Gaming in the Digital Humanities

09 Sep
This *translation* are sick, but the game is top-notch.

Are this narrative? Or are it merely a game?

It may seem inconceiveable, but until this semester I had never thought that the study of game narratives within the humanities was something which could be done, let alone encouraged and funded. To be fair, a large part of this shortsightedness had to do with my undergraduate and Master’s studies taking place at Oakland University, where the literature department did not actively pursue studies in the digital humanities (at least, not in any particularly visible way). Indeed, my colleagues there were surprised–and shocked–to learn that I am, and ever have been, a tireless advocate of game narratives as literature. And, after all, my day job is dependant upon just such a position. Reading over the texts for this week, it seems that the work I have put into game journalism without cessation since 1998 (at AllRPG, The GIA, and RPGamer) might prove to be useful after all–and not just useful, but a positive boon in terms of a rapidly expanding field which needs earnest advocates.

Whilst my staff members have occasionally offered their own insights into story-telling and games, I made a concerted effort to keep games and academia entirely separate. Then, this week, I read the assigned blog entry from Alex Reid, in which he expresses his perplexity at how the “Big Tent Digital Humanities” themed Digital Humanities conference contained “no mention of games studies”. And, in Douglas Eyman’s forthcoming Digital Rhetoric: Theory, Method, Practice, Eyman recounts how his early experiences with games shaped the ways in which he would come to view the computer in relation to composition and narrative delivery: “not as a machine for computation so much as a new way to experience the stories embedded in the gameplay” (Eyman 2). His participation in a MUD must have also introduced him to the ways in which digital and virtual worlds were affording users opportunities not only to consume, but also to produce, literary content (Eyman 6). And, in fact, the text itself is meant as an introduction to the work of Eyman and others who are involved in “developing new theories and new methods for working with “born digital” texts”–such as the user-produced narrative of a MUD, the storyline of a popular role-playing game, or the blog of an academic like Alex Reid.

Would Rincewind approve of a dour academic study of The Disc?

Is the narrative only the programmed content, or is it also the users who interact with it?

As I thought on the difficulty which Alex Reid had encountered with the Digital Humanities conference in February of 2011, I began to wonder if there were not other pathways which an interested party might take. Surely, the Digital Humanities conference was not the only game in town: were there academic journals or online resources which one could turn to as an alternative venue for presenting scholarly work or conferencing? Reid himself acknowledges that “there are dozens of games and digital media conferences.” A fair point, but the big conferences I am familiar with–the Tokyo Game Show, Electronic Entertainment Expo, and Game Developers Conference could hardly be termed ‘scholarly’ venues. So, a quick search of Google and Wikipedia led me to a number of promising leads. One of these was Gameology, which bills itself as “a scholarly community dedicated to the study of video games.” Perusing the front page turns up blog entries, announcements about upcoming workshops, article-length papers, and roundtable presentations. Run by Zach Whalen, an Assistant Professor at the University of Mary Washington, it lacks the large-scale editorial and review boards of Game Studies or Eludamos. But, this small size may be useful if one is interested in a low-pressure, scholarly environment in which it would be possible to gauge interest in a topic or toss around a few ideas to see what comes out of it.

What changes has this led to in terms of viewing the field of Digital Humanities? Whereas before, my evaluation of the ‘digital’ sphere was primarily viewed in terms of resources, tools, and deliberately produced scholarly content, I now feel more comfortable thinking of the digital as including the narratives of games and online communities. In particular, I am fascinated with the idea that user-produced content might itself be a valid subject of study rather than a secondary by-product of digital interaction in the gaming sphere, and how this might connect with my own area of literary interest. For example, I have now begun to wonder about the analogues to the bardic tradition, or to popular entertainments of the Medieval and Early Modern periods. Perhaps, when users gather together to create and share their own narratives, it proves that the ‘travelling storyteller’ tradition is alive and well in the digital sphere.

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Posted by on 9 September 2012 in Essays


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