The study of games and their culture

multipaper session
  1. 1. Geoffrey Rockwell

    McMaster University

  2. 2. Andrew Mactavish

    McMaster University

  3. 3. Sean Gouglas

    University of Alberta

  4. 4. Stéfan Sinclair

    Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures - University of Alberta

Work text
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How are the humanities engaging gaming and game culture? How can we study games?

While computer games and interactive spaces have been used in Humanities Computing to teach and conduct research, humanities computing can also draw on disciplinary traditions to study computer games. As computer games become a legitimate field of study we should ask how we can engage games and game culture from the perspective of the traditions of humanities computing.

In this session we will present three trajectories or examples of humanities computing research into games. The first discusses the importance of playing and adapting games as part of research and graduate instruction. The second looks at an important part of game culture, modding or the modification of game systems. The third paper presents a philosophical approach to interactivity in games drawn from both computing literature and theories of dialogue.

The study of computer games has emerged in a number of silos from education research to a popular literature around classic games. The terrain of computer game research is still being negotiated, but the following is a brief review of some of the areas from which research into computer games is emerging.

After the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton and the Tabor, Alberta copy-cat killings there has been a explosion of interest in computer games and violence. The academic literature coming from psychologists and sociologists on the subject of the pejorative effects of computer games predates the horrific events in Littleton (there is almost always someone who warns us about new media) but these events have brought the literature press attention. We can call this a sociological or psychological literature interested in the social and psychological effects of games, not their rhetorical effects. An example would be Dill, Karen and Jody Dill, "Video Game Violence: A Review of the Empirical Literature." Aggression and Violent Behavior , Vol. 3, No. 4, pp. 407-428, 1998.
There is a literature around educational games coming from educational theorists and the instructional technology community. By contrast, while the first silo is critical of the effects of games, most of the educational literature is aimed at exploiting the motivating character of games for educational ends. Instructional technology research tends to breathlessly report on the possibilities for educational games rather than carefully assess the outcomes of expensive projects. An example of this would be, Rieber, Lloyd, "Seriously Considering Play", Educational Technology Research & Development 44.2 (1996): 43-58. A preprint of this is available at , accessed March, 2002.
There is a popular literature about the history of computer games, personalities in the industry, and companies like Atari. An example of this sort is Zap!: the Rise and Fall of Atari though a recent work, Supercade, wins the prize for the best illustrations. Associated with this literature is the business press about the computer game business. Business sources seem perpetually surprised to report the money being made on games which sell to a comparatively narrow bandwidth of the population. See Cohen, Scott, Zap!: The Rise and Fall of Atari, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984 or V. Burnham, Supercade; A visual history of the videogame age 1971 – 1984, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.
There are a number of computer game related WWW sites and popular magazines aimed at the consumers of these games.
Perhaps the most interesting source, if you believe we should listen to practitioners, is the literature written by game designers and the computer game press about how to design a computer game. This ranges from the more reflective works like Chris Crawford's The Art of Computer Game Design to "how-to-in-24-hours" books of dubious value except to dummies. Because such works are aimed at game developers they almost always have a chapter on game-play or interaction. What is important about this literature is that describes interactivity from the perspective of the game designer and thus provides a window into the discourse of those that create the interactive. See Crawford, Chris, The Art of Computer Game Design . This out of print book is available in PDF form at Crawford's site At this site you will also find a Library of other materials by Crawford on game design and interactivity.
There is a philosophical literature around play and sport of which the best known example is perhaps Huizinga's Homo Ludens (Boston: Beacon Press, 1950), though there is also a sub-field of philosophy emerging around the philosophy of sport that deals with play in sport and the nature of the game.
Finally there is, of course, the literature around hypertext, hypermedia, and new media of which Lev Manovich's The Language of New Media is one of the most recent, and best interventions. This literature generally deals with issues of interactivity either in the limited sense of the hypertext link (surely there is more to interactivity than linking), or deals with interactivity as a feature of the interface. Other works of note are Aarseth's, Cybertext; Perspectives on Ergotic Literature, and Janet Murray's, Hamlet on the Holodeck.
The traditions of humanities computing overlap with most of these fields because humanities computing has been interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary. One important component to humanities computing research has been the development and use of technologies as part of research. Thus computing humanists overlap with game designers in their interest in theory that has application and can be applied. Computing humanists also draw heavily on the literature around hypertext which in turn has drawn heavily on media theory and literary theory.

We present these three papers as examples of how computing humanists can engage with games and their culture.

If this content appears in violation of your intellectual property rights, or you see errors or omissions, please reach out to Scott B. Weingart to discuss removing or amending the materials.

Conference Info



Hosted at Göteborg University (Gothenburg)

Gothenborg, Sweden

June 11, 2004 - June 16, 2004

105 works by 152 authors indexed

Series: ACH/ICCH (24), ALLC/EADH (31), ACH/ALLC (16)

Organizers: ACH, ALLC

  • Keywords: None
  • Language: English
  • Topics: None