Summer 2014 Video Games Reading Group

Bridges between the Academic and academic scholarship in games:

We must realize that multiple disciplines have valuable insights and inroads for scholarship about video games. This reading group is not about capturing that multi-disciplinarity. There exists a set of games-specific traditional texts, spurred largely by new(er) publications in video games, such as Games & Culture, Journal of Game Studies, Boss Fight Books, Press Select, and MIT Press's Game Studies series. Having these publications has initiated the tradition(s) of scholarship dealing with video games. Traditions, however, always have blind spots: Scholarship that does not originate from the traditional power structure does not get included as traditional texts; knowledge that does not match the traditional form is not considered knowledge. In the case of video game scholarship, non-traditional texts play a very large role in the actual public practice and theories of video game culture, whether it’s criticism, development, design, or consumption. While traditional texts (and their status as traditional texts) certainly have value for approaching and understanding video game scholarship, we must recognize the influence of non-traditional texts and the value that these texts bring to the tradition(s) of video game scholarship. This reading group is about bridging the Academic tradition of video game scholarship and non-traditional academic video game scholarship. So, these readings are divided loosely by topic while providing both non-traditional and traditional scholarship on video games that discuss each topic.  

I’m not going to do any set time limits for meetings, but I expect them to be about an hour and half long, depending on how much we’ve got to say about the readings.


Thursday, July 10, 2014: Meet at Finnbar’s at 5pm to talk about the syllabus, schedule, and generally catch-up.

Thursday, July 17, 2014: Meet at Finnbar’s at 5pm to discuss Definition of games.

Thursday, July 24, 2014: Meet at Finnbar’s at 5pm to discuss Magic circle.

Thursday, July 31, 2014: Meet at Finnbar’s at 5pm to discuss Formalism.

Thursday, August 7, 2014: Meet at Finnbar’s at 5pm to discuss Genre.

Thursday, August 14, 2014: Meet at Finnbar’s at 5pm to discuss Methodology.

Thursday, August 21, 2014: Meet at Finnbar’s at 5pm to discuss Representation and repression in games.

People of the internet:

This reading list and the topics presented here are not the whole deal. There are many great academic writers with a wide range of excellent work. You can find many of these people at Here are some people whose work I read on a regular basis that I didn't put in this syllabus who are as deserving of being in it as anyone in it, in no particular order: Zoya Street, Five out of Ten Magazine, Jenn Frank, Lana Polansky, Liz Ryerson, First Person Scholar, Ontological Geek.

When I led this reading group, we used my dropbox account for many readings. If you would like access to these readings, contact me directly at or DM me @gaineshubbell.

What follows are the readings, my opening talk, and my notes (such as they were) for each meeting. P. S., Sorry about the abuse of the <p> tag and lack of <br> tag; I was lazy.

Definition of games

Aarseth, E. (2001). Computer game studies year one. Journal of Game Studies, 1(1). Retrieved from

Games as process and as text/object.

Juul, J. (2003). The game, the player, the world: Looking for a heart of gameness. In M. Copier & J. Raessens (Eds.), Level up: Digital games research conference proceedings (pp. 30-45). Utrecht: Utrecht University. Retrieved from 

Definition of game by features of definitions of game

Zimmerman, E. (2004). Narrative, interactivity, play, and games: Four naughty concepts in need of discipline. Retrieved from

Frequently used words, frequently too complex for their use. More play to them than seems.

Galloway, A. (2006). Gamic action, four moments. In A. Galloway, Gaming: Essays on algorithmic culture (pp. 1-38). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [In Dropbox]

Standard def. of games, video game is cultural object. Diegetic/nondiegetic/operator/machine.

Swain, E. (2009, February 24). What is video game completion? [Web log post]. The Game Critique. Retrieved from 

Games as separate medium as defined by completion.

Koster, R. (2013, April 9). A letter to Leigh [web log post]. Retrieved from 

Auteur theory and structuralist response to challenges to structuralist definitions.

Bartlett, M. & Swift, S. (2013). How to destroy everything, or, why video games do not exist (and how this is great for everyone). S. Crisp (Ed). Presentation at the 2013 Freeplay Independent Games Festival. Retrieved from 

Immersion, replayability, games as art as speech-act.

Brice, M. (2013, November 14). End the video supremacy of games [web log post]. Retrieved from

Technophilia in our definitions.

Optional: Beirne, S. (2014, July 7). Ye olde interactivity paradigm [web log post]. Retrieved from

Optional: Koster, R. (2014, July 9). Interactivity [web log post]. Retrieved from

Optional: Koster, R. (Ed.). (2014). Reactions to “Interactivity” [tweets]. Retrieved from 

Notes for Definition of Games, Video Game Summer Reading Group 2:

Why talk about the definition of games?

Mostly because it will come up again and again as we read more. Also, methodology. In studying games, we have to know what it is we're studying, lest we study different things and all call them games. More than that though, when we do game studies, the way we define the game is often the first methodological decision we make, and often it's the one we never talk about. In most game studies work, the selection of texts comes first--where we decide what counts as a game for study or criticism and what does not. What fits our discussion of games (and what doesn't) changes the way we see the game. The way we see the game, the method of defining our text/object, is a political decision as well. Formal definitions of games, such as Salen and Zimmerman's for instance, may rule out queer games from the realm of games. Games that challenge formal definitions may never be games under formal definitions of games. That's not to say that formal definitions are bad. Formal definitions are one set among many definitions of games, and every definition, when well founded, serves the methdological purpose of delimiting the game as text/object/process so that it can be studied, i.e., if the definition of game is too broad, then studies in game studies are not finishable, publishable, or worse, informative.

What is definition?

Several kinds of definition: Working/Stipulative/Theoretical (formal logic definition, a working definition that evolves for logical challenges, usually a set of propositions).

Discursive/Descriptive/Lexical (definition that appeals to general usage by certain people).

Nominal (defining something by its name, oftentimes a definition whose reasoning fails).

Necessary/Intensional (lists all properties that are necessary at minimum for something to qualify as defined).

Ostensive/Deictic (point at something, call it something, this is the "I know it when I see it" definition).

Essential (defining something by its essence or essential nature, where a working definition may have a set of logical propositions, this one has one proposition, oftentimes a definition whose reasoning relies on a god term).

Operational/Functional (defining a thing by what it does, not what it is, sometimes called a defining instead of a definition).

As a general rule, stay out of the realm of nominal and essential definitions. Nominal definitions don't provide meaningful boundaries, emphasis on the meaningful part, so studies of games as nominally defined may grow too large and have loose connections between objects. Essential definitions typically rely upon a god term of some kind, which leads to a questionable object; for instance, if games are essentially interactive, then you're not studying games, you're studying interactivity (so why have games in study?). This is not to say that nominal and essential definitions are inherently bad. They aren't. They have strengths that are useful in certain instances. Nominal definitions are very accepting, which means they can challenge existing scholarship by stretching fundamental premises in useful ways. Essential definitions establish objects as exceptional (meaning they need a science of their own) and tend to beg the question of empirical scientific research, a worthwhile method in certain situations.



