Understanding Video Games
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Understanding Video Games

The Essential Introduction

Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Jonas Heide Smith, Susana Pajares Tosca

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eBook - ePub

Understanding Video Games

The Essential Introduction

Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Jonas Heide Smith, Susana Pajares Tosca

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About This Book

From Pong to virtual reality, Understanding Video Games, 4th Edition, takes video game studies into the next decade of the twenty-first century, highlighting changes in the area, including mobile, social, and casual gaming.

In this new edition of the pioneering text, students learn to assess the major theories used to analyze games, such as ludology and narratology, and gain familiarity with the commercial and organizational aspects of the game industry. Drawing from historical and contemporary examples, the student-friendly text also explores the aesthetics of games, evaluates the cultural position of video games, and considers the potential effects of both violent and "serious" games.

Extensively illustrated and featuring discussion questions, a glossary of key terms, and a detailed video game history timeline, this new edition is an indispensable resource for students, scholars, and teachers interested in examining the ways video games continue to reshape entertainment and society.

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Studying Video Games

Right at this moment, millions of people around the world are playing video games. One obvious way in which this matters is financial. The rising popularity of games translates into astounding amounts of cash. The game industry is quickly becoming a financial juggernaut. Our research may help make even better games, may help large companies increase their profits, or may offer a critical perspective on the social workings and effects of the game industry. Either way, the very size of the industry justifies our attention. But it isn’t just the money that’s important.
Video games warrant attention for their cultural and aesthetic elements. The aesthetic developments of game design are intense, constant, and thrilling; this explosive evolution of creative possibility is beginning to influence significantly other types of expression. It is clear by now, after the Matrix trilogy, after the Grand Theft Auto, Uncharted, and Red Dead Redemption games, that movies and games are borrowing from each other’s arsenals. For the younger generations, especially, games are crucial to the way they express themselves artistically and, presumably, in the way they conceive of the world. What does it mean, for instance, when a person’s self-expression moves away from linear representations, such as books and films, and they find more meaning in interactive, nonlinear systems where outcomes depend on player choices? Maybe it doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it means a lot of small changes are happening but no revolution should be expected. And maybe it means that in a decade or two, video games will be so essential to the creation of culture that teenagers will be unable to imagine a world before video games existed. And most likely, perhaps, is some combination of all three scenarios. Regardless, such questions need to be investigated systematically.

Who Studies Video Games?

Science is the building upon a foundation of experience, the abandonment of old theories, and the revision of earlier hypotheses. The study of video games is not different, but we still have a fragmented and emerging research field.1
Is game research a science in this sense? On the one hand, people who claim to be doing game research clearly do not always live up to the highest standards of the scientific method (true for any field); further, there is even some disagreement about how to actually do game research. On the other hand, if we take science to mean the systematic, rigorous, and self-critical production of knowledge, game research can and should be a scientific discipline.
So who are game researchers? In general, they are professionals predominantly occupied with the study of video games. Undergraduates can now major in video games. PhD programs have emerged. Dedicated journals are available and distinct conferences are held. In the larger academic scale of things, all of this is still new; however, Espen Aarseth, editor of the Game Studies journal, noted that “2001 can be seen as the Year One of Computer Game Studies as an emerging, viable, international, academic field.”2
A new generation of researchers considers video games their primary research interest. But the struggle for acceptance and academic credibility can still be considerable. Still looking back just ten years, we now have more credible and respected academic journals dedicated to the study of video games that can provide scholars with the necessary platform for advancing their thinking. The classic Simulation & Gaming journal published for the first time more than 40 years ago was at the start of the millennium joined by Game Studies. Today we also have several other peer-reviewed journals like Games and Culture, International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations, Computer Games Journal, and International Journal of Game-Based Learning.
We study video games, not a phenomenon that epitomizes highbrow cultural expression. While we should acknowledge that our field of research may be frowned upon, we must also avoid any sort of paranoia. If our research is not accepted, we should not comfort ourselves with conspiracy theories nor view other fields as populated by enemies. We should instead raise our internal standards.
A series of very important developments has helped put game studies on the road to becoming a viable field. For instance, the last few decades have witnessed a general rehabilitation of popular culture as a worthy topic of study. Also, many scholars have grown up with video games and see no reason why they should be exempt from enquiry. But more importantly, games have grown highly complex—as has their development—inviting serious attention and creating the need for highly trained game graduates. Over the years, DiGRA as an association has grown with multiple regional chapters.
It has become quite obvious that many fields can contribute to the study of games, and game researchers are an eclectic bunch with a multidisciplinary background. Humanist scholars with film or literature backgrounds constitute a large group, but game research conferences are also attended by social scientists (mostly sociologists), by computer scientists, and, very importantly, by game designers. The presence of the latter group, who are typically not academics, is noteworthy. For the time being at least, there is a relatively close relationship between game researchers and game designers. This may sound obvious but is in fact quite a special situation. In older research fields—such as film and literary studies—the distance between scholars and practitioners can loom large, and it seems at times that the two groups barely speak the same language. This may sometimes seem to be the case in our field as well, but at least both sides are committed to making an effort.

