In my last post, I compared different Game Studies approaches to flavors, hence the title of this post, but I’m putting that to rest ( I’m a sucker for bad puns). However, I will build off of that post and describe in depth some of the previously mentioned flavors ( I can’t quit -__-)
Some of the earliest work done in the study of games falls into the category of cultural anthropology (I’ve actually mentioned this one a few times already). One of the most compelling findings of cultural anthropology is that games and play appear to be trans-cultural. Other advances include the important distinction between games of chance and games of skill, which was made by Stewart Culin during his study of the games of Native Americans. Findings such as that of the connection between sacred rituals and games that goes back to antiquity (Mayan ball game), and the currently held tradition of public outrage against new forms of game play (Golf has a one-up on Grand Theft Auto because it has actually been banned before) would also fall under this category. Some of the most interesting questions that can be tackled by cultural anthropology flavored Game Studies include: Why do societies occasionally view immersion into games as disruptive or even dangerous? Where does the holding power that creates such an immersion in games stem from? Why do we play?
A technologically geared approach might discuss how game play was one of the first activities that digital machines were used for, and that Alan Turing’s chess playing program was one the first examples of the power of A.I.
From an economics point of view, one could study how game technology only became viable as a cultural phenomenon after the cost of production for computers was reduced drastically. Also, there are some interesting artifacts left over from the era prior to the time when computing technology became available to the public. Some of these include tic-tac-toe and tennis simulations playable on oscilloscope screens and cathode-ray devices.
A game industry perspective might look into game innovations, influential designers, patent and license wars, commercial successes and failures, etc.
One can also have a lot of fun with philosophical concepts and how they relate to game play, as I did with Heideggerian concepts in an earlier post. I’ve also discussed Johan Huizinga and Roger Caillios, and there’s some interesting writing by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Friedrich Schiller that could be incorporated into a Game Studies project.
A natural sciences take on games might look at game play as an activity “more evolved” beings can partake in as an attempt to burn excess energy; Herbert Spencer referred to play as a “superfluous and useless exercise of of faculties.” On the other hand, research shows that play is crucial as a developmental activity for the young because it enhances behavioral flexibility as it reaches into the pre-conscious stages of our being. In the words of Vivian Paley, “pretending is the most open-ended of all activities, providing the opportunity to escape the limitations of established rituals.” Some research also claims that games can serve teens and adults as a way of exploring powerful and conflicting emotions.
Performance studies and Sociology provide other interesting approaches to video games. One way to use these approaches would include analyzing games as a performance within a social interactionist framework that has an affect on the way others perceive individuals who partake in this performance, and even affects the way individuals perceive themselves. These sociological frameworks heavily influence what game play means to those who play and to society as a whole.
Analyzing the place of game play in modern culture might lead one to view game play as a liminal act: a culturally ambiguous, in-between state within late modern society. The liminality of game play is appealing because it is a performance that provides freedom from the normative constraints of social roles. A researcher could also focus on game play as a flow experience, an experience that causes a loss of sense of time and self while inducing complete focus on the task at hand. This type of experience is usually the aim of most game designers. The combined aspects of flow and liminality give games the potential to become subversive, anti-structure, liberating activities that can be studied through a cultural-psychological lens, amongst others. This kind of work also highlights how games relate to Michael Bhaktin’s concept of the carnivalesque: a quality of games that transports us to a place of rules that are out of the ordinary, a place where “life is subject only to its laws, that is, the laws of its own freedom.”
One could use a ludological approach that focuses on the internal organization and formal models of the game: how the game works as an enclosed object. This approach is also extremely important and tends to focus on the core of the game play experience while most of the previously mentioned methods focus on the shell. A ludological approach would be the vanilla ice cream of Game Studies.