Need a definition because "to disregard those socio-aesthetic aspects and also to force outdated paradigms onto a new cultural object."

Computer games are not one medium, but many different media.

Games are

-often simulations (complex systems based on logical rules)

-both object and process

-played (creative involvement, can't be predicted beforehand, depend on player)

Games are not

-static labyrinths like hypertexts or literary fictions



Computer games as subset of games.

Def. of good definition of "game": 1) The kinds of systems set up by the rules of a game (the game). 2) The relation between the game and the player of the game (the player). 3) The relation between the playing of the game and the rest of the world (the world).

History of game definitions: Heavy on play until recently, largely influenced by Huizinga and Caillois

Introduction of "game-like": Things are game-like if they have some but not all of the 6 Juulian features of games.

Game media are the material support of games' immaterial essential natures. Games are overarching, transmedial definitions which then see "implementations" in different game media. Game media support games through Computation (CPU, how media uphold the rules); Game State (Memory, what keeps track); and Interface (how detailed the player interactions with the game are).

"Discussing the rules of games, we may have a nagging feeling that games contain a built-in contradiction: Since we would normally assume play to be a free-form activity devoid of constraints, it appears illogical that we would choose to limit our options by playing games with fixed rules. Why be limited when we can be free? The answer to this is basically that games provide context for actions ... The rules of a game add meaning and enable actions by setting up differences between potential moves and events."

Games are

-rule based

-formal system with variable and quantifiable outcomes

-things a player exerts effort in order to influence an outcome

-formations of attachment to outcomes

-optional and negotiable

-dependent on immaterial support

Games are not

-tied to any specific medium or set of props

-commonly associated with a material support

-game media



"The truth, of course, is that there are no right or wrong approaches. It all depends on the field in which a particular inquiry is operating and exactly what the inquiry itself is trying to accomplish."

"Games and stories – as well as play, narrative, and interactivity – predate computers by millennia."

Zimmerman's closet modernism is the fairest statement of definitional methodology we're going to get from any of these texts. It also flavors his definitions considerably.

4 Concepts that are poorly defined in game studies (An academic definition of everything except interactivity):


"A narrative has an initial state, a change in that state, and insight brought about by that change. You might call this process the “events” of a narrative."


"reciprocally active; acting upon or influencing each other; allowing a two-way flow of information between a device and a user, responding to the user’s input"

-Cognitive, "interactions a participant can have with the ... 'content'"

-Functional, material interactive experience.

-Explicit, choices and stimulus-response moments.

-Meta-/cultural, fandoms and intermedial interactions.


"Play is the free space of movement within a more rigid structure. Play exists both because of and also despite the more rigid structures of a system."

-Game play.

-Ludic activities, play without formally structured rule sets.

-Playful, not actual play but "injecting a spirit of play into some other action"


"A game is a voluntary interactive activity, in which one or more players follow rules that constrain their behavior, enacting an artificial conflict that ends in a quantifiable outcome."



-behavior constraining rules

-artificiality (as opposed to "real life")


-quantifiable outcome



"One should resist equating gamic action with a theory of “interactivity” or the “active audience” theory of media. Active audience theory claims that audiences always bring their own interpretations and receptions of the work."

Fundamental privilege of some muscles over others: "used to be primarily the domain of eyes" v. "that of muscles and doing, thumbs".

Video games are a mass medium.

"The division is completely artificial—both the machine and the operator work together in a cybernetic relationship to effect the various actions of the video game in its entirety. The two types of action are ontologically the same. In fact, in much of gameplay, the two actions exist as a unified, single phenomenon, even if they are distinguishable for the purposes of analysis."

An orthogonal set-up:

Axis X: Operator --- Machine.

Axis Y: Nondiegetic --- Diegetic.

Quadrant 1: Diegetic machine act / Ambience act, machinima.

Quadrant 2: Diegetic operator act / Move act / expressive act, button presses with diegetic actions.

Quadrant 3: Nondiegetic operator act / Configure / Menu act, button presses with non-diegetic actions.

Quadrant 4: Nondiegetic machine act / Disabling act / enabling act / machinic embodiments / network lag, powering off/on, loading.

Machinic embodiments = material constraints of the medium.

"I have deliberately avoided the assumption—incorrect, in my view—that video games are merely games that people play on computers. Such a position leads to a rather one-dimensional view of what video games are. I have also tried to avoid privileging either play or narrative, another tendency that is common in other approaches." -- Really? Honest, limited methodology is better than dishonest methodology: Avoided the assumption about games as games on computer but built the entire philosophy around that assumption. Tried to avoid narrative but built the system around the terms "diegesis" and "act".

Games are:

-an activity defined by rules in which players try to reach a goal.

Video games are:

-a cultural object, bound by history and materiality.

-consisting of an electronic computational device and a game simulated in software.

-an active medium ("an active medium is one whose very materiality moves and restructures itself")

-an action-based medium


-complex, active media

-involve both humans and computers

-may transpire both inside and outside diegetic space

Video games are not:

-just images, stories, play, or games



This article is largely about defining game completion; however, "Only with video games does this become a near philosophical question to the nature of the medium" makes it clear that Swain is well aware of implications of defining video game completion for defining games as a medium themselves. What I'm getting at here is that non-traditional academic game studies texts can only be fairly understood with non-traditional academic reading strategies. That is, if you think Swain's not talking about defining video games, you're reading his article with an exclusionary politics of Academic game studies.

Games are the exceptional, meaning defined, by their status of completion not being the same thing as the end.

Are DLC separate games?

Is watching a game finishing the game?

Where does this definition stand if we treat it not as an essential definition but as a necessary definition? What more would be needed if it's a necessary definition?

Games are:

-texts where the end of the narrative does not mean the end of the text

-texts with multiple endings

-texts with extrinsic goals

Games are not:

-texts with solely textual endings



Alexander: Games need challenges and rules, but we don't traditionally include empathy or normativity as rules or challenges. Listening is an important part of conversation.

Again, this is a response to a set of tweets. Part of being a good non-traditional academic reader is engaging non-traditional academics in their publications of choice as valuable publications themselves.

Aesthetic of unplayability: removing players' agency over quantifiable outcomes and/or subverting formal expectations of games to make games.

Currents in the aesthetic of unplayability:

-False winnable situations (Presenting a game state as winnable when its not)

-Play as complicity (Games where the only [moral] win state is to not play)

-False choices (Player is presented with choices that ultimately arrive at the same state, often a state of deplorable normalcy).

"Defining a term is" implicitly reinforcing boundaries.

Games are:

A -broader than the formal systems of rules and quantifiable outcomes.

-interactive to some degree.


-able to portray everyday habits and rituals.

-are uncomfortable with themselves.

-uniquely about a conversation between player and designer.

-are the only medium you can argue with-and maybe change the game's mind.

Games are not:

A -so small that empathy and normativity are not part of quantifiable outcomes or formal systems of rules.


Bartlett & Swift:

"Gameplay", "visceral", "immersion", "replayability" fall into the same problem as ableist language.

We should question "why should [these words] be desirable, let alone measurable".

