Welcome to the HASTAC Scholars forum on
digital games. Your hosts are Patrick Jagoda and Lindsey Andrews: HASTAC
Scholars and graduate students in the English department at Duke University.
In recent years, countless pundits have
criticized video games for promoting aggressive tendencies, antisocial behavior,
and serious addiction among children and teens. While digital games and
educational simulations have been linked repeatedly to active learning
benefits, fostering skills that range from individual real-time problem-solving
to large-group collaboration, critics continue to associate this interactive
medium with primarily harmful consequences. In September 2008, the Pew Internet
and American Life Project released the first comprehensive survey about teens
and video games, which suggests that 97% of youth between the ages of 12 and 17
play digital games. If an overwhelming majority of teens and an increasing
number of adults are participating in everything from traditional games to
online synthetic worlds then the catastrophic representations of game play seem
significantly overstated. And figuring
out the actual parameters and potential implications of this medium becomes
more urgent than ever.
When gaming is discussed, violent
first-person shooters and military-themed titles are often the conversational
focal point. Historically, games from the 1962 Cold War era combat game Spacewar!
to the ultra-violent Doom series of the 1990s to the United States Army's 2002
public relations and training vehicle have
received a great deal of press. While the genealogy of militaristic and violent
games is immensely important, it frequently displaces the focus from more
innovative approaches to interactive electronic games and media. For this
reason, we would like to center our discussion on game developments that have
been pushing the boundaries of digital interactive gameplay and re-imagining
the parameters of the medium.
The current MacArthur Foundation sponsored
"Virtual Peace: Turning Swords to Ploughshares" project serves as an
ideal case study of creative interventions into traditional game production. Virtual
Peace transforms video game technology previously used for army training
into a humanitarian assistance training tool. Borne of a collaboration among
several departments at Duke University, the Duke-UNC Rotary Center, and Virtual
Heroes (a Durham, NC-based game developer), Virtual Peace offers a
game-environment that combines traditional, in-person role-playing games with
interactive media technologies.
Participants in the simulation attempt to organize crisis intervention
by taking on the roles of heads of international humanitarian organizations
such as UNICEF or Doctors without Borders, or of government officials involved
in the crises ? in this case, modeled on 1998?s devastating Hurricane
Mitch. The game expands on the
possibilities of traditional in-person role-playing by offering various
tracking features that can both score participants? abilities to reach tangible
goals and allow instructors a better opportunity to observe students?
negotiation skills. Virtual Peace also
expands the capacities of traditional video-game play by incorporating an
after-action review that allows students and teachers to examine together not
only the tangible goals reached, but also the processes by which they were
Beginning with notable exemplars of
imaginative game design, such as "Virtual Peace," we would like to encourage
thoughtful discussion and debate about electronic games. Following the ethic of
gaming, we invite participants to engage in a playful exchange regarding the
past, present, and future of gaming. Since the study and production of
electronic games takes place across numerous disciplines (from the humanities
to the sciences) and in different institutions (from commercial developers to
universities), we hope the discussion can be similarly wide-ranging.
To begin the conversation with our guests,
the HASTAC community, and other interested readers, we suggest a series of
questions that reflect not only pedagogical, but also theoretical,
methodological, and creative concerns. While the following questions serve as a
starting point, we urge participants to expand on the issues we raise and to
introduce their own:
- How can digital games make useful social
and political interventions? In what ways do single player mini-games (e.g.,
titles developed by Ian Bogost and Gerard LaFond's Persuasive Games venture)
make possible different types of socio-political action than Massively
Multiplayer Online games (e.g., Blizzard Entertainment's World of Warcraft)?
Will a greater number of innovative
simulations and games break through as mainstream titles or will socially and
politically leaning simulations emerge primarily from universities? In other
words, are major game publishers turning to less traditional game types or do
you foresee this type of software being produced primarily by projects such as Virtual
Peace or the USC Game Innovation Lab?
Without reducing the complicated history
of electronic game production, how does Virtual Peace depart from multiplayer
titles that are predicated on the fulfillment of violent objectives? How do you
envision the future of nonviolent game production? Do you see war simulations
and games invested in military maneuvers being supplemented with more
innovative or educational simulations?
How important is the study of platforms
and hardware to the understanding of electronic games and their broader social
How can the study of electronic games
influence other areas of research throughout the humanities, social sciences,
and sciences? What do you see as the ultimate implications of research into
Does the culture of gaming, both at the
level of production and play, suggest a useful model for scholarly
What kinds of methodological challenges
have you faced in working through the history of digital games and other "new" media?
For those of you invested in the study
of games, how do you use electronic games in the classroom? How might game
theory be incorporated into broader curricula and pedagogy practices in the
Given the continued development of
exciting and visually stimulating ? yet highly violent ? commercial games (such
as the Grand Theft Auto series), how can you theorize or use these types
of games in the classroom? How can
these games help us better understand violence, transgressive acts, or
rebellion in the context of youth culture?
What do you see as the major social,
political, and cultural implications of changing online synthetic worlds? What
types of benefits and challenges do these spaces (e.g., World of Warcraft,
Lineage, and Second Life) introduce?
Please feel free to post your questions,
comments, and links. We look forward to a generative and exciting discussion.
Thank you to Erin and HASTAC for their generosity in helping us prepare this
Patrick and Lindsey