How to Cite

Marshall, P. D., & Morris, S. (2000). Game. M/C Journal, 3(5).
Vol. 3 No. 5 (2000): Game
Published 2000-10-01

What is game who got game
Where's the game
In life
Behind the game
Behind the game
I got game
She got game
We got game
They got game
He got game -- He Got Game by Public Enemy
(From the soundtrack to the 1998 Spike Lee film He Got Game)

There is an interesting pattern that develops when a relatively new object of study is broached by cultural studies academics. A reflex response is to defend the reasons why you are giving time to studying these apparently innocuous pastimes. Defenses of television studies twenty-five years ago could have resembled the way that the new forms of games are now being investigated: a preamble of justification -- like an incredibly deep inhalation that has to precede a long-winded exhalation -- would be necessary before launching into the dance of critical analysis. Thankfully our authors have learned and progressed from their forebears at least in this issue (but probably not in every version of game material that you will see flowing outwards in the next few years) and our articles get to the heart of the game, conceptually, analytically and critically. What we're telling you is that this is a remarkable issue that, along with the online re-play conference of 1999, launches the study of games in the contemporary moment of new media game forms and their call and response to previous patterns of play and pastimes. The articles here represent cutting-edge thinking about games and we have, as your humble issue editors, collected those postures and positions in one place.

The term pastime to describe playing games has become a bit antiquated, but we'd like to regenerate it here. Our various authors have obviously devoted an incredible number of hours to understanding the games that they describe: contemporary computer games, as much as learning the intricacies of a particular sport, often require an investment of time over weeks and months to achieve sometimes only limited mastery. A pastime has usually been relegated to rainy Saturday afternoons when children (or adults) couldn't work out what do with themselves and were trapped within the confines of the home. To pass the time the old standard board games would appear: from the Victorian Snakes and Ladders to the spirit of proprietorial capitalism of Monopoly; from the war dimensions of Risk and Chess to the mildly headache-producing Scrabble. Passing time could be seen as a description of what childhood has often been about: a transitional reality whose value is always questionable and debatable by others because it is seen as the foundation for the rest of life. Indeed, one element of the moral panic about contemporary computer games is a matter of adults trying to determine whether these games are valuable for their children's future employability in the information economy or a massive waste of time that can never be recovered (Marshall). The pastime, instead of being of peripheral importance has now moved centre-stage in contemporary life through the ubiquity of electronic games and the fact that these games no longer are clearly the province of adolescents but a major cultural reality for a very large population from the ages 5 to 50. The concept of game has similarly migrated, so that most of the authors who have written for this issue have dealt with video and computer games primarily and not with sport or board games or even television game shows, although we have our new and intriguing representative articles from some of these other domains.

Several of our authors have been intrigued by how video and computer games have now become metaphors for contemporary life. Certainly recent films have used the game as the new way to deal with the fears and powers of general technological change. In "Flip Horizontal: Gaming as Redemption" José dos Santos Cabral Filho relies on Roger Callois's categories to debate the role of the game in the formation of identity in contemporary culture's continuous debate about the power of technology to determine, and the freedom that technology apparently endows to its users. "The Fortean Continuity of eXistenZ within a Virtual Environment" by Adam Dodd revisits the work of philosopher of the paranormal, Charles Fort, and explores the connections between his ontology of continuity and the movement of signs within a postmodern, virtual, networked environment, analysing Cronenberg's 'game' film eXistenZ and relationships between the body, media, truth and representation. In "Game" Rebecca Farley ponders the concepts of 'game' and 'play' and how these intersect with the values of the society in which games are produced and played, and argues for game theories that recognise the essential element central to all gaming experiences: the player. "The Knowledge Adventure: Game Aesthetics and Web Hieroglyphics" by Axel Bruns looks at the shifting aesthetic relationship between words and images in new media as exemplified by the Internet, as a focus for an examination of the influences computer gaming has brought to the Internet, and to computing in general.