"Our formalist understanding of games ignores marginalized authors, unless they comply with the dominant traditions. Since games culture has been historically dominated by a narrows segment of the population, predominantly straight white men, the label “non-game” is a gendered label."

Realism and stylism are a false dichotomy.

"These outsider games, these destructive works, can help us broaden our perception of our medium."

""Games are art" means listening to voices of dissent. It means engaging in these discussions about what our culture and our games say." - This is a practice, a process.

Games are:

-limited systems of reality.

-systems with abnormalities.

-more than "what video games can do".



-more than the status quo.

Games are not:

-distinct ludic elements and narrative.

-harmonious formalism.

-freedom in a system.

-what we expect.

-either realistic or unrealistic.

-invented and do not exist.



The politics of consumerism and capitalist production are part of our definition of games, especially when we think games are video games.

"Why are we allowing the rhetoric of tech business dominate play?"

Technophilia ruins our games: "Only certain types of play and games are legitimized within and outside the circle of video games when this tech fetishization goes unchecked."

Games are:

-more than video games.

Games are not:

-what we are sold.


Magic Circle

Huizinga, J. (1955/2006). Nature and significance of play as a cultural phenomenon. In K. Salen & E. Zimmerman (Eds.), The game design reader: A rules of play anthology (pp. 96-120) [In Dropbox]

An anthropologist casually used the word magic before the word circle.

Salen, K., & Zimmerman, E. (2004). The magic circle. In Rules of play. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press. [In Dropbox]

Magic circle is temporary demarcated context of a game.

Koster, R. (2004). What games are. In A theory of fun for game design (pp. 34-47). Scottsdale, AZ: Paraglyph Press. [In Dropbox]

No magic circle: Abstraction from reality Is what the brain knows. Puzzles begat edutainment.

Atkins, B. (2006). What are we really looking at? The future-orientation of video game play. Games and Culture, 1(2), pp. 127-140. [In Dropbox]

Gameplay as possibility space that is future oriented. Game gaze.

Juul, J. (2008) The magic circle and the puzzle piece. Keynote address at the meeting of the Philosophy and Computer Games Conference. [In Dropbox]

Magic circle is its liminality, and it sucks.

Consalvo, M. (2009). There is no magic circle. Games and Culture, 4(4), pp. 408-417. [In Dropbox]

Rules in addition to rules, not suspension of either.

Zimmerman, E. (2012, February 2). Jerked around by the magic circle—Clearing the air ten years later. Gamasutra. Retrieved from 

Zimmerman and Salen have been straw-manned

Allen, S. (2014, May 7). Nintendos whimsical simulation erases an entire population of players and that's intolerable. Polygon. Retrieved from 

Magic Circle and negative effects for queer communities.

Magic Circle, Video Games Summer Reading Group 2

So, last week we talked about definitions of games. And, that is a big part of the methodological work that we do in game studies. But, it's certainly not all of it. If we have a definition of games, whatever definition you prefer or are using at the moment, what does that mean for the player? Last week's definition of game was about defining games as text, object, or process. We're looking at the magic circle because it is the convenient term for talking about games as "received" or "played" texts, objects, or processes. Some definitions of games will never get into the magic circle, but many will. Especially, when we're dealing with the effects, virtues, or damages of games. Some questions that might be helpful for us: Where is the "line" between things that belong to the player and things that belong to the game? How much of the game is received by the player? Is latency (or any other non-diegetic machine act) part of play? Is play dependent on the game that's being played? How do you study players playing a game? Are people watching Let's Plays inside the magic circle or outside the magic circle? Are we still playing The Stanley Parable or Gone Home because this question referred to them? Is there a limit to the magic circle?



This text is old.

Nick Hanford: "Work on a concept doesn't start and end at the concept's beginning."

What are the grounds of evidence presented by this text? How do those grounds influence subsequent research for which this text is a starting point?

"We find play present everywhere as a well defined quality of action which is different from ordinary life. ... Play as a special form of activity, as a 'significant form,' as a social function-that is our subject. We shall not look for the natural impulses and habits conditioning play in general, but shall consider play in its manifold concrete forms as itself a social construction."

"The whole point is to show that genuine, pure play is one of the main bases of civilisation."

Play is non-seriousness (but can be serious), play is not foolish, play is not comical (though comic is non-seriousness). Play is neither wisdom nor folly, neither truth nor falsehood, neither good nor evil. Play is non-material activity. Play has no moral function.

"Play is a function of the living, but is not susceptible of exact definition either logically, biologically, or aesthetically."

Ultimately steps out of essentialism and into a more discursive take on play.

Characteristics of play: Free/freedom. Not "ordinary" or "real" life. Creates/is order. Being within a play-ground. Is absorbing intensely and utterly. --Going back to the definition discussion. Do we think Huizinga is working on essential definitions? nominal definitions? working definitions? necessary definitions?

"Any game can at any time wholly run away with the players"--But can the players run away with the game?

"All play moves and has its being within a play-ground marked off beforehand either materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of course."

Play-communities: the social grouping w/i the magic circle, tends to persist outside it.

Magic circles:

-"Temporary sphere of activity with a disposition all of its own"

-"marked off either materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of course"

-"temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart"

-spoil-sport does not acknowledge the magic circle

-false player/cheater does acknowledge the magic circle


Salen & Zimmerman:

Distinction between informal play and formal play: Formal play happens in games. Informal play happens outside of games. --Whose rules are more artificial and does their artificiality change their relationship to "reality" (here, normative social construction)?

"The idea of a special place in time and space created by a game. The fact that the magic circle is just that-a circle-is an important feature of this concept. As a closed circle, the space it circumscribes is enclosed and separate from the real world. As a marker of time, the magic circle is like a clock: it simultaneously represents a path with a beginning and end, but one without beginning and end. The magic circle inscribes a space that is repeatable, a space both limited and limitless. In short, a finite space with infinite possibility."

"The game simply begins when one or more players decide to play."

A "new reality" is created when the player(s) sit down to play a game.

Games as rules, as play, and as culture: Games as rules = games are formal systems of rules (with whatever material accoutrement needed); Games as play = Games happen when the player steps up to bat; Games as culture = Games are instillations or moments of cultural practice.

Lusory attitude = act of faith that invests the game with special meaning.



In a way, this is representing a different kind of scientism than Huizinga; however, this scientism is founded on a more logical basis (learning) in that its logic does not belong to a wholly different methodology.

"Games are very real to me ... Since our perception of reality is basically abstractions anyway."

From Korzybski: "A map is not the territory it represents, but if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness."

"There's been a lot of hay made over how play is non-goal-oriented and games tend to have goaJs; over how toys are aimed at pointless play rather than being games: about how make-believe is a form of play and not a game."

Grok = to understand something intuitively or empathicly.

"a good game is therefore 'one that teaches everything it has to offer before the player stops playing.'"

Fun = learning. Boredom = the lack of learning. --How much does "new" or "new information" infiltrate this idea? When talking about the magic circle, Koster's got an idea of a very permeable magic circle, but how much does the magic circle depend on a game's fun not being superseded by the player's previous fun experiences (where fun is learning and previous fun is learned)?