How Do You Study Video Games?

To say that there is more than one way to approach video games is to put it mildly. Most researchers, at least at present, choose to adopt methods and approaches from their primary fields. Ethnographers tend to observe players. Those trained in film studies tend to analyze the games themselves and communication scholars tend to analyze interactions between players. There is nothing inherently wrong with this tendency as long as one acknowledges the more general ideal that one should use the methodology best suited to answer the question at hand.
In order to give you a better sense of how to approach games academically, let’s examine a few noteworthy studies and discuss the methodological approaches that they represent.
We will start with Dmitri Williams’s study of how video games have been represented in US news media over a 30-year period.3 In order to understand the function of video games in public discourse and the relationship between the portrayal of video games and more general cultural currents, Williams searched the archives of Time, Newsweek and US News and World Report. He analyzed 119 articles, which fit his criteria, and concluded that:
We should note that Williams tackled not games themselves or even players but rather secondary texts that he subjected to content analysis.
In another study, Nicolas Ducheneaut, Robert J. Moore, and Eric Nickell explored the ways in which Star Wars Galaxies: An Empire Divided—a massively multiplayer online game set in George Lucas’s Star Wars universe—encourages sociability among players.5 In particular, they were interested in how players interacted in the game’s “cantinas”—locations where players could meet and socialize. The observed behavior was analyzed to determine if it conformed to sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s notion of “the third place,” a term used for informal public places like bars and general stores.
Ducheneaut, Moore, and Nickell chose to combine various methodologies. They began by conducting a “virtual ethnography,” that is, they spent time in the field (in the game) systematically observing social interactions in the cantinas. They also videotaped their entire game sessions (with a camera plugged into the graphics card). Finally, they recorded a log of all the interactions that occurred between players as tracked by the game and analyzed it using specially designed software. Among other things, the authors concluded that while the cantinas did not serve as particularly sociable spaces, the entire game, due to more subtle mechanics than just these intentionally designed social spaces, was in fact quite sociable.
Mechanics: Ambiguous term often referring to events or actions that the ...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Understanding Video Games
APA 6 Citation
Egenfeldt-Nielsen, S., Smith, J. H., & Tosca, S. P. (2019). Understanding Video Games (4th ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from https://www.perlego.com/book/1598204/understanding-video-games-the-essential-introduction-pdf (Original work published 2019)
Chicago Citation
Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Simon, Jonas Heide Smith, and Susana Pajares Tosca. (2019) 2019. Understanding Video Games. 4th ed. Taylor and Francis. https://www.perlego.com/book/1598204/understanding-video-games-the-essential-introduction-pdf.
Harvard Citation
Egenfeldt-Nielsen, S., Smith, J. H. and Tosca, S. P. (2019) Understanding Video Games. 4th edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: https://www.perlego.com/book/1598204/understanding-video-games-the-essential-introduction-pdf (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Egenfeldt-Nielsen, Simon, Jonas Heide Smith, and Susana Pajares Tosca. Understanding Video Games. 4th ed. Taylor and Francis, 2019. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.