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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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  • Quandry (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mwheeler01 ( 625017 ) <matthew DOT l DO ... AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday February 26, 2004 @03:24PM (#8400429)
    As a game enthusiast I find it fascinating. As an academic, I find this is symptomatic of the walmartization of education. I'm sure this may be a nice small subsection of sociology or psychology but to me gaming doesn't seem to warrant a whole new field.
  • by Torgo's Pizza ( 547926 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @03:38PM (#8400623) Homepage Journal
    Being a former developer, half the article pissed me off watching academics talking out of their ass about something they know nothing about. The first intelligent thing I read was this:

    "So far, the academic and the industry worlds, they're very far away," said Mr. Frasca, who intends to play a role of a bridge. "Developers do not read academic articles, and that's not going to happen any time soon." Academics generated animosity early on by judging games as violent. "They were also not gamers," he said, "which made it weird to listen to their analyses."

    Which is why I'm taking whatever an academic currently says with a grain of salt. For the past thirty years, academics have totally discounted our industry and getting it just plain wrong. In my book, they are currently 30 years behind the curve.

    There are plenty of journalists and historians like Leonard Hermann and Johnny Wilson that are getting it. Next week these "ivy-league" academics are holding a conference consisting of "a lawyer, a journalist, a composer, two professors, two lecturers and six graduate students will present papers with titles like 'Musical Byproducts of Atari 2600 Games' and 'But Our Princess Is in Another Castle: Towards a 'Close-Playing' of Super Mario Brothers.'" Too bad that they seemed to have forgotten to invite a few developers. Perhaps the academics would be better served by going to the Game Developers Conference two weeks later and learn a thing or to.

  • Re:Unfinished Games (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rallion ( 711805 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @04:11PM (#8401040) Journal
    It's not always a sign of a bad game. I've never finished some of the games I LOVE, because, well, I stop for a while. That happens. Then I forget about it, play other games, and then I just don't want to finish the old game because I'm not into it anymore.

    My favorite type of game is RPG -- console-style, D&D-style, any kind is good for me. The only three I've ever beaten are Fallout, Chrono Trigger and KotOR, and both because I almost just played straight through from beginning to end and had no distractions. I helped my girlfriend with the final battle in one of the Avernum games, but that doesn't count. I've never even finished a Final Fantasy, though I came very close in FF7. I stopped in the middle of Planescape: Torment and never came back. Same for both Icewind Dales, Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Morrowind. That's all I can remember at the moment, but there are certainly many more. These, though, are not bad games. In fact, I think most of them are fantastic games.

    Maybe it's as much a sign of a horrible gamer as of a bad game.
  • Two of my all time favorite games mentioned in a positive light in the "paper of record". Wow!

    Also, I'm a Library and Information Sciences graduate student and I'm working on a few projects related to video games. It's really exciting and challenging to present information and analysis of gaming in an academic context. I'm hoping to attend the conference at Princeton mentioned in this NY Times article.

  • by OminousOrange ( 690041 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @05:26PM (#8401856)
    Why does there need to be such a hard-and-fast division between developers and academics?

    I'm a member of a rare breed: I'm writing my thesis on games, so I'm familiar with all the academic literature on them. but I also code my own games. Without my coding background, I would never be able to analyze games in the same depth.

    Most of the literature out there would be vastly improved if these researchers had even a cursory knowledge of programming. Instead, most of the academics are still clinging to what they're familiar with, like literary and film theory, instead of apporaching games on their own grounds. Procedural logic, artificial intelligence issues, and emergent behavior are all ingored by most academics in favor of more comfortable facets like narrative or visuals. Honestly, how many academic articles do we need on Lara Croft's breasts?

    The Georgia Tech program [] mentioned in the article has exactly the right idea. For most of the classes, assignments are split between theory *and* production.

  • by metroid composite ( 710698 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @05:56PM (#8402125) Homepage Journal
    At least that's what I suspect. In fact a prof I know back at UBC has already written a paper on a collection of games. Then again English is known for studying movies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, WWE, Chatelaine Magazine, and soup can labels, so this is really nothing new.
  • by Teppy ( 105859 ) * on Thursday February 26, 2004 @06:03PM (#8402168) Homepage
    When I was an undergrad at Carnegie Mellon in 1989, I decided it would be fun to make a game (actually a system for making platform games) as my senior project. I was really psyched about this, and figured that any professor would be honored to be my advisor on such an innovative project.

    I set out looking for an advisor. I picked one of CMU's best known professors. I called his secretary, made an appointment, and described my idea. His response? "Do you know who I am? There is *no way in hell* that I am attaching my name to a video game."

    Bah, his loss. I set out to find another professor to serve as advisor. I wandered around the halls until I found a professor that I had for a class once. This guy wasn't a big shot. He didn't have a secretary, and didn't have such a big office, but that was ok. I jazzed up my presentation a bit, threw in a few buzzwords of the day: "It's an 'object oriented' system for 'rapid application development' of a class of interactive entertainment, blah blah blah.

    He was intrigued! "Hmm, object oriented, rapid applica... Er, wait a minute - this is a video game? No, I'm not putting my name on that."

