It seems to me like ludic academics are not entirely amicable to scholarly inquiry into a single text. Browsing through the most recent volumes of Eludamos, Game Studies, Loading (SFU), and Games and Culture, only a handful of articles will focus on sustained analysis about an individual title, and those that do use individual titles often do so as a case study to prove the merit of a theoretical framework posited in the same article rather than as catalyst for sustained analysis of the text itself.
While I understand the reasoning behind this – discussing concepts is, after all, a far more edifying and – honestly – fun endeavor than sustained inquiry into an individual text, I find the relative lack of single text analysis to be disheartening. At times, sustained scholarly inquiry into a single text can shed light not only on the meaning of the text, but about the role of the text and of media as a whole in society and might help reshape the way in which we talk about genres as a whole.
Why do I make this assertion? Read on.
Two weeks ago I successfully defended my dissertation, thus earning a Ph.D. During my defense, I made the argument that game mechanics can serve as the foundation for the construction of a narrative. I am by no means the first one to make this claim – indeed, in their video titled Game Mechanics as Narrative, Daniel Floyd of Extra Credits makes a similar argument. In my dissertation, I provided additional examples and took the concept a step further by combining it with other play elements. It’s all very interesting and you can read about it in my book once it’s published. What’s important, however, is that one of the committee members objected to the idea of mechanics as narrative. He said “I think there’s a difference between stuff happening and a narrative.” I explained that my argument was not that mechanics and play are a narrative in the traditional sense of the word, but that mechanics and play create a space in which narrative emerges. Another committee member suggested sports games and chess commentary as examples, and we moved forward with the defense.
However, I have since continued to consider the possibility of “stuff happening” being “a narrative”, and the more I think about it, the more I come to accept the idea that everything is narrative.
Today while waiting to present on the 2015 Cultural Constructions conference, a colleague gave an incredible presentation about disability theory, fat studies, and the depiction of overweight characters on the covers of Young Adult fiction. To say that it’s one of the most interesting talks I have seen in the past few years would indeed be an understatement. She talked about how in the 70s stories about fat characters revolved around the quest to become thin and on the cover they were depicted as their thin variant, how closer towards contemporary YA fiction the body is either replaced by food or color or focus on a body part such as the hand or the feet, and how the messages conveyed by such practices tell overweight teens that even though they may have their own stories, their body is shameful and not worthy of representation. She made a rousing argument about how this practice should change and that body shaming of any kind is wrong, that it doesn’t matter whether someone is overweight or disabled or healthy, that shouldn’t dictate what rights they get. It was a great talk.
And it got me thinking about depictions of fat player characters in games.
Not too long ago, James Brightman published an article over at Game Industry where he asks if Sony and Microsoft will still be relevant by 2019. In it, he talks about how in the future the PC and Mobile segments will grab a bigger share of the gaming market, that traditional gaming consoles are losing relevance, and that everyone should jump into the PC and Mobile bandwagon. If it had been five years ago, I would have called this a ridiculous piece. In fact, not too long ago I wrote a piece arguing that there would be at least one more gaming console. However, given the current gaming landscape and the qualifiers used by James in his question, I can’t help but thing that Sony and Microsoft will, indeed, become irrelevant by the end of the current console generation.
Let’s consider the current gaming landscape for a second.