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GameCritics.com Podcast Episode 26: Game Studies, Ludology 101 with Matthew Wiese from Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab

Tim Spaeth's picture

Bonjour class! Welcome to Ludology 101. Matthew Wiese of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab talks about his work and his experience on the academic side of games. Is ludology as sleep-inducing as it sounds? No sir, and in fact criticism and academia may have more in common than you think. With Chi Kong Lui, Brad Gallaway, Mike Bracken, and Tim Spaeth. Happy Thanksgiving to all our listeners!

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Platform(s): Xbox 360   Wii   PS3  
Developer(s): Singapore-MIT Gambit Game Lab  
Articles: Interviews   Podcasts  

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Something that i would like

Something that i would like to see in your podcasts when you have guests is asking them about any games they are currently playing and their opinion.

I understand that you want to keep the length of the pod to an hour or so and i like that. However, i think it will give us a tiny glimpse of what the person likes or thinks about a specific game and also make him appear more like the podcast's listeners.

Academics and Games

Finally got a chance to listen to this episode today and greatly enjoyed it. Matt, was really nice to hear an academic (or half academic :)) "reach out" to the community and help make us seem more personable.

I'm doing a paper right now on the good old ludology/narratology debate - just discussing how it happened, why, the results, etc. Reading those old articles, I sometimes come to the same conclusion that they just do not play games and are missing the point. The field has come a long way in 10 years though and I think and hope we have managed to move beyond the labeling.

As a graduate student, I do come from the Academy, but have been a gamer since I was a small child so the idea of bridging the gap between pretentious intellectuals and gamer culture is quite important to me. There's a further factor in this though that wasn't mentioned in the podcast. For those of us at top humanities universities in the US, gaming studies is simply not seen as a valid field of study. I will have a PhD in Classics at the end of this long journey even though I work more on game narratives (as compared to epic) and player motivations (related to the archetype of the hero) than the Classics. There simply is no faculty to teach Game Studies, nor any community present to provide support and inspiration. Many scholars who consider themselves in the field hold positions in English, American Culture, or Communication depending on their own perspectives and research goals. We are fragmented and, if anything, gaming culture is more friendly to us than other academics. Perhaps though, I'm just working at a university unique in this regard.

In order to actually do the work I do, I have to make it acceptable to the rest of the Academy out there who also works on narrative - pretty much all literary critics, English departments, the MLA, etc.. Working on narratives and personal experience, I have to present my work to not just critics, but also theorists and be able to enter the current discourse. This necessitates using jargon of the literary field even though it is usually sadly lacking when it come to speaking about games. Try to find a definition of "narrative" that actually works for the way we use it when talking about game narratives. One of my biggest priorities is finding a language that functions for speaking about the varied aspects of games but also can enter into theoretical narratological discourse while further maintaining a link with gaming culture at large. It's hard!

Once we have "proved" ourselves to the lit folk, maybe one of these universities will consider beginning a program and gaming studies and at that point, we can finally be able to academically critique games on their own terms. Think of Film Studies - in the early 20th century, it had to create itself out of nothing. Today, it has carved out a space for itself and even has a full-fledged department at my uni. Mind you, this sadly negelcted Game Studies child scenario is only the situation in the States - Game Studies has an easier time of it in Europe and at institutions with a more technical bent. As an American scholar in the humanities though, I feel all the slanty-eyes looking at me over their Derrida, saying "You 'study' video games? What a waste of time."

All that said, I hope those who follow me on Twitter and read my blog can tell that I'm just another gamer who happens to also try to work on games and teach others about them. I think our common goal is to further the creation of great games. For me, it'd be nice if along the way, we find out more about the power of narrative that could be applied to literature as well. Sorry for the wall of text!!

Gaming Tastes...

Zolos wrote:

I understand that you want to keep the length of the pod to an hour or so and i like that. However, i think it will give us a tiny glimpse of what the person likes or thinks about a specific game and also make him appear more like the podcast's listeners.

We talked about doing this before the podcast, but never got around to it during the actual recording. In case you'd like to know now...

I like many kinds of games, but the only real genre of game I would say I'm a fan of is stealth. I love Thief, Metal Gear, Hitman, etc. because I like the sort of improvisational gameplay they tend toward, as well as the tendency towards violence being optional. I'm not really a pacifist, but violence often feels boring to me in games. I really can't get excited about Gears of War, but skulking in the dark and thinking hard about how to solve a high-stakes problem really does it for me.

Games I've played recently (as in the last few years) that I would say I enjoyed without reservation were Demon's Souls, Bionic Commando (the next-gen version), Odin Sphere, and Super Mario Galaxy, Policenauts, Hell Night, and maybe a few others.

I wouldn't say my tastes are mainstream--at least not "Call of Duty mainstream"--but I do usually play a handful of the big games that are in eye of the gaming public. I usually don't like these games as much as everyone else seems to, though. For example I played both Fallout 3 and Arkham Asylum and thought they were very good, but certain things about them pissed me off enough that I wouldn't put them on the level of something like Demon's Souls.

Some mainstream games I won't even play, because I really don't care about their power fantasy bullshit. Gears, Duty, God of War, Halo, etc. largely fall into this category for me. I have a personal disdain for what I would characterize as the Xbox demographic, and I'm basically offended that as an adult male I'm being told that sort of shit is what I should want. Any game that strikes me that way is automatically on my shit list... no matter how good it is. I will make exceptions to this rule in some very specific instances, like with Bionic Commando, because I felt it was both goofy and sincere enough complicate its macho vibe in unexpected ways. But on the whole I am not interested in games that seem targeted at the sort of people I couldn't stand to be around in college. Oh... and it should be obvious that, for many of the same reasons, I generally have no interest in sports games.

Some of my favorite games are Thief 1 (which is better than 2), Ultima VII, Planescape Torment, Suikoden 2, Silent Hill 1 (which is slightly better than 2), System Shock 1 (which is WAY better than 2), Metal Gear Solid 3 (which is a million times better than 4), Majora's Mask (which is much better than Ocarina), Mario64, Super Punch-Out, Ikaruga, etc.

I dunno if this makes me "appear more like the podcast's listeners", but there you have it.

First of all

Matthew Weise wrote:

I dunno if this makes me "appear more like the podcast's listeners", but there you have it.

First of all thank you for replying, especially as it was very detailed.

I really do believe that it helps us readers understand people's ideas more once we know the games that have made an impression on them. Especially people who are in one way or another are working in the gaming industry, be it as an academic, as a developer or reviewer. People who are actually contributing to the evolution of the medium and not just enjoying it, like myself :-)

Btw it seems that the Bionic Commando lobby is getting stronger in here....I may have to finally unseal my copy and play it soon.

Again, many thx for the reply!

Pretentious Non-academics

For what it's worth, I don't think the "middle circle" folks at Critical Distance, Brainy Gamer, VGHVI or anywhere else are trying to talk down to people or prove they have "the biggest brain." I fear I give that impression, though I hope my elitist pretensions are more about pulling discussion upward than about reinforcing the floor.

Why so elitist?

Erik Hanson wrote:

For what it's worth, I don't think the "middle circle" folks at Critical Distance, Brainy Gamer, VGHVI or anywhere else are trying to talk down to people or prove they have "the biggest brain." I fear I give that impression, though I hope my elitist pretensions are more about pulling discussion upward than about reinforcing the floor.

Why is "elitist pretensions" necessary and/or is there any value to it in elevating the discussion?

Sarcasm

I think this was an example of sarcasm Chi. People often term peoples attempts at slightly more meaningful/insightful responses as elitist or pretentious, I imagine he doesn't think he's elitist or pretentious. The game community is pretty liberal with the p word, whenever I read about Braid it was being brandished all over the place. I think the term has no merit though, at what point does something become pretentious?

What I find gamers usually brand as pretentious is simply conversation or material trying to do something interesting... Pull the conversation upward...

Great insights

I think Ludology has gone a long way since its "radical" days, and it has come to encompass more and more of what games are other than the rigid rules-and-nothing-else camp of Ludology past. It has been 10 years since the debate, and I think Ludology has (or should have) shaken off its old elitist image as younger and more game-savvy researchers enter the fray, and I dare say modern Ludology is a term interchangeable with Game Studies right now.

The idea that Ludologists hate stories is very much a misunderstanding (it was cleared up in an academic article a while back in 2003 by Gonzalo Frasca, another Ludologist), and it was proposed originally so that games can be studied as games (and not as an evolution of cinema, as narratologists believed), but it has been severely misunderstood since then.

Other than that, it was nice to hear Wiip mentioned, as I happen to be the lead designer on that game in the first batch of Gambit (cheers Matt, if you remember me). It has led me onto a job in the game industry, and I am forever grateful to Gambit for that. I might be returning as a grad student this summer, it would be cool to see everyone again. :)

Completely off topic, but I

Completely off topic, but I just received an automated voicemail from Gamestop, saying that The Last Guardian, what I was hoping would have been my best game of 2011, has been canceled. I am sad.

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