Monday, November 18, 2013

Breaking Down the Video Game: Resources for Reading Video Games

Are video games art? Can we look at them as 'literary' works?
What critical theories aid in understanding and distilling
meaning from video games? How can we 'read' video games?
Hopefully these resources will help to answer some of these
questions!
I've been really fascinated by +Paul Bills's research on video games, so I decided to take a few minutes to contribute some resources for his study of video game "literacy." Paul has been working on a book proposal for a work on how to "read" video games from a critical persthe medium of the 21st century, so I'm excited to see people like Paul engaging in formal analysis of games. They will, no doubt, play an integral role in the future of media studies, and realistically, they are on track to become one of the most powerful tools for audience engagement and social change.

I started off by doing a search for "reading video games," and that didn't turn up much of anything useful (mostly just a bunch of pseudo-games that teach reading). I then decided to try searching for "critical analysis of video games," and this turned up some really great material. I've divided into three categories: courses/syllabi, books, and miscellaneous (though still valuable) resources.


Courses/Syllabi

 CN-1331-GAMEDC: Game Design Concepts This is a MOOC taught by Sebastian Sohn on game design. It looks at key concepts in terms of production and critical analysis of games (non-specific to video games). There is a syllabus and a number of other useful resources, but I found the page on critical analysis to be the most pertinent. Sohn could also be a great contact for social proof.

ENGL 496: Writing and Video Games This is a undergraduate senior seminar course taught by Dr. Jeremy Tirrell at University of North Carolina Wilmington. What initially caught my attention was that the course site displays "avatar levels" for the students based on their achievement in the class. I soon realized that this site was a valuable resource for both student and professor contacts, and it addresses a number of topics related to video game analysis. Especially interesting was the Critical Analysis Essay assignment, which basically asked for a literary analysis of a video game or small collection of games.

Based on my readings of various syllabi, it
looks like McKenzie Wark's Gamer Theory 
is a pretty important work in critical game studies.
CTIN 462: Critical Theory and Analysis of Video Games This course is taught in USC's School of Cinematic Arts by William Huber. It examines video games from different critical perspectives, including post-modernism, feminism, and aestheticism, among others. The links in the syllabus are perhaps the most useful, as they point to a number of articles and thinkers pertaining to critical study of video games. They led me to Gamer Theory, a site produced by McKenzie Wark in collaboration with the Institute for the Future of the Book. It has a ton of interesting perspectives on video games, and it seems especially interesting that it is supported by an organization espousing the "future of the book."

Critical Videogame Culture This is a proposed course, conceived by Tanner Higgin. It integrates games into the actual course (students download Steam games as required course materials!) and uses them to demonstrate certain ideas as pertaining to critical theory. Higgin has a ton of resources on this site, so he'd likely be a good contact. I also thought it was interesting that Higgin quotes McKenzie Wark (from the previous syllabus), in that I hadn't heard of her before. She seems to be a fairly important figure in video game studies. Her book Game Theory would likely be a good resource.

Game Analysis and Criticism This course, taught by Greg Marlow at Sessions College, looks at what makes games successful and artistic. It's not as pertinent perhaps as the other courses, but it still addresses video games from a critical perspective, and the instructor and/or course content developer might be useful contact.

Books

The Meaning of Video Games: Gaming and Textual Strategies (2008), by Steven E. Jones.
This is perhaps a little bit outdated, but it definitely goes hand in hand with Paul's study of video game literacy. It basically looks at games from a textual studies approach and builds on the assumption that video games are already meaningful, from a number of perspective.
A Mind Forever Voyaging: A History of Storytelling in Video Games (2012), by Dylan Holmes
Holmes looks at the history of storytelling in video games, addressing along the way how how the introduction of moral choices in games has affected the industry, how film techniques have enhanced/detracted from the gaming experience, whether video games can be considered art, and and number of other pertinent topics.
Well Played 1.0: Video Games, Value and Meaning (2009) and Well Played 2.0: Video Games, Value and Meaning (2010), by Drew Davidson
The Amazon book info says it better than I could: "This book is full of in-depth close readings of video games that parse out the various meanings to be found in the experience of playing a game. 22 contributors (developers, scholars, reviewers and bloggers) look at video games through both senses of “well played.” The goal is to help develop and define a literacy of games as well as a sense of their value as an experience. " The only thing that I might add is that both are free for Kindle.
 Understanding Video Games: The Essential Introduction (2012), by Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Jonas Heide Smith , and Susana Pajares Tosca
Examines the predominant analytical theories for evaluating meaning in video games and takes a look at game aesthetics and design. Lays out the history of games and presents a number of modern moral/ethical dilemmas surrounding the game industry.

Miscellaneous Resources 

Critical Hit - A Video Game Critical Theory Primer This got me really excited because it comes out of a video game forum rather than a formal/education institution. It has a lot of people who chimed in about how interested they are in these topics, and it provides links to a number of really valuable resources like Game Studies, an open scholarly journal about video games. The link I provided should take you to an article entitled, "Game Analysis: Developing a Methodological Toolkit for the Qualitative Study of Games," by Mia Consalvo and Nathan Dutton.

Below are some other links. They are less rigorous and/or less specific to Paul's topic, but they provide some interesting insights:
Video Games: A Critical Analysis (We need to study video games because...)

Anyway, that's all for now. Hopefully this proves useful for Paul and anyone else interested in studying video games from a critical or academic perspective.