A formal beginning

In late 2012 — right around this time of year — I began grad school at TCNJ. While I had a general idea of where I wanted to go (academically), I really didn’t have much of a critical focus. Okay, I’ll be a little more honest — I didn’t have any focus. I was aimless. It wasn’t that I hated research (I don’t!) or that I didn’t enjoy any aspect of English (or literature), it was simply that I couldn’t choose. Nothing had my heart. Nothing reached out and really grabbed me by the shoulders.

And then I took ENG 505 — Contemporary Theory & Methods.

My professor (and current adviser) encouraged the class to think outside the box. What is a text? What can work? Why not a comic book, or a movie, or a video game?

That last one caught my attention. Of course, it wasn’t like I hadn’t heard of game studies — I had! But I’d hardly considered it a viable thing that I could do. Despite the fact that I’d been writing professionally about games for the last two years, something had acted as an academic block, preventing me from seeing this possibility. For some reason I thought it wasn’t an avenue available to me. Yet, here it was.

I jumped at the opportunity, stumbling through a discipline that I had a lot of passion for, though not a whole lot of knowledge.

The end result was a trip to a conference, where I presented my first “serious” paper: “Reaching for the Moon: Agency, Linearity, and Gender within Portal 2.”

That same semester I wrote a second game studies paper — once again about Portal 2, except this time the focus was on Foucault.

In the spring my attention turned to World of Warcraft, where I wrote a paper discussing the game’s queer nature.

Throughout all of this, though, there was a slight problem — a blind spot I couldn’t quite locate just outside of my vision. You see, despite my passion for the subject, and despite the research I had done, I felt like I had no right to write all of these papers without a more concrete foundation. Who was I to talk about all of these big subjects? How can I call myself a game studies theorist?

While I realize such questions are a little ridiculous, I still felt I needed some sort of critical surface to build off of. So with that goal in mind I set out to built an independent study for myself — the goal of which is to create that mythical academic foundation. As I feel like I do some of my best thinking publicly, I’ll be posting all of my “journal entries” on this blog. All of my thoughts, musings, and whatnot will be out in the wild. Hopefully this will help me develop — and hey! — maybe it’ll help someone else out a little bit too.

And so… we begin!

An Introduction to an Introduction: Frans Mäyrä’s An Introduction to Game Studies: Games in Culture

I’ll be referencing this book in the future weeks, but to start off I want to talk about something I find interesting — the interdisciplinary nature of game studies. It’s one of the earliest things Mäyrä brings up in his book, noting that there’s a certain interesting mix of media within digital games. This is further complicated by the different dimensions of possible study: you have the game itself, and then you have the community around the game (and everything in-between).

On one level, the study of games is mathematical — programming and design, switches and interface. On another, games certainly can be seen as texts (and as such, are completely open to interpretation by all the contemporary lit theory methods we can throw at them). Going even further, games are a amalgamation of different forms of media: music, visual art, literature, and more I’m likely forgetting.

There are, without a doubt, an almost limitless amount of perspectives you can take.

While that is freeing, it also can be intimidating.

One of the largest obstacles I’ve faced thus far is that it feels like studying games requires a monumental amount of theory knowledge — and by “theory” I don’t just mean “critical theory,” either. For a paper I wrote over the summer about the power of language in World of Warcraft, I found that I had to dig my hands into linguistics and ethnography — two fields I’ve never touched. Even after twenty or so pages of analysis, however, I felt like I was missing something — like I had to dig even deeper, into other fields and other disciplines.

I don’t have much of a direction here or end-goal for this post — but more of a question: how do you deal with a subject so incredibly interdisciplinary? Is there a limit? Is it acceptable to go this far and no more?

Mäyrä, in the first chapter of the book, discusses forming an “influence map” of sorts, to mark out your own gaming “cultural background” of sorts. The purpose is to situate the scholar in a certain place within the field. I wonder if such an activity would be helpful in sorting out my own “disciplinary” knowledge sets? Maybe figuring out what interdisciplinary route to take is just a matter of figuring out what route you’re interested in. Or maybe that’s an academic trap.

One thought on “A formal beginning

  1. Chris, first thoughts:
    1. Yes–do the “influence map.” It’s good feminist/postmodern epistemological practice. But…what do you mean by an “academic trap”?
    2. Who else besides me would you like to share this blog with and ask/hope for comment?

    As for your questions: how do you deal with a subject so incredibly interdisciplinary? Is there a limit? Is it acceptable to go this far and no more?

    …I wish I knew! These are questions I struggle with as well. Thinking about interdisciplinary knowledge-making, though, I often think of Faust’s deal with the devil–that he could know everything if he sold his soul; Goethe has Satan take him flying above the earth, achieving what Donna Haraway has called the “god-view,” the “view from nowhere”–or what pre-feminist epistemology has named “objectivity.” Faust’s story also lets us know that, in fact, his view is situated in privilege and power and desire and its discontents, all of which he can’t ultimately escape.

    Your dilemma also reminds me of various sorts of romantic journeys/quests: for instance my current one of perfecting my new home. There’s my vision of home, and then there’s the labor and resources it would take to develop each inner and outer space, and then there are shifts in the vision, priorities, and skills as I go along. At any given phase, I might want to fix the vision as something stable–a perfected other-world–but the process keeps reminding me of the dynamic particularity of locatedness.

    Games like WoW are structured like romances, no? This was something that struck me early on–there’s a journey ahead that promises some sort of apotheosis, one needs guides and skills and tools, and all of this keeps shifting…

    So, yes, do the influence map–it sounds like a solid way to “deal with a subject so incredibly disciplinary.” Is there a limit?–if Satan takes you flying, remember he’s full of shit and you’re still located. Is it acceptable to go this far and no more? Think of each “this far/no more” as leveling up. In your particular way with your particular equipment and skills and guides for that particular moment–something to celebrate perhaps with a new paper/conference talk.

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