Game studies histories

There’s been some discussion recently about game studies as a field. What defines it. What discussions dominate it. The usual wranglings over intellectual histories within scholarly (and I suppose other) domains. It’s something I’ve certainly thought about before. Back in 2009 I wrote a piece trying to disrupt some of the framing around the field. Today I want to toss into the mix two artifacts: conference proceedings from some of the earliest academic events focused solely on digital games I know of. They were certainly both meaningful to me.

I’m a bit of a packrat — my apologies in advance to whoever has to deal with my archives someday! ;) — so I figured it might be nice to share the programs from each.

One – the From Barbie and Mortal Kombat conference hosted at MIT in 1997 – was something I attended as a grad student. I was inspired, angered, energized by so much at it. I was still focused on virtual worlds research at the time, not games specifically, but so much at it spoke to things I was thinking a lot about. There was real feminist debate about some key issues (the essentializing moves in one talk that got many of us fired up). The critical pushback on “pink games” via folks like Bryson & de Castell. Jenkin’s still important piece on boyhood and games. Marsha Kinder’s sophisticated game prototype Runaways that took character subject position into account within the design. Here’s the program for it (and the book that followed is still great and well worth a read).

The second was in 2001 and I attended as a fairly new professor at NCState. It was the Game Cultures conference curated by Helen Kennedy and Jon Dovey over in Bristol England. I was still pretty early into my research on EQ and I don’t recall anymore how I found out about the conference but I threw my own hat into the ring with my work on women in MMO’s. It was an amazing event, in part because there was a fantastic range of really interesting work grappling with so many new questions/domains. To name just a few: Burke presented on economies and game worlds, Schott & Horrell offered some of their early work on gender and gaming, Helen Kennedy presented her still important argument on Lara Croft and the “monstrous feminine,” and Aphra Kerr presented some of the earliest game industry research I know of. Here’s the program for it and there was a special issue of Game Studies with some of the papers.

Hope my fellow packrats enjoy these glimpses into our field’s past as much as I do! Intellectual histories – both personal and collective – are messy, complicated things. My hope is adding these to the current conversation only enriches our sense of what the field is and where it came from.