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!

A Summer of Deus Ex, Interactive Fiction, and Something Stardewy

Just to announce, belatedly, that we’re going to be talking about Deus Ex during the regular time, Thursdays at 7PM Pacific, but also that we’ll be making some moves to accommodate more of our Stardew-loving friends. Likely sometime around 1PM Pacific, likely on the occasional weekend, we’ll go tra-la-la-la down there in the Valley. But we’re still getting that together. Check back here for more details!

Just play through the Statue of Liberty bit for our first discussion, he says.

Additionally, the time has come to bid Dostoevsky a fond farewell for now. Spring is past, and our summer read is here: Mary Ann Buckles’ historic 1985 dissertation, Interactive Fiction: The Computer Storygame ‘Adventure.’ Not only does this one flow nicely with our ongoing look at visual novels, but the relative heavyweights over at Games Studies Study Buddies are going to be featuring it on their next episode. It seemed like a good time to jump on the bandwagon.

Speaking of which, I’ll try to do a better job of keeping tabs on similar projects people might like to take part in around the discord. Retro AM and the JRPG book club are both starting FFVIII, Resonant Arc recently featured the same and are just wrapping up NieR: Replicant, and Moses at The Pixels is reviving his Mage Cast and looking for more guests to talk on all sorts of games. Check the links in the Resources page for more, and do send along your suggestions.

Video Game History in Review

The history of video games is only beginning to be written, making this an enviable time to be a student of the medium. In what follows, we suggest points of entry into the ever-growing tale. Accompanying each capsule review, we throw out a few ideas to help you go further with original work of your own.

High Score (TV series) - Wikipedia

Recently Corey recommended the High Score documentary, so I decided to give it a look. Six hours later, here we are. Clearly pitched to a wide audience, if skewing nostalgic at times, the short series provides an inviting starting-point for our tour of history and historiography. Each of the episodes focuses on a particular topic, from arcades to consoles, RPGs to fighting games, and features interviews with a wide range of developers and makers of history. While not pretending to offer a comprehensive or critical dive into the history of games, the series nevertheless shines a light on some overlooked figures and populations in the industry. Engaging personalities, quality sound, and lively visuals make for an enjoyable watch.

  • Trace the history of one or more of gaming’s unsung heroes in more detail: listen to The Nod’s episode on Jerry Lawson, Retronauts’ interview with Rebecca Heineman, or find your own long-lost copy of GayBlade to get started.
  • Along the same lines, trace the roots of one or more marginalized groups featuring prominently in game history further back than the documentary reaches: Alan Turing and Ada Lovelace would be exemplary figures to include in the larger history of computers, without which video games would never have existed.
  • To flip the process around, find an example of an artist or designer today whose work is informed by influences from video games. For instance, the NY Times podcast Still Processing is currently highlighting Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, by Cathy Park Hong, a poet whose earlier collection is intriguingly titled Dance Dance Revolution.
Replay: The History of Video Games by Tristan Donovan

Replay: The History of Video Games, by Tristan Donovan provides a far more informative overview than High Score, while still being aimed at a wide audience. It’s the closest thing I’ve found to a comprehensive, book-length account of video game history. My own biases and the narrative I’m most familiar with, the sort of Nintendo-centric history told for example in Game Over, by David Sheff, is challenged throughout Replay, decentered and filled in by chapters telling the compelling and largely unknown (to me, anyway) history of games in countries other than the US and Japan.

  • Choose one of the countries whose video game history comes into the book, and follow up using the sources provided in the notes and bibliography to learn more about it.
  • Again, pick up where the book leaves off, writing your best imitation of the style and format which embraces the recent work of a single developer, indie or otherwise, not substantively included in Replay.
Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic  Adventures, from Chess to Role-Playing Games by Jon Peterson (2012-07-26): Books

Donovan has published a history of board games as well, but in the interest of moving us into more scholarly territory, let’s turn next to Playing at the World, by Jon Peterson. The epithets “nerdy” or “obsessive” had occurred to me, too, but the painstaking research and judicious analysis packed into this volume can in fairness only be called “scholarly” at the end of the day. Taking on the history of role-playing games, with their connections back to table-top war games on the one hand and to fantasy fiction on the other, Peterson weaves together a complex and fascinating backstory for video game RPGs.

  • As the book leaves off with only a glance towards RPGs in their video game iteration, continue the story with a case study of the development and impact of one of the major game series, such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest.

NieR-ly There

The new semester gets underway in earnest this week with our opening discussion of NieR: Automata. The weekly twitch stream of gameplay from our very own 3rd Strongest Academician, Steven, represents an important step in making academic discussion of video games more accessible to anyone out there who, like me, lacks the hardware to play this gorgeous game themselves. Other fun videos we’re working on include a deeper dive into visual novels and a few highlights from our discussion of The Hex.

