Game Studies: Background on an academic debate

For much of the early 2000s I was very interested in Game Studies, partly due to a new fascination with my Xbox as well as a strong invovlement with digital media.  Recently I’ve started collaborating with a professor in the English department here at W&L on creating a game version of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Now I’m going back and updating my readings on game studies. But first I wanted to find a few readings suitable for upper-level English majors.

In approaching Game Studies from a literary perspective one should be careful not to get pulled into the perception that an academic debate exists regarding the role of narratology in how games work. Much of the fuel for this supposed conflict rises from an essay that characterizes the issue as a “divisive question” and even a potential “blood feud.” (Jenkins, Henry. “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” in Wardrip-Fruin, Noah, and Pat Harrigan. First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2004. 118-130.) Despite the contentious start, the essay by Jenkins is worth reading (a version exists online) and appears in an excellent series of monographs titled First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game; Second Person: Role-playing and Story in Games and Playable Media; and Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives.

A trait of that series is that the essays often include responses by other scholars. These responses are in the print version of the book as well as online. Read the Jenkins essay then the responses by Markku Eskelinen and Jon McKenzie, and then the response by Jenkins. Note that Jenkins argues that his essay rose from conversations with game designers and not with academics studying games, which may not always be the same audience. Two useful essays place this discussion in context and attempt to put the matter to rest:

Frasca, Gonzalo. “Ludologists love stories, too: notes from a debate that never took place.” [PDF] DiGRA Conf. 2003. [DiGRA is the Digital Games Research Association conference.]

Murray, Janet H. “The last word on ludology v narratology in game studies.”DiGRA 2005 Conference: Changing views of worlds in play. 2005. (View the slides for that talk.)

These works use the term ludology, which is another way of describing Game Studies or  the academic study of games. Ludology is based on the Latin word ludus (game).

Okay, now that the ludology vs narratology issue is out of the way, we can move onto readings about game studies. A place to start is Jesper Juul’s “Games Telling Stories: A brief note on games and narratives“. The landmark book is Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature (1997) by Espen Aarseth.

Any examination of games and narratives is going to bring up a large set of articles and books by Marie-Laure Ryan, who has dozens of writings on narrative applied to a variety of aspects of digital media. A sample is “Fictional Worlds in the Digital Age” in A Companion to Digital Literary Studies.

In updating my readings I’ve been searching for scholarly articles written since 2010. In another post I’ll describe what I’ve found, but it’s raising the question: has game studies frizzled out as an academic discipline?