Over the past forty years, video games have become a major global economic and cultural industry. Alongside the development of the gaming industry, game studies has moved from an emerging academic field to an integral area of research for understanding the media studies landscape. Early game studies work has engaged with not only the ways that games function—from design to reception—but also the theoretical divisions between narratology and ludology. Alongside ontological lines of questioning that seek to operationalize the term “game” and understand the act of play itself, scholarly engagements with games has grown ever-more multi/interdisciplinary, exploring the role of games in education, sports, the military, and so on. Game studies has emerged from the confluence of sociology, political science, and mathematics to provide rich fields of inquiry for both humanities and social science approaches/methodologies.
While recent scholarship has complicated these conversations, game studies continues to privilege digital gaming in ways that frequently disregard or discount other forms of gaming such as board games, card games, and role-playing games. At the same time, game studies could also benefit from nuancing and expanding its attention to intersectional issues such as gender, sexuality, race, and class. The increasing complexity of the globally networked gaming industry demands scholarly engagement from a variety of perspectives. This issue of the Velvet Light Trap considers the current state of the field and the potential value of utilizing a cultural studies framework for understanding issues of power, freedom, and control in game studies. Building on the growing body of game studies scholarship, this issue brings together work on both mainstream and independent gaming, highlighting the economic and cultural contexts of a broad range of gaming and play practices.
The essays collected in this issue seek to build on crucial emerging debates in game studies. Taken altogether, these essays tease out the disparate aesthetic and cultural forces, as well as their attendant relationships to production and consumption, that structure our gaming expectations and experiences. Interrogating these aspects engages with and furthers the discourse around established debates in the field and media studies more broadly: How do games reproduce popular ideas about identity, including issues of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, ability, and so on, through characters, gaming worlds, play, design, and performance? Which voices, perspectives, and sensibilities are privileged in gaming culture, and how can the gaming industry become more inclusive and self-reflective about the practices it engages in and choices it makes? How are communities traditionally marginalized in the gaming economy asserting greater agency? How are issues of power, freedom, and play negotiated, challenged, or reinscribed in the various games and gaming practices marking today’s increasingly expansive media and cultural landscape? [End Page 1]
The scholarly contributions in this issue open up productive discussions regarding the interplay between producers, players, and texts when it comes to issues of power and control. Many of the following case studies demonstrate the ways in which agency within gaming can and must be complicated by the consideration of intersectionality and explore how uses of technology—ranging from the retro-aesthetics of 8 bit pixelation to high-definition motion capture performance—shape the ways in which narrative and ludic elements either challenge or reify hegemonic structures.
Branden Buehler’s contribution, “White-Collar Play: Reassessing Managerial Sports Games,” examines how the “managerial turn” in sports media has played out in popular sports video game franchises. With the ever-growing popularity of fantasy sports leagues, print and web journalism’s increasing focus on front-office executives, and the box-office success of films that dramatize managerial maneuverings (e.g., Moneyball, 2011), the worldwide popularity of sports game franchises that also emphasize such managerial administrative work should come as no surprise. But, as Buehler points out, not only have few scholars examined this phenomenon, but of those who have, their attention has been mostly focused on how these games reinscribe troubling power structures, with their quantification of primarily black players’ bodies and skills, all traded in a marketplace. Buehler not only addresses this problematic neoliberal ideology underlying managerial sports games but also argues that these games might very well open up a unique...