In our unprecedentedly networked world, games have come to occupy an important space in many of our everyday lives. Digital games alone engage an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide as of 2020, and other forms of gaming, such as board games, role playing, escape rooms, and puzzles, command an ever-expanding audience. At the same time, “gamification”—the application of game mechanics to traditionally nongame spheres, such as personal health and fitness, shopping, habit tracking, and more—has imposed unprecedented levels of competition, repetition, and quantification on daily life.
Drawing from his own experience as a game designer, Patrick Jagoda argues that games need not be synonymous with gamification. He studies experimental games that intervene in the neoliberal project from the inside out, examining a broad variety of mainstream and independent games, including StarCraft, Candy Crush Saga, Stardew Valley, Dys4ia, Braid, and Undertale. Beyond a diagnosis of gamification, Jagoda imagines ways that games can be experimental—not only in the sense of problem solving, but also the more nuanced notion of problem making that embraces the complexities of our digital present. The result is a game-changing book on the sociopolitical potential of this form of mass entertainment.
From flight simulators and first-person shooters to MMPOG and innovative strategy games like 2008’s Spore, computer games owe their development to computer simulation and imaging produced by and for the military during the Cold War. To understand their place in contemporary culture, Patrick Crogan argues, we must first understand the military logics that created and continue to inform them. Gameplay Mode situates computer games and gaming within the contemporary technocultural moment, connecting them to developments in the conceptualization of pure war since the Second World War and the evolution of simulation as both a technological achievement and a sociopolitical tool.
Crogan begins by locating the origins of computer games in the development of cybernetic weapons systems in the 1940s, the U.S. Air Force’s attempt to use computer simulation to protect the country against nuclear attack, and the U.S. military’s development of the SIMNET simulated battlefield network in the late 1980s. He then examines specific game modes and genres in detail, from the creation of virtual space in fight simulation games and the co-option of narrative forms in gameplay to the continuities between online gaming sociality and real-world communities and the potential of experimental or artgame projects like September 12th: A Toy World and Painstation, to critique conventional computer games.
Drawing on critical theoretical perspectives on computer-based technoculture, Crogan reveals the profound extent to which today’s computer games—and the wider culture they increasingly influence—are informed by the technoscientific program they inherited from the military-industrial complex. But, Crogan concludes, games can play with, as well as play out, their underlying logic, offering the potential for computer gaming to anticipate a different, more peaceful and hopeful future.
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, video games are an integral part of global media culture, rivaling Hollywood in revenue and influence. No longer confined to a subculture of adolescent males, video games today are played by adults around the world. At the same time, video games have become major sites of corporate exploitation and military recruitment.
In Games of Empire, Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter offer a radical political critique of such video games and virtual environments as Second Life, World of Warcraft, and Grand Theft Auto, analyzing them as the exemplary media of Empire, the twenty-first-century hypercapitalist complex theorized by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. The authors trace the ascent of virtual gaming, assess its impact on creators and players alike, and delineate the relationships between games and reality, body and avatar, screen and street.
Games of Empire forcefully connects video games to real-world concerns about globalization, militarism, and exploitation, from the horrors of African mines and Indian e-waste sites that underlie the entire industry, the role of labor in commercial game development, and the synergy between military simulation software and the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan exemplified by Full Spectrum Warrior to the substantial virtual economies surrounding World of Warcraft, the urban neoliberalism made playable in Grand Theft Auto, and the emergence of an alternative game culture through activist games and open-source game development.
Rejecting both moral panic and glib enthusiasm, Games of Empire demonstrates how virtual games crystallize the cultural, political, and economic forces of global capital, while also providing a means of resisting them.
Video games have been a central feature of the cultural landscape for over twenty years and now rival older media like movies, television, and music in popularity and cultural influence. Yet there have been relatively few attempts to understand the video game as an independent medium. Most such efforts focus on the earliest generation of text-based adventures (Zork, for example) and have little to say about such visually and conceptually sophisticated games as Final Fantasy X, Shenmue, Grand Theft Auto, Halo, and The Sims, in which players inhabit elaborately detailed worlds and manipulate digital avatars with a vast—and in some cases, almost unlimited—array of actions and choices.
In Gaming, Alexander Galloway instead considers the video game as a distinct cultural form that demands a new and unique interpretive framework. Drawing on a wide range of disciplines, particularly critical theory and media studies, he analyzes video games as something to be played rather than as texts to be read, and traces in five concise chapters how the “algorithmic culture” created by video games intersects with theories of visuality, realism, allegory, and the avant-garde. If photographs are images and films are moving images, then, Galloway asserts, video games are best defined as actions.
