Reading Response Round Up: Video Game Theory Reader 2: I

Perron, Bernard and Wolf, Mark J. P, eds. The Video Game Theory Reader 2. Routledge, 2009.

Alright, I’m commenting on five chapters from The Video Game Theory Reader 2, so let’s try for 200 words or fewer for each:

Perron, Bernard and Mark J.P. Wolf. “Introduction.”

I was interested by the comment on how “the multidisciplinary nature of video game studies” (3) was holding back video game studies since I’d love to know how that compares to the study of other media, such as film.

Additionally, keeping a video game history was one of the seven “challenges” facing video game studies that caught my eye because I have previously encountered problems getting computer games only a decade old to play, so I can only imagine the difficulty of getting a 40-year-old game in its original condition to work. As for some of the other “challenges”, I question whether some of these (such as #4, technology) always need to be taken into consideration in order to study a game any more than for any other media.

Konzack, Lars. “Chapter 2: Philosophical Game Design.”

I think that this chapter would have been responded to more charitably if, instead of “philosophy”, something like “ideology” had been used instead. I doubt there should be any question that games do communicate ideas and that game designers should understand this and consider what ideologies they’re pushing and how.

Now, for the bit that applies to this blog, the section on “Ethical Game Systems” (36), I think that “quantization” (37) of aspects of the game world, such as ethics and morality, while no doubt convenient for developers, is detrimental to actually presenting a sophisticated sense of morality in a game. Otherwise, I generally agree with the comments such as Black & White’s “ethical system” lacking “complexity past simplistic dualism” (38), which is the main problem with these systems as they are implemented (I do think he’s a little too impressed by Bioshock, but I hope to get back to that more in depth in another post). I also broadly agree with the criticism of persuasive games usually being too simplistic and shallow to actually accomplish their aims.

 Myers, David. “Chapter 3: The Video Game Aesthetic.”

First, I think he’s being too dismissive of playing that involves being “quiet and contemplative” by saying that “we prototypically describe human play using categories similar to those describing animal play” (45-6). Secondly, I think he’s again oversimplifying what playing is by focusing so much on insisting that playing is always “playing with something” (46). Why should I assume that “playing with something” is “fundamental to human play” (46)? I can play hopscotch. By myself. I certainly don’t play “with” hopscotch. In short, I believe that “locomotor play” is him trying to force a category into his thesis that doesn’t actually belong. This is just one example of Myers’ tendency to overreach that undermines a lot of valuable information that his chapter does contain.

Gregersen, Andreas and Torben Grodal. “Chapter 4: Embodiment and Interface.”

I thought it was very interesting to see how physical participation can help with empathy, and I would have liked a more in-depth look at how interfaces can enhance/interfere with interaction in video games. I was most interested in the concluding discussion about getting feedback from the video game, of being acted on instead of acting.  More physical “receptions” (80) might enhance immersion, not that that’s necessarily a good thing. Anyway, the only time I’ve ever seen the force feedback feature on the Playstation used in a novel and striking way was with Metal Gear Solid, so it would be kind of neat to see physical response somehow implemented in different ways by more games.

Jarvinen, Aki. “Chapter 5: Understanding Video Games as Emotional Experiences.”

In spite of my own indifference as to whether a game will cause me to break down in tears of either sorrow or joy, I would like to see the occasional video game master the ability to provoke an emotional response from players besides “yay, this is fun!”, especially since one would think that video games, as interactive media, would be better at involving their audiences in a fictional world. I also just like to see the medium increase in the diversity of experiences afforded to the player and for developers to take more chances and try new things (and while I’m at it, I’d also like a billion dollars and my own private island).  Anyway, interesting breakdown of different kinds of emotional experience, but it was more like advice for designers than a critical analysis.

Also, small quibble with the statement “games with their rules and roles are coercive in nature” (88). While you’re forced to play the game certain ways, you’re not forced to play the game, so “coercive” seems a bit of a stretch. Plus, game rules, especially those of non-video games, are frequently bent, broken, removed, and added to by players. It’s more of a social contract deal, I would think, where all players mutually agree to the game rules and are expected to abide by them. And not everyone always does.

If anyone’s interested, I found and bookmarked a bunch of links that were related this week’s readings; click on the “Delicious video game news” section of the sidebar to see them.

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