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Feb 13, 2004



Wow! This certainly is a red-letter day!


Well, the journalist got at least one source very wrong: the first person to get a PhD in games was Mary Ann Buckles, in 1985. And of course there have been many since then, and before Juuls.


VH> Well, the journalist got at least one source very wrong: the first person to get a PhD in games was Mary Ann Buckles, in 1985.

I will amended the post to reflect that.

I was kind of surprised by it and wondered if the "exclusively" was supposed to mean something about the title of Jesper's PhD discipline? I'm not familiar with Mary Ann Buckles, but the newly-minted Drs. Liz Klastrup and Jill Walker, blogged their respective defenses last year, and what they presented seemed (to me at least) to fall within the realm of game studies. Oh, and Torill too!

p.s. Dave has been at TN too long.


In reference to Jesper, I think the article meant to underscore that he was the first Ph.D. graduated from a game studies program. This may have been the case for Mary Ann Buckles too, I don't know. Those of you who were at Level Up in Holland last November may remember that Espen raised his hand when Janet Murray asked her keynote audience if anyone has a Ph.D. in games.

I have to admit that I *am* rather enamored of the casual notion of "ludology" in the article. I've been saying for a while that we argue about words too much, and it's nice to see an innocent, casual use of the term that really demonstrates that its just a word, and we should get over it.


Thanks, Ian! Fwiw, looks like there are 28 newpapers crawled by Google News now, and USA Today is in the mix.

And there seems to be some more stuff in the AP feed. E.g., The Detroit Free Press has titled the story "Shedding the stigma: Yes, that's a Ph.D in game theory hanging on the wall" and carries a nice photo of Eric Zimmerman, and also has a sidebar with a nod to the MMORPG genre:

But the game research work with the most impact, perhaps, is the work on massively multiplayer online games, or MMOs. Researchers -- from theoretical academics to sociologists to psychologists -- study how MMO players interact online.

Designers say that work is influential.

“There’s so much going on (in MMOs) that game designers don’t have as much experience with, so we almost need to interact with academics if we can,” said Haden Blackman, producer of the online game “Star Wars Galaxies.”

Thanks, Mr. Blackman! I know of at least one psychologist and one sociologist working on MMORPGs! :-)


I think I was communicating with the journalist using the appropriate caveats. Of course I am not the first person to have a Ph.D. that is about computer games - from this part of the world, I would certainly count Lars Konzack (games and learning), Lisbeth Klastrup (virtual worlds / MMORPGS), Ulf Wilhelmsson (video games and cognition), Torrill Mortensen (multiuser). And then on the margins of games: Espen Aarseth (interactive texts in a broad sense), Jill Walker (the user and interactive works).
But I suppose my potential claim to fame stems from my inability to explain what I do as anything else than "I am making video game theory" - for all of the above and Mary Ann Buckles too, you end up with a description that is "this type of game" or "video games and x".
That would be the argument I suppose, but it's certainly subject to discussion.


And Ragnhild Tronstad of course (MUDs).



I get the argument and maybe it is right. I just don't know if anyone would claim a prior PhD "exclusively" in "video game studies." I guess a lot depends on one's subjective feelings about the exclusivity of a certain topic, and what the required scope should be of the term "video game studies." Interesting.

Thanks for the comments.


I think the distinction here is "video games". If you look at ludonauts.com, their under-title is "exploring the videogame" and ludology.org uses "videogame theory". It appears that video games may be considered their own genre independent of other games, and barely related to computer games.

In that case, I guess it is correct that Jesper is the first one. But then we really can't invite him to the computer game conferences anymore... sorry Jesper...

KIDDING! Of course!! I don't want a conference where Jesper is excluded!!!

As for "ludology" and other concepts that colonize the field of study: I think ludology is a lot less problematic than "video game theory". Ludology is a concept that has the potential of gathering and defining the field of game studies, "video game studies" sound like something that should be a sub-department under ludology.

That, of course, is just my impression. And I wrote about text-based multiuser online computer games. Talk about sub-departments.


