Digital Scholarship Games Higher Education

humanities, the game #hgi

Today was the first day of the Humanities Gaming Institute. It seems like a well-structured program and they've brought together an interesting group of people. So I am curious to see how it moves forward.

Here are a few thoughts that struck me on day one.

  1. I have a sense of caution for the academic impulse to define, categorize, and/or critique. These are all strong impulses in the humanities. I think this kind of theorizing can potentially become inventive but it very commonly is paralyzing. Step outside the "gaming" thing for a second and think about the paralysis of analysis in virtually any academic setting. In fact, cynically, I learned early on as an academic that if one wants to forestall some decision the best thing is not to argue directly against it but it start raising intellectual, philosophical questions about it. Academics will deliberate forever with little prodding. The critical approach is great if one wants to do criticism. I honestly do think it can become productive/inventive for the composition of games, but that's not easy.
  2. I am here primarily to work on a serious game to be played by HS students as part of their interaction with an archaeological/ethnographic collection at a UB gallery. My larger interest though is in thinking about the connection between gaming and scholarship. Ultimately, we ask students to write essays because that's what we do as scholars: it's traditionally the way we have done the intellectual work that we value and teach. As long as that is the case, games can only be a secondary means toward something that we think of as "real." Obviously this connects with the whole valuing digital scholarship concern, and it is probably even a tougher row to hoe at this point than, say, video- or web-based writing.
  3. As I think about the relation between gaming and scholarship, there seems a couple options. Of course there is the study of games and gameplay, which is maybe new in terms of "video games" but otherwise has a long history. Then there is the creation of game as a way of disseminating research. I don't know if anyone has actually tried that. I'm not sure if that makes much sense. On the other hand, that's what serious games try to do, just with a different audience. But there's a real question there, right? Can designing a game about (_insert your area of research here_) be a productive way to share knowledge? How would knowledge have to change in order for the answer to that question to be "yes"?
  4. What would it mean if the activity of doing scholarship was itself a game? That is not game=article but game equals doing research, attending conferences, drafting articles, getting feedback, editing, revising, etc. In some really cruel and cynical sense, scholarship is already a game… a game where the rules are all unspoken. Of course many games are like that, right? You think you know what the rules are, but knowing the rules and actually understanding how to win are different things. Plus, one might recognize that there can be different objectives than ones that are stated. So as humanities scholars we are already playing a game. Some call it "empowering the marginalized;" others call it "liberation and revolution;" still others are playing "keeping the barbarians at the gate." And they are indeed serious games, as is the game "getting tenure." Anyway, this is just that rhetorical trick of saying, it isn't hard to imagine humanities scholarship as _____, it is already that. I'm playing the "always already" game.

In any case, I am interested in shifting the questions from epistemology to ontology, in thinking about games as connected to more extensive assemblages, including embodiment. As we verge upon the World Cup and turn out attention toward the "beautiful game," I am reminded of Brian Massumi's use of soccer in Parables for the Virtual in thinking about the goals, the ball, and the players as attractors that unfold both potentiality and possibility. It is true that a video game can only do what it is programmed to do. It is also true that a soccer ball must obey the laws of physics and human bodies are limited by their physiology. The interesting questions for me lie in what kinds of becomings result from the exposures enabled by these different assemblages: games, networks, bodies, etc. So I guess I'll see where that line of thinking takes me over the next couple days.