Game Studies 13/2 on Game History

This article explores the landscape of British computer games through a case study of Elite. Utilising archival methodologies inherent in media archaeology, combined with approaches from platform studies, a history of Elite is approached through both its original development and the players’ responses to the game at the time. [more]


A Pedestal, A Table, A Love Letter: Archaeologies of Gender in Videogame History
by Laine Nooney

This article is a methodological exploration of gender as it relates to the writing of game history. This contribution presents three case studies, focused on the biography of Sierra On-Line cofounder and lead designer Roberta Williams, to analyze this historical mechanisms through which women are located — and left out of — game history. [more]


by David Parisi

This archaeological analysis of gamic electroshock charts changes in the way that electricity has been employed as a game mechanic, opening with an examination of the 18th century ‘electric kiss’ game, moving to a treatment of early 20th century arcade electricity, and concluding with a discussion of ludic electric shock in recent game art. [more]


The Foundation of Geemu: A Brief History of Early Japanese video games
by Martin Picard

The paper presents a short history of the beginning of the Japanese video game industry (from 1973 to 1983). It argues that specific local developments of a video game industry and market took place in Japan, which has never been addressed in Western histories of games, mainly interested in Japanese video games through a global perspective. [more]


Say it with a Computer Game: Hobby Computer Culture and the Non-entertainment Uses of Homebrew Games in the 1980s Czechoslovakia
by Jaroslav Švelch

Based on historical research into computer games in the 1980s Czechoslovakia, this article traces the uses of the medium in the context of an amateur community. It argues that the entertainment function of local homebrew games was often overshadowed by their potential as a means of communication among the community of users. [more]

At first it was mainly women

IBT has an interesting interview with Bas Seelen of Spilgames, explaining how the audience for casual games has expanded:

At first it was mainly women that played casual games online but now we have three brands to cater for a wide range audience because of the uptake from different demographics.

So we have come full circle, from catering to an audience that includes women, to catering to an audience that includes men.

It remains an open question how this will all play out with the new consoles. Has the time for consoles passed, or is there still a sufficiently large audience for them; an audience whose desires for games are not being fulfilled in mobile, browser-based or computer-based games?

First use of “Ludology”: 1951

About that word, ludology: A few years ago, we tried to identify the historical first use of the word. My search lead me to identify Mihaly (Flow) Csikszentmihalyi’s 1982 article  “Does Being Human Matter – On Some Interpretive Problems of Comparative Ludology”.

Reading Csikszentmihalyi’s article, it always stood out that he does not seem to be introducing ludology, but writes as if this is a long-existing term that everybody knows.

In the meantime, the Oxford English Dictionary has added a ludology entry, which dates first use to 1961 in Mankind Quarterly. But was this really the first use? Again the actual text, “animal sociology, ludology and an essay on the psychology of labor and accumulation” makes it sounds like the reader is already supposed to know the word.

My further searches at first made it look like “ludology” had a special mid-20th century Indian connection, with many hits such as a 1941 article in the Calcutta Review mentioning a work “indispensable for every lover of ludology”. I was constructing a number of perfectly reasonable arguments for why this might be the case, but it turned out to be the OCR algorithm mistaking Ludology for Indology.

But I also did find an actual reference from 1951. This is Per Maigaard’s “About Ludology”, from the International Congress Of Sociology, 14th, Rome: 30th Aug.-3rd Sept. 1951. It’s not available online, but here are two excerpts.

The strange thing is how contemporary the thread of his argument is. It begins by stating the importance of games, and calling for a, yes, science of games, the establishment of ludology as a discipline. With some stylistic changes, you might have been able to sneak it into an early issue of Game Studies.

Page 1:

Maigaard - About Ludology p.1

From page 3, including the word “ludologist” too, and a definition of ludology. And making a program for the discipline:

Maigaard - About Ludology p.3

Maigaard’s take on that latter question is that it is too simple to say that games are distinct from work in that they are “performed out of mere desire”, because a) work is also sometimes connected with desire, and b) our desires do not appear in a vacuum, being contingent on circumstance and instincts. The closest Maigaard comes to a definition is this (he leaves it slightly open):

Now then, games are activities we perform thinking they are unnecessary and which are done from mere inclination.

This is a quite modern game definition of the subjectivist school, saying that it is not as much that games are any particular thing, but that they are the fact that we think of an activity in a particular way.

So the new date is 1951, and this article actually does define ludology. Still, I would have thought the author would account for his neologism, which he does not. So perhaps there is an even earlier source somewhere?

PS. An old article of Per Maigaard’s, discussing the historical origins of baseball was recently printed in the collection Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game.

PPS. The OED says that ludology may come from Italian ludologia ca. 1957, but I wonder if this is because Maigaard’s article was mentioned by Corrado Gini (of the Gini coefficient.) Finally, Gini notes the date as 1950, but other sources say 1951.

