So I’ve been thinking about my posts lately, plus a comment a friend made to me, and I realize that a lot of what I do is talk about talking about video games rather than talking about the video games themselves. It led me to think more about the role of game scholars who do popular-type work in the community. Is it our role to talk about games from a scholarly perspective? Or try and reframe how people in the community talk about games? Or is it some combination of both
Talking About Games
Talking about and analyzing games from an academic perspective is important work. The way most popular games magazines approach games is important, but it also leaves many people out—wondering if their experiences and interpretations of games are stupid/just them/etc. The norming that happens when only one homogenous view is present, or the loudest voices are all coming from the same perspective, is pretty significant. If most game sites agree on an interpretation of, say, Mass Effect 3, then that posits a particular perspective as “true” or “reality.” Of course, not all game sites will ever see a game in the exact same way, but in my experience, the most untraditional perspectives come from the untraditional sites.
So when new games come out, we need people who bring all sorts of perspectives to analyzing and interpreting the game, not to mention productive stuff like creating machinima and games guides and so forth. Scholars, specifically rhetorical scholars, are trained in a particular way to bring different perspectives to studying games. I’ve been reading a lot about relational databases lately, and the descriptions I read about what a systems analyst does is similar to what I believe I do as a rhetorician.
Systems analysts conduct research on what happens in an organization, how people do their jobs, what workarounds they use, and what policies they follow. Then they design new systems, often using iterative design principles (build, feedback, tweak, repeat), that is ethically responsible (ie. they shouldn’t get workers in trouble by exposing practices that violate company policy), that is responsible in terms of physical and monetary resources. Then they manage the implementation process, using strategies like ADKAR for example. This reminds me of how I work: I examine a game: I play it, I interact with the community surrounding it, I watch videos and try different strategies, and I try to research where the game comes from. I then build a particular type of theory, a perspective, or an analysis of the game and present it. People critique it or agree with it, and my opinion is revised.
By showing alternative theoretical (and sometimes practical/tangible) model through which to interpret specific games, we are able to make changes, even if they are slight, in how people play/interpret/see games and the impact games have on our culture. I would like to think that if I keep talking about games, through feminist lenses, that game companies will start to see that more women are gamers, and more important to me, women will have an easier time identifying as gamers. But, maybe that’s just my pipe dream.
Talking about Talking
Now, this is the truly academic way. We are trained in attempting to uncover how systems underlie particular things in culture—and many of us believe that making subtle changes in discourse, or changing small tactics and strategies for how people approach things, can create long-term change in the way things work. With this strategy, we talk about the way we talk about things in an effort to create change on implicit things we take for granted.
For example, the way many of us in academia talk about games start with the game and move forward. We talk about avatars, reception, metaphors, etc. But, those topics restrict the kinds of things we examine in games. With this approach, the stuff that happens at video game conferences are outside of our purview. For most games scholars, the fact that women are often so mistreated in the gaming industry does not matter for them, because that is outside of what we consider game studies. This is a problem.
This perspective (talking about talking) then allows us to redraw our boundaries so that new things show up. This happens everywhere in academia: social scientists have a particular approach or particular types of phenomena they analyze. But, those things aren’t static. The more they theorize about those methods the more they change—they may expand or contract, but they do change.
This is the kind of change I ultimately believe I can make. If I, and others who share a similar view to me, can alter how we approach games to forefront things I think are important and that are currently being obscured by the way we talk about them, we may be able to create meaningful change. This started happening in the FLOSS community when people started talking about how many women are sexually assaulted in the community—and slowly companies and conference heads are putting sexual harassment policies into place and hopefully that change will change the material conditions for the women in the field.
So I care about games, and I care about talking about specific games. It is important to me to popularize an alternative approach to games as a way to diversify the voices gamers hear. But I also care deeply about how we approach the study of games, whether or not our choices are ethical, what we are forefronting, and what we are excluding. Maybe this makes me a video game poser, but so be it.