Video Game Psychology in Review

Sometimes I hear an argument, or maybe it’s more of a shibboleth; anyway, it runs: Mental health, or lack thereof, reflects the times. In precarious times like these, precarious mental health is basically symptomatic of a clear-eyed view of the world. To which I supply the corollary: If so, then psychology, the science of mental health and illness, must offer a privileged standpoint from which to understand this world and its sufferers–and then to help if we may by availing ourselves of the things that we’ve been studying here, video games and literature. Might games and play, read in the light of the literary tradition, offer something to the psychologist, and to the depressed, anxious, or otherwise world-bearing player?

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Bird Journaling: The Salience of Play

Sometimes I think about taking up hobbies that require nothing but attention. Bird-watching, mushroom-hunting, tree-identifying. I think about how I should just write a little each day, like the thought-leaders counsel, your Anne Lamotts (Bird by Bird) and Brene Browns (Dare to Lead). I should make the time by jettisoning a bunch of other stuff that gets in the way, a la Marie Kondo, buckle down and write my three pages a day like my idol, Philip Pullman, whose His Dark Materials all but divinizes attention itself.

(Time, knowledge, care, curiosity–all are wrapped up in that “nothing but attention”–whether in the nothing but or the attention I can’t quite decide–and so I persevere in temporizing, zigzagging in em-dashes, putting off doing any new thing, just reflecting on it. Very rarely anymore do I even make it as far as writing down this process, that act of recording being a fraught piece of attention-requisition in its own right.)

And yet I do think about it from time to time. Before other things take their place, these possible, imagined practices do hold my attention, and they recur when the decks are cleared. When I go running, when I zone out listening to something, when I look out the window, when I sit on the porch, I think about learning the names and properties of birds and fungi and plants. I write about it now and then.

Whenever I do manage to write and take the time to post what I’ve written for anyone else, it seems to be about a pastime that has held my attention as long as I can recall: videogames. Of course, given to pattern-seeking and meaning-making as I am, I suspect that underlying all these hobbies and vague interests is some thread that connects them. Observing attention and its ways, wayward as they are, I call the connection salience. Its characteristic note, however multifarious, I would have to call play.

People study this, psychologists and institutes, writers and teachers, and I’ve begun little by little to follow in their footsteps, or at least to imagine what it might be like to do so. I play at understanding play, and through play, everything else.

Here are some recent bird sightings, places where play makes an appearance, rising to the level of salience:

In the scheme of things, I call them recent, but then this post was started months ago, it shames me to say. I wonder if would have been noteworthy even at the time of its release that Toy Story 2‘s opening sequence takes the form of a video game played by living toys. Did Nintendo and their famously litigious brand managers mind that the mentions they get in Stranger Things Season 4 are all along the lines of a Peter Pan existence, a prize or bribe? Still, for whatever reason, I think these videogamey sorts of things are interesting, rather like the marmots along the path where I run by the Spokane River. I’m always happy to notice they’re there.

Murakami’s Welcome: The you who is not seeking anything

From the short book Novelist as a Vocation, by Haruki Murakami:

One bright April afternoon in 1978, I attended a baseball game at Jingu Stadium in downtown Tokyo…

I stretched out with a beer to watch the game. At the time there were no bleacher seats, just a grassy slope…

The satisfying crack when bat met ball resounded throughout Jingu Stadium. Scattered applause rose around me. In that instant, and based on no grounds whatsoever, it suddenly struck me: I think I can write a novel.

When I Became a Novelist
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Limbus Company Diary: First Impressions

It’s March 3rd, the Friday after Limbus Company’s Sunday release.  At this point I’ve written two whole essays about Lobotomy Corporation, plan to write another essay about Library of Ruina, and have devoted a disproportionately large amount of my time to Project Moon’s work.  And after months of waiting feverishly for the release of Limbus Company, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I’m already very invested in the game.

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Passages from Solito, by Javier Zamora

This past couple of weeks, we had our in-between-semesters term at The Community School: one week for students to participate in activities outside the school, then the second to present and reflect on their learning from the school year so far in front of an audience of their peers and families. As my activity for the week of MLK Day was a Game Jam at the downtown library, I had the chance to browse and borrow a few books, and to buy a few from the Friends of the Library store, while I meandered from floor to floor checking on the students. So along with making an outing to the local Jedi Alliance arcade for a further community connection, I happened to read Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke; Reader, Come Home, by Maryanne Wolf (though I had to request that one by ILL), and Solito, by Javier Zamora. I finally found a copy of I Ching, and I picked up Binti to read next on the strength of Brenton Dickieson’s recommendation. All this while finishing up the SPACE course on games, based on Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, which was awesome.

