- Debugging Game History A Critical Lexicon ed. by Henry Lowood and Raiford Guins
MIT Press, 2016
464 pp.; cloth, $49.00
Debugging game history: a critical lexicon, from editors Henry Lowood and Raiford Guins, is not a definitive text, and this is one of its great strengths. Lowood and Guins, by compiling an inclusive group of scholars from diverse fields and backgrounds, have presented a text with forty-nine “takes” on important concepts that influence, intersect with, and form the underserved field of video game history. It is precisely that diversity, the critical approach to these concepts, and an instant focus on the “how” instead of the “what” in game history that elevates this text from a detailed glossary to a critical lexicon with potential to expand and improve the nascent field of video game history.
To speak first about the diversity, the contributors to this book come from a variety of scholarly backgrounds, and this is clear in their various chapters. While influential names such as Jesper Juul and Miguel Sicart in the field of game studies appear, the editors have included entries by less expected but equally influential contributors to prevent the lexicon from retreading worn territory. Kate Edwards, whose work has focused on industrial and scholarly settings in geopolitical strategy and localization throughout her career, has written an entry on culturalization and offers insight that few others could provide. Similarly, Jas Purewal’s chapter on intellectual property includes the useful insights of a practicing digital-entertainment lawyer to add robustness to the conversation and perspectives that otherwise have been less seen in specific discussions of media studies. Lowood and Guins note the multiple methodological approaches utilized by the scholars included in the collection, and the value of this diversity cannot be overstated. As made clear in the title, the purpose of this collection is to debug game history. As the editors suggest, there is a “flawed historiography of video games,” and the diversity of voices, backgrounds, methods, and opinions on these concepts allows for those flaws to be readdressed without being definitive or restricting the progress of the field to a single track. [End Page 85]
The critical approach of these chapters also assists in reaching this “debugging” goal. As opposed to offering simple histories or a retelling of “what” happened to reach this contemporary point in game history, authors focus on questions of how and why. Some chapters, in fact, seem largely unconcerned with history at all and focus instead on theoretical approaches or concept development and definition. This, however, is not a weakness of the collection. Lowood and Guins conceived of the collection as “[provoking] questions for historians to answer about how design and industry practices may have changed over time as well as about the historical contexts and impacts of those changes” (xvii). This text, then, is a welcome addition for educators looking for readings to spark conversation about important concepts in video game studies and history. Historians, too, may find this collection appealing, as its chapters provide a launch pad of sorts from which a more nuanced understanding of concepts influencing and surrounding video game history can be achieved.
The text also runs the gamut from accessible to complex without losing its voice, and readers drawn in by more accessible chapters, such as Mikael Jakobsson’s “Achievements,” will not be dissuaded by more complex chapters, such as Don Ihde’s compression of his previous work in “Embodiment.” Instead, readers might find themselves drawn in by the variety of topics and approaches and explore a subject with which they were previously unfamiliar. According to the editors, this diversity of thought and approaches with a focus on critical analysis has meant that “our writers have at times differed and even written past each other with regard to basic concepts, such as history, play and game design” (xvii). Again, however, this seeming flaw actually serves to bolster the text, as readers are provided with differences of opinion, competing voices, and a fuller understanding of the nuanced approaches to video game history. Debugging video game history means deconstructing...