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Game Work

Language, Power, and Computer Game Culture

Written by Ken S. McAllister

Publication Year: 2004

Video and computer games in their cultural contexts.

As the popularity of computer games has exploded over the past decade, both scholars and game industry professionals have recognized the necessity of treating games less as frivolous entertainment and more as artifacts of culture worthy of political, social, economic, rhetorical, and aesthetic analysis. Ken McAllister notes in his introduction to Game Work that, even though games are essentially impractical, they are nevertheless important mediating agents for the broad exercise of socio-political power.

In considering how the languages, images, gestures, and sounds of video games influence those who play them, McAllister highlights the ways in which ideology is coded into games. Computer games, he argues, have transformative effects on the consciousness of players, like poetry, fiction, journalism, and film, but the implications of these transformations are not always clear. Games can work to maintain the status quo or celebrate liberation or tolerate enslavement, and they can conjure feelings of hope or despair, assent or dissent, clarity or confusion. Overall, by making and managing meanings, computer games—and the work they involve and the industry they spring from—are also negotiating power.

This book sets out a method for "recollecting" some of the diverse and copious influences on computer games and the industry they have spawned. Specifically written for use in computer game theory classes, advanced media studies, and communications courses, Game Work will also be welcome by computer gamers and designers.

Ken S. McAllister is Assistant Professor of Rhetoric, Composition, and the Teaching of English at the University of Arizona and Co-Director of the Learning Games Initiative, a research collective that studies, teaches with, and builds computer games.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Front Matter

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xi

Technically speaking, computer games—the term I use to designate any game that requires a computer to work, including those for desktop machines, console and coin-op systems, and handheld devices—are software applications, just like word processors, image editors, and database programs.1 ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Most academic projects, I imagine, seem a little bit strange—abstract yet highly focused—to the communities of which their authors are a part. For example, as an avid caver I was often acutely aware that my friends in the local chapter of the National Speleological Society were being remarkably supportive ...

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pp. 1-4

In order to set the scene for this multiperspectival approach, I begin by surveying the themes and contradictory findings of computer game research. In subsections titled “Games as Mass Culture,” “Games as Mass Media,” “Games as Psychophysiological Force,” “Games as Economic Force,” and “Games as Instructional Force,” ...

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1 Studying the Computer Game Complex

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pp. 5-26

In the media wake of the Littleton, Colorado, high school shooting in 1999, news coverage quickly turned to finger-pointing as people struggled to understand what could have motivated such youth violence. Within twenty-four hours, national TV news programs were reporting that the young men who had walked ...

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2 A Grammar of Gamework

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pp. 27-66

One of the challenges of describing how meaning is made in a particular situation is discerning an explanation that doesn’t compromise that situation’s culturally transitory nature. This is especially difficult with phenomena that reside in the public sphere. Contemporary rhetoricians like Barry Brummett, William Covino, ...

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pp. 67-70

In chapter 1 I provided an overview of the influences on and of computer games, demonstrating that although gaming’s effects on players are well recognized, the interpretations of those effects are contradictory and complex. I also suggested that those societies in which computer games have become popular ...

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3 Capturing Imaginations: Rhetoric in the Art of Computer Game Development

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pp. 71-117

If we were to go by the mass media’s representation of video games—which often report that they are instruments of addiction and sociopathic behavior —we could only conclude that game developers must be among the most morally bankrupt craftspeople in history. Even before computer gaming was made one of ...

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4 Making Meanings Out of Contradictions: The Work of Computer Game Reviewing

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pp. 118-139

Game reviewing, like other kinds of rudimentary media analysis, both evaluates its subject according to certain criteria and establishes those criteria as valuable. Every month, dozens of new game reviews are published, most in fan magazines and on Web sites, and a few in the popular press. Since 1999, for example, ...

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5 The Economies of Black & White

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pp. 140-168

In the award-winning 2001 game Black & White, players adopt the persona of a god.1 As the game opens, the player watches from above as a lovable heterosexual humanoid family makes its way down to a beach in the midst of a tropical paradise. As they play in the surf, one of the children is suddenly surrounded by ...

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pp. 169-170

Computer games do real work in the world. They change lives, not just those of game players, marketers, and developers, but increasingly those of everyone. There are sweatshops in Thailand and Hong Kong where computer games are assembled and packaged. Remote villages in Cambodia have been inundated with tourists ...


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pp. 171-204


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pp. 205-218

Works Cited

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pp. 219-226


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pp. 227-232

E-ISBN-13: 9780817381424
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817354206

Publication Year: 2004