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"Studying Video Games as Ideological Texts" by Sherry Jones (October 24, 2014)


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My presentation for Metro State University of Denver's Teaching and Learning with Technology Conference 2014, held on October 24, 2014.

Educators! Register now for the #Metagame Book Club! The book club will run from November 1-21, 2014. I will be your Track 1: Game Studies facilitator. We will be reading interesting and enlightening academic papers on current theories and controversies in gaming and game studies.

#Metagame Book Club Registration Page

#Metagame Book Club Home Page

Published in: Education

"Studying Video Games as Ideological Texts" by Sherry Jones (October 24, 2014)

  1. 1. Studying Video Games as Ideological Texts Sherry Jones Philosophy, Rhetoric, Game Studies Metro State University of Denver Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium 2014 October 24, 2014 @autnes
  2. 2. On Video Games and Ideologies
  3. 3. Digital games, as consumer products primarily designed for the purpose of entertainment, always have reflected the cultural consciousness of their consumers. Like television, film, and other forms of media that came before it, the digital game medium expresses cultural values of the societies that can afford to consume it. Before we examine how digital games reflect cultural ideologies, we need to define what culture is, and what digital games can do.
  4. 4. First, in the Lacanian sense, culture is a symbolic system with internal logic and meaning that influence the thinking and behavior of those who exist within its symbolic order. On the other hand, a digital game is a logic system that contains its own sets of rules and representations, and can sway the thinking and behavior of those who play the game. Both culture and digital games function to impose logic and order to maintain their own system logic and integrity. Essentially, digital games can be used to simulate and demonstrate the meaning of cultural systems.
  5. 5. Mass consumerism has turned digital games into primary vehicles for expressing pop culture ideologies. For example, to create games that the consumers desire, traditional AAA game developers maintain continual feedback loops of conversations between themselves and their consumers to gauge interests, and would design games that make pop culture references with which the consumers may be familiar. AAA games are thus consumer driven products designed to reflect pop culture.
  6. 6. However, the recent rise of the independent game developers, aka indie game devs, have expanded game development beyond catering to consumer-driven ideologies. Indie game devs have created innovative games that address controversial and taboo topics avoided by conventional game design. As a subversive act, the indie game development casts a self-reflective lens on the gaming industry and as a critic of the consumerist culture that has dominated digital game development. Indie games are now legitimizing digital games as art.
  7. 7. As simulators of cultural systems, digital games present ideologies that we suspect, question, criticize, reject, desire, or even wish to implement in real life. As ideological machines, digital games are systems that act as arbiters of cultural thinking.
  8. 8. Although some argue that other types of digital media, such as ebooks, streaming videos, or apps, provide users with some sense of engagement and interactivity like digital games, digital games provide more than just engagement and interactivity by calling on users to “play” within the game environments, to “follow” the game logic, and to “test” the limitations of the systems. As game players, we are challenged to experience and learn the logic of the simulated culture though the act of playing.
  9. 9. Why are digital games important to education? The ability to experience simulated cultural systems, in addition to theoretical discussions of how systems function, can lead to deeper understanding of how cultural systems promote ideologies, or normative worldviews that can sway or oppress us. Considering Murray’s concept of the “plasticity of culture,” games can demonstrate how multiple cultures can interact (even when cultural systems change according to shifting ideologies). The meaning of digital games can be explored through various disciplinary lenses.
  10. 10. Disciplines & Critical Theories in Game Studies
  11. 11. The Interdisciplinary Field of Game Studies A new academic field called “Game Studies” has emerged for considering the meaning of games. Scholars from various disciplines, such as Semiotics, Futurism, English Studies, Women Studies, Sociology, Physics, Engineering, Linguistics, Philosophy, History, Media Studies, Social Sciences, Cultural Studies, Psychology, Anthropology, and more, have applied critical theories to analyzing the meaning of games. Given that each discipline offers its own lenses for interpretation, and that games are complex theoretical, narrative, and mathematical systems that should be studied with multiple lenses, the field of Game Studies is full of interesting interdisciplinary works regarding games, as well as regarding the future of gaming. The following section provides example academic writings about ideologies in games.
  12. 12. Game Analysis via English Lit. Applying Lacan’s Gaze and Foucault’s Panoptic Eye to address the ideology of institutional control in the horror game, Outlast: “The game [Outlast] presents, then, the struggle between two opposing understandings of ‘the gaze’ and spectatorship; the powerless player inserted into the dangers of the scene being viewed, after Lacan’s understanding, and the powerful supplier of security technology, the game’s overarching antagonist, which exemplifies Foucault’s description of the gaze as a cornerstone of institutional control.” -- Hazel Montforton (October 5, 2014)
