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Critical Evaluation of Game Studies: On Balinese Cockfights

I presented at a recent seminar at University of Tampere reflecting on the field of Game Studies. I talked about Geertz and Lévy-Strauss, among other things. The abstract for that talk was:

In this essay I advance three primary points, each in the service of “extending play” as a critical conceptual category for the field of Game Studies. The essay begins with Clifford Geertz’s famous essay, “Deep Play,” tracing through its lens the possibilities for “deeply extending play.” From that text, the passage, “[f]or, it is only apparently cocks that are fighting there. Actually, it is men,” (Geertz, 1973, p. 417) demonstrates the intense relationship between play, culture and structure (rules and otherwise). The essay extends the argument, advancing the position that games and play are in/as/of/through culture. Put another way, games and play are not generative of, reflective of, or just culture. Rather, they are intensely intertwined and it is the job of the analyst to explore (deconstruct) those connