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Game Studies

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Crafting e-Puppets with DIY Electronics

Short Circuits offers students opportunities to undertake physical computing projects, providing tools and methods for creating electronic puppets. Students learn how to incorporate microprocessors into everyday materials and use them to enhance their language and writing skills with shadow puppet shows featuring their own DIY flashlights.

Building the Interactive Web

Adobe Flash began as a simple animation tool and grew into a multimedia platform that offered a generation of creators and innovators an astonishing range of opportunities to develop and distribute new kinds of digital content. For the better part of a decade, Flash was the de facto standard for dynamic online media, empowering amateur and professional developers to shape the future of the interactive Web. In this book, Anastasia Salter and John Murray trace the evolution of Flash into one of the engines of participatory culture.

Salter and Murray investigate Flash as both a fundamental force that shaped perceptions of the web and a key technology that enabled innovative interactive experiences and new forms of gaming. They examine a series of works that exemplify Flash’s role in shaping the experience and expectations of web multimedia. Topics include Flash as a platform for developing animation (and the “Flashimation” aesthetic); its capacities for scripting and interactive design; games and genres enabled by the reconstruction of the browser as a games portal; forms and genres of media art that use Flash; and Flash’s stance on openness and standards--including its platform-defining battle over the ability to participate in Apple’s own proprietary platforms.

Flash’s exit from the mobile environment in 2011 led some to declare that Flash was dead. But, as Salter and Murray show, not only does Flash live, but its role as a definitive cross-platform tool continues to influence web experience.

What do we think about when we think about play? A pastime? Games? Childish activities? The opposite of work? Think again: If we are happy and well rested, we may approach even our daily tasks in a playful way, taking the attitude of play without the activity of play. So what, then, is play? In Play Matters, Miguel Sicart argues that to play is to be in the world; playing is a form of understanding what surrounds us and a way of engaging with others. Play goes beyond games; it is a mode of being human.

We play games, but we also play with toys, on playgrounds, with technologies and design. Sicart proposes a theory of play that doesn’t derive from a particular object or activity but is a portable tool for being—not tied to objects but brought by people to the complex interactions that form their daily lives. It is not separated from reality; it is part of it. It is pleasurable, but not necessarily fun. Play can be dangerous, addictive, and destructive.

Along the way, Sicart considers playfulness, the capacity to use play outside the context of play; toys, the materialization of play—instruments but also play pals; playgrounds, play spaces that enable all kinds of play; beauty, the aesthetics of play through action; political play—from Maradona’s goal against England in the 1986 World Cup to the hactivist activities of Anonymous; the political, aesthetic, and moral activity of game design; and why play and computers get along so well.

All games express and embody human values, providing a compelling arena in which we play out beliefs and ideas. “Big ideas” such as justice, equity, honesty, and cooperation—as well as other kinds of ideas, including violence, exploitation, and greed—may emerge in games whether designers intend them or not. In this book, Mary Flanagan and Helen Nissenbaum present Values at Play, a theoretical and practical framework for identifying socially recognized moral and political values in digital games. Values at Play can also serve as a guide to designers who seek to implement values in the conception and design of their games.

After developing a theoretical foundation for their proposal, Flanagan and Nissenbaum provide detailed examinations of selected games, demonstrating the many ways in which values are embedded in them. They introduce the Values at Play heuristic, a systematic approach for incorporating values into the game design process. Interspersed among the book’s chapters are texts by designers who have put Values at Play into practice by accepting values as a design constraint like any other, offering a real-world perspective on the design challenges involved.

An Evidence-Based Approach

Many strong claims are made for the educational value of computer games, but there is a need for systematic examination of the research evidence that might support such claims. This book fills that need by providing, a comprehensive and up-to-date investigation of what research shows about learning with computer games.

Computer Games for Learning
describes three genres of game research: the value-added approach, which compares the learning outcomes of students who learn with a base version of a game to those of students who learn with the base version plus an additional feature; the cognitive consequences approach, which compares learning outcomes of students who play an off-the-shelf computer game for extended periods to those of students who do not; and the media comparative approach, which compares the learning outcomes of students who learn material by playing a game to those of students who learn the same material using conventional media.

After introductory chapters that describe the rationale and goals of learning game research as well as the relevance of cognitive science to learning with games, the book offers examples of research in all three genres conducted by the author and his colleagues at the University of California, Santa Barbara; meta-analyses of published research; and suggestions for future research in the field. The book is essential reading for researchers and students of educational games, instructional designers, learning-game developers, and anyone who wants to know what the research has to say about the educational effectiveness of computer games.

Design and Analysis

In the twenty-first-century digital world, virtual goods are sold for real money. Digital game players happily pay for avatars, power-ups, and other game items. But behind every virtual sale, there is a virtual economy, simple or complex. In this book, Vili Lehdonvirta and Edward Castronova introduce the basic concepts of economics into the game developer’s and game designer’s toolkits. Lehdonvirta and Castronova explain how the fundamentals of economics—markets, institutions, and money—can be used to create or analyze economies based on artificially scarce virtual goods. They focus on virtual economies in digital games, but also touch on serious digital currencies such as Bitcoin as well as virtual economies that emerge in social media around points, likes, and followers. The theoretical emphasis is on elementary microeconomic theory, with some discussion of behavioral economics, macroeconomics, sociology of consumption, and other social science theories relevant to economic behavior.