Game Studies 13/1 is out

For your theoretical pleasure, Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research has just published its latest issue (Volume 13, Issue 1, September 2013). All articles are available at


A Kinesthetic Theory of Videogames: Time-Critical Challenge and Aporetic Rhematic
by Veli-Matti Karhulahti

This article looks into the mostly unexplored difference between kinesthetic and nonkinesthetic videogame challenge. The difference is refined into a challenge-based theory for understanding the videogame and its peculiar rhetorical character.


Sonic Mechanics: Audio as Gameplay
by Aaron Oldenburg

The work discusses the past and potential future intersections between game design and theories within contemporary sound art. The author will describe his design process in the creation of several experimental audio games. These range from music composition based on chance game events to silent games that simulate aspects of sound.

Automatic-Play and Player Deskilling in MMORPGs
by Stefano De Paoli

The concept of automatic-play refers to the use of game bots, macros and other software that allow a total or partial automation of gameplay and in particular avatar levelling. The paper theorizes a key aspect of the automation of gameplay: the deskilling of players with the transfer of human skills to automatic-play software. 

A Review of Ludoliteracy: Defining, Understanding and Supporting Games Education
by Siobhán Thomas

Ludoliteracy: Defining, understanding, and supporting games education (2010). by José P. Zagal. Pittsburgh, PA: The ETC Press. ISBN:978-0-557-27791-9.

Game Developer Magazine, complete archive 1994-2013

I felt it a bit sad when Game Developer Magazine closed down in July. Though it was for a long clear that specialist magazines were threatened by, well, the internet, GDMag did provide an edited sense of what was happening in the game industry at any given time (with a North American slant, of course). I also remember poring over introductions to network programming in (it must have been) 1995 or so.

Now the entire back archive of the magazine is available directly for free, in PDF form.

It is pretty good as a document of 20 years of video game history. Remember when we were all (and all students were) aspiring to be AAA developers? It really happened, and here is the documentation.

Well Played: volume 2 number 2 – Theories

And here is volume 2, number 2 of the Well Played Journal titled TheoriesJohn Sharp et al. 2013.

Inhabiting Games Well (If not Uncomfortably…) - Casey O’Donnell

Critical Literacy: Game Criticism for Game Developers  - Yotam Haimberg

Well-played and well-debated: Understanding perspective in contested affinity spaces - Sean Duncan

On justification: WoW, EQ2 and Aion forums - Thibault Philippette, Baptiste Campion

Why we Glitch: process, meaning and pleasure in the discovery, documentation, sharing and use of videogame exploits - Alan Meades

The Deletionist: Erasure Poetry from any Web Page


Announcing The Deletionist, a project by Amaranth BorsukNick Montfort and myself.

This is a bookmarklet (added to the bookmark bar in one’s browser) that automatically creates erasure poetry from any page on the World Wide Web, revealing an alternate mesh of texts called the Worl. Amaranth and Nick presented The Deletionist for the first time this week at the E-Poetry festival in London, at Kingston University.

For every page, The Deletionist weighs 30 different principles of erasure to see which is most appropriate for a given text.

Please post any interesting examples that you may find by tweeting @thedeletionist or posting here!


Games Telling stories

This is the alliteration rule – this guy’s clearly obsessed with the word “narrative”!  (example by


The “it’s not you it’s me”-rule.

Susan Sontag: Against Interpretation

The Steinian Continuous Present rule.

Bioshock Infinite ending spoiler


Readable, without spoiling much! The “I am Interesting” rule.

Greg Costikyan’s new book, Uncertainty in Games

Bringing your attention to Greg Costikyan’s new book Uncertainty in Games. This is the second volume in the Playful Thinking Series that I co-edit with Geoffrey Long and William Uricchio.

Get it from MIT Press, Amazon US, UK. (Sorry about all the stores I am not linking to.)


Uncertainty in GamesIn life, uncertainty surrounds us. Things that we thought were good for us turn out to be bad for us (and vice versa); people we thought we knew well behave in mysterious ways; the stock market takes a nosedive. Thanks to an inexplicable optimism, most of the time we are fairly cheerful about it all. But we do devote much effort to managing and ameliorating uncertainty. Is it any wonder, then, asks Greg Costikyan, that we have taken this aspect of our lives and transformed it culturally, making a series of elaborate constructs that subject us to uncertainty but in a fictive and nonthreatening way? That is: we create games.

In this concise and entertaining book, Costikyan, an award-winning game designer, argues that games require uncertainty to hold our interest, and that the struggle to master uncertainty is central to their appeal. Game designers, he suggests, can harness the idea of uncertainty to guide their work.

Costikyan explores the many sources of uncertainty in many sorts of games—from Super Mario Bros. toRock/Paper/Scissors, from Monopoly to CityVille, from FPS Deathmatch play to Chess. He describes types of uncertainty, including performative uncertainty, analytic complexity, and narrative anticipation. And he suggest ways that game designers who want to craft novel game experiences can use an understanding of game uncertainty in its many forms to improve their designs.