March 9, 2004

On the Game of Game Studies

by Nick Montfort · , 5:29 pm

A brief dip into agonology with this comment on game studies, inspired by the discussion of Joust in Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman’s Rules of Play:

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It’s possible to imagine game studies as being similar to Combat: whoever destroys their opponent most frequently is the winner.

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I prefer to think of game studies as being more similar to Air-Sea Battle: everyone is shooting at the same targets. Some people may play antagonistically by picking off targets that you were about to shoot, but the firepower is always concentrated on understanding computer games.

11 Responses to “On the Game of Game Studies”


  1. andrew Says:

    In Air-Sea Battle, can players get damaged by friendly fire?

  2. Ian Bogost Says:

    As things heat up over on WCG, I’ll ask an interesting question here. Maybe I’ll ask it there too:

    Why is it that, whenever we really start to get into this conversation about modes of analysis, ludology, and the like, somebody always cries foul?

    I mean this question in the most candid, benign way possible … personally, I have no problems disagreeing (or agreeing!) with Gonzalo or Espen or Jesper and then going out for a beer or playing a round of Super Monkey Ball afterward.

    But aren’t these questions *worth* giving voice to?

  3. William Says:

    There’s another game that comes to mind. All players are cooperatively ripping the city to shreds, but occassionally you get bored and want to punch the other players, too. And if you attack them enough, they get small and you can eat them.

  4. Ian Bogost Says:

    William — lol! But maybe they’re not eating their friends? Maybe just keeping them safe from the terror outside…

  5. nick Says:

    Andrew, they wanted to implement that, but the code to keep track of “frags” separately would have bumped it up over 2k.

  6. MGK Says:

    What a great party game ;-) If we’re sticking to Atari 2600 exemplars then my nominee for game studies would be Breakout–whacking the ball again and again, chipping away at that wall each time it comes back at you–occassionally you may “break through” with an insight or idea that richochets the length and breadth of barrier, knocking out dozens of bricks at a time, but even if you clear them all . . . yep, there’s always another barrier waiting right behind it.

  7. andrew Says:

    There is a Pitfall in becoming a Berzerk Defender of one’s position in the Vanguard Adventure of game studies. In the Pressure Cooker of academia, it’s not hard to Fathom things turning into a Battlezone of Warlords, each Barnstorming the other’s ideas. My suggestion: Dodge ‘Em, to avoid Turmoil. Remember, no one is Superman.

  8. torill Says:

    Just wanted to say: thanks, Nick, for that anology. I feared I was the only person who was bothered by gamestudies turning into academic hack’n'slash.

  9. Jesper Says:

    I am glad nobody suggested Robotron.

    Seriously, it remains a great field. I think of it in terms of a card game or a board game (Settlers?) There are of course occasional moments when it feels like E.T., but those are few and far between.

  10. Dennis G. Jerz Says:

    Thanks for giving us all the chance to put everything back into perspective, Nick.

    Matt, your “Breakout” analogy is particularly elegant.

    I closed my talk by citing the example of Mary Ann Buckles, who was so traumatized by her committee’s resistance to her dissertation “Adventure” that she left academe and is now a massage therapist. Let’s hope that the future of game studies does NOT resemble the following passage from “Adventure”: “It is now pitch dark. If you proceed you will likely fall into a pit.”

  11. Ian Bogost Says:

    Jesper, do you mean E.T. as a commercial failure, or E.T. as 5 million units buried in the desert ;)

    Anyway, thanks to everyone for being good sports.

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