Although what is now referred to as Game Studies began to form around the late 90’s, as mentioned in my previous post, the study of games is a much older practice; however, it crops up throughout history in a rather sporadic, uncoordinated manner. Researchers have treated games seriously before, but they were never able to form any sort of lasting, memorable discipline. What we do know about the past of the study of games comes from a few historical anecdotes, a handful of essays, and like one book. In spite of that, many of these works were insightful and “ahead of their time,” so to speak.
One of the oldest references to the study of games dates back to 1780 and is attributed to a person named Helwig, who served in the court of Brunswick. Inspired by chess, he created a game that was designed to make teaching Military science fun and practical. The game itself actually sounds pretty cool, and the fact that it was introduced to France, Italy and Austria shows that it was considered popular, fun, and an effective educational tool. Although I wouldn’t classify this as a specific instance of the study of games, Helwig must have put alot of thought into the serious and practical use of his game (close enough).
If we jump ahead about a hundred years, we come across the works of Stewart Culin, who started publishing his research in 1889. Culin believed that the practice of playing games was trans-cultural and, as such, he gave it due importance. His articles cover topics such as the games of Chinese, American, Japanese, African, and Native American cultures. Games of the North American Indians is considered his most influential book.
In 1913, Harold James Ruthven Murray published A History of Chess.As implied by the title, this book focuses on the origin and development of chess from its supposed ancestor, the Indian game called Chaturanga. Murray was actually the first to propose this theory, and it is widely accepted today. A History of Chess also catalogs the many variations of chess found at different times and in different cultures.
All of the works I just mentioned can be described as distant ancestors of modern Game Studies, and although the practices have changed radically, these works allow us to compare and analyze “serious” approaches to games in the contexts of different cultures and times. Moreover, the reception to these approaches helps us track how important or unimportant games have been to different audiences through out history.
Within the last 60 years, the study of games has become a bit more social. The 1950’s saw the rise of the East Coast War games council, which eventually became The North American Simulation and Gaming Association. A one-upper, The International Simulation and Gaming Association, formed in the 70’s and has been facilitating conferences since then. Around the same time, Simulation & Gaming, the oldest academic journal dedicated to games, began to circulate. To switch things up a bit, a group that focuses on play (As opposed to games. See, it’s different) was formed; it’s called The Association of Study of Play. Their publications include Play and Culture, Journal of Play Theory, and Play and Culture Studies.
It is important to note that other critical theorists, such as Johan Huizinga and Roger Caillois, were also doing their thing around this time, but their work will be discussed in future posts.
Hopefully this post serves to quickly establish some relevant history for Game Studies. I have to plug Frans Mayra’s book, “An Introduction to Game Studies: Games in Culture,” because it has been tremendously helpful in providing information and pointing me towards other resources. Mayra also has a blog. Anywho, till next time.