Using examples from more than fifty video games, Galloway constructs a classification system of action in video games, incorporating standard elements of gameplay as well as software crashes, network lags, and the use of cheats and game hacks. In subsequent chapters, he explores the overlap between the conventions of film and video games, the political and cultural implications of gaming practices, the visual environment of video games, and the status of games as an emerging cultural form.
Together, these essays offer a new conception of gaming and, more broadly, of electronic culture as a whole, one that celebrates and does not lament the qualities of the digital age.
Alexander R. Galloway is assistant professor of culture and communication at New York University and author of Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization.
In 2016, a female videogame programmer and a female journalist were harassed viciously by anonymous male online users in what became known as GamerGate. Male gamers threatened to rape and kill both women, and the news soon made international headlines, exposing the level of abuse that many women and minorities face when participating in the predominantly male online culture.
Gaming Masculinity explains how the term “gamer” has been constructed in the popular imagination by a core group of male online users in an attempt to shore up an embattled form of geeky masculinity. This latest form of toxicity comes at a moment of upheaval in gaming culture, as women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals demand broader access and representation online. Paying close attention to the online practices of trolling and making memes, author Megan Condis demonstrates that, despite the supposedly disembodied nature of life online, performances of masculinity are still afforded privileged status in gamer culture. Even worse, she finds that these competing discourses are not just relegated to the gaming world but are creating rifts within the culture at large, as witnessed by the direct links between the GamerGate movement and the recent rise of the alt-right during the last presidential election.
Condis asks what this moment can teach us about the performative, collaborative, and sometimes combative ways that American culture enacts race, gender, and sexuality. She concludes by encouraging designers and those who work in the tech industry to think about how their work might have, purposefully or not, been developed in ways that are marked by gender.
In his 2004 book Game Work, Ken S. McAllister proposed a rigorous critical methodology for the discussion of the “video game complex”—the games themselves, their players, the industry that produces them, and those who review and market them. Games, McAllister demonstrated, are viewed and discussed very differently by different factions: as an economic force, as narrative texts, as a facet of popular culture, as a psychological playground, as an ethical and moral force, even as a tool for military training.
In Gaming Matters, McAllister and coauthor Judd Ruggill turn from the broader discussion of video game rhetoric to study the video game itself as a medium and the specific features that give rise to games as similar and yet diverse as Pong, Tomb Raider, and Halo. In short, what defines the computer game itself as a medium distinct from all others? Each chapter takes up a different fundamental characteristic of the medium. Games are:
• Idiosyncratic, and thus difficult to apprehend using the traditional tools of media study
• Irreconcilable, or complex to such a degree that developers, players, and scholars have contradictory ways of describing them
• Boring, and therefore obligated to constantly make demands
on players’ attention
• Anachronistic, or built on age-old tropes and forms of play
while ironically bound to the most advanced technologies
• Duplicitous, or dependent on truth-telling rhetoric even when they are about fictions, fantasies, or lies
• Work, or are often better understood as labor rather than play
• Alchemical, despite seeming all-too mechanical or predictable
Video games are now inarguably a major site of worldwide cultural production.
Gaming Matters will neither flatter game enthusiasts nor embolden game detractors in their assessments. But it will provide a vocabulary through which games can be discussed in academic settings and will create an important foundation for future academic discourse.
If he were alive today, what might Heidegger say about Halo, the popular video game franchise? What would Augustine think about Assassin’s Creed ? What could Maimonides teach us about Nintendo’s eponymous hero, Mario? While some critics might dismiss such inquiries outright, protesting that these great thinkers would never concern themselves with a medium so crude and mindless as video games, it is important to recognize that games like these are, in fact, becoming the defining medium of our time. We spend more time and money on video games than on books, television, or film, and any serious thinker of our age should be concerned with these games, what they are saying about us, and what we are learning from them.
Yet video games still remain relatively unexplored by both scholars and pundits alike. Few have advanced beyond outmoded and futile attempts to tie gameplay to violent behavior. With this canard now thoroughly and repeatedly disproven, it is time to delve deeper. Just as the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan recently acquired fourteen games as part of its permanent collection, so too must we seek to add a serious consideration of virtual worlds to the pantheon of philoso-phical inquiry.