  13. 13. Game Analysis via History On the significance of games to historical studies: “I use this French expression, best translated as « being historical », in contrast with another form of History, l’histoire-connaissance, the learned study of history. As we will see, these two concepts of History are two entirely different creatures. The medium of games, overall biased toward popular history, entertains through l’histoire-action , with occasional niche crossovers into l’histoire-connaissance . Finally, though l’histoire-action and popular history are not the same thing, we will see how games bring out their mutual affinities to the fore.” -- Gilles Roy (September 24, 2014)
  14. 14. Game Analysis via Psychology On the psychology of feedback loops and behavior formation in games: “In Diablo III, players quickly learn that elite monsters –for example, color coded foes with unique names– have a much higher chance of dropping loot. Thus players get excited when they see one and do their best to smash it open like a gory pinata. It turns playing the game into a habit. Let’s call that a loot loop” -- Jamie Madigan (October 2, 2014)
  15. 15. Game Analysis via Anthropology On the player’s role as participant observer anthropologist: “The player – or, more accurately, the act of engaging in an open-world game – is anthropological. We – the player – are dropped, quite like Malinowski, an outsider, into an “other” world a world in which we must both retain our outsider status and continue to engage and explore. . . . In Skyrim, we have to do quests, pursue tasks, work as a soldier or intermediary in disputes. This gains us new knowledge, markers on our map, status in the world. For assisting at Whiterun – the first major settlement stumbled upon – we move from being an outsider to becoming a valued member of its community. For this, we are granted even more opportunities and information.” -- Owen Vince (September 25, 2014)
  16. 16. Game Community Analysis via Sociology On the Gamergate controversy through the lens of sociology and feminism: “For all of GamerGate’s hatred of “[Social Justice Warriors]” they took no lessons from the threadbare realities that lay behind the SJW stereotype. The phrase ‘social justice warrior’ was originally coined on Tumblr to describe a dangerous tendency among some leftist activists to aggressively and angrily pursue political goals according to strict ideological codes, often to the detriment of others, with no clear collective gain, but significant personal aggrandizement. It is a tendency that I and many others have been critiquing and thinking about long before GamerGate.” -- Katherine Cross (October 8, 2014)
  17. 17. My Methods for Teaching Philosophy w Digital Games
  18. 18. LET’S WATCH! ATUM Atum
  19. 19. ETERNAL RECURRENCE IN ATUM Ex. Friedrich Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence. 1. Eternal recurrence is the theory that our lives will repeat infinitely (rebirth). Since the number of objects in the universe are finite, and the combinations of those objects are also finite, events must recur ad infinitum. Therefore, it is impossible for us to escape the present world. We exist in loops. 2. How does Atum express this theory? As the player, are you free from the recurrence? Why or why not? 3. Why does Atum reference Henri Poincaré’s recurrence theorem and “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera? “Deductive Reasoning Time . . .”
  20. 20. LET’S WATCH! Gods Will Be Watching Gods Will Be Watching
  21. 21. EXISTENTIALISM IN Gods Will Be Watching Ex. Jean-Paul Sartre’s Existentialism. 1. Sartre defines “facticity” as the givens (language, environment, previous choices, selves) that constitute our “situations.” What facticity does one face in the game situation? 2. How is one “condemned to be free” in the game? 3. “Bad faith” is to adopt false value and disown innate freedom. Explain the concept in terms of the game. “Deductive Reasoning Time . . .”
  22. 22. LET’S WATCH! THE STANLEY PARABLE (2011 MOD) The Stanley Parable (2011 Mod)
  23. 23. FREEDOM & DETERMINISM IN THE STANLEY PARABLE Ex. Which view describes the level of Free Will in the gameplay? 1. Determinism - All events are determined by causal laws; freedom is an illusion. 2. Compatibilism - All events are determined by causal laws; humans can be free via internal motivations. 3. Indeterminism - Some events may be random; freedom is possible. 4. Libertarianism - Humans can exercise free will fully; freedom is possible. “Deductive Reasoning Time . . .”
  24. 24. LET’S WATCH! PERSPECTIVE Perspective
  25. 25. SEEING-THAT VS. SEEING-AS IN PERSPECTIVE Ex. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “Seeing-As.” 1. Wittgenstein explains we perceive objects in two ways: Seeing-that (reporting what we see), vs. Seeing-as (noticing an aspect of what we see as something). Seeing-as involves recognizing the relation between the object with another object or narrative (i.e. context matters in perception). 2. How do aspects in the game affect our “seeing objects as” something else? “Deductive Reasoning Time . . .”
  26. 26. JOIN THE #METAGAME BOOK CLUB! The #METAGAME BOOK CLUB, supported by the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) Games & Simulations Network, invites K-20 educators to read and discuss books and academic literature about current theories and trends in Gaming, Game-Based Learning, Gamification of Education, and Game Studies. Fall 2014 edition of the book club will be held from November 1-21, 2014. We offer 2 Reading Tracks: ● Reading Track 1: Academic Literature of current theories and trends in Game Studies with facilitator, Sherry Jones. ● Reading Track 2: World of Warcraft: Rise of the Horde by Christie Holden and The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell, with facilitated discussions by The Inevitable Instructors guild. Join us by registering here!
  27. 27. QUESTIONS? COMMENTS? Sherry Jones Philosophy, Rhetoric, Game Studies Writings & Webinars @autnes Access Slideshow: