I really appreciate both of the reading for this week for their attempt to broaden the normative gaming discourse. While I’d argue that both the gaming industry and gaming discourse has changed significantly in the last five years (particularly as a result of media convergence and the popularity of the mobile gaming app) I am still surprised when every study period the “negative effects of gaming” debate remains as both a popular essay topic and point of discussion for students.
So this week I’d like us to use the readings by Jenkins and Thornham to unpack the discourse of gaming. Here’s a few questions to kick start the conversation, but feel free to jump in with any ideas and thoughts…
- What is the big issue with ‘pleasure’? Why are the experiences of pleasure in gaming difficult for us to articulate and justify?
- Why does social and solo gaming experiences conjure different stereotypes?
I suppose that, traditionally, the general populace has viewed gaming as a waste of time. Board games like chess, cards and Scrabble were perceived as intellectual and social – relying on the fact that you’d require more than one player to “play the game”. However, videogames can be played by only one player, who must sit in front of a television, or what has historically been referred to as the idiot box – this doesn’t elevate the negatively perceived view of spending many hours gaming. The fact that one would associate pleasure with such an apparent time-waster makes matters worse and would lead one to avoid admitting that they gain pleasure from such a pastime. I know that I have felt guilty from enjoying a videogame, especially when it has been a solo experience. I have noticed that I have had inner dialogues along the lines of “I should have spent that time studying, reading, working, etc.”
On the other hand, playing videogames with others has magically transformed the experience into a social one, which is more acceptable, as I could have easily been having a coffee with others, or going to see a movie with them – so, why not play a game with them instead of those other activities?
I see similarities with my early days of using the internet – generally speaking, males who spent a lot of time in front of a computer (particularly when they were DOS-based and coding was more prominent) were referred to as geeks who had no social life. Hence, their interest in sitting in front of a computer for hours on end. As Thornham observes, “’Geek’ gamers… devote hours and hours to solo gaming, neglecting their ‘real’ social lives in the process” (2009, p. 152). It is interesting that she inserts the word ‘real’ in quotation marks – she recognises that society perceives gaming as an activity for those who are not able to partake of the real world, or engage in any real way with others.
Nowadays, I believe this has changed markedly. Keeping in mind that Thornham wrote her article in 2009 (five years ago – ages ago, technologically speaking), terms such as gamification and augmented reality are proliferating our technological and “real” worlds. These terms are also being referred to more and more frequently in educational environments and contexts – I think that the fact this is now occurring makes gaming more acceptable and worthy of our spare time.
- Do you think that Jenkins’ distinction between ‘effects’ and ‘meanings’ is a useful way of understanding the gaming discourse?
Absolutely. As I articulated above, in an educational context, gaming discourse is becoming part of the vernacular. In truth, I think educational institutions are a little slow on the uptake of such developments, but that’s another story. There are ways to derive meaning from gaming. As Jenkins described in 2006, “…game-based learning builds on players’ existing beliefs and takes shape within a cultural context” (p. 24). In our current technological climate, the challenge is for game developers and educators to be able to discourse in such a manner in order to meaningfully engage with the gamer/learner to produce meaningful effects.
Jenkins, H. (2006). The war between effects and meaning: rethinking the video game violence debate. In D. Buckingham & R. Willett (Eds.), Digital generations: children, young people, and new media (pp. 19-31). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Thornham, H. (2009). Claiming a stake in the videogame: what grown-ups say to rationalize and normalize gaming. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 15(2), 141-159. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1354856508101580
Hi Maha – great response here. I really like that you have highlighted how perceptions of gaming have changed over the last five years. I agree that both technological convergence and the emergence of gaming in other contexts (education for an example) has shifted (or at least broadened) the way we talk about games. However, I wonder whether this has really resulted in a change in the way we think about pleasure… are games more acceptable because they are seen as having ‘other’ attributes?
This is a question that has an answer which is in a constant state of flux, I think. If one is immersed in the world of online gaming, I think there would be a resounding objection to the nature of the question. These parts of society already view gaming as “acceptable” and partake of it regularly and often. In an academic or educational context, the answer would most likely depend on the value of those “other” attributes you refer to. Plus, we cannot ignore or forget the media’s negative portrayal of the violence within gaming as being responsible for events such as the 1999 Colombine High School Massacre or Anders Breivik’s 2011 shooting spree in Norway. Fromme and Unger concur with these notions, stating that “Computer games have seemingly not yet arrived at the center of our culture and society” (2012, p. 1). Likewise, it is evident that comparable debates revolved around new media such as film, TV, and books, which are now widely acknowledged in our daily culture and are even “… regarded as valuable aesthetic and educational phenomena” (2012, p. 3). When one thinks of the current debate about the value of gaming and whether or not it is acceptable to view it as a pleasurable activity, I believe it will inevitably be considered as having the same value as the aforementioned new media.
Fromme, J., & Unger, A. (2012). Computer games and digital game cultures: an introduction. In J. Fromme & A. Unger (Eds.), Computer Games and New Media Cultures : a Handbook of Digital Games Studies (pp. 1-31): Springer. http://link.springer.com.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/book/10.1007%2F978-94-007-2777-9