Academics vs. 'Gaming' Academics: Let the Snark Begin

Illustration for article titled Academics vs. Gaming Academics: Let the Snark Begin

While academia occasionally manages to maintain the veneer of being 'civilized,' academic battles of words can frequently be just as epic as anything occurring outside the Ivory Tower — even when couched in elegant language and well-reasoned points, you can tell people are out to draw blood. So it (sort of) is with Roger Travis, a classics professor who wrote a passionate plea for gamers to "turn the tables on Aarseth and other doyens of game studies" in the Escapist:

When you take or teach courses called, for example, Game Studies 101; when you hold a degree in "new media studies" (wink, wink); when you publish your research in a journal called Game Studies; or when you actually are a professor of game studies, you end up feeling like you know what games do - and what they should do.

That wouldn't be so bad - it's business-as-usual for academics, in fact - if game studies didn't harbor what amounts to a desperate need to lay claim to ownership of game design as well as theory. It turns out that they don't just want to write articles and grant Ph.D.'s - they want to design our games, too.

Well, Ian Bogost — one of those people Travis is referring to — fired back

A considerable portion of my first book and my other writings object to the very idea that game studies stands alone. You cite a three-year-old prolegomenon by Aarseth, one meant as a provocation (something he's known for), and decide to attribute it to all game scholars. You make a "plea to gamers to turn the tables on Aarseth and other doyens of game studies" (myself included). Many (most?) of us already have done work to turn those very tables. Do you actually read any game studies scholarship?

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Oh, snap. I consider myself lucky to be in a field that doesn't really suffer from a 'real world' vs. 'academic' split — we have enough drama amongst ourselves. The debate continues in the comment sections of both pieces, and is worth paging through if you have the time.

Quibus Lusoribus Bono? Who is Game Studies Good For? [Escapist] & A Response to Roger Travis [Ian Bogost] [both via GrandTextAuto]

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DISCUSSION

@ibogost: Concerning this post (fragment) on your site:

I'm afraid I still don't understand what you're saying. What are "cultural issues" in your mind? What do you mean with this gamers should be left to be gamers line of thought?

I'm not sure I understand Travis' point either.

Perhaps Travis is confused?

I haven't read your book on persuasive game design, but from just reading the outline it seems to take the 'metatheoretical' approach.

If I understand Travis correctly, then I've seen mistakes like his before in the philosophy of film.

[Bear with me, a long and twisted road lies ahead]

For instance, Kendall Walton, an analytic/cognitivist philosophers of film, has argued that we don't have a true fear response when we watch frightening horror movies. He proposes that we play a game of "make-believe" when we engage with fictional film, including make believed fear.

So, it might be tempting for Joe Scholar to reply: what about the role gender theory plays in our understanding of horror films? Why isn't that in your article?

This question, however, is ignorant of the theoretical level of Walton's 'make-believe' thesis. Joe Scholar wants to discuss the effect of sociological, historical, and anthropological context on interpretation of film ('cultural interaction').

Walton isn't strictly addressing these concerns; rather, he is providing a universal explanatory framework for our objective, non-cultural interaction with cinema.

Of course, Walton's argument has bearing on 'cultural' considerations, such as gender roles in horror movies, because he is providing theoretical tools. Indeed, Walton actually discusses cultural concerns in other papers—Joe Scholar myopic vision has mistakenly focused on just one part of Walton's approach to film studies.

At any rate, both Joe Scholar and Kendall Walton belong under the umbrella of 'Film Studies.'

If I'm right, Travis thinks you don't (properly?) explore the sociology and anthropology of gamers.