I just gave a talk at CCCC’s about the project Sam and I did on female video game podcasters. I talked about the research we had done, what we found, and what I hoped our community of academics could do with the information we found. There are two (sort of disparate) points I want to bring up, because the more I think about them, the more I see academics playing a crucial role in the way the video game industry continues to form.
1. Fast Times
It is my contention that we have to be aware of what’s going on in the industry if we are going to talk about games. I don’t want to get into this too much, because I’m working on an article about it right now. But that is my main claim in the article.
Last week, I got a great question about how we do research on the video games industry, as well as what we hope to gain from it (I’m looking at you, ‘Tacious). Specifically, because the video game industry is constantly in flux (who owns what company, who works where, who works on each project, etc), how can it be useful to study the industry. By the time we are ready to publish our research, or even draw conclusions, the industry has changed.
I’m working on a project right now that is an attempt to be a system that catalogs these details. A site that can aggregate who works where, how many programmers each company has, how many female employees, how many games does the company release, etc. Of course, this is impossible, right? I don’t have access to that information, and I think there would have to be a very compelling reason for the company to give it up. Not to mention that, as stated above, the industry is changing so often, I can’t imagine the resources that it would take to keep the site even close to up to date. But then again, wikipedia works. So maybe it’s a pipe dream, but maybe it’s not. Maybe there is a way we can crowdsource the aggregation of this data on the games industry.
It’s too much to ask that every time scholars want to talk about games, they have to talk about the industry. If someone wants to use Dying for Darfur to talk about serious games, then they should be able to without having to do hours of research about the company who made it. I get that. But that doesn’t relieve those of us who are all games studies all the time from the responsibilities inherent in our research.
Anyway, I guess I am putting this point out there in the hopes that someone has a great idea, or a great resource that solves this problem. Or maybe someone wants to work with me to get a resource going.
2. What I Want for Rhetoricians
I struggle with this question a lot, as those who read the blog may know, I’m always asking questions about my motivations and goals. At some point I decided I want to be an academic that builds things, not just critiques them. That’s one reason this podcast and blog is so important to me (and without speaking for the others, I think also why it’s important to all of us here at NYMG): I want to be in the environment I’m studying– being productive, and adding to the community.
*warning, tangential rant* Armchair academics, imho, is ridiculous. Can we talk about things we don’t do/haven’t experienced? I heard it argued at CCCC’s this week that academics can and should talk about things they don’t do (the example was that Zizek critiqued authors he never read, and that others have done things like write books about novel writing without ever having written a novel). I’ve recently read theoretical books about the web, new media, blogs, and games written by people who obviously had barely interacted with the media they were discussing. I don’t think universal dismissal of this is necessary, but I have yet to read a useful book that is like this. As many issues I have with some of Bogost’s theories, he knows what he is talking about. His stuff is useful. It just seems awful egotistical to think you are so brilliant that people in a certain field need to hear your thoughts, though you have put no effort into engaging with that field, reading the stuff the field was built on, or talking to the people that have dedicated their lives to that study. But, I digress. *rant over*
My point is, that I want to be engaged in every feasible way with what I’m studying. And I want other academics to be as well. Why? Because rhetoric does not just operate on the surface of these games. One avatar persuading another, a procedure making you jump over the bush instead of walk through it, and making you decide whether or not to kill the enemy or let them go is not the extent of what rhetoric brings to games studies. It is so much deeper than that. People in rhetoric study systems, we study things that fall into the background as being “normal.” Rhetorical analysis, analysis of obvious rhetorical elements of, say, an advertisement, is now freshman level work. We teach that in our freshmen composition classes.
People in rhetoric have studied how music influences behavior in restaurants, how institutional policy affects life and death on the border between Mexico and the US, how race shows up in governmental environmental impact statements that purport neutrality. Rhetoric has so, so much more to bring to games than has currently been discussed. What I want is those of us in rhetoric who want to do games to start to articulate that–because the strongest voices advocating for the use of rhetoric in games right now aren’t rhetoricians. And we have so much to bring to the table.