"The 'magic circle' is basically an attempt to protect the integrity of a model". --Super awesome succinct quote, buried in the endnotes for those of us who actually read.



In a somewhat roundabout way, Atkins is getting at issues of the magic circle here, especially as they involve audience knowledge vs. game representations. But really, I want us to think of the game gaze as an idea competing with the magic circle for fulfilling that received aspect of gameplay. And, it’s worth mentioning here that Atkins' game gaze is getting at a dominant cultural perspective that does not represent all engagements, see The Gamer's Gaze on Your Critic is in Another Castle blog for more.

"The mainstream video game audience expects to be wowed at every turn by something both familiar and novel, that allows them to deploy their existing game literacy to know how to play but expresses a desire to experience something new."

"Any imaginary participants in the game play versus graphics debate might look at Wipeout Pure and claim to have common sense on their side as they establish their respective positions."

"Things get a little messy in video game criticism if we attempt to make sweeping definitive statements about all games."

"If we simply look at a player of games we will realize the importance of the gaze to the experience."

"The question we should ask ourselves however is what it is that fixes the player of games so firmly to his or her screen. What the spectator sees from the outside even risks missing the whole function of the observation of the screen within the temporality of video game play. In a very real sense, any possible observer is out of synchronization with the player of the game. ... To the outsider the screen may appear more or less visually interesting, more or less aesthetically pleasing: To the player it is full of rich possibilities of future action, pointing always off to the moment at which it will be replaced by another image and then another."--What does this mean for the way we work as critics and academics of games? Is it something more than "we must do much more than simply observe"?

"Games are also temporal events that exist only in their dialogic relationship with a player."

Game play "remains a difficult term" but it could refer to the part of the game that happens through game gaze.

Game play lies between "the imagination of the possibility of plural future outcomes" and the "physical action of the manipulation of the interface of control".

Game gaze focuses on the "'what happens next if I' that places the player at the center of experience as its principle creator, necessarily engaged in an imaginative act, and always oriented toward the future."



Three circles: Game as goal oriented, game as experience, game as a social normal context.

The hard boundary hypothesis of the magic circle may be as fictional as the ludology v. narratology divide.

Juul's exemplary contexts are a great segue from last week's definition of games: Are the required time or only running on a platform the player doesn't own parts of the context under the definitions that we read last week? Are they parts of the text of the game under some of the definitions? What happens to the magic circle or the puzzle piece under a definition of games where platform or time length are part of the text (rather than context) of the game?

"The magic circle is best understood as the boundary that players negotiate."

Are we really "many decades removed from the specific historical situation that spawned the hunt for binarisms"-- Or-- raise your hand if being a student/faculty member at a polytechnic means you've found binarisms that need to be hunted, dragged out of academic premises, or otherwise publicly executed.

Paradox of the magic circle: "a game must be integrated into a context in order to be experienced as separate from that context."

Puzzle piece: games as having different contextual interfaces on their sides without which they are meaningless. Mostly a mind game for shifting the discourse without improving the status of the conceptual grounds of the argument. Might be drawing on ANT in some ways?



Paratexts: The texts that contextualize and exist beside games, ex. fora, bbs, marketing, let's plays.

Is the magic circle useful?: Yes, similar to Koster's take on it as an attempt to protect the integrity of the model, which Consalvo calls structuralist. "It emphasizes form at the cost of function."

Formalist perspective serves as a useful straw-man for Consalvo.

"There is no innocent gaming": Players bring outside knowledge, rules, and desired goals into the game and gameplay.

"Structures may be necessary to begin gameplay, but we cannot stop at structures as a way of understanding the gameplay experience."

"We cannot say that games are magic circles, where the ordinary rules of life do not apply. Of course they apply, but in addition to, in competition with, other rules and in relation to multiple contexts, across varying cultures, and into different groups, legal situations, and homes."



Paraphrase: I didn't mean it that way! Really!

Zimmerman proposed magic circle in what-was-intended-as a game design disciplinary text; thus, it won't satisfy other disciplinary expectations.

"Concepts and ideas should be understood within the framework of their originating discipline."

"I have always thought that the multiple-schema approach of Rules of Play offers an antidote to a narrow, rules-centric approach -- the approach of the magic circle jerk." --It's easy to see how the language of Rules of Play failed this rhetoric. The definition of games can easily be read across the entirety of the text as a limited formalist perspective.

"In my opinion, design concepts (such as the magic circle as described in Rules of Play) derive their value from their utility to solve problems. Their value is not derived from their scientific accuracy or proximity to truth."



It should go without saying that Allen is doing a critical analysis of how Nintendo's marketing and game design are magic circle jerks and how this ideology damages its relationship with its players and ultimately damages its gameplay.

"Nintendo's staid commitment to cultural conservatism has always been frustratingly at odds with its creative innovation, and fans are no longer able to tolerate the dissonance between the two."

"Players don't want to choose between an 'alternate world' and a 'real-life' one." --This is a step beyond Consalvo: Not only do players not choose between an 'alternate' and 'real' world, they don't want to. This is merging Atkins's game gaze with Consalvo's magic circle.



O’Donnell, C. (2013). Wither Mario Factory? The role of tools in constructing (co)creative possibilities on video game consoles. Games and Culture, 8(3), pp. 161-180. [In Dropbox]

Dev tools prefigure the roles available to users through constraint.

AVB. (n.d.). Craft and form [Web log post]. [In Dropbox]

Craft and form are inseparable and make game mechanics and narrative.

Gach, E. (2013, August 14). From dissonance to gameisms [Web log post]. Retrieved from 

Ludonarrative dissonance and gameisms.

Filipowich, M. (2013, September 21). Tighten up the narrative in level 3: The grammar of videogames [Web log post]. Retrieved from 

Ludology w/o narratology is grammar w/o words.

Lifschitz, A. (2014, March 16). The treachery of games [text and video]. Presentation at the first annual meeting of Critical Proximity, San Francisco. Retrieved from 

Formalism limits games to definitions and materials.

Koster, R. (2014, March 16). A new formalism [text and video]. Presentation at the first annual meeting of Critical Proximity, San Francisco. Retrieved from 

Formalism has multiple levels. Structuralism works.

Keogh, B. R. (2014, July 9). Thoughts on why I am unable to appreciate Mountain [web log post]. Retrieved from 

Formalism, interactivity, and def. of game come home to roost.

Formalism, Video Games Reading Group 2

I apologize, I'm not as prepared this week as I have been in past weeks, so I'm going to rely on you guys to talk more this week.

I think it’s fair to say that formalism has been the dominant approach to games studies. Bogost's "procedural rhetoric" is surprisingly formalist. Just about every treatment of games as texts is a formalist approach to games studies. It's really surprising how far formalism reaches in games studies, even Galloway's gamic actions are largely formalist. Formalism is a very powerful word in games studies, and it can be both praise and dismissive critique. No doubt, there are right ways to do formalism and wrong ways to do formalism. I'm not sure I could say what ethics make the difference between right and wrong formalism, but formalism can certainly be as useful an approach to games as it is a common one.