In God in the Machine, author Liel Leibovitz leads a fascinating tour of the emerging virtual landscape and its many dazzling vistas from which we are offered new vantage points on age-old theological and philosophical questions. Free will vs. determinism, the importance of ritual, transcendence through mastery, notions of the self, justice and sin, life, death, and resurrection—these all come into play in the video games that some critics so easily write off as mind-numbing wastes of time. When one looks closely at how these games are designed, at their inherent logic, and at the cognitive effects they have on players, it becomes clear that playing these games creates a state of awareness vastly different from that which occurs when we watch television or read a book. Indeed, gameplay is a far more engaged process—one that draws on various faculties of mind and body to evoke sensations that might more commonly be associated with religious experience. Getting swept away in an engrossing game can be a profoundly spiritual activity. It is not to think, but rather simply to be, a logic that sustained our ancestors for millennia as they looked heavenward for answers.
Today, as more and more of us look screenward, it is important to investigate these games for their vast potential as fine instruments of moral training. Anyone seeking a concise and well-reasoned introduction to the subject would do well to start with God in the Machine. By illuminating both where video game storytelling is now and where it currently butts up against certain inherent limitations, Liebovitz intriguingly implies how the field and, in turn, our experiences might continue to evolve and advance in the coming years.
The greatest trick the videogame industry ever pulled was convincing the world that videogames were games rather than a medium for making metagames. Elegantly defined as “games about games,” metagames implicate a diverse range of practices that stray outside the boundaries and bend the rules: from technical glitches and forbidden strategies to Renaissance painting, algorithmic trading, professional sports, and the War on Terror. In Metagaming, Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux demonstrate how games always extend beyond the screen, and how modders, mappers, streamers, spectators, analysts, and artists are changing the way we play.
Metagaming uncovers these alternative histories of play by exploring the strange experiences and unexpected effects that emerge in, on, around, and through videogames. Players puzzle through the problems of perspectival rendering in Portal, perform clandestine acts of electronic espionage in EVE Online, compete and commentate in Korean StarCraft, and speedrun The Legend of Zelda in record times (with or without the use of vision). Companies like Valve attempt to capture the metagame through international e-sports and online marketplaces while the corporate history of Super Mario Bros. is undermined by the endless levels of Infinite Mario, the frustrating pranks of Asshole Mario, and even Super Mario Clouds, a ROM hack exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
One of the only books to include original software alongside each chapter, Metagaming transforms videogames from packaged products into instruments, equipment, tools, and toys for intervening in the sensory and political economies of everyday life. And although videogames conflate the creativity, criticality, and craft of play with the act of consumption, we don’t simply play videogames—we make metagames.
In recent decades, what could be considered a gamification of the world has occurred, as the ties between games and activism, games and war, and games and the city grow ever stronger. In this book, Anne-Marie Schleiner explores a concept she calls 'ludic mutation', a transformative process in which the player, who is expected to engage in the preprogramed interactions of the game and accept its imposed subjective constraints, seizes back some of the power otherwise lost to the game itself. Crucially, this power grab is also relevant beyond the game because players then see the external world as material to be reconfigured, an approach with important ramifications for everything from social activism to contemporary warfare.
In this edited volume, eighteen scholars examine the increasing role of digital media technologies in identity constructionthrough play. Going beyond computer games, this interdisciplinary collection argues that present-day play and games are not only appropriate metaphors for capturing postmodern human identities, but are in fact the means by which people create their identity. From discussions of World of Warcraft and Foursquare to digital cartographies, the combined essays form a groundbreaking volume that features the most recent insights in play and game studies, media research, and identity studies.
How gaming intersects with systems like history, bodies, and code
Why do we so compulsively play video games? Might it have something to do with how gaming affects our emotions? In Playing with Feelings, scholar Aubrey Anable applies affect theory to game studies, arguing that video games let us “rehearse” feelings, states, and emotions that give new tones and textures to our everyday lives and interactions with digital devices. Rather than thinking about video games as an escape from reality, Anable demonstrates how video games—their narratives, aesthetics, and histories—have been intimately tied to our emotional landscape since the emergence of digital computers.
Looking at a wide variety of video games—including mobile games, indie games, art games, and games that have been traditionally neglected by academia—Anable expands our understanding of the ways in which these games and game studies can participate in feminist and queer interventions in digital media culture. She gives a new account of the touchscreen and intimacy with our mobile devices, asking what it means to touch and be touched by a game. She also examines how games played casually throughout the day create meaningful interludes that give us new ways of relating to work in our lives. And Anable reflects on how games allow us to feel differently about what it means to fail.
