasse of “narrative vs ludology.” Games tells stories, clearly, and we want to interpret them and pass them on and creatively amplify them; at the same time, games are essentially the structured human exultation in play, and we want to convey and articulate that experience with the utmost fidelity. They can be used to teach and practice other things beyond themselves, but like any form of art and life, they also have a value all their own.
Just as salient and deserving of study as their internal workings of play and story, video games have important socio-economic contexts. We have to reckon with controversies like Gamergate and the toxicity of the media landscape that spawns them, and with the storms of rhetoric and dueling data that break out anew with every major new release, every tragic shooting. We have to contend with the immense investments of money and time and attention the game industry now commands, while never allowing our critical judgment to fall under their sway.
Our perspective cannot be too parochial, either: to understand games, we have to come to know the particular cultures and languages of their developers and audiences. That goes for business cultures as well as national and regional ones; for programming languages as well as spoken and literary ones. So let’s learn about video games together, and about Japanese inflections and dialogue trees while we’re at it.
This prospectus–fast becoming a manifesto–could be extended indefinitely. Recent work on games in cognitive science, background debates about the authority and worth of the humanities, the dynamics of fan and dev communities, the paradoxes of language and family resemblance… At a certain point, we have to simply leap in, in faith and in medias res, picking up the rest as we go. Let that be enough said for now about our various starting points (though we welcome dialogue about them). We can’t wait to get started.
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