Torill> mentions a focus on videogames as a unique category.

isn't it interesting that games and gaming have been such an important part of our mental and cultural space since prehistory, yet there hasn't been much study of them at all. maybe its because studying them destroys them. to study is to take seriously, and that pierces the magic circle. Geoff Bowker once gave the example of a stone age group whose culture insisted that its lore be ever-changing. when anthropologists came to record the precious tradition, they made it stable and therefore effectively destroyed it.


I think you're right about how 'ludology' should be used, Torill. I'm pretty sure even Gonzalo would agree with you: at an earlier date he had something on his site to the effect of "Ludology is a field that studies games in general and videogames in particular." Even for Ludonauts, videogames are just a chosen point of emphasis, rather than THE subject matter of ludology.

There's no real reason to emphasize videogames, I think, except to the extent that they seem to be the largest force in a new culture of games/gaming for much of the world. And related to that, there's certainly a need, from a practical point of view, to have an understanding of videogames in particular to assist the industry in avoiding various pitfalls, or assist in innovating intelligently, etc.


Ted> maybe its because studying them destroys them. to study is to take seriously, and that pierces the magic circle

I've been speaking and writing a lot lately about the magic circle and its misreadings. I think the magic circle is, by definition, pierced by the players' relationship with the real world. This is where all the interesting stuff comes from -- rhetoric, learning, fun, and criticism.

I have a longer argument in support of this. You missed it last month at my cyberspace@UCLA talk :P


I am beginning to wonder what people here mean by "video games" and "computer games"? Video games are sometimes equated with console games and computer games are sometimes taken to mean PC/Mac/etc. games.
But after a bit of "market research", I settled on "video games" as the most generally accepted umbrealla term to include consoles, PCs, arcades, cell phones etc..

I am not sure what Torill and Walter mean by "video games"?


FWIW, I'm in the same camp as Jesper. I use "video games" to mean PC/console/arcade/etc. I think it's the most culturally fungible term.


I use it in the same way. Pretty much any game that uses (1) a computer (or network of computers) for rule and input processing, and (2) a video feed controlled by that same computer (or network of computers). That might not be a very precise definition, but it's somewhere around there.


I don't use it that way because I see the computer as being the most important technology facilitating the games. You can't play a lot of games on a VCR after all. And I also study computer games that have no graphic interface: text based games. So for me it is ridiculous to say that I am studying text-based videogames with no video.

Which is why I consider the computer the bigger box and the video the smaller one.


Torill: But any modern VCR has a computer inside! And the text-based games you are studying are played using a video display. (They could be played using a line printer, but they just aren't anymore.)

As I recall, DiGRA had to go through similar discussions before ending with _digital_ games as the term.


I also considered the 'textness' of text-based computer games to fall within the sphere of videogames, as the text is predominantly displayed using a video feed. But I appreciate Torill's logic more in identifying computers as the essential distinguishing feature, which is taxonomically more satisfying than using an incidentally predominant feature. The only problem is the extent to which the term 'computer game' has gained currency in referring to PC/Mac/Linux/etc. games. 'Digital' strikes me as in some ways overbroad and in other ways too narrow.

This is a big mess, to be sure. I'm personally dismayed by the extent to which the word 'game' is morphologically lame.

Here's a proposal (or two): cybergame, and cyberludus. I kinda like the latter, although it bears the burden of having the plural form, 'cyberludi'.


Hello everyone. I'm the author of the AP story in question and just wanted to clear up the point about Jesper being the first PhD in video game studies. I understand that many other people have gotten graduate degrees studying video games (Mary Ann Buckles, Chaim Gingold, etc etc) , but Jesper is, as far as I could tell, the first to get a degree in a video game studies program, as Ian said, rather than studying video games under another academic discipline. It might be splitting hairs but I think it's a distinction worth making. Would love to hear any more thoughts.


Thanks for your article, Nick. It was terrific to see our little substratum get some cred.

I don't think it's splitting hairs; it's important to note that students who study games in the future will have a much easier time finding a program to support their research. However, it's important to note that it is possible to write a dissertation entirely on games at many European universities, including the University of Bergen in Norway and the University of Tampere in Finland. Jesper notes some of his colleagues from these institutions above.