Topics include the rational choice model of economic decision making; information goods versus virtual goods; supply, demand, and market equilibrium; monopoly power; setting prices; and externalities. The book will enable developers and designers to create and maintain successful virtual economies, introduce social scientists and policy makers to the power of virtual economies, and provide a useful guide to economic fundamentals for students in other disciplines.

Playing with Technoculture

The avant-garde challenges or leads culture; it opens up or redefines art forms and our perception of the way the world works. In this book, Brian Schrank describes the ways that the avant-garde emerges through videogames. Just as impressionism or cubism created alternative ways of making and viewing paintings, Schrank argues, avant-garde videogames create alternate ways of making and playing games. A mainstream game channels players into a tightly closed circuit of play; an avant-garde game opens up that circuit, revealing (and reveling in) its own nature as a game.

We can evaluate the avant-garde, Schrank argues, according to how it opens up the experience of games (formal art) or the experience of being in the world (political art). He shows that different artists use different strategies to achieve an avant-garde perspective. Some fixate on form, others on politics; some take radical positions, others more complicit ones. Schrank examines these strategies and the artists who deploy them, looking closely at four varieties of avant-garde games: radical formal, which breaks up the flow of the game so players can engage with its materiality, sensuality, and conventionality; radical political, which plays with art and politics as well as fictions and everyday life; complicit formal, which treats videogames as a resource (like any other art medium) for contemporary art; and complicit political, which uses populist methods to blend life, art, play, and reality—as in alternate reality games, which adapt Situationist strategies for a mass audience.

In this book, Astrid Ensslin examines literary videogames—hybrid digital artifacts that have elements of both games and literature, combining the ludic and the literary. These works can be considered verbal art in the broadest sense (in that language plays a significant part in their aesthetic appeal); they draw on game mechanics; and they are digital-born, dependent on a digital medium (unlike, for example, conventional books read on e-readers). They employ narrative, dramatic, and poetic techniques in order to explore the affordances and limitations of ludic structures and processes, and they are designed to make players reflect on conventional game characteristics. Ensslin approaches these hybrid works as a new form of experimental literary art that requires novel ways of playing and reading. She proposes a systematic method for analyzing literary-ludic (L-L) texts that takes into account the analytic concerns of both literary stylistics and ludology.

After establishing the theoretical underpinnings of her proposal, Ensslin introduces the L-L spectrum as an analytical framework for literary games. Based on the phenomenological distinction between deep and hyper attention, the L-L spectrum charts a work’s relative emphases on reading and gameplay. Ensslin applies this analytical toolkit to close readings of selected works, moving from the predominantly literary to the primarily ludic, from online hypermedia fiction to Flash fiction to interactive fiction to poetry games to a highly designed literary “auteur” game. Finally, she considers her innovative analytical methodology in the context of contemporary ludology, media studies, and literary discourse analysis.

How Game Design Can Empower Citizens and Transform Politics

Anyone who has ever been to a public hearing or community meeting would agree that participatory democracy can be boring. Hours of repetitive presentations, alternatingly alarmist or complacent, for or against, accompanied by constant heckling, often with no clear outcome or decision. Is this the best democracy can offer? In Making Democracy Fun, Josh Lerner offers a novel solution for the sad state of our deliberative democracy: the power of good game design. What if public meetings featured competition and collaboration (such as team challenges), clear rules (presented and modeled in multiple ways), measurable progress (such as scores and levels), and engaging sounds and visuals? These game mechanics would make meetings more effective and more enjoyable—even fun.

Lerner reports that institutions as diverse as the United Nations, the U.S. Army, and grassroots community groups are already using games and game-like processes to encourage participation. Drawing on more than a decade of practical experience and extensive research, he explains how games have been integrated into a variety of public programs in North and South America. He offers rich stories of game techniques in action, in children’s councils, social service programs, and participatory budgeting and planning. With these real-world examples in mind, Lerner describes five kinds of games and twenty-six game mechanics that are especially relevant for democracy. He finds that when governments and organizations use games and design their programs to be more like games, public participation becomes more attractive, effective, and transparent. Game design can make democracy fun—and make it work.

Music in video games is often a sophisticated, complex composition that serves to engage the player, set the pace of play, and aid interactivity. Composers of video game music must master an array of specialized skills not taught in the conservatory, including the creation of linear loops, music chunks for horizontal resequencing, and compositional fragments for use within a generative framework. In A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, Winifred Phillips—herself an award-winning composer of video game music—provides a comprehensive, practical guide that leads an aspiring video game composer from acquiring the necessary creative skills to understanding the function of music in games to finding work in the field.

Musicians and composers may be drawn to game music composition because the game industry is a multibillion-dollar, employment-generating economic powerhouse, but, Phillips writes, the most important qualification for a musician who wants to become a game music composer is a love of video games. Phillips offers detailed coverage of essential topics, including musicianship and composition experience; immersion; musical themes; music and game genres; workflow; working with a development team; linear music; interactive music, both rendered and generative; audio technology, from mixers and preamps to software; and running a business.

A Composer’s Guide to Game Musicoffers indispensable guidance for musicians and composers who want to deploy their creativity in a dynamic and growing industry, protect their musical identities while working in a highly technical field, and create great music within the constraints of a new medium.

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