Computer Game Studies, Year Ten

The year 2011 marks ten years since the first issue of Game Studies, when Espen Aarseth officially christened the field.  Of course, many scholarly works on videogames had already written, including Janet Murray’s influential book Hamlet on the Holodeck.  Nevertheless, 2001 was an important year for videogame studies.  A peer-reviewed journal dedicated to electronic games, an international scholarly conference, and a great deal of optimism for the future of the field.

2001 was an important year for me, as well.  I graduated from high school and started my first semester of college.  At the time, I had a much different plan for my schooling.  I was majoring in computer science and was starting my academic career as a sophomore, having taken out my entire first year of coursework through AP tests and concurrent enrollment classes in high school.  I figured that I could be done with college in a mere three years and working at a real job as a programmer soon after.  Sure, the life of a computer programmer wasn’t especially interesting, but I had a knack for it.  It seemed like the practical thing to do at the time.

Looking back now, I can’t help but laugh at the future that I had envisioned for myself back then.  While it was easy to be pragmatic and rational when planning my future, I should have known that I wasn’t destined to have such a practical life. I was an eighteen-year-old kid, living at home, happily unemployed while spending the last of my savings on network hubs and Apple Beer.  On a dare, I hadn’t cut my hair in two years.  By then, it hung in ringlets down to my nose in the front and to my shoulders in the back.  I spent my free time playing Axis and Allies in my friend’s basement and Age of Empires II over my dial-up modem.  I spent that summer trying to make a space combat game with Visual Basic.

The next few years would see many changes.  Back in academia, many videogame scholars found themselves in seemingly endless debates between the narratologists and the ludologists.  Many fingers were pointed and many names were called.  The field grew rapidly as new journals appeared.  “New Media” became a buzz word in college campuses across the world.

In my life, there were many changes, too.  After living in South America for a few years and going through several different universities, I found myself at the University of Utah, floating between departments without an actual major.  I still enjoyed programming and videogames, but had abandoned the idea of settling down in a cubicle in some corporate office.  I had taken a liking to Flash, and had managed to teach myself enough Actionscript to make a couple of games.  My code was horrendous.  Actionscript 1 wasn’t the most robust or elegant language, and lacking any formal training, I had cobbled my code together from tutorials I had found on the Internet.  Some of my code came from a Swedish guy and an Estonian guy I had found through an Italian website.  I even included some of their poorly translated comments (including what I believe were some undecipherable Estonian jokes).  I was learning and experimenting and developing more than a few bad (coding) habits.

It was then that academia and I crossed paths.  I had changed my schedule around in order to take a class on creating interactive narratives in Macromedia Director.  It wasn’t a videogame course per se, but courses of this kind were few and far between, so I had jumped on the opportunity.  The class managed to surpass my expectations.  Despite being a project-oriented course, the lectures were mostly devoted to theory.  One of these lectures directed my classmates and me to Game Studies, where we had to review an article.  Most of the students gravitated to the shorter, slightly more accessible pieces.  I, on the other hand, chose “Perspectives of Computer Game Philology,” by Julian Kücklich.  It was the kind of thing that seemed written with me in mind.  It seemed to describe the way I had always felt about videogames.  I wrote up my report and submitted it to be graded.  My professor was impressed enough that she suggested I look into grad school.  With her encouragement, I applied to the program and was accepted.

Now here I am in the year 2011.  My academic interests have expanded significantly.  The field I study has expanded as well.  The battle between the narratologists and the ludologists has died down to the point that most scholars don’t even pay it lip service any more.  Then again, it’s harder to divide videogame scholars into two camps these days.  They study everything from economics of MMOs to the gendering of game advertisements.  My research now focuses on the rhetoric of videogames and the growth of the independent game movement.  It may not be the kind research that videogame scholars envisioned when they declared independence from other academic fields, but then again, it’s not quite what I envisioned myself doing when I graduated from high school, either.

Here’s to the next ten years…

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