« More Immersive Immersion | Main | Star Maker »

Jun 23, 2004



Ahhh the canon wars rage on in the ivory tower. Does this kind of discussion happen every time a gaming-related CFP or conference announcement goes out? Or only when English departments get a wild hair and decide to branch out to do a little ludology? Would there be less resistance to the idea if the CFP came from the Telecommunications department?


I guess we'll let Ted answer that one for sure, but I think the major players (non-players?) are Telecom, English, & (New) Media Studies. (Richard's book lays out a longer list in Chapter 6) I think outside of Copenhagen and some other secluded islands of gung-ho game studies collectives (e.g., MIT, Georgia, Wisconsin), one inevitably needs to do some explaining -- it's the nature of the beast.

Espen Aarseth gives a good overview:

Torill Mortensen has said:
"In my own department I have received clear - if not official - notice that the research of games is wasteful, silly public sponsorship of a hobby, and it has nothing to do with the research profile of the department, which is democracy, public access and the freedom of speech. When I tell people what I study it is always with a certain defiance and a touch of fear."


If, in a conversation between educated people, somebody wants to express a complicated thought, he can do so in an elegant and short way, by quoting a short phrase from a work of art in which this complicated thought appears. The study of English is not much more than a compilation of these sort of thoughts, trying to list what you could express by saying "to sleep, perchance to dream".

Like in many other university study fields, time froze in the English departments. While the real world developed at a fast pace, the definition of what is a valid subject to study in an university was handed down from English professor to English professor at a much slower rate, and is now several centuries out of whack.

Two intelligent people can still express complicated thoughts with a quote, but while the professors are still trying "to be or not be" on each other, their students are communicating by "may the force be with you". They understand Tommy Vercetti or Harry Potter a lot better than they understand Hamlet or King Lear, and there are certainly a lot more people which whom you can communicate by a more modern quote.

The conflict is between traditionalists who think that because the study of English was always about the same old authors, dead for centuries now, it should remain that way, and modernists who think that the language of English nowadays is more influenced by video games and movies than by the plays of Shakespear, and so the modern things should be studied instead. That is nothing new. Shakespear was very much part of the "pop culture" of the 16th century, and the first guy proposing to make him the subject of an university study probably had the same problem than somebody studying video games now.


These issues are not limited to English departments but play out in many other academic fields as well. The canon wars were certainly alive and well in art history when I was in grad school and the specific issue of high art / low art was always prevalent.

I think we can safely assume that virtual worlds will be viewed for quite some time (maybe forever) as fitting into the "low art" category, although there may be some interesting "high art" kind of activity going on in worlds like Second Life. I am not all that interested in trying to get virtual worlds elevated to the status of high art. I believe low art / pop culture can actually be more worthy of historical analysis because it gives a more accurate and complex view of a particular society at a given point in time.

Virtual worlds may be low art and may forever fall into the realm of pop culture, but this is precisely whey they are so good at serving as little distilled microcosms of society. They're positively ripe for analysis. I am glad to hear about this cheeky English department in Florida taking some risks with a vw-related project and I look forward to seeing what kinds of things Ted cooks up at IU over the next few years.


Just came across the latest IGDA Ivory Tower column by Matteo Bittanti, who is clearly feeling a tad frustrated about the current plight of the the Games Scholar. Interestingly, Bittanti seems to feel there is just as much skepticism coming from gaming industry folks as from fellow academics.

Here's a quote:

"In a sense, Game Studies are the new Space Invaders . Just like the menacing aliens, their appearance provoked both amazement and diffidence. Game studies have been often perceived as a menace, something that needs to be wiped out at sight. For a long time, academics have been considered like ‘aliens', intruders, and trespassers by game designers, game journalists, game players, and even by other academics, who felt the urge to defend themselves from the apparent invasion."


The comments to this entry are closed.