An Explanation of ‘Video Games are Better without Stories’

Monday, I took my normal jaunt over to MassivelyOverpowered in the morning and picked up The Daily Grind, which is a daily a prompt about something in the news or video games or just something that came up in discussion elsewhere on the website. Monday’s prompt was about whether games, MMOs in specific, need story.

Continue reading “An Explanation of ‘Video Games are Better without Stories’”

Game Studies Information!

So, Game Studies is a new(ish) field of media studies that only recently come into being. At it’s heart, Game Studies takes the tenets of media studies and applies them to games.  However, games have an added layer of influence on the story and the experience that make them a unique study within the media field.  All of my graduate academic work up until this point have been in game studies.  As such, I’ve done a lot of reading and research already, and wanted to give you all the opportunity to check out some of the fruits of my labors.  

Primarily, I have books and websites/blogs that I’ve uses as resources in the past that I think have a lot of great (and really interesting information) about Game Studies.   You can think of this as kind of an informal annotated bibliography.   Right now this is just a blog post, but I’m going to change the format a bit and post it on my Resources page.  If you have anything to add or change, please let me know! 
There are a few websites that I frequent for academic looks at games.  The first is the ever so intuitive which is a digital trade journal published quarterly with game studies topics.  Who knew?  Since it’s only updated quarterly, it doesn’t have a ton of up-to-date content, but that’s also not really it’s focus.  Regardless, it’s probably the single best resource of purely scholarly publications to do with video games.  There’s also the more generalist webiste, which, among other things, has very academic writings about video gaming.  Bogost is a frequent contributer to Gamasutra, and there’s lots of great general information on video gaming as a whole on Gamasutra.  It’s awesome for just a quick perusal with high quality content.  
Finally, there’s my favorite gaming-related magazine/blog, The Escapist.  The Escapist Magazine has a collection of news articles, opinions, blogs, and videos which are again, very high quality that make it enjoyable to read and highly informative at the same time.  They release weekly issues, each containing 3-4 articles from contributing writers around the topic at hand.  Additionally, the staff writers also maintain blogs and additional posts, as well as creating the fun extras on the site.  If you have a few minutes, do a search on the site and watch an few episodes of “Extra Credits,” which is a very forward thinking weekly video that I find very informative, inspiring, and entertaining.  There are some other sites, focusing on the business side of the fence with some news and op-ed mix in, and websites like DestructoidKotaku, and Joystiq all have good articles from time to time, but are more focused towards entertainment than informing academically. 
First on my list is Bonnie Nardi’s My Life as a Night Elf Priest which is an anthropological study on gamers, and more specifically the World of Warcraft community.  I would rank this as a number one must read if you are at all interested in video gaming and the communities it creates.  She makes some great observations that being an insider to the game, I wouldn’t have necessarily noticed on my own.  If you are curious at all about what World of Warcraft is all about, I strongly urge you pick this up and give it a read through.  It shows from both an outsider and eventually an insiders perspective the phenomenon that is the World of Warcraft.  
Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, which she references in her TED talk is a really interesting take on the gamification movement.  She paints a very powerful (if a little idealistic) view of gamification and the power that gamification can have in the world today.  She has some great ideas and great insight.  But as I mentioned, her view of gamification as an ultimate force for good is a little bit optimistic and idealistic.  She also has a community of gamification people called if you are at all interested. (which I’m a member of) does a lot to network like minded people, and there are groups – and they have a really interesting implementation of gamification on the website involving completing certain “tasks” and leveling up before you can post, or keep a blog, etc.  I think between her TED talk, Reality is Broken, and, there’s a ton of great information about gamification just from Jane.  
Another major player in the Game Studies field currently is Ian Bogost.  Ian is a professor of Comparative Media at Georgia Tech, and has runs his own website for persuasive/serious games —  Additionally, he’s written 2 books thus far (with a 3rd on the way): Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism and Persuasive Games: The Expressive power of Video Games.    In these books, Bogost attacks the particular challenges of critiquing games from a structuralist perspective.  Unit Operations addresses the relationship between different chunks of functionality within a game, and focuses on how that relationship, that unit operation influences the player.  In Persuasive Games, Ian creates a new idea, called procedural rhetoric, which attempts to address how the rules inherent in game program have a rhetorical function.  His most recent book, How to Do Things with Video Games will be released on Aug. 30, 2011.  
 Henry Jenkins is another big name in the game studies, though he hasn’t done as much as some others in the way of explicit writing about game studies.  His book Convergence Culture, while not dealing with gaming directly, does mention it a few times and is a good for just understanding the transition of media to filling in the gaps.  Additionally, his other book which is a collection of essays Fans, Bloggers and Gamers has some good material about gamers as a community, though he has some frustration with the state of video games, and that comes through in the writing strongly at certain points.  But, he has been an ardent defender of gaming in the past, and noting his work is important when looking at game studies.  His blog can be found at
Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds by Celia Pearce covers a more somber topic – the death of a virtual world.  The book primarily covers the exodus of players of a game called Uru that was shut down, and it’s community of players became essentially homeless.  I haven’t had the opportunity to read the entire book, but what I’ve read of it has been fascinating, and something I can related to, with the decline of a multiplayer game defined a lot of me as a gamer, Anarchy Online from Funcom.  An easy read, I really enjoy what I’ve read of it so far.  Another book that I haven’t read the whole way through is Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture by T. L. Taylor.  T.L. Taylor is another big name in game studies, but not as well known.  Her book deals primarily with the creation of community within a virtual world, through the lens of the game EverQuest.  You can find her website here: with some additional work.  
Edward Castronova also has two books that are worth reading, though it should be said I didn’t enjoy them as much as I have some others.  Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games, Castronova tackles a primarily economic reading of virtual worlds, which I was a little turned off on when he talks about the earning potential of virtual worlds, but I’m also biased against anything overtly business related, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.  He also wrote Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun is Changing Reality.  Again, I viewed his book with a bit of trepidation after the reading Synthetic Worlds, but as much as I might dislike it, it’s still important to understand the implications that Castronova tackles.  
There are two other books that I want to mention here that have a less academic tilt — World of Warcraft and Philosophy is a collection of essays that are academic in nature, but geared towards an non-academic audience.  There are some good seed ideas in the book, but over all I found the general critique to be rather shallow – which makes sense considering the audience.  I wouldn’t imagine it to be very complicated and complex critique when not focused on an academic audience.  Overall though, it’s a good, easy read with some really interesting, if mal-developed, ideas.  The second, is a book by a writer and professor, Tom Bissell called Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter.  While not an academic writing, Bissell talks through games from a gamer’s perspective–deeming games a term of Self-Surrender.  A good read in itself to help you understand the gaming world as a whole, if you aren’t familiar.  
Finally, from the books I’ve read (at least in part) Gamer Theory by McKenzie Wark, who teaches at The New School.  Wark’s book I found very difficult to read.  He writes in a very much flow of consciousness style of writing, and is writing strikes me as more of a manifesto.  His premise is to make that we are all gamers, in one manner or another.  I need to re-read the book to get a better understanding, but it’s definitely an interesting concept I’m hoping I increase my understanding of on subsequent read-throughs.