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When I play with my cat: Montaigne’s Essays

The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, admirably introduced here by Guest Professor Sufjan Stevens, are some of my favorite reading, too.

A love that bites and scratches… — apt words for Sufjan’s own, who meant at first to write stories

Because they are about Montaigne and his attempts (essais) to know himself, holding nothing back of all he has ever thought or wondered about, they end up being about everything. The Essays, addressed to a “goal… private and domestic” and “dedicated to the private convenience of my relatives and friends,” speak to everyone and to every possible topic (To the Reader). Usually they wander far afield from what their titles purport to discuss. Prof Suf, understandably, thinks there is one called “On Socrates,” because he often makes an appearance, though he is never the actual topic. Frequently they contradict themselves and end inconclusively, brimming with ideas in tension with one another, much in the fashion of a Platonic dialogue and in line, indeed, with the time of wars of religion in which Montaigne lived and wrote. Individual sentences branch organically, in the same way striving to embrace more and more with each subsequent revision. Paragraphs are blocked off and marbled with quotations from the extensive library that kept Montaigne company in his retirement, including from those books he had inherited from his friend La Boetie, and from those mottos he had inscribed in the rafters of his tower room, overlooking the seignorial estate.

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The Break at the End of the Year

By fireplace nook or snowy windowpane, wherever this finds you, I hope you make some time for a little catching up with us at the Video Game Academy during the holidays.

Browse the post archives, poke around in the course links and resources, and generally stir up some dust revisiting the classic games and books we like to discuss.

Speaking of which: “At the present rate of progress,” Sir Philip Pullman says of Roses from the South (as yet unconfirmed title of his Book of Dust Volume 3), “it would be late next year” that it’s ready to release. That was in September 2022, according to Twitter/Reddit. So we have a while to wait yet. This time next year, perhaps, we’ll have more to say about it, and about the as-yet-imaginary games this and much of his work might yet be made into.

Though given his (and our) history of such prognostications, particularly with third and presumably final books in a series, perhaps not so fast.

In the meantime, there are a few more of Pullman’s stories to tide us over. From The Haunted Storm and Galatea to Serpentine and The Imagination Chamber, along with more reviews of the BBC/HBO adaptation and a playthrough of Undertale to balance things out media-wise, there’s plenty to look forward to in the new year.

So I hope this finds you well. Thanks again for reading, listening, and playing along.

Smatterings of Press

In the world of video game academia, we’re pretty small potatoes. But small as we are, we are!

The next iteration of Video Game Studies will (maybe) be taking place on Signum’s SPACE Program in January. It’s dependent on participant interest, so give it a look here. The long and short of it is, we’ll be reading Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin, and discussing video games a couple hours a week. We’ll look at classic games and genres and considering how they tie into the novel form a variety of critical and imaginative lenses. If all goes well, I’ll follow up with future courses in SPACE. I have a notion I can write something for this CFP on “The Post-Gamer Turn” into the bargain.

Meanwhile, the Twitch stream for younger readers in Signum Academy continues next year with more video game discussions. I’m planning on adapting material from the days of Outschool (which I joined in the first place trying to get traction for SA). More news on that to come.

A couple of notes about other past and current versions of these courses: the Science of Video Games, which Stephanie taught last year, more or less complete, can now be found here, and the Language and Code Cafe iteration of last year’s wellness I’m revamping for The Community School in Spokane got a little write up from the local news.

With all that going on, the time has come for us to be shuttering the patreon. We’re feeling pretty launched at this point, and there’s plenty of other worthy causes out there to support–such as Professor Kozlowski’s lecture series.

Many thanks to everyone who helped us get going. We’re back on this horse, this Rocinante, this quixotic Rocket sim.

This potato thanks you!

2021: The Year Project Moon Took Over My Life

PART ONE: Finally Beating Lobotomy Corporation

CW: Horror, gore, addiction, stress, depression, capitol riots, death – basically everything. And also MAJOR spoilers for Lobotomy Corporation

On some strange level, I feel like Library of Ruina is the last game I will ever play.

I don’t even know what I mean by this.  I’ve played games since, obviously.  But I still feel this way.  As though the summer of 2021 was this hinge between two unrelated parts of my life that otherwise have very little traffic between them.  As though my entire relationship to playing video games has been irrevocably modified.  As though I have seen the heights of what video games can achieve and expect only disappointment from the entire industry in the years to come.

It’s only a feeling, though, mind you.

But let’s back up.

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