Five years of The Ludologist

Today marks the fifth anniversary of this blog. Who would have thought?

Some little known information:

  • Blogging continues to be fun. I never had the kind of blog crisis that I hear about. The frequency varies, but there are always more things to blog.
  • The blog title is somewhat tongue in cheek, and perhaps always a little too close to Gonzalo Frasca’s blog.
  • The title should suggest a magazine for “ludologists” the same way there is a magazine called The Economist. It was not to suggest that I am the ludologist.
  • The most popular post ever was the one with Spore screenshots.
  • The description “My name is Jesper Juul, and I am a ludologist” is supposed to sound like Alcoholics Anonymous. I liked the idea that it would be something you would be somewhat embarrassed to admit to being, but also something you could never quite escape from.
  • Until October 2007 I was running the blog on a Linux server of which I was the administrator. Now I can’t be bothered with that sort of thing.
  • I am blogging this in Singapore.
  • Video game studies are progressing nicely in my opinion, but the long tradition of play research seems to be constantly ignored.
  • It’s official: The new conflict in video game studies is between those who study players and those who study games.
  • The magic circle is for real.

Thanks for listening!

Here is the first post.

16 thoughts on “Five years of The Ludologist”

  1. Congratulations, Jesper.

    The masthead of the blog somehow always reminded me of The Economist. Never could tell myself why … so I’m happy to see the comparison from you. Maybe, subconsciously Jesper Juul always wanted to be an economist.

    ‘It was not to suggest that I am the ludologist…something you would be somewhat embarrassed to admit to being, but also something you could never quite escape from’: good to have the clarification in place. To me, after Half Real you didn’t seem to be a ‘ludologist’ as strictly understood by the opposition of ludology and narratology. But then again, the conceptions of ludology have changed (or haven’t they?) and I suppose we are all ludologists in some way. Perhaps, studying games makes us ludologists as opposed to meteorologists (i wish i were one especially in this terribly rainy country) or paleontologists.

    In the official conflict between studying players and studying games (so declared), I will have to walk alone … I’m non-aligned, I guess. But i hope The Ludologist will tell us more, over the days so that I know which camp to vote for :)

    ‘The magic circle is for real’: very engimatic, to say the least. So, is the magic real or is reality magical or is everything very circular?

    To conclude, many congratulations again to The Ludologist. It has been a favourite read since its inception. 5 years… dear me, 5 years … how time flies. There’s been a lot of comments made about games in these few years and The Ludologist has made many of the sensible ones. And will continue doing so, one hopes.

  2. Congratulations with the 5 years, Jesper! It’s always interesting to see what you’re up to.

    I’m not sure there needs to be a schism between those that study games and players (although I agree there seems to be to some degree). But that’s maybe because I’m one of those who, despite studying games, finds that players cannot be ignored. This, actually seems to be a trend amongst “ludologists” these days – yourself included.

    Oh, the anti-spam word for this reply was “situate” …

  3. Congratulations, Jesper! I know it’s rather presumptuous of me to wonder whether I’m part of what’s causing the schism (with my purposely intemperate piece in “The Escapist” a few weeks back), but I’m hoping I can help keep the magic circle rotating by saying, as I’ve said also to Ian Bogost, that I have the utmost respect for your work here and in print. Thanks for crystallizing so beautifully what a ludologist might do.

  4. In your post you mention how the blog title suggests a blog for Ludologists, then you write your 5 year thoughts on little known information about you… Good job nailing in your point about the discrepancy.

    Anyhow, congratulations on five years. You have accomplished a lot for Game Studies with your blog and your book.

  5. Roger, you are late to the game. Sorry to disappoint you.

    I was commenting on what I think is a good deal of posturing going on in papers and conferences between those who come to games from a content/design/analysis approach and those who come from more user-studies oriented approaches.

    Sara, I agree that there needs to be no difference. We can do both at the same time, but every now and then those who actually look at games and design are accused of being “formalists” (shudder), so some people do seem to assume it is one or the other.

  6. “It’s official: The new conflict in video game studies is between those who study players and those who study games.”

    Good. Would you like to provide some links and/or other suggestion for further reading reagading this?

  7. Congratulations!

    Actually, I think there is also a schism between the study of games, and the study of play. Games are artifacts produced to structure play behaviors, and as such they deserve to be studied in themselves to understand how they work and how they succeed in shaping these play behaviors, and on the other hand, others may think it’s more worthwhile to study the play behaviors themselves, not just in games, but among culture at large.

  8. Congratulations comrade. What’s the new five-year plan? A 25% increase in casual game production in the provinces?

    Interesting about the ‘fight’ between ‘those who study games’ and ‘those who study players’. I’ve had my nose in cybernetic theory for the last little while, and so I have to say that studying the one or the other alone is ‘the wrong thing to do’.

    What should be happening is that ludologists should be studying the game and the player as a *single* system, otherwise ludology is little more than software analysis/media theory – or – psychology/sociology (respectively).

    In studying the way that rats learn how to navigate mazes which include rooms which give electric shocks, the psychologists of the 1950s were bemused that the rats chose to ‘submit themselves’ to the shocks repeatedly, instead of choosing a known path which did not give a shock. The experimenters didn’t anticipate that the matter of ‘exploration’ was at a higher logical level than that of the pleasure principle, or the design of the maze. The rats were prepared to exchange comfort for knowledge – to make the maze ‘their own’ (i.e. to make the maze a part of themselves, to become part of the maze – to merge in aesthetic unity).

    So it is with games. Why do people ‘submit themselves’ to ‘punishing’ (i.e. lengthy/tedious) sessions of WoW (or Manic Miner)? The answer is not to be found in the game, or in the player, but in the interaction between both. Therein also lies the definition of the elusive quality we call ‘gameplay’.

  9. Thanks all – one of the nice things about blogging here is actually that I get called on little remarks like the one about “studying games vs. studying players”.

    So let me do a quick dump of how I see it:

    1) I don’t think anyone will claim either that they are studying games at the expense of studying players, or that they are studying players at the expense of studying games. Most researchers will claim that they are interested in both, or at least in the totality of games and players on some level.

    2) What does happen is a lot posturing about method.

    3) In early game studies, there was always a cliché about the academic studying games by only looking at players and treating the game as a black box, effectively being ignorant about games. Hence there was some pressure that the researcher should be an expert gamer who could address the first-hand experience of playing a game.

    4) I think the opposing viewpoint was first expressed at the DiGRA 2005 conference in Vancouver where a researcher stated that “it is good to see that we are moving away from formalist studies of games to more situated approaches”. In this remark was an assumption that analysis of games is at the expense of studying players, and that analysis is in some sense _wrong_.
    Also see Thomas Malaby criticizing “unsustainable formalism” and the (obviously) “unexamined theories” of others for a more heavy-handed version of the argument ( ).

    5) The DiGRA 2007 call for papers ( ) had a similar position that “To truly understand the phenomenon of digital games, it is not enough to merely study the games themselves or short-term impacts as described by laboratory experiments —these are only part of the story. Their context begins when the games are marketed and circulated, and they reach the hands of players.”
    … which I think implies a) again that there is something inherently wrong with content analysis or phenomenological discussion based on the first-hand experience of playing a game and b) that looking at design is overrated?

    6) Diane Carr has defended the value of analysis here – again, not as being opposed to players or context, but as one tool among many ( )

    7) Part of this discussion was played out in play research decades ago. See Linda Hughes: “Beyond the rules of the game: Why are Rooie rules nice?” If players don’t follow the stated rules, why then even care about rules? And the answer is – of course – that players care deeply about rules, so if you pretend to care about players by ignoring the structure of a game, you are effectively not caring about players at all.

    8) I suppose that the technically most “formalist” thing I have written is on emergence and progression structures in games ( ), but that is already done in order to discuss how games and players interact.

    9) This is how I see it: Nobody will claim that they are only studying players or only studying games, but there is a good of posturing on the subject. The explicit posturing seems to be mostly done from the “player”-side, with accusations of “formalism” leveled against examinations of game content, structures, and design. I am not aware of any posturing the other way. Anyone?

    10) On the other hand, of course there is a lot of implicit positioning by the choice of questions and methods that we use for discussing games/players. My primary professional identity was always with games, so I don’t feel that I have signed myself up to any specific method or discipline, and I find it really disturbing to think that one should have to make a choice like that. I think that different questions and methods should co-exist.

    That is what I think is the “studying games” vs. “studying players” conflict in game studies these days.

  10. Congrats! I just stopped by to see what’s happening after re-reading “Games Telling Stories?”.

    My standpoint on formal and/or player is also my view of how a good researcher in the advancing game studies should be trained, – master of one but being able to manage the other one. I guess that I think that we can not specialise to much within the field until we’ve got it going a bit more.

    Now, what’s the conference in Copenhagen this August called again? ;-)

    The anti-spam word for my posting was “formal” – how nice! ;-)

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