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Games Entertainment

Gaming Academia Gets More Mainstream Press 86

jimharris writes "Eventually every area of human activity comes under the scrutiny of scholars. After thirty years, it's time for video games to go to college. The New York Times has an article (free registration required) called 'The Ivy-Covered Console', that talks about several lucky professors who play games for a living. The challenge, they say, is to develop a language of criticism to analyze video games." One particularly unfortunate quote: "Dr. [Barry] Atkins admitted that he didn't finish Half-Life before writing about it in his 2003 book, 'More Than a Game: The Computer Game as Fictional Form,' (Manchester University Press), and only later realized he was two minutes from the shocking plot reversal at the end when he stopped. 'I am very nervous that I got it wrong,' he said."
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Gaming Academia Gets More Mainstream Press

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  • by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @03:16PM (#8400316) Homepage Journal
    that's what happens to lot of players.

    they see only half of the story, since the game is too boring, too easy or too hard to finish. this is something that they should have take into consideration when writing up the critique.

    I remember fondly some games from my childhood that I never got around to finish :)
  • Unfinished Games (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jodiamonds ( 226053 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @03:37PM (#8400609)
    Yes, many players end up not seeing the whole story of a game because they don't finish the game. But that's just a sign of a bad game.

    I shouldn't be *forced* to keep playing because the game might get better *later*. The player should be having fun the whole time, right? Obviously, some parts will be better than others, but ten minutes of boredom can kill a gaming experience. Especially if there's ANOTHER game that will be fun RIGHT NOW. =)
  • by Alkaiser ( 114022 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @04:03PM (#8400934) Homepage

    How many games have you played where the gameplay is just horrid 95% of the way through, and then all of a sudden gameplay mechanics change for the last 5% of the game, and it totally rocks?


    Yeah, me too. Even so...why would you make your game crap half the time? That IS the mark of a bad game. When I play good games...I don't wait for them to get better...they're just good, there's not these huge peaks and valleys in enjoyment. Repetition kicks in at some point...but that's totally different.
  • by leadfoot2004 ( 751188 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @04:04PM (#8400960)
    As with any kind of evaluation, it is very difficult to come up with a 'formula' in analyzing video games. There is some element of subjectivism when critiquing video games -- just look at thousands of game reviews sites. I think scholars have given up trying to analyze movies and press a long time ago. It would be interesting to see how long would the novelty of video games in academics stay before it wears off.
  • by kabocox ( 199019 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @04:20PM (#8401131)
    Did pitfall actually have an end? I played that game forever, and I never felt the sense that I was finishing anything. I guess the same could be said for Pacman, asteriods, and breakout.
  • by Snowspinner ( 627098 ) * <> on Thursday February 26, 2004 @04:39PM (#8401368) Homepage
    Why would we invite developers here?

    It's not as though we invite authors to talk about books, or filmmakers to talk about film.

    Academics are not interested in documenting the process of production. We figure that the developers are plenty good at explaining their own process.

    What we're interested in doing is trying to give an accounting of the medium as it functions - in this case, to create a vocabulary of terms for video games, much like the vocabulary Aristotle created for narrative. We're interested in what narrative means in interactive fiction, in what the aesthetic effects of it can be, in the function of the medium in practice (i.e. how does a video game elicit response, and what is the nature of that response).

    These are, frankly, not questions developers think about. They certainly don't think about them in the language of academia. i.e. they may think practically about "What will a player do when this happens," but they will not think about whether or not the intermediation of the controller makes it so that the avatar is never "ready-to-hand" and is thus perpetually a thing in the Heideggarian sense.

    This is not a bad thing. Heidegger probably isn't relevent to the production of games. But the production of games isn't really relevent to what we do either.
  • Re:Quandry (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Snowspinner ( 627098 ) * <> on Thursday February 26, 2004 @04:44PM (#8401423) Homepage
    I don't think it should be a new field - I think that media studies people, who tend to either have their own department or to be in the English department - can handle this just fine.

    But even still, there are going to be a few places that are going to just have such a concentration of people who do this that it makes sense to make a department. I'd be distressed if every university had a gaming department, but I'm glad a few do - especially while the field is small enough that distributing them over a lot of places would really inhibit its development by preventing the production of well-trained graduate students.
  • by Snowspinner ( 627098 ) * <> on Thursday February 26, 2004 @04:46PM (#8401453) Homepage
    I can assure you, scholars have not given up trying to analyze movies and press.

    We have largely given up the notion of "review," I'll admit - but popular culture studies remains big.

    And, believe me, we're well aware of subjectivism - it's there for most things.

    I doubt this is a novelty thing - we'll be around to study video games as long as they remain popular. And if they die off, some people will focus on them in 150 years when they do 20th and 21st century studies.
  • by *weasel ( 174362 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @05:05PM (#8401650)
    To discount the way game developers feel about academics the way you do is naive, and flat-out wrong.

    Developers (designers in particular) are trying to do largely the same things as academics. Perhaps only because academics have so long ignored our field, someone had to step up and do it - so we could better understand the field.

    Year after year the big round-table discussions at conferences revolve around creating a vocabulary, response analysis and intentionally evoking responses, implications of camera angle, avatar choice, etc.

    The technical production of games may not be relevant to what interests academics - but the design of games and gameplay certainly is, and vice-versa.

    Game Designers want to understand the feelings they evoke with function the same way a good cinematographer understands the feelings they evoke with color, composition, and angle - all while not caring particularly much about the technical details of how the camera works, or how the computers work that let him composite digitally.