    Ok, so no cigar just yet, but I was picking up on a trend. I wandered around some more. I went deep into the lower levels of Wean Hall. I walked down a corridor carved out of solid rock - the offices here were the size of closets, and they didn't even have windows. I found someone who appeared to have just been hired, and gave my pitch, filled with as many ridiculous buzzwords as I could think up. He mulled it over "object oriented, um, rapid stuff, um, 'Oh, you mean a video game! Yeah, cool, I'll be your advisor for that!'"

    So I found my advisor. He didn't get fired for putting his name of a Senior Project video game, and it came out pretty good in the end, and nobody else got embarrassed.


    Looks like I was ahead of all of them! Carnegie Mellon now touts it's Entertainment Technology Center [], and proudly proclaims how they're considered the Harvard of Game Development Programs [], and they've even had me back to speak on a few occasions about my latest game []. They've come a long way ;)
  • by metroid composite ( 710698 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @06:13PM (#8402230) Homepage Journal
    As someone who has worked briefly with an academic studying Video Games I thought his choice of games didn't allow for much interpretation of art (DOOM was one game he looked at, for instance, analyzing the main character) and it doesn't look like these scholars are doing much better. On the other hand, you will have a tough time convincing me that, oh, say Tony Hawk 4 or Bond Shooting game 17 is artistic either. Developers are focused more on what sells, or at least that's the impression I get from the internet (having developed an edutainment game, but never been to a conference).

    Wouldn't it make more sense for the Academics to grab a more plot-intensive game? (I'm thinking RPGs in particular; Xenogears, Koudelka, et. al.) After all, character and plot are something that we (academics) certainly know how to analyze academically, while gameplay is something new (and likely more interdiciplinary requiring knowledge from CPSC, Physics, Math, as well as social sciences so that you can actually analyze it using postmodernist theories after you understand it).

  • by metroid composite ( 710698 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @06:19PM (#8402274) Homepage Journal
    And, believe me, we're well aware of subjectivism - it's there for most things.

    In fact, my understanding is that subjectivity is rather central to postmodernism. As far as I'm concerned the idea in social sciences is to be subjective, just to be subjective from as many angles of subjectivity as possible (thus completeness increases over multiple academics).

  • by stuffduff ( 681819 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @06:34PM (#8402356) Journal
    Part of the problem is that the Gamers have an intutive knowledge gained by experience which the academics have yet to even begin to quantify. A gamer can tell by a 6th sense when they are in the groove and a good designer can actually tell if the groove is being created properly by the game. Science currently has absolutly no mechanism by which to explain this phenomon. Gamers should be studied so that scientists can actually see not only that gamers can use their brain differently than ordinary people; but they can work to distinguish exactly what those differences are. Fighter pilots experience a situational awareness in an environment that only a very few individuals ever see; which is also relatively unexplored. However I feel certain that experiments will one day show that what an immersed gamer experiences is not that different from the experience of the fighter pilot. Some day when the dust settles and the sicence is there, the academics will, no doubt, have a newfound respect for the gamer and the game developer alike.
  • by Alkaiser ( 114022 ) on Thursday February 26, 2004 @06:52PM (#8402581) Homepage

    When they were trying to get the Video Game Studies minor approved at UC Irvine, the mucky-mucks there balked, and someone pointed out that they had a Film Studies major there, and that people back in the 70s had made the same claims against that major.

    How can you NOT realize that critiquing video games and the procedures for creating them are at LEAST as complex as the ones needed for movies? To allow for one and scoff at the other is stupidity with Flavor Crystals(TM).
  • by Snowspinner ( 627098 ) * <<ude.lfu> <ta> <dnaslihp>> on Thursday February 26, 2004 @07:11PM (#8402774) Homepage
    You're still not grasping the fundamental difference between the two.

    We have no interest in designing better video games, by and large. Academic study took a turn away from those kinds of concerns in the 60s, and hasn't ever really gone back.

    Put another way, there are two kinds of English Masters degrees - the MA and the MFA. The MFA is concerned with the productive aspects - with how to create a good poem, play, story, whatever.

    The MA has no concern whatsoever with that. The MA does not want to write a poem - it wants to understand what a poem demonstrates about the changing conception of science in 19th century England.

    To do this, it needs to have some vocabulary of the construction of the poem, but the vocabulary it develops for that end is going to be a completely different vocabulary from the one used to understand how to write the poem.
  • Re:Unfinished Games (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TrickFred ( 231420 ) <> on Thursday February 26, 2004 @10:38PM (#8404424)

    Perhaps that would be the trick to getting more women into gaming

    My girlfriend just called you a cheater. She's not hardcore [she does play The Sims, Buffy on PS2, and we play Starcraft and Warcraft together, and she tries stuff I recommend], but I pointed this post out to her, and she feels that regardless of gender, cheating's cheating. What's the point in playing the game if you're going to play 'around' the game?
  • by metroid composite ( 710698 ) on Friday February 27, 2004 @12:39AM (#8405260) Homepage Journal
    One interesting way I've heard postmodernism described is through Godel's Incompleteness Theorem. For those that don't know, any system of theories cannot be complete (have a true/false for any statement) or if it is then it will be inconsistent (have statements that are both true and false). Math (and science by extension) strives for consistency, and will add axioms whenever they find a hole in completeness.

    Postmodernism, on the other hand, tosses consistency out the window in an attempt to be complete.'s as good a definition of postmodernism as any I guess. Certainly more tangible to me than "the curvy buildings in architecture from the 60s"; I mean how am I supposed to apply -that- to literature?

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell