Well Played vol 3, number 1

New issue of Well Played.

Assassin’s Creed III: The Complete Unofficial Guide, a Teacher’s Limited Edition
Wade Berger, Patrick Staley

Fiasco and Failure: Uncovering Hidden Rules in a Story Game
Sean C. Duncan

Ninja Gaiden Black and the Tutorial-Less Tutorial
Jason Mathias

Interaction Images promote Character Identification in Heavy Rain
Michael Nixon, Jim Bizzocchi

Replaying the remnants in Mark of the Ninja
Pierre-Marc Côté

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors: Values of Digital Objects in FarmVille2
Jane Gruning

Ascension: a Case Study in Deckbuilding Games
Andy Nealen

The Journal of Games Criticism

We have a new contender: The Journal of Games Criticism vol 1, issue 1 is out.

From Nicholas Hanford’s editorial:

With this journal, it is our aim to create a space for all members of the game studies, game journalism, and game development communities to publish criticism that influences both the making of games and betters our understanding of games as cultural artifacts.

Table of contents:


Editorial: Standing on the Horizon of the Second Generation

by N. Hanford

Welcome to the inaugural issue of our open access, peer reviewed journal. Drawing out the assumptions and ideals of the journal, this text serves as an introduction for the current and future issues of the Journal of Games Criticism.

The Other Side of the Valley; Or, Between Freud and Videogames

by K. Aardse

This paper explores the root of the uncanny valley as based in Freud’s uncanny and posits that the uncanny valley allows us to engage in acts of violence and enjoy a masochistic relationship with the videogame; this relationship would break down if the uncanny valley is conquered.


Across Worlds and Bodies: Criticism in the Age of Video Games

by B. Keogh

This article highlights the values inherited by game studies that have resisted the creation of a toolkit for close, descriptive analysis of individual texts. It suggests one path forward grounded in the phenomenological pleasures of videogame play across worlds and bodies.

“You’re Just Gonna Be Nice”: How Players Engage with Moral Choice Systems 

by A. Lange

Are you a Paragon, or a Renegade? Light Side, or Dark Side? I surveyed over 1000 gamers to see how they engaged with moral choice systems in video games. The results are sadly predictable: You’re all too nice.

Public Memory and Gamer Identity: Retrogaming as Nostalgia

by D. S. Heineman

This essay adopts a critical perspective to analyze the rise of retrogaming culture and its related practices. Specifically, it considers the role of nostalgia in both constructing a retrogamer identity and in contesting histories of the medium.

Visualizing Game Studies: Materiality and Sociality from Chessboard to Circuit Board 

by A. Trammell & A. Sinnreich

In this essay, we describe a paradigm shift in the social function and reception of games, from metaphors to social instruments. We also offer a taxonomic visualization of the Game Studies field in order to show the history of this paradigm shift.


Gaming for Better Life: A Review of Jane McGonigal’s Reality Is Broken

by Q. Ji

Jane McGonigal’s groundbreaking work Reality Is Broken challenged the negative-effects-oriented rhetoric of game criticism by reconciling the contradictory relationship among games, individual well-being, and social change from a game designer’s perspective.

Patch Wednesday: What Determines how a Game is Played?

This is my inaugural Patch Wednesday post where I discuss a question about video games that I think is unanswered, unexplored, or simply not posed yet. I will propose my own tentative ideas, and invite comments.

The header does sound a bit like Ash Wednesday, so we can reaffirm our faith in the idea of examining video games, but I also call it Patch Wednesday to mark the sometimes ragtag and improvised character of video game studies. It falls mostly on the day after Microsoft’s monthly Patch Tuesday. Time to patch things up and start again.

Question #1: What Determines how a Game is Played

That is, is the player ultimately controlled by the game, or is the game ultimately controlled by the player? I am working on a small piece on this subject.

I believe that there have historically been four central conceptions of the act of playing a game: freedom, submission, subversion and creation.

1) Freedom
The idea that playing a game is a type of freedom, where the game creates a space in which players have a freedom that is enabled by the game design.

  • Salen & Zimmerman (Rules of Play) say that, “Play is free movement within a more rigid structure”.

2) Submission
The idea that playing a game is a type submission, where the player is bound by the limits set forth by the game rules.

  • Gadamer (Truth and Method) argues that, “The real subject of the game  … is not the player but the game itself. What holds the player in its spell, draws him into play, is the game itself.”  (For Gadamer this is not negative as such.)
  • Many traditional critical views of video games follow this model but rate it as profoundly negative, describing players as being led or controlled by the game. Loftus & Loftus compared video games to Skinner boxes.
  • Newer critical opinions on social games and free-to-play games also tend to assume that there is a particular type of design that reduces players to mindless automatons.

3) Subversion
Playing as subversion, where the player overcomes both the intentions of the designer, and the apparent limitations of the game object.

  • Mikael Jakobsson (“Playing with the rules”) examines players of a Smash Brothers variation called Random Smash and argues, “that the very nature of a game can change without changing the core rules”.
  • Linda Hughes (“Children’s games and gaming”), studying Foursquare players, argues that, “players can take the same game and collectively make of it strikingly different experiences”.
  • Mia Consalvo’s book Cheating also stresses how players may act against designer intentions.

4) Creation
Playing as creation, where the game is ultimately created by the activity of the players.  (I discussed this stance in an article on Zero-Player Games.)

  • Ermi and Mäyrä (“Fundamental components of the gameplay experience”), say that “Yet, the essence of a game is rooted in its interactive nature, and there is no game without a player.”
  • Anne-Mette Thorhauge (“The Rules of the Game”) claims that game rules are in actuality created by players. “The player culture is not just something taking place ‘‘on top’’ of the game, it rather defines the game as a product of the continuous communication and negotiation among players.”

Hybrid and prescriptive ideas
The four positions above are generalizations about how the playing of a game works, but there are also arguments made for the benefits of particular types of design. Calls for emergent gameplay (like those of Harvey Smith) argue for the value of games that leave room for the player.

Conversely, some people who argue for games as expressive devices claim that games should control the player in order to facilitate the designer’s ability to communicate a message. (This discussion would be worth a separate post.)

I have also personally been interested in the examination of how particular game designs can be more or less open, saying that we cannot generalize and decide between the positions outlined above (Emergence and Progression, Without a Goal, Flexible Games). It could sound like this is already present in Roger Caillois’ Paidia-Ludus distinction, but Caillois emphasizes that paidia are unstructured activities, rather than structured activities that give rise to freedom.

Anything else?
Is this a complete list?

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 http://gamestudies.org/1301/


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.