Also, if we're unclear what formalism is:

Good luck, and have fun reading the ten+ different wikipedia pages to see where you should start. Seriously though, formalism has a more or less different definition in a lot of different disciplines; most importantly, these disciplines surround games studies (philosophy, art, film, lit, even linguistics and maths). In general for all of these disciplines, formalism is emphasizing the logic of the text over the text's context. In other words, it's about lines, grammars, tropes, style, cameras, lighting, and code, not race, gender, nationality, history, or culture.

Since this is a fairly specific approach to games studies, it's probably worthwhile to think of these questions during the readings: What's this text's approach to formalism? What's useful about this text's formalism? What's not useful or potentially troubling about this text's formalism? Is there a correction for those troubling features, and is that correction within the realm of formalism?



So, if we're going chronologically, sorry, this is a terrible piece to start with--not because it’s bad in any exceptional way, but because it’s working on a technological formalism, which is throwing some formalisms for a loop.

"Users’ tools are highly constrained by the sites and the methods with which they are allowed to engage with video game developers." -- How much does this claim rely on a) expert culture or b) a discursive definition of game developers?

Btw, technological affordances are important. We see how they are themselves a kind of formalism right? Ok, good.

Not to nitpick, but the wither without the h confounds me.



Craft and form are interconnected. One doesn't happen without the other although we pull a sleight of hand where we separate them for discussion purposes.

Can we study craft?



Ludo-narrative dissonance is the gameplay disagrees with the narrative ark. Gameisms are when the gameplay doesn't match "reality".



This is the last time anyone in the academic, capital A or not, community will talk about narratology v. ludology as far as I'm concerned. Between Filipowich and AVB and Janet Murray, narratology v. ludology is done.

"The context provided by a story can systematically alter behaviour" and "Alternatively, mechanics compose a story".

"People take their experiences--fictive and non-fictive--with them" -- This is a little bit of a cop-out on why we do criticism. It does highlight a common "so what" response for formalist criticism of games-as-text.



Apperley, T. H. (2006). Genre and game studies: Toward a critical approach to video game genres. Simulation and Gaming, 37(1), pp. 6-23. [In Dropbox]

Game genres as predicated on prior media.

Bogost, I. (2007). Chapter 1: Procedural rhetoric. In Persuasive games: The expressive power of videogames (pp. 1 - 64). Cambridge: MIT Press. [In Dropbox]

Procedurality wars 4: A new procedural rhetoric hope.

Harper, T. (2011). Rules, rhetoric, and genre: Procedural rhetoric in Persona 3. Games and Culture, 6(5), pp. 395-413. [In Dropbox]

Building up from grounded textual analysis.

Hubbell, G. S. (2014). Grand theft autonomy: The difference between being five and being online. Presentation at the annual meeting of the Popular Culture Association, Chicago, IL. [In Dropbox]

Genre as received instead of marketed hegemony of genre.

Optional: Patel, A. (2013, November 21). Concept games and genre definitions. PixelsOrDeath. Retrieved from 

Genre, Video Game Reading Group 2:

If questions of media are the ultimate macro-level that scholarly work on video games arrives at, genre is the penultimate macro-level discussion that all of our talk of formalism and definition/limits of games arrives at. And, that's not to say these are distinct levels of discussion: we saw media/technological affordances come up in the definition of games and in O'Donnell's approach to formalism and that genre was undergirding many of the previous discussions as well.

So what is genre? Well, there are a lot of definitions out there. I'm partial to Carolyn Miller's take on it, but I'm a rhetorician so, no surprises (Miller, C. R. 1984. Genre as social action. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 70). Miller's approach has some significant problems, so I don't want us to belabor our discussion by relying too heavily on it. For this discussion, let's say genre are recurrent conventions of form/style that are typified by certain content or substance. They are, themselves, forms operating in some ways outside of a text or individual practice itself.

That said,



This is an early and important pushback against the domination of marketing generic definitions in scholarly games studies work.

"A crucial problem in the study of video games: that they cannot be regarded as a consistent medium." --I like this quote.

Interactivity is established as the defining "attribute" of video games as a medium. This is ultimately a limiting definition of games-as-text--there's no respondents, no discourse analysis, in this article.

"The current established genres accepted by the audience and industry do not take into account the complex layering of genre that occurs within video games"--"Layers" of genre is an important conceptual framework for approaching genre in video games. It imagines games as conglomerations of prior media, convergences. In a way this is a useful and effective kludge (Mike Fortune's reimagining/shift of bricolage), but it is a kludge, i.e., it doesn't approach games per se, in other words, it doesn't allow games to have their own genres.

Descriptive terms for genre:

Platform (the hardware systems).

Mode (the way the game world is experienced, e.g., hard rails, soft rails, free movement, multi-, single-player).

Milieu (the visual genre).

"This blurring is significant in the understanding of video games, and video game genres, as it indicates the inseparability of the player and the text."

Close readings of genres: Simulation, Strategy, Action, Role-playing.--Of particular interest here are the examples. Strange to see SW:KotOR listed as an action game wasn't it?

Ludology and narratology is a debate that Apperley buys into in this piece. It is, then, upheld as representing two taxonomies of genre.



So Bogost is here primarily for the contribution of "procedural genre" to our games studies lexicon. If we want to talk about Bogost's procedural rhetoric more generally, I'd rather we table that discussion for next week's methodology talk or at least until the end of today's meeting. I know we have Great Big Feels, or at least I do, about "procedural rhetoric" so let's take that time later and do genre now.

"Procedural genres emerge from assemblages of procedural forms. These are akin to literary, filmic, or artistic genres like the film noir, the lyric poem, or the science fiction novel." --I'm fine with this definition; however, it isn't drawn out in the chapter later or the book as a whole. To do this kind of analysis, one would have to do textual analysis of games looking for procedural forms, then draw categorizations of games with similar sets of procedural forms. This would be typical textual genre studies work; however, no one has done this (what are procedural forms?). Moreover, it's inappropriate that "typical textual genre studies work" should characterize video game genre as a whole.

Video game genres: "the platformer, the first-person shooter, the turn-based strategy game, and so forth." --These are discursive at best and marketing genres at worst.

Later, "the anti-advergame" is called a video game genre.--Is the anti-advergame a different procedural genre? Is it a different genre from advergames?

Video games themselves are a subgenre of "computational media."



Datesim genre and RPG dungeon crawl genre are two connected sides of one game, a fusion of genre.

Using Bogost's procedural rhetoric, but not Bogost's procedural genres.

"In both authors’ [M. J. P. Wolf's and T. Apperley's] arguments, it is suggested that narrative concerns like story, theme, and character are not sufficient to the medium; that digital games, as something new and different, demand a way of looking at genre that is specific to their unique qualities."

This has got some old narratology v. ludology debate going on in it.

"In my own previous work (Harper, 2006) I suggest a model where both mechanics and theme are influences that are subservient to the goals of the player." --This would lead to a different take on genre in video games, one more in line with Miller's genre (although certainly not totally in line since her genre has that bizarre juggle of managerial rhetoric and rhetoric-as-received/experiential rhetoric without the twain ever meeting).