So, that’s my list to start with.  Obviously this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list and there’s a lot here I’ve read, but lots more I haven’t read.   If you have anything to add, please let me know.  I would love to have a really comprehensive list.  Anyway, from this posting here,  I listed out all the resources here on the bottom with links to Amazon so you don’t have to dig down through to find something.  If you have any questions (or additions!), please feel free to hit me up and let me know.   

Extra Lives – Tom Bissell 
Gamer Theory – McKenzie Wark
Persuasive Games – Ian Bogost
Unit Operations – Ian Bogost
Synthetic Worlds – Edward Castronova
Exodus to the Virtual World – Edward Castronova
Reality is Broken – Jane McGonigal
Convergence Culture – Henry Jenkins
Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers – Henry Jenkins 
Communities of Play – Celia Pearce 
Play Between Worlds – T.L. Taylor
My Life as a Night Elf Priest – Bonnie Nardi 
World of Warcraft and Philosophy – Luke Cuddy, ed. 

Ian Bogost’s The Picnic Spoils the Rain


Ian Bogost, author of the books Persuasive Games and Unit Operations  writes for the Persuasive Games feature on Gamasutra.  I highly recommend you check out some of his past articles if you haven’t already.  Ian Bogost is one of the leading voices in the field of game studies at the moment, and it will definitely behoove anyone who’s interested in the field to take the time to read some of his work.

His most recent article over on Gamasutra is title “The Picnic Spoils the Rain,” and is a critique of the cinematic qualities (or lack thereof) of the dramatized game,  Heavy Rain.  Bogost’s argument is that while Heavy Rain is billed as an “interactive film,” that it doesn’t really have much in common with cinema outside of a few minor similarities. Continue reading “Ian Bogost’s The Picnic Spoils the Rain”