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Gaming Matters

Art, Science, Magic, and the Computer Game Medium

Written by Judd Ethan Ruggill and Ken S. McAllister

Publication Year: 2011

In his 2004 book Game Work, Ken S. McAllister proposed a rigorous critical methodology for the discussion of the “video game complex”—the games themselves, their players, the industry that produces them, and those who review and market them. Games, McAllister demonstrated, are viewed and discussed very differently by different factions: as an economic force, as narrative texts, as a facet of popular culture, as a psychological playground, as an ethical and moral force, even as a tool for military training.
In Gaming Matters, McAllister and coauthor Judd Ruggill turn from the broader discussion of video game rhetoric to study the video game itself as a medium and the specific features that give rise to games as similar and yet diverse as Pong, Tomb Raider, and Halo. In short, what defines the computer game itself as a medium distinct from all others? Each chapter takes up a different fundamental characteristic of the medium. Games are:
• Idiosyncratic, and thus difficult to apprehend using the traditional tools of media study
• Irreconcilable, or complex to such a degree that developers, players, and scholars have contradictory ways of describing them
• Boring, and therefore obligated to constantly make demands
on players’ attention
• Anachronistic, or built on age-old tropes and forms of play
while ironically bound to the most advanced technologies
• Duplicitous, or dependent on truth-telling rhetoric even when they are about fictions, fantasies, or lies
• Work, or are often better understood as labor rather than play
• Alchemical, despite seeming all-too mechanical or predictable
Video games are now inarguably a major site of worldwide cultural production.
Gaming Matters will neither flatter game enthusiasts nor embolden game detractors in their assessments. But it will provide a vocabulary through which games can be discussed in academic settings and will create an important foundation for future academic discourse.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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p. v


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pp. vii-ix

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1. Idiosyncrasy

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pp. 1-15

Admittedly, it is a little odd to begin a scholarly book with an epigraph suggesting that all the text to follow will be whimsical. After all, whimsy runs counter to the very ethos of scholarly publishing, where rigor, vigor, and methodicalness— not play, ataraxia, and caprice—are the touchstones of truth and respectability. And yet we cannot in good conscience deny the fact that we often speak whimsically in this book, because we are ineluctably “real collectors” in the most Benjaminian sense of the term. We have spent more...

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2. Irreconcilability

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pp. 16-31

What is it that people talk about when they talk about computer games? Rules? Play? Performance? Storytelling? Excitement? Frustration? Violence? Technology? The answer is, inevitably, as varied as computer games themselves. For developers, computer game talk often means constructive discourse— that is, talk about the building blocks of games and how those blocks can fit together to produce not just playable but pleasurable (and thus ultimately...

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3. Aimlessness

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pp. 32-49

In a 2009 essay for the New York Times Magazine, media critic Virginia Heffernan argues, “Where television critics lean back, video-game critics lean forward, working wrists and feet and eyes, inputting information and advancing many, many levels in extremely hard games in order to work up even the baseline authority to write a capsule review” (13; emphasis in original). ...

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4. Anachronism

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pp. 50-62

Like all media, the computer game medium has a peculiar relationship to time. Just as the medium’s instantiations are ineluctably rooted to particular technological, industrial, and cultural moments—even in emulation, Crystal Castles and Congo Bongo cannot help but be conjoined to the arcade aesthetic and materiality of 1983—they are also always far outside these moments and...

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5. Duplicity

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pp. 63-81

Like many diligent scholars who study phenomena and artifacts that lack the glister of maturity and rectitude—magic, board games, sports, zines, toys, and autoerotic devices, to name a few—computer game scholars routinely lie about what it is they do.1 Caught red-handed running a prostitute over with a milk truck in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the typical game scholar’s reply (tinged with thinly veiled embarrassment) is “Oh, this? It’s just research.”...

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6. Work

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pp. 82-96

Some years ago we wrote an article with a colleague in which we proposed the neologism “gamework” as a way to call attention to the many kinds of work involved in the production, consumption, and study of computer games (Ruggill et al.). At the time, we were not so much concerned about the computer game medium as with the need to think through its many instantiations in material and textual ways. Our rationale was simply that much of...

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7. Alchemy

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pp. 97-106

Of the many types of magic at work in the computer game medium—and we have discussed several in the course of this book—arguably none is more potent and pervasive than alchemy. Commonly (though not necessarily accurately) understood as a pseudo-science focused on discovering a way to convert lead into gold, alchemy can be traced back to ancient Egyptian and Greek words that refer either to the cadaverous black silts that form the...

Appendix: Gameography

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pp. 107-119


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pp. 121-137

Works Cited

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pp. 139-148


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pp. 149-155

E-ISBN-13: 9780817385590
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817317379

Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 772845328
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Gaming Matters


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Subject Headings

  • Video games.
  • Video games -- Study and teaching.
  • Video games -- Social aspects.
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