When I began researching the field of Game studies, I was shocked at how far along and how diverse the discipline actually is. In fact, I was a little intimidated. I originally planned on taking what I knew about analyzing literature and applying it to games, but I quickly found that this kind of self-limiting approach had been a controversial topic in the field a few years earlier. (Narratology v. Ludology).
That’s not to say that a literary approach is inherently bad, but relying solely on this approach would mean ignoring all the different flavors of game studies. Some of these flavors, as outlined by Frans Mayra, include art history, software industry, technology history, social history, history of mentalities, and game historiography. Moreover, digital games rely on cinematic, musical, and literary (less often) conventions, so appropriating methods from these fields is useful to certain extents.
Being aware of and willing to utilize all the different methods available to Game study’s research is crucial to understanding the multiplicitous moving target that comprises the study of games, play and culture. However, a researcher doesn’t need to utilize all the methods every time. That’d be like getting a scoop of every flavor of ice cream whenever you went to Baskin & Robbins. We don’t need that much ice cream, but simply being aware of all the possible flavors and combinations will allow a researcher to choose the methodologies that will satisfy their sweet tooth best.
One must also acknowledge the limitations that come with a young discipline in the process of identifying itself. The biggest of these limitations, I think, is the lack of peer-reviewed, scholarly, archival research and documents that many other disciplines can reference and build off of. Most archived digital game history is made up of personal anecdotes or industry related accounts, which can be problematic because of biases and inaccuracies. A game researcher can experiment with a variety of current methodologies and theories, but established approaches that have withstood the test of time are practically non-existent (this can also be seen as a positive: no canon to rebel against).
As far as digital games are concerned, the lack of archives isn’t too tragic because games themselves have only been around for 40+ years, but the more general study of games suffers from a scattered and forgotten history (See history post).
Another way that Game Studies is hindered and liberated by its multiplicitous nature is in its actual definition of games; there is no set definition, but this makes total sense when we think about how many different shapes games can take. Literature actually faces the same kind of definitive obstacle. But yeah, while a lack of a designated definition for our object of study does make it seem as if we don’t know what we’re doing, it also leaves us with a lot of room for play (du- dum-tshh lol). Instead of elaboration on how definitions can constrain yet guide research projects, I’ll just give you, reader, the benefit of the doubt, and I’ll finish this post by noting some interesting definitions of games.
An activity which is essentially: Free (voluntary), separate (in time and space), uncertain, unproductive, governed by rules, make-believe
An interactive structure of endogenous meaning that requires players to struggle toward a goal.
A game is 1/ a rule-based formal system; 2/with variable and quantifiable outcomes; 3/ where different outcomes are assigned different values; 4/ where the player exerts effort in order to influence the outcome; 5/ the player feels emotionally attached to the outcome; 6/ and the consequences of the activity are optional and negotiable
So yeah, I guess this is my “If i had to give someone starting a games research project one piece of advice, what would it be?” post. Until next time, guys =]