It's worth remembering how Harper has written this method section: "Textual analysis is the obvious choice" (for a procedural rhetoric analysis). Fresh playthrough = first run of the text, as different from a ___?___ playthrough. Playthroughs defined by good or bad ending paths.

I think this shift between the literature review's discussion of procedural rhetoric and the methods section's discussion of textual analysis is very clever. It seems like Harper's paid the citational lip-service due to Bogost, then called procedural rhetoric what it is: textual analysis.

Ultimately arrives at a point where the fusion of genres becomes auteur theory, "Persona 3 certainly is a genre game, though the genre in question might simply be 'a Shin Megami Tensei game'", and that genre studies of games lends itself not to understanding the recurrent conventions of genre but of challenging accepted formalist debate "What the procedural way of looking at genre suggests is that instead of looking for the presence or absence of elements from a set genre list, we should consider the ways in which various common narrative and ludic frames are configured."

That being the case, Harper still allows genre to have expressive power, see the difference between Persona 3's time and Madden NFL's time for example.



Hubbell is a good critic of himself, but a bad reader of himself. I won't add any of my ideas of discussion points here. I'll add whatever particularly salient points come up in our discussion though. The one exception, page 8 notes: "the discrimination that we'd like to see" should be "the discrimination that we'd like to see removed" although there's certainly room for the original version since by "soldiering on" we're to some extent performing our preferred discrimination given the context of the game. Anyway, what follows are selected quotes from our discussion:

"It seems like there's a shut-off to conversation: we encounter a transphobic etc text and we genre-lize it in that way, and we stop talking about it? What do we do then?"

"Or whatever we do after this, it's external to this. It doesn't follow from this, it's something we bring to it politically or whatever"

"It seems like you're setting up a first order genre studies and a second order genre studies. There's a primary distinction between reifying discrimination and just not doing it and then there's the formalistic genre after that"

"So you're not setting this up as a genre itself but as a mask for genre"—Me:"No, as a genre itself"—"I'd like it better if it were a mask for genre because it closes off certain ways of playing or certain kinds of texts."

"The sandbox exists now as a mask for discriminatory games, it seems like you're trying to propose the opposite of that."

"I would love to see some more about experience as knowledge, taking on that as one of, what I see as a defining characteristic of online games writing."

"What is being masked and what is masking is a serious question"

"I've never played a game where I didn't run against a wall; I might run against different walls from someone else, but there's a certain sense of discrimination every time."



Bogost, I. (2006). Chapter 1: Unit operations. In Unit Operations: An approach to videogame criticism (pp. 3 – 20). Cambridge: MIT Press. [In Dropbox]

Making programs out to be literature while doing black box analysis.

Bogost, I., & Montfort, N. (2007). New media as material constraint: An introduction to platform studies. Paper presented at the first international HASTAC Conference, Durham, NC. [In Dropbox]

Platform studies.

Apperley, T., & Jayemane, D. (2012). Game studies’ material turn. Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, 9(1), pp. 5-26. [In Dropbox]

Material turn = tech studies and is good.

Mayra, F. (2008). Preparing for a game studies project. In An introduction to game studies: Games in culture. London: Sage. [In Dropbox]

Overview of many methods.

Keogh, B. (2014). Across worlds and bodies: Criticism in the age of video games. Journal of Games Criticism, 1(1). Retrieved from 

Convergence as it affects philosophy and methodology.

Kazemi, D. (2014, March 16). Looking at source code. Presentation at the first annual meeting of Critical Proximity, San Francisco. Retrieved from 

Actually doing white box analysis.

Beirne, S., Swain, E., & Lindsey, P. (2014). Personal communication [Tweets]. In G. S. Hubbell (Ed.), Discussion: Eric Swain and Stephen Beirne [web log post]. Retrieved from 

Methods of criticism in dialectic.

Methodology, Video Game Reading Group 2:

I've planned on us taking a different approach to the readings today than we have in the past. This week let's have a pretty free-form discussion of methodology. So, instead of talking about these as distinct texts in chronological order as we've been doing. Let's talk different methods since that's the useful part of this topic.

To start us off on the same foot for terminology. A method is the thing that you do: closed fixed response interviews, participant observation, collaborative ethnography, textual analysis are all examples of methods (ideally when you use them, you would describe them in more detail than these words here). If a method is the thing (or set of things) that you do, then an approach, or theoretical lens, or (sometimes) paradigm (for you Kuhn fans), is the thing you think about while you're doing it: anarchist collaborative ethnography, Aristotelian rhetorical analysis, Marxist textual analysis, Foucauldian discourse analysis. A method is dry and struggles to find any expressive value in its results without an approach. An approach is groundless and struggles to find coherent and cohesive evidence without a method. If you feel the distinction is valuable, a methodology is the reasoning for why you have chosen the approach(es) and method(s) you chose.

Some questions to think about here: Is it a method or an approach? If it's both, where's the line between them? What is the method? Does the method necessitate a certain approach? Are there some approaches you can't use with that method? Is the method consistent in its scale/objects/direction? Does the method rely on its approach or vice versa? What makes a good method/a good approach?

(If you're reading this online, I've made my notes below more or less in the same format as before even though our discussion did not follow them)



Unit operations (unit analysis): Looks at discrete material "units". Leads us to platform studies. "The general practice of criticism through the discovery and exposition of unit operations at work in one or many source texts. Unit analysis is especially useful in comparative criticism across legacy and computational media, and it should prove equally useful in criticism of literature, film, or other artistic works. Each medium carries particular expressive potential, but unit analysis can help the critic uncover the discrete meaning-making in texts of all kinds."

"An operation is the means by which something executes some purposeful action."

Is this the same as procedural rhetoric(al analysis)? I'd say yes and no: It seems Bogost would have the two related, one built upon the other, but one is a coherent method, if limited, while the other is plain old literary textual analysis.

What does Bogost mean by "the critical level" in "unit operations are located both at the textual and the critical level"?

I don't think unit analysis at in its philosophical underpinnings is at all connected to unit analysis in Bogost's example usage of it on The Terminal. What Bogost has is a method for white box textual analysis best suited for materiality approaches of any kind. The way he uses it is as a black box textual analysis, which I cannot differentiate from traditional literary analysis (changing the terms doesn't change the concepts, in case you're thinking it can't be literary analysis because it’s called unit analysis).


Bogost & Montfort:

Is platform studies a method or an approach? (Both). But a more direct question is whether platform studies a single method and approach or multiple. (Multiple, as Bogost & Montfort have written it).

"How the hardware and software of platforms influences, facilitates, or constrains particular forms of computational expression."

Bogost & Montfort bring up a profound conundrum we see in rhetoric studies: Can the reception and creation of an artifact ever be combined in a unified study? See J. L. Austin, J. R. Searle, L. F. Bitzer, R. Vatz, and J. Derrida for a really difficult debate over this question.


Apperley & Jayemane:

I find this to be a much more focused argument in line with Bogost & Montfort. Where Bogost & Montfort seem reluctant to acknowledge platform studies, as broadly as they've written it, is a (set of) materialist approach(es) for game studies, Apperley & Jayemane use materiality as a precise and valuable term for presenting a whole slew of various methods and approaches within the ideological realm of materialism.

