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A View from Henry Jenkins

Game Studies

As games have emerged as one of the most powerful cultural forms of our time, universities around the world have begun to organize conferences or form research centers trying to understand various aspects of the phenomenon. Games have become the…

  • February 4, 2004

As games have emerged as one of the most powerful cultural forms of our time, universities around the world have begun to organize conferences or form research centers trying to understand various aspects of the phenomenon. Games have become the focus of specialized journals, such as Game Studies, but they have also crept into more traditional academic journals. For example, the current issue of Information, Communication, and Society showcases current scholarship on games from a range of different disciplinary perspectives. Some of the essays suffer from the kind of specialized vocabulary that makes academic writing so inaccessible to the lay public, but because the work was intended to be read by scholars in a range of different fields, it is a bit less jargon-ridden than usual and might offer interested Technology Review readers a chance to sample academic thinking in this area. There are essays on significant games, such as The Sims, Tomb Raider, and Majestic as well as essays that make broader claims about the games industry and its impact on global culture.

For example, Hector Postigo examines the economic importance of game mods as a kind of free labor for the commercial industry. He concludes, “From a labour theory standpoint, it seems that modders add a considerable amount of value to commercial games. They contribute in the region of six to twenty-four months of additional time, developing additions to the original code that can range from thousands to millions of lines of code, and earn no salary for their work. Comparing salaries paid to commercial developers with the lack of financial compensation that modders get it is possible to get a good sense of how much value modders are actually adding to the game. It appears that modders working on a mod for one year produce labour worth about 10 percent of a game’s total development budget–about $520,000 a year.”

Bernadette Flynn studies the integration of the game console as a kind of “digital hearth” into our homes as part of the larger process of domesticating the computer over the past several decades, making deft historical comparisons with the introduction of other entertainment appliances into family space. Her work provides a framework for thinking about, for example, debates about media violence, since a very different style of content is required to appeal in the arcade space and in the family room. Drawing on ethnographic observation of video game playing in family spaces in Australia, she shows how games are being integrated into ongoing domestic activities and illustrates the steps some parents are taking to police its content and use.

Alberto Alvisi, Alessandro Narduzzo, and Marco Zamarian look at the marketing and management decisions that surrounded the successful launch of the Playstation. In the process, they offer a wealth of useful information about the current video games industry.

Not every position in games studies is represented here. The essays slant toward the sociological and economic, away from more formal concerns. But, this is not a bad place to start if you want to learn more about what academics are saying about games.

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