Pledge of Allegiance to Video Game Studies

I’m taking a class called “Feminism and Colorblindness in the Disciplines,” which is part of a series of seminars across the country organized by, among others, Kimberlé Crenshaw, that investigates ideologies of colorblindness and ways to do effective intersectional work in the disciplines. This class has really forced me to think about what it means to be a part of a discipline in any meaningful way.

Part of the course requirements is to write a short Pledge of Allegiance to and Declaration of Independence from your discipline. The idea is to pinpoint the affordances and limitations of a particular discipline’s methodology, and ultimately to discover what blind spots it has.

Anyway, I had a lot of fun writing my pledge for game studies and thought HASTACers and other game studies folks might get a kick out of it too. There is a little bit of snark (the target of which will be further explored in my Declaration of Independence), but it all comes from a place of love and caring. Hope you enjoy.

(UPDATE: Declaration of Independence is now up!)

Pledge of Allegiance to Video Game Studies

I pledge allegiance to the clan of video game studies academics, and to the knowledge for which it stands, one discipline out of many, barely visible, with procedural rhetorics and ludology for all.

I pledge to believe in the expressive and transformational potentials of video games, and I will work with other game studies scholars to convince The Institution that the academic study of video games as its own discipline will help us truly understand the potentials and mechanisms of what we consider to be the defining medium of the 21st century. I will advance the case that the medium is unique enough to require specialist knowledge to understand or assess properly. I might even look askance at another disciplines evaluations of my object of study, especially if they deal with violence and/or addiction. This might require me to defend portions of the culture from accusations about the unsavory representational practices of other portions of the culture. I pledge to do so within reason.

In my critiques, I will consider all the parts that make up a gamic system: platform, procedures, rules, play, narrative, representation. I will do my best not to let the latter two components overwhelm my analysis so as not to subsume our discipline into others. In fact, I will qualify any use of another disciplines methodologies (particularly if they are humanistic methodologies) with a disclaimer that said methodology was developed for Different Kinds of Texts but might provide a useful starting point for what I want to talk about in games. I will not confuse “Video Game” with other media types such as “Book” or “Film,” and I will not force the perspectives of my “home department” on the study of video games. I won’t expect literary, film, or other theories to adequately account for the meaning-making processes of software, games, or whatever video games are, which is a little bit of both of those but not precisely either.

I will cite Ian Bogost, Espen Aarseth, and maybe Jesper Juul even if their work is only tangentially related to my own. I will never use the word interactivity except in the most desperate situations, and only then with an explanation involving Lev Manovich. If I write about gender, I will talk about Lara Croft. If I write about race, I will mention Carl Johnson. My discussions of sexuality will involve BioWare, The Sims, and that time in Bully when a boy kisses another boy. I will feel pressured to excuse the violence, racism, and sexism of games that are important to the game studies canon and extoll their other virtues, like the fact that you don’t have to beat prostitutes in Grand Theft Auto III if you don’t want to and that makes the game brilliant because it was one of the first to offer open-world, user-driven gameplay.

Where possible, I pledge to construct narratives of progress for video games and video game studies. I will make pithy remarks about the Narratology vs. Ludology debate and how it almost stalled the discipline but is totally over now. I will point out that video games are coming into a renaissance of expressivity enabled by improved technology. I will claim that the future of video games is bright and limitless if only we marshall our powers of critique to help game designers harness technology to tell more meaningful stories. In this way I will help other video game studies academics to secure the blessings of relevance to ourselves and our posterity.

End of line.

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