Playing with Feelings offers provocative arguments for why video games should be seen as the most significant art form of the twenty-first century and gives the humanities passionate, incisive, and daring arguments for why games matter.
In The Queer Games Avant-Garde, Bonnie Ruberg presents twenty interviews with twenty-two queer video game developers whose radical, experimental, vibrant, and deeply queer work is driving a momentous shift in the medium of video games. Speaking with insight and candor about their creative practices as well as their politics and passions, these influential and innovative game makers tell stories about their lives and inspirations, the challenges they face, and the ways they understand their places within the wider terrain of video game culture. Their insights go beyond typical conversations about LGBTQ representation in video games or how to improve “diversity” in digital media. Instead, they explore queer game-making practices, the politics of queer independent video games, how queerness can be expressed as an aesthetic practice, the influence of feminist art on their work, and the future of queer video games and technology. These engaging conversations offer a portrait of an influential community that is subverting and redefining the medium of video games by placing queerness front and center.
Interviewees: Ryan Rose Aceae, Avery Alder, Jimmy Andrews, Santo Aveiro-Ojeda, Aevee Bee, Tonia B******, Mattie Brice, Nicky Case, Naomi Clark, Mo Cohen, Heather Flowers, Nina Freeman, Jerome Hagen, Kat Jones, Jess Marcotte, Andi McClure, Llaura McGee, Seanna Musgrave, Liz Ryerson, Elizabeth Sampat, Loren Schmidt, Sarah Schoemann, Dietrich Squinkifer, Kara Stone, Emilia Yang, Robert Yang
Cultural stereotypes to the contrary, approximately half of all video game players are now women. A subculture once dominated by men, video games have become a form of entertainment composed of gender binaries. Supported by games such as Diner Dash, Mystery Case Files, Wii Fit, and Kim Kardashian: Hollywood—which are all specifically marketed toward women—the gamer industry is now a major part of imagining what femininity should look like.
In Ready Player Two, media critic Shira Chess uses the concept of “Player Two”—the industry idealization of the female gamer—to examine the assumptions implicit in video games designed for women and how they have impacted gaming culture and the larger society. With Player Two, the video game industry has designed specifically for the feminine ideal: she is white, middle class, heterosexual, cis-gendered, and abled. Drawing on categories from time management and caregiving to social networking, consumption, and bodies, Chess examines how games have been engineered to shape normative ideas about women and leisure.
Ready Player Two presents important arguments about how gamers and game developers must change their thinking about both women and games to produce better games, better audiences, and better industry practices. Ultimately, this book offers vital prescriptions for how one of our most powerful entertainment industries must evolve its ideas of women.
In Respawn Colin Milburn examines the connections between video games, hacking, and science fiction that galvanize technological activism and technological communities. Discussing a wide range of games, from Portal and Final Fantasy VII to Super Mario Sunshine and Shadow of the Colossus, Milburn illustrates how they impact the lives of gamers and non-gamers alike. They also serve as resources for critique, resistance, and insurgency, offering a space for players and hacktivist groups such as Anonymous to challenge obstinate systems and experiment with alternative futures. Providing an essential walkthrough guide to our digital culture and its high-tech controversies, Milburn shows how games and playable media spawn new modes of engagement in a computerized world.
Simulating Good and Evil shows that the moral panic surrounding violent videogames is deeply misguided, and often politically motivated, but that games are nevertheless morally important. Simulated actions are morally defensible because they take place outside the real world and do not inflict real harms. Decades of research purporting to show that videogames are immoral has failed to produce convincing evidence of this. However, games are morally important because they simulate decisions that would have moral weight if they were set in the real world. Videogames should be seen as spaces in which players may experiment with moral reasoning strategies without taking any actions that would themselves be subject to moral evaluation. Some videogame content may be upsetting or offensive, but mere offense does not necessarily indicate a moral problem. Upsetting content is best understood by applying existing theories for evaluating political ideologies and offensive speech.