That said, there is definitely not general consensus among us game researchers as to whether or not games should draw such explicit disciplinary boundaries. This isn't to say that game studies programs or digital media programs shouldn't exist, but rather that the segregationist attitude that helped catalyze the field should be shed now that we have some momentum. This process is happening now and will continue to work itself out.


Nick -- Thanks for clearing that up! (Now I'm wondering if I should have titled the post "Nick Wadhams Says 'Ludology'"?)

I think the discussion reveals the point of your article: there *is* something significantly nascent about the past few years in terms of the study of (computer/video?) games. However, there is no clear agreement (and there probably won't be for quite awhile) about the exact nature of the corner turned.

p.s. Now having attracted Nick Wadhams and Henry Lowood to our humble comments fields by mere invocation, I think my next post will concern virtual worlds & the Dalai Lama...


I always tense up at the term 'video games'. I always felt more comfortable with the term 'computer games'.

When I was a senior in HS in 1980, I played Lunar Lander on an antiquated machine, (for that time even) that had no video display. It's output was entirely printed.

Iv'e always associated the term 'video game' with coin-op and early console games, (Pong and Atari).

As for the appearance of Ludology in print...oh well...next it'll be 1337 5Pe4k !



Weighing in with a few thoughts...

I wouldn't by any stretch say that the subject of Buckles' Ph.D. was video games. She does examine "Adventure," but gives very little history or context of the game. When I encountered Wadham's description of Juul's Ph.D. I read it as a clear reference to academic discipline, rather than subject matter.

I can't really fault Buckles for not having, in 1985, access to a context of critical scholarship on computer games, but here's part of what I wrote about it in my annotated bibliography of interactive fiction:

In a New Critical approach rarely seen in academic discussions of IF, Buckles de-emphasizes the role of the programmer/author, taking "Colossal Cave Adventure" (Crowther, c.1975; Crowther and Woods, 1976) as a "given," and examining instead the reader/player's efforts to make meaning out of the experience. As an immature medium, IF has not yet produced great literature: "I do not believe that the literary limitations of Adventure means that computer story games are of necessity a sub-literary genre, or that there is something about the computer medium itself which pre-destines interactive fiction always to be frivolous in nature. The development of film can be taken as an analogy."


Much of her methodology involves watching inexperienced volunteers as they play Adventure for the first time and recording their reactions. She says very little about the game itself, taking it as a "given". If I recall correctly, she only mentions Crowther and Woods's names once; she gestures towards film and poetics as possible ways to theorize Adventure, but she is really writing about a small number of users' encounter with this one particular text in a laboratory setting, some 10 years after the text was first released.

Since my chosen corner of ludology is text-adventure games -- many of which were initially played on printer terminals -- I don't see "videogames" as an inclusive enough title. I'm too busy battling grues to kick up a fuss about it, though. "Interactive fiction" is an equally fraught term -- it's the term preferred by most of those who write and play contemporary text adventure games (some of which involve more than text and many of which bear no resemblence to adventures).


Thanks, Dennis! I'm looking forward to hear your 20 minute talk on ADVENT next month. I trust you saw Julian's article on the ADVENT creation story and Mammoth Cave. Julian's got a knack with words, imho.


Yes, Julian's article does a great job contextualizing the rise of adventure and building on what Nelson wrote about Bishop, but I'm zeroing in on parts of the story that haven't, to my knowlege, been told yet.

I doubt my writing will be as inspiring and philosophical, but I do have a few minor adjustments to make to the narrative. For instance, before he married, Crowther was actually more into rock climbing than caving; caving trips tend to be briefer, which fit better with the lifestyle of a couple with small children, so Crowther adopted his wife's passion. And the divorce actually happened in 1975, not 1976. I've also interviewed some people who recall playing Crowther's original game -- including Crowther's children.


There's a follow-up on Jesper Juul's blog. I'm sure it reads right in Japanese, but this is just way too funny.


The legendary Mary Ann Buckles has made her presence known...


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