"Ethnography offers an approach that acknowledges the complex contexts in which game play takes place. Furthermore, it provides a useful strategy for accounting for the multiple ways in which an individual game may be played, not simply in terms of structural execution of the algorithm, but in terms of diverse affective, cultural and situated responses. Ethnography is a methodology that demands that digital games are not simply treated as homogeneous objects and experiences by highlighting the diverse – yet material – practices that take place in and around gaming."

"Platform studies has a materialist basis that connects it to a wider methodological development in media research: media archaeology."

"Platform studies would differentiate itself by arguing for a strong separation of code and platform...Other scholars argue that this separation is not so clear."

"The materiality of platforms can be turned inwards to examine the individual components of a platform, and just as easily outwards to focus on the organizational structure that allows the platform to be produced. The genius of platform studies is to locate the platform as the stable object within this complex, unfolding entanglement, allowing it to perform the role of a centre around which other relationships may be traced and examined."

Material ethnography: Look at people and their material (paratexts, interface mods, full fledged mods, corporate communications, user feedback, network connection, situation [home, financial, location], and technology.

Platform studies: abstracted interactions between software and platform, between platform and corporation.

Political economy: labor [in games, for games, producing games, modding games, producing resouces for games], power [relations, ideologies, military-industrial complexes, in society].


Neuroscience and cognitive science.

Hardware production.



This is a broad overview text written for undergraduate researchers, and as such, it brings up an important basic topic the other readings which were for more advanced audiences didn't: research questions. Research questions are your hypotheses phrased as questions, except they're usually the first thing you do, i.e., they happen before you have a hypothesis. They're very important for your methodology because the questions you ask will largely determine the appropriate methodology: This is how we get our method and approach to match the argument we make, how we get coherent and cohesive evidence that logically supports our research findings. If you want a reasonable and more detailed help with research questions, check out Booth, Colomb, & Williams, The Craft of Research (it's what I use when I do it, and it's what I use when I teach this) or Research Question on wikipedia (which is a pretty good intro even if the questions are scripts). When you want to study something, form your interest into a question. Then ask yourself what kind of evidence that question expects.

Some examples: How does the developer do something in a game --You're doing textual analysis or your interviewing the author, your approach is going to be auteur theory and/or hypodermic needle communication model (you won't positively cite Derrida). How does the game do something for us --you're doing textual analysis, your approach is going to be procedural rhetoric or formalism. How does the relationship between the game and the player affect us (during this scene or on this BBS) --You're doing rhetorical analysis, perhaps participant ethnographic research with discourse analysis, your approach could be Aristotelian, Burkean, Foucauldian, Platform studies, etc. How do we react to torture in games --you're doing observational or ethnographic research using discourse analysis, your approach is going to be cultural studies, social justice, cognitive science, etc. Do violent video games make us more violent --you're doing quantitative research over a period of time using closed, fixed response interviews and/or likert scale surveys and historical research involving longitudinal mental health records of some kind, your approach is going to be multivariable analysis (more violent than what?) and hypodermic needle communication model (make us).

Narrowing a research question: If your research question could be answered by multiple methods and/or approaches that you don't/won't/can't mix, your question is too broad. Change the language, tighten up the gaps, remove ambiguities. Your research question should direct you to a method or mixed method, an approach or mixed approach, a site, an object, and sometimes a subject, a control, or one or more variables. These things should all be limited in such a way that they present a finite study (so you aren't studying the history of being in everything) and appropriately related to eachother and to someone's identifiable sense of reality (so you're not studying unicorns or Japanese pegasi before 1600 BCE).

Structural gameplay analysis: responds to the core gameplay, formalist analysis of rules, mechanics, and dynamics.

Thematic analysis: representation, narrative and semiotic choices of the game.



"The critic must attend to both what the player is consciously aware of, and what the player is doing their best to ignore."

"They tacitly suggest that there is a pure videogame form somewhere out there that we should be striving for, that the videogames of yesterday and today are but pale imitations, still mired in the visual and narrative trappings of ‘old’ media."

"A cybernetic understanding of videogame play, then, does not leave the player’s body back in the real world while focusing on the events of an insular virtual world, but focuses on the meshing of materially different bodies into a single, cyborg body through which the player perceives the game."



White box analysis of code.

Many layers of what can be code: Core game code, engine, OS, maps, 3d code.

Textual analysis of code.

Legal constraints abound, but you don't have to be an expert coder to read the source code.

Is this what unit operations analysis looks like when it’s adhering to Bogost's methodology (but not his method)?


Beirne, Swain, and Lindsey:

Do not discount how important fleeting conversations like these are on twitter. This is a profound discussion, one of many, about methods and approaches to criticism that happens to be on a micro-blogging website, Twitter.

Beirne and Swain are discussing where the limits of a critic's personal subjectivity are and how those limits infringe on the methodology of criticism.

Methodology is often about laying out the logical reasoning for the way we look at games, and as such, can limit our personal subjectivity when we look at games. Personal subjectivity is an important part of methodology, but it isn't necessarily logical the way methodology would entail. How do we have methodology that accounts for our not logical subjective experience?


Representation and repression in games

Kennedy, H. W. (2002). Lara Croft: Feminist icon or cyberbimbo? On the limits of textual analysis. Game Studies: International Journal of Computer Games Research, 2(2). Retrieved from

Reading different feminisms.

Everett, A., & Watkins, S. C. (2008). The power of play: The portrayal and performance of race in video games. In K. Salen (Ed.), The ecology of games: Connecting youth, games, and learning (pp. 141-166). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [In Dropbox]

Blackness as didactic narrative in games and as position of players. Games and education.

Voorhees, G. (2009). The Character of Difference: Procedurality, Rhetoric, and Roleplaying Games. Journal of Game Studies, 9(2). Retrieved from

Racial narratives of fantasy character races.

Douglas, C. (2010, June 4). Multiculturalism in World of Warcraft. Retrieved from

Multiculturalism and racism.

Brock, A. (2011). “When keeping it real goes wrong”: Resident Evil 5, racial representation, and gamers. Games and Culture, 6(5), pp. 429-452. [In Dropbox]

Narrative of white supremacy in Resident Evil 5.

Shaw, A. (2012). Talking to gaymers: Questioning identity, community and media representation. Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, 9(1), pp. 67-90. [In Dropbox]

Complexity of gaymers.

Brice, M. (2013, January 17). Would you kindly [Web log post]. Retrieved from

White Cis-heteronormativity is a narrative that doesn’t always land.

Allen, S. (2013, February 27). The other difficulty mode: What Halo can tell us about identity & oppression. First Person Scholar. Retrieved from

Intersectionality understood through Halo skulls difficulty mode.

Keogh, B. (2013, May 24). Just making things and being alive about it: The queer games scene [text and video]. Polygon. Retrieved from

Queer developers and the games they make.

Feminist Frequency. Any episode. IMHO, more recent episodes are better than older episodes. Available at

Alexander, L. (2014, March 20). Practical advice about queer characters in games. Gamasutra. Retrieved from

Practical discussion from major figures in queer gaming.

