August 29, 2003

Game studies in the Monitor

by Michael Mateas · , 7:47 pm

The Christian Science Monitor ran an article about game studies today. Besides quotes from some usual defenders of game studies, including Janet Murray, Celia Pearce and James Gee (who was featured in the recent Chronical of Higher Education chat on games), the article includes representatives of the academy who think game studies is bunk:

“It’s just another concession to the customer. Kids have grown up playing Nintendo. They don’t read because they don’t know how to read – they don’t cultivate the imagination…. They need to be put through the intellectual rigors of a traditional format for education. Video games are just an easy way to avoid it.” – Edward Smith, director of American Studies at American University

I wonder if this is the majority opinion in academia? In my little corner of the world at Georgia Tech, both departments I’m appointed in (Literature, Communication and Culture and College of Computing) are enthusiastic about video games as a legitimate object of scholarly study. I’d be interested to hear any comments from people who’ve had to fight battles over this.

3 Responses to “Game studies in the Monitor”

  1. nick Says:

    Ah, Dr. Smith [*] goes to Washington. It’s the best way to respond to these sorts of criticisms of your own academic discipline – find some other, even more recently-established intellectual pursuit that you can rail against. Bonus points if the reporter quotes you so as to indicate that your idea of education is inflexible and authoritarian.

    Although I wouldn’t declare the overall academic opinion to be positive (the most common reaction is bemusement), I have found several top scholars in more traditional, established disciplines who are quite receptive to the idea of game studies.

    [*] It’s possible that his title is “Professor,” but I can’t find any mention of that on the Web. Unlike many of the high school students whom Smith accuses of being illiterate because of video games, and unlike everyone else in his academic department, Smith does not have a Web page.

  2. Matt Kirschenbaum Says:

    Well, surely Dr. Smith would take it as a sign that the apocalypse is truly nigh, but I’m currently advising a graduate student in the American Studies department here on a game studies dissertation about the Sims.

  3. Dennis G. Jerz Says:

    At my previous job (a tenure-track job teaching technical writing), I sort of found myself doing interactive fiction scholarship because it was more accessible to my English-department colleagues than usability studies or writing my own instructional computer programs.

    My English colleagues in my current job (Seton Hill University) are all active authors of popular fiction — romance, horror, and science-fiction. In fact, Seton Hill offers an MA program in writing popular fiction; colleagues like this aren’t going to be inclined to turn their noses up when I bring up game studies. They are the ones who saw the need for the “new media journalism” major that they hired me to teach, so they’re going to expect a certain cyber-solipsism.

    But I will say that earlier this year, I had a campus visit at a large, rich, fairly well-known school that was promising a 2-2 teaching load… I delivered a job talk that focused on cybertext and cyberculture, and it bombed completely: one member of the search committee told me during the sparsely attended after-talk reception that I should have just read a chapter from my dissertation (a completely conventional study of machine-age culture in mostly canonical 20c American drama). That department simply wasn’t ready to leap beyond traditional scholarly subjects (or, to be fair, if it was, I wasn’t the right person to help them do it).

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