Better Gaming through Academia

Why are we interested in research on gaming? Especially, why now?

In my previous postings, I had hinted on how playing games might have an effect on a gamer’s behavior. In HALO 2, you play as the Master Chief, as well as the enemy Covernant Elite, thus letting gamers realize that nothing is simply black and white… there are always reasons as to what motivates each side to fight for their cause and understanding these reasons might bring us one step closer to resolving disputes. Besides first person shooters (FPS) such as HALO, other games such as Rise of Nations teaches one about the intricacies of maintaining one’s own country, thus perhaps getting a better understanding the components of diplomacy and war. Nowadays, there is a trend for games to have some form of open-endedness to them, something which can be seen in the Grand Theft Auto series. Yet, we understand that games have structure and while they can be non-linear, they herd gamers to perform virtual tasks for certain personal rewards (e.g. to boost ego amongst friends that you finished the game in record time, to escape reality, etc). Understanding how to manage a game’s structure might be useful in educating gamers on the long run. Ultimately, think of this as self-improvement through gaming.

To answer my question, I believe that there has been no better time to go head-on with gaming research. A recent Gamespot article explored the relationship between academic game studies and commercial game development. The question was whether game designers were benefiting from critical studies. Quoting part of the in-depth feature article…

Each group, though driven by different motives, has something to offer the others. The game developer can teach the consumer what to expect in the coming months. The consumer can teach the academic about buying patterns and attention spans. The classics enthusiast can teach developers what makes a good game, regardless of era or trends. And academia can teach everyone a thing or two about what motivates a person to play games, why they are important, how we can make them better, and what we learn from them overall. Academia is also interested in collections, which benefits the developer, consumer, and classics enthusiasts fairly equally. Classic game fans archive too, but they usually do so for personal reasons and not for permanent public availability and accessibility. Furthermore, the academic archives less selectively, collecting all ideas, verbal history, written history, and digital history, which comprises a complete history quite unlike the conceptual history of electronic games currently available.

It seems that the academia has a part to play. Naysayers who say academia is “boring” say so because they haven’t realized the fruits of our labor… and I think this will change soon as initiatives such as DIGRA (Digital Games Research Association) and Serious Games are bent on producing results fit for game developers. Here at the University at Buffalo, we aim to do just that with our study of the “real self vs. the gamer self”. Using Mead’s theory on multiple selves, we apply concept of symbolic interactionism in order to study this phenomenon.

4 thoughts on “Better Gaming through Academia

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