A Short and Happy Response

While I’m not sure that this response is particularly “happy,” I wanted to borrow the pun from Malaby and Burke’s title as I knew this response would indeed be “short” after my week-long battle with the creeping crud.

At any rate, I thought Malaby and Burke’s “The Short and Happy Life of Interdisciplinarity in Game Studies” was an interesting introduction in that they have a clear goal of keeping game studies interdisciplinary in nature yet seemed resigned to the fact that that just can’t be (for long):

“Even more than games in general, the empirical character of virtual worlds _demands_ a multidisciplinary, methodologically polymorphous approach” (325 emphasis added).

And

“We also believe that the contributions to this volume suggest that first and foremost, the study of games and virtual worlds may teach us less about the world or games and more about the folly of a particular orientation toward the production of social science” (330).

Yet

“There may be no way to secure what is by nature ephemeral. It seems best, then, that we enjoy the intellectual dispensation of the present moment for however long it holds true” (327).

More than anything, they seem to be asking us what Pat asked us to do in Empirical: pick the best metho/dology for the research question and not the other way around. When Malaby and Burke suggest that anthropologists won’t question the integrity of ethnography, they’re suggesting when we find ourselves locked into any discipline, we tend to become set in our ways and forget to question why we investigate things the way we do. If we keep game studies writ large interdisciplinary, we will have a more accurate and useful picture of what games are good for. Yet, because we need money to study things and because we need advisors to sponsor graduate student work, among other things, they say, we probably won’t have the luxury of this interdisciplinary nature of game studies to hold on to for long.

I, myself, was drawn to T. L. Taylor’s approach, who is described as “in the first article, push[ing] this even further by charting how code itself, in the form of certain ‘mods’. . . can come to be another actor on the scene of gameplay, part of a[n] assemblage of factors that include but are not reducible to human agency. In proposing that we take the interrelation of code, players, and other factors seriously in our explorations of MMOGs, Taylor decenters the game player, the game maker, and the game as a formal object” (328). This approach, to me, smells (in a good way) of Latour and his social actor network theory: objects have agency, too! It also smells of Delanda and his “assemblage” theory. I wonder if I’m guilty of falling into the disciplinary trap that Malaby and Burke warn against by always being on the lookout for the applicability of persons like Latour and Delanda or if these postmodern thinkers could be considered interdisciplinary?

Finally, I just wanted to point out an interesting typo in the Malaby and Burke article: “Their answer to the distinctiveness question seems to be ‘distinctive enough’; that is, distinctive enough to get certain kids of work done, whether it is work by players, by institutions, by policy makers, or by researchers themselves” (328). Not “kinds,” but “kids.” Perhaps an interesting Freudian slip in the “serious” vs. “fun” nature of game studies work debate, no?