Tempest: Geometries of Play
Judd Ethan Ruggill and Ken S. McAllister University of Michigan Press, 2015 Library of Congress GV1469.35.T46R + | Dewey Decimal 794.8
Atari’s 1981 arcade hit Tempest was a “tube shooter” built around glowing, vector-based geometric shapes. Among its many important contributions to both game and cultural history, Tempest was one of the first commercial titles to allow players to choose the game’s initial play difficulty (a system Atari dubbed “SkillStep”), a feature that has since became standard for games of all types. Tempest was also one of the most aesthetically impactful games of the twentieth century, lending its crisp, vector aesthetic to many subsequent movies, television shows, and video games. In this book, Ruggill and McAllister enumerate and analyze Tempest’s landmark qualities, exploring the game’s aesthetics, development context, and connections to and impact on video game history and culture. By describing the game in technical, historical, and ludic detail, they unpack the game’s latent and manifest audio-visual iconography and the ideological meanings this iconography evokes.
"In May 2000 I was fired from my job as a reporter on a finance newsletter because of an obsession with a video game.
It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
So begins this story of personal redemption through the unlikely medium of electronic games. Quake, World of Warcraft, Eve Online, and other online games not only offered author Jim Rossignol an excellent escape from the tedium of office life. They also provided him with a diverse global community and a job—as a games journalist.
Part personal history, part travel narrative, part philosophical reflection on the meaning of play, This Gaming Life describes Rossignol’s encounters in three cities: London, Seoul, and Reykjavik. From his days as a Quake genius in London’s increasingly corporate gaming culture; to Korea, where gaming is a high-stakes televised national sport; to Iceland, the home of his ultimate obsession, the idiosyncratic and beguiling Eve Online, Rossignol introduces us to a vivid and largely undocumented world of gaming lives.
Torn between unabashed optimism about the future of games and lingering doubts about whether they are just a waste of time, This Gaming Life also raises important questions about this new and vital cultural form. Should we celebrate the “serious” educational, social, and cultural value of games, as academics and journalists are beginning to do? Or do these high-minded justifications simply perpetuate the stereotype of games as a lesser form of fun? In this beautifully written, richly detailed, and inspiring book, Rossignol brings these abstract questions to life, immersing us in a vibrant landscape of gaming experiences.
“We need more writers like Jim Rossignol, writers who are intimately familiar with gaming, conversant in the latest research surrounding games, and able to write cogently and interestingly about the experience of playing as well as the deeper significance of games.”
—Chris Baker, Wired
“This Gaming Life is a fascinating and eye-opening look into the real human impact of gaming culture. Traveling the globe and drawing anecdotes from many walks of life, Rossignol takes us beyond the media hype and into the lives of real people whose lives have been changed by gaming. The results may surprise you.”
—Raph Koster, game designer and author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design
“Is obsessive video gaming a character flaw? In This Gaming Life, Jim Rossignol answers with an emphatic ‘no,’ and offers a passionate and engaging defense of what is too often considered a ‘bad habit’ or ‘guilty pleasure.’”
—Joshua Davis, author of The Underdog
“This is a wonderfully literate look at gaming cultures, which you don't have to be a gamer to enjoy. The Korea section blew my mind.”
—John Seabrook, New Yorker staff writer and author of Flash of Genius and Other True Stories of Invention
digitalculturebooks is an imprint of the University of Michigan Press and the Scholarly Publishing Office of the University of Michigan Library dedicated to publishing innovative and accessible work exploring new media and their impact on society, culture, and scholarly communication. Visit the website at www.digitalculture.org.
What Is Your Quest? examines the future of electronic literature in a world where tablets and e-readers are becoming as common as printed books and where fans are blurring the distinction between reader and author. The construction of new ways of storytelling is already underway: it is happening on the edges of the mainstream gaming industry and in the spaces between media, on the foundations set by classic games. Along these margins, convergent storytelling allows for playful reading and reading becomes a strategy of play.
One of the earliest models for this new way of telling stories was the adventure game, the kind of game centered on quests in which the characters must overcome obstacles and puzzles. After they fell out of fashion in the 1990s, fans made strenuous efforts to keep them alive and to create new games in the genre. Such activities highlight both the convergence of game and story and the collapsing distinction between reader and author. Continually defying the forces of obsolescence, fans return abandoned games to a playable state and treat stories as ever-evolving narratives. Similarly, players of massive multiplayer games become co-creators of the game experience, building characters and creating social networks that recombine a reading and gaming community.
The interactions between storytellers and readers, between programmers and creators, and among fans turned world-builders are essential to the development of innovative ways of telling stories. And at the same time that fan activities foster the convergence of digital gaming and storytelling, new and increasingly accessible tools and models for interactive narrative empower a broadening range of storytellers. It is precisely this interactivity among a range of users surrounding these new platforms that is radically reshaping both e-books and games and those who read and play with them.