NieR: Automata Part #7 - Episode VI: Diagnostics
Facing the future…

We’ve responded to our students’ calls for more rigorous reading with a Majora’s Mask review and other monthly reading assignments to come. This month, in line with our visual novels kick, we’re revisiting the influential work of Espen Aarseth, particularly Cybertext. Aside from academic theory, there are also new Japanese and programming channels on the discord to start with just a couple of the more practical areas of study video games can launch us into. If I can get my tech together, I’ll report on some forays of my own into the Japanese text version of EarthBound, MOTHER 2.

In response to student demand, too, this time from our younger audience, the new semester of weekly discussions on Outschool is focusing on the JRPG genre, starting with the venerable Dragon Quest series. Text-rich games with simple-to-learn mechanics and irresistible aesthetics, Dragon Quest offers teachers one of the most adaptable and historically influential case studies in all of video games to share with their classes. For all their straightforwardness, they still beguile us with the evidence of an ongoing syncretism between Japan and the romanticized West.

Last but not least, we’d like to build on the analysis in Ben’s latest post on processing horror, not just through what we’re doing here at the Video Game Academy, but by being who we are. Give it a read or re-read and tell us what you think.

Big Guns and Bread Crumbs

As we wind up our discussions of Pony Island and The Hex, the age-old question arises: what should we play next?

Or, to put it another way, quo vadis? Where are we going, reader? What’ll we click on next?

The Tempest, c.1506 - c.1508 - Giorgione -
Giorgione’s Tempest: Hagar and Ishmael, with the angel asking quo vadis (Gen 16:8)?

If, as I’ve been arguing in the past few posts, intuiting the answer to that question of larger purpose involves something as superficially unserious as the uses of free time, then we had better give the related question of what to play next some careful thought.

Should we equip our best relics and hop aboard the airship in search of friends, spending our time on another classic like Final Fantasy VI? Should we follow our pet weasel into the rose garden next door and play more indie darlings, a la The Hex? Should we, in short, devote ourselves to breaking out the big guns, or should we take to a trail of bread crumbs, forsaking the beaten path?

To my mind, we get closer to answering this question by appealing to deeply-held principles–the dialogue between us as we play–rather than falling on the horns of the either-or, the alternatives of what we play. There’s no shortage of places to find good commentary on classic games, and we can easily tap into endless streams of critique and analysis on new releases that run the gamut from ubiquitous popularity to niche hipsterdom. It’s not as though we are doing anything new under the sun, providing anything otherwise unsupplied elsewhere, regardless of which route we go. The only difference is that it’s we who go there, carrying on our peripatetic discourse, informed by all we’ve read and experienced. That’s something no one else can do for us. And while our lives may outwardly differ hardly at all from plenty of other aspiring scholars and teachers who podcast, few if any of the people talking about games have the broad and deep reading in literature and philosophy we bring to bear on the new art form. If you happen to feel the same, or if you know of someone like that, we’d love to hear from you. With a Socratic and neighborly love, we certainly would!

Meanwhile, we’ll keep playing both fun little games on our phones and epoch-making urtexts of the zeitgeist. Along the way, contemplating and conferring amongst ourselves, we’ll also keep gadflying about, trying to make inroads by responding to some of the big players:

  • Discussions of significant books and articles (just don’t call them a canon) with the wonderfully chiasmus-y Games Studies Study Buddies

All of them have their own forums for feedback and discussion, worth checking out. Or you can join us on patreon to help guide our steps.

Classroom Page Launch

Back to school–with classic and contemporary video game adventures.

At long last, we’re getting around to launching the Video Game Academy discussion page on patreon. Welcome, or welcome back!

Our current semester features deep dives into Pony Island and The Hex. Digging into these two with you will be just the latest part of our project bridging popular culture and academic discourse about video games.

Wot I Think: Pony Island – The Smartest Game Of 2016 | Rock Paper Shotgun

For about a year now, we’ve brooded over it in blog form here. All these posts and teaching materials remain freely available to use and share as you see fit. We suggest reading them 🙂

Along with incubating the blog, we’ve been at work on our flagship long-form podcast content, available most anywhere you get your podcasts. The initial productions, including three episodes on Little Inferno and twenty on Final Fantasy VI, provide something for the nostalgic and indie gamer alike.

Meanwhile, Ben has been teaching philosophy and mythology in higher ed and Wes has been tailoring video game courses to younger players. You can see more of that work here and here.

On the patreon page, you’ll be able to keep up with what we’re playing and contribute to the discussion, if you so desire. Just make a contribution to gain access to the live sessions, bonus special topics seminars, and personalized tutorials. Thanks for helping us continue to make academic discourse about video games.