Anhut, A. (2014). Press X to make sandwich: A complete guide to gender design in games [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Practical guide to designing gendered characters in games.

Representation and repression in games, Video Games Reading Group 2

This week we're talking about representation and repression of gender identity, sexual orientation, racial identity, ethnic identity, cultural identity-- we're talking about how people who are not empowered by a society's mores are represented, repressed, or otherwise are treated in games and games studies. This is a major issue for games, mainstream or not, and Mattie Brice, Anna Anthropy, and Anita Sarkeesian have done great work in bringing attention to the way games reflect heteronormativity, patriarchy, and gender binarism as the (only) acceptable identity performances. It's also a major issue for games studies, academic and Academic, where the same paradigms operate.

Since I've been subjecting you all the methodology axe that I grind in games studies, I'll go ahead and put this as a methodological concern for games studies. When we were talking about formalism in games and definitions of games, a lot of the Academic sources didn't address whose perspective these forms or definitions are from (Harding's and Harraway's standpoint theories are a big deal here). It's even a concern for the magic circle, where the boundary is somewhere between the game and a person--though we apparently never need to say what kind of person. Authors seldom identify their own cultural background as a limiting variable in their work. But it's more than a methodological concern: It's about what counts as academic (a or A) writing style. It's about what games or texts we look at--about how many times we cite Bogost and not Murray. It's about where we publish, what we publish, what we know, how we understand it, and how we come to know it.

We have a lot of texts today, and I'd rather us have another more organic conversation. I think we need to talk about gender, race, orientation, and normativity, but we certainly shouldn't limit it to just those concepts or their conveniently antiseptic Academic terms.


95% of programmers are male. 91% of visual artists are male. Women are 13% of game designers. 22% of game producers are women. 91% of audio professionals are male. 88% of QA staff are male (this is the only category where women made more than men). Business and management is 79% male.


76% men, 22% women, 2% "trangender/androgynous" (someone couldn't be bothered to ask people the difference or the difference was too difficult to put in an infographic? come on). 28% say there is equal treatment and opportunity for all in the game industry (rest were no, 47%, and i don't know, 23%). Factors influencing society's negative perception of the industry: #2 is Sexism in games, #4 is Sexism in the workforce, #6 is lack of overall diversity (Working conditions was highest response, by 1%).



There are multiple feminisms.

Lara is a woman in a traditionally male role, this is good.

As a woman in a traditionally male role, Lara may be masculine, rather than feminine.

Femininity could be aesthetic but not agentic (Cyberbimbo definition 1).

Lara's groundbreaking in the male role can be belittled by male gaze of player.

Male player could be trangendered by playing as Lara.

Lara could be the object of a gay female gaze.

Recoding of Lara as sex object could be an exhibition of anxiety over Lara's ability to render the game space or game play as feminine.

"This could also be seen to underline the fact that male sexual desire and fantasy are always bound up in an image of femininity which is virtual (in the sense that it is not real). Femininity is thus finally exposed as an empty signifier, a sign without a referent."

Lara's feminine aesthetic is still far-fetched and unattainable for emulation (Cyberbimbo definition 2).

Kennedy's point that characters matter is much more important now that the prevailing wisdom of good games writing is about writing good characters more than good narratives or story arcs.


Everett & Watkins:

Games teach racial narratives, representations, and belief systems.

When you play a black character, do you feel what being black is like? Answer is no. Could you? Yes, but not in a mainstream AAA game.

"At its most basic level, historians note, minstrelsy became a means for white men to occupy and play out fantasized notions of black masculinity, but in ways that were entertaining, nonthreatening, and committed to sustaining racial hierarchies."

"Any analysis of the relationship between video games, young people, and learning must also seek to understand the larger context in which these issues began to take on their complex shape."



There can be redeeming narratives of multiculturalism in the midst of racial stereotypes.

As long as you don't make a claim to the authorial intent, you can read games as received, regardless of nationality of origin.



"Russell (1991) notes that the Japanese draw upon imaginary Western conventions to depict Blacks visually. He adds that this helps to 'preserve [Blacks'] alienness'"

"Sheva’s separation fromany African culture—even a fictional one—and her inability to interact with the Africans in the game (a function of game mechanics as well as a property of the genre) remove any possibilities of cultural affinity."



"While the gaymers I interviewed were not indifferent to media representation, the issue was not prevalent. Rather, the search for a queer sensibility and a safe space from the gay-bashing of other gamer communities was much more central. As many of my interviewees played games online, bigotry was a more salient than the sexuality of characters in games."

Gay is not monolithic.



Brice's text is different from many of the Academic texts in this section. Why? (Hint: Academic and academic have different boundaries for who's allowed to play and how play’s allowed to happen).

Violent videogames are (a) military shooters, etc. and (b) a whole host of AAA games filled with violence and/or aggression (micro and not) towards marginalized people.

"I have to give Spec Ops credit though, as it clued me into why I couldn’t relate at all to what these games were trying to do. It was when I encountered a one-word mission objective: Obey. Do what you are told, and you will be rewarded. This is what the privileged class, men who are white, heterosexual, cisgender among many other things, is told to do."



Games can be great teaching tools, especially when abstracted from their narratives (see Everett & Watkins v. Allen's use of Halo), for teaching intersectionality of oppression. Traditional difficulty settings don't work.

"While I think that this metaphor is a sound tool for initial conversations about privilege, its underlying theory of power is too simplistic. This metaphor splits the world into straight white men and everyone else, leaving the reader with no way to account for the many different kinds of oppression that affect us (racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, etc.) and the specific ways in which these oppressions interact."



"That attention often feels tokenistic".

"The marginalized and dissonant position that many queer developers hold makes them particularly well-adapted to critique and understanding the social systems of the real world".



Tropes are a convenient and effective frame of analysis for pointing out how culture becomes isolated and represented in games.

ICYMI: Video games are sexist as fuck.



from Allen: Customization is not a panacea.

Dividing marginalized gamers to create a separate product for is not a solution.

"Words like "queer" and acronyms like LGBTQ ("and all the letters we keep tacking on!") can be problematic in and of itself, since identity is a broad spectrum that a lot of people value in different ways. And androgyny is not a "blank slate" -- plenty of nonbinary people are likely to feel stung by the idea that character is determined by choosing gender."



More of this. More of following this.

It gets a little sticky (to make guides like this or to work within guides like this) when we're admitting feminisms; still, Anhut's guide does good work.

Great Online Video Games Articles, Reviews, and Criticism for Classroom Use

I have compiled this list and its categories for how I would situate these texts for my classroom use. So, be aware that the categories and texts may not work well for everyone. Also, these are not necessarily the best of online, accessible video games writing; instead, I’ve put them here because I think they will lead to excellent classroom discussions with multiple chances to mix in traditional academic theory.  Finally, I have .pdfs of all of these texts (except the videos), but please contact me if you would like them—I’d rather direct the traffic to these sites.

The “Newly Added” section has items that I have newly added to the list in one or more of the categories below.

I am no longer keeping this list up to date. So I've moved the old list here.