Our tapestry on the game weaves from this larger conceptual pattern into analytical reflection about the aesthetics and narratives in particular games. In "Odyssey Renewed: Towards a New Aesthetics of Video-Gaming", Jason Wilson identifies the limitations of critical approaches that focus mainly on the screen and on-screen events; he calls for an expanded aesthetics of gaming that recognises the possibilities for "hybrid, cyborg players to narrate performance, play and self" and then analyses how players access this in a variety of games. In "Towards an Aesthetics of Navigation -- Spatial Organisation in the Cosmology of the Adventure Game", Bernadette Flynn takes us on a guided tour through the virtual worlds of the exploration/adventure games Myst and The Crystal Key via the historic, visual structures of art, architecture and cinema, and examines how these past forms and influences are used to establish representational context, and position, and work to orient and narrate players through the ludic space. In "Computer Games and Narrative Progression", Mark Finn examines the varying degrees of success with which theories from existing media have been applied to computer games, and analyses a variety of console games, specifically using the concepts of narrative progression and subject positioning, showing how these are both enforced by the game and negotiated in the complex relationship between game and player.

Computer games are highly diverse in terms of game genre, technology, interactivity and the positioning of the player -- physically, narratively, subjectively and ideologically. While certain analyses may be applied to games in general, some of the best work gets into the particularities of gameplay, success, pleasure and expertise. The two following articles each provide an in-depth analysis of a particular game -- how it is structured, how players interact with the game, and the ideological assumptions that are inherent in the game software. "The Fabric of Virtual Reality -- Courage, Rewards and Death in an Adventure MUD" by Daniel Pargman takes us inside the world of the online adventure MUD (Multi-User Domain) in his analysis of the text-based SvenskMUD, which has been running in Sweden for the last nine years. In "Settler Stories: Representational Ideologies in Computer Strategy Gaming" Nick Caldwell examines a real-time strategy (RTS) game, The Settlers, demonstrating how ideological assumptions about culture and production may be actualised in a virtual environment.

Our final two articles deal with the fascinating intersection between games and media: how games are used to create media content, and how this repositioning as media spectacle influences and indeed dictates many aspects of the game. In "Technology and Sport" Greg Levine discusses the impact of media broadcast of sporting matches on televised sport through an analysis of Australian Rules football and looks at the broader effects of technological innovation on sport. Carol Morgan examines another meeting of game and media in "Capitalistic Ideology as an 'Interpersonal Game': The Case of Survivor", an analysis of this year's highly popular game show Survivor and the economic and social ideals that are implicit in, and perpetuated by that particular game.

Oh, and then there is our final, final submission that you should not miss -- like an extra game level that you haven't discovered yet: this contribution comes from a person who actually failed in his attempt to capture what he wanted to say through an article for submission to the 'game' issue. Jesper Juul, along with 3D graphics by Mads Rydahl, has created a game instead that is designed for your pleasure and for those who have waded through the articles of game theory. It's called "Game Liberation" and its composed of four levels where you as game theorist have to blast away to destroy each theory that tries to colonise games and claim they have worked out their cultural significance. So cool down with a pleasant round of Space Invader-style shoot-em-up after a hard day of facing the faux-titans of media and cultural studies. Experience the zen-zone pleasure of games firsthand without leaving your comfort zone of intellectual gymnastics.

We have tried to capture here some of the surface and depth of game culture -- if we can be so bold as to propose a new area of cultural study that is consolidating as a clear and interesting domain of popular culture and intellectual inquiry. As our articles demonstrate game culture does not fit comfortably into past forms of media analysis although there are insights about games that can be teased outwards from their relationship to visual/textual media forms. We invite your comments so that the analytical/critical process initiated by this issue can continue and encourage you to extrapolate outwards through your interventions and contribution on the Media-Culture list associated with M/C. Our authors are thirsty for discussion and debate. Although the issue is not quite like an adventure game, we invite you to point and click and investigate its various threads of game culture.

P. David Marshall & Sue Morris
-- 'Game' Issue Editors

Author Biographies

P. David Marshall


Sue Morris