Professor Kozlowski Recommends

Cribbing and quoting loosely from the tail-end of this lively, expletive-laced Bonus episode of Ben’s podcast, where you can also find lectures on mythology and philosophy, here are some great starting points for the aspiring video game academician.

Hume Lecture, Sections 10, 12 by Professor Kozlowski Lectures • A ...

Obviously, the first one is Extra Credits. If you want to know anything about history or mythology, there’s some fascinating stuff, but they started as a video game show. Their list of recommendations highlights games in the weird, alternative indie scene.

I can’t recommend Crash Course enough. Series on world history and philosophy, but also history of science… Even more to the point, explore their series on navigating the internet. If you want to know how to distinguish good news from BS, go watch that.

Errant Signal is a web series dedicated to deep dives into themes and gameplay, with insights on big new games and games from otherwise unknown developers. The work is meticulous, treating both the business of making games and the question of what games can say and do.

Innuendo Studios’ flagship, the alt-right playbook, explores how bad actors dominate the media and manipulate people. To understand how social engineering functions and how to get your voice heard, or how to protect yourself from those who do, is invaluable, whichever side of the political spectrum you’re on.

Just as a fun one, Super Bunnyhop uses video games to talk about really smart stuff in the industry and the world at large.

Lastly, myself! Why not?

Reviewing the Literature

For a while now, we’ve been making podcast courses as we play through great video games together. We’re running our first live course now, an Intro to Video Game Studies. Another thing we like doing here at the Academy, and that we want to do more of in the future, is reading great books together. It’s awesome to see the whole world catch on to the possibilities of online discussion, though the circumstances are not ideal. Perhaps there’s something about getting to talk in person which doesn’t come across in a video chat, and we’ll all be glad when we’re allowed to see our friends again face to face, but there are still wonderful kinds of connections we can make across the distance that separates us. Books, which have always found a way to speak to us through time and space, are more valuable than ever, particularly well-suited to the demands of distance education.

“Here is a ‘you’ in which my ‘I’ is reflected; here is where all distance is abolished.” –Stefan Zweig, Montaigne

If only I could read Japanese, the Kato-Mitsuda collaboration Kirite would be an open book to me

The more we study games, the more it behooves us to familiarize ourselves with the existing scholarship on them, and with people currently engaged in it. So this is the main kind of literature we have in mind to review. There’s never been a better time to access the wealth of information out there; our aim is to make it better known and applicable for those, like us, just starting out in the field.

Patrick Holleman, one of those scholars we’ve been fortunate to talk to on the Xenogears podcast, very graciously sent his shortlist of video game studies resources to add to our own. He singled out Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World for the student of RPGs and recommended the research gathered at the Critical Distance Compilation. In terms of the peculiar intertextuality Xenogears invites, he suggested a range of works of literature, psychology, mysticism, and popular culture to consider, which we’ve added to the course page. And though he didn’t list them, rest assured that his own books on games such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy VI and VII are on our shortlist to read.

In the coming weeks, we’ll begin offering our takes on more of the major texts in video game studies, classic and contemporary alike. If you’d like to participate, keep an eye out for courses on ludology and intertextuality inspired by playing games and dedicated to promoting the old-fashioned joys of reading books.

Precedents and Valentines

Our secret Valentine’s Day card goes out, only about five years too late, to the participants in the “Teaching Game Studies Workshop” at the 2015 Digital Games Research Association (DiGRA) conference, and to Ben Richmond at Vice, for posting their report and reading list. Thanks to them, here are some thoughts from the professionals about how to get started teaching and studying video games.

Notes from the Teaching Game Studies Workshop DiGRA Luneburg 16 May 2015
Organized by Mia Consalvo and Christopher A. Paul

Picturesque Luneburg, host of the DiGRA 2015 conference

Embedded in the report are higher-level questions of methodology and concrete suggestions for assignments and course design, but the immediate takeaway, for this amateur scholar, anyhow, is how differently it seems texts and games have been treated in the academy. The recommended (or, as organizers Consalvo and Paul put it, “popular”) readings are specific, suggesting the outlines of a recognizable canon, albeit with a looseness about how much of each text to read; the section of the report dealing with “gameplay in the classroom,” however, does not cite a single specific game. Instead, there’s a smattering of general ideas about ways to incorporate whatever games the instructors might choose, be they “sites with free games, browser games,” “African traditional board games,” or “Tarot cards to teach narratives”–or even just to “have students pick the games to play.”

There’s a remarkably cavalier approach to the selection and incorporation of games for you, and yet, with the right students, as ever, all will be well.

As for what we could end up with, though, allowing too much input from the class, consider the new Sonic movie and its ordeals with fan resentment as a point of comparison. I haven’t seen it yet myself, and don’t know when I’ll get around to it–there’s so much for a lover of video games to read!