    Sure, there is animosity between the academics that discount(ed) gaming and game designers/developers. And your entire post neatly sums up the very attitude of academia that causes the problem.

    Despite the attitude of academia - game designers and developers are very carefully studying the academic analyses of other arts: painting, music, film, and fiction to better understand the artform.
  • by MMaestro ( 585010 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @05:29PM (#8401877)
    Why do I say this? Simple.

    Researchers shouldn't use cheat codes, she said.

    Yeah, lets see you get all 150/250/whatever they're up to now Pokemon without cheating while maintaining your job as a professor. I spent over 50 hours in the original Pokemon and didn't even get 100 of them. Good luck trying to get double that number while writing an analyze of it up. Admittedly not exactly a fair statement considering the game, but how about RPGs? On average they now tend to average about 30-70 hours. Each.

    Others say that games need a Shakespeare, someone who can catapult the digital medium forward.

    You mean someone like John Carmack who is already considered to be the founder of the FPS genre, one of the best programmers in the industry, and the creator of some of the most recognizable video game serieses in history (Doom and Quake)? What about the people at Valve? They got Half-Life right, something great must be there. What about Hideo Kojima? He makes storylines so dense even hardcore gamers get pissed at him.

  • by Torgo's Pizza ( 547926 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @05:42PM (#8402021) Homepage Journal
    You're right. While the researcher conference is presenting the topics "Musical Byproducts of Atari 2600 Games" and "But Our Princess Is in Another Castle: Towards a 'Close-Playing' of Super Mario Brothers", the GDC is going a different route.

    Topics like "Multiplayer Play: Designing Social Interaction in Games", "How to Write an Unforgettable Story", and "10 Tricks from Psychology for Making Better Characters" wouldn't interest the academics. "Creating the Right Mix of Static Versus Dynamic Content in a Massively Multiplayer Game" and "Entering the World: Cognitive Dissonance and Immersion in Electronic Games" is off-track. "The Philosophical Roots of Computer Game Design" is just speaking a totally different language from what universities are teaching.

    Oh wait, my sarcasm is overtaking me. You see, these are questions that developers think about. We're selling a product and we damn sure know how things things work. To say that developers don't think about how a game can evoke emotional responses or how the social aspects of a game design can impact a game like Everquest is just ignorant. You think that these things just randomly happen during development? Developers don't just throw things in a compiler and see what sells. For that matter, Richard Evans used Heidegger as a major influence in creating the social AI routines for Black&White.

    If this isn't proof of continuing ignorance then I don't know what is. Do me a favor and attend Toru Iwatani's "The Secret of Pac-Man's Success: Making Fun First" seminar. Perhaps you can learn a thing or two about what we already knew 25 years ago.

    Consider yourself 0wn3d.

  • Re:Half-Life (Score:4, Insightful)

    by johannesg ( 664142 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @06:34PM (#8402358)
    The biggest revelation in the game that I can think of is fairly close to the beginning, when you see the scientist get slaughtered by some commando's. Now _there_ is a revelation - these people are NOT your friend!

    Of course if he meant that, he has only seen a rather small portion of the game. But think about it: how would he know if it was two minutes from the end, if he has never played that far?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 26, 2004 @07:12PM (#8402787)
    I'm a game player that came to video games in my early twenties on computers, as opposed to my husband whose parents had an Intellivision when he was young.

    I think there is approximately 3 games that we have at home that I have actually finished. Most console games I get to a point about 3/4 of the way through where I cannot make progress any further.

    The worst one for me was actually Super Mario Sunshine, where I got stuck about 10% of the way in. It's not that I don't know what to do, it's just that I have been unable to do whatever difficult task that has been set, and you cannot progress until you have done it.

    Baldur's Gate in one of the three I have finished, and what enabled me to finish was the ability, once I had tried and failed several times to get past a particular boss/situation was to turn on God mode, get past that obstacle, and turn it off again.

    I paid the same amount of money for the game as someone who could beat the boss by themselves - why shouldn't I get to see what is around the next corner?

    Perhaps that would be the trick to getting more women into gaming - we often don't have the time to play the same level for 5 hours (as I've seen my husband do this week in Time Splitters 2 while trying to get a Platinum medal), let us try, and if we chose to, move on. Being able to go back and try again later would mean we still get the chance to beat it ourselves later if we wish, but let us see the rest of the game.

    a Macgrrl in an NT world
  • by PlayfulAcademic ( 757051 ) on Friday February 27, 2004 @06:03AM (#8406484)
    "Perhaps the academics would be better served by going to the Game Developers Conference two weeks later and learn a thing or to." [And I agree with the points made by Dennis above -- I am busy lighting candles at this very moment.] Ah, but the bitter truth is that I doubt that I can convince my department to send me to GDC or E3, but (as the fact that this got into the NYTimes shows) an academic conference at Princeton is the kind of thing other academics understand. These are early days and interesting times, at least for me, and I think it might be better for academic critics to be just a little humble and not try to imply that we know everything and are somehow setting ourselves in a position from which we will dispense wisdom. Critics are critics. Academics are academics. Developers are developers. Sometimes, as with Eric Zimmerman or Gonzalo Frasca, individuals can wear more than one hat, but it is still fairly rare. We can learn from each other, but I'm all for haphazard intersections rather than a fixed game plan to demand utility from my work rather than the application of curiosity with extra disciplinary knowledge. Barry

As of next Tuesday, C will be flushed in favor of COBOL. Please update your programs.