Blog Post

Player participation in video games

I recently finished reading Structures of Participation in Digital Culture, a collection whose authors explore the ways in which technology enables new forms of cultural connection. One of the most interesting essays in the book was Robert F. Nideffer's "Game Engines as Open Networks." In this essay, Nideffer argues that instead of encouraging passivity--typified by the stereotype of the couch potato--game systems create new means of creativity for gamers, many of whom are active participants in creating and modifying games.

One of the reasons this essay stood out to me was because I recently had read another article which seemed to confirm Nideffer's thesis. The article, by Joshuah Bearman, is a profile of Billy Mitchell, a video-game record holder who is most famous for playing a "perfect game" of Pac-Man in which he conquered every level of the game and earned every possible point all without losing a single man. Billy and his fellow gamers spend hours developing intricate strategies for playing classic arcade games and are so adept that they know more about some games than those games' programmers do. As Bearman tells it, "When Billy was in Japan [to meet the developers of Pac-Man], he asked the programmers detailed questions about the far reaches of Pac-Man, to which they responded, 'We should really be asking you the questions. You have been where we never will.'"

As Nideffer's article suggests, gaming culture is rich with new prospects for studying the ways in which technology is transforming our experience with media. These two articles should prove interesting reads for researchers interested in studying agency in culture, whether they are interested in video gaming or not.

Update: When I posted this earlier, I forgot to mention T. L. Taylor's chapter in the same volume, "Pushing the Borders: Player Participation and Game Culture," which, like Nideffer's chapter, argues that players use video games as a means of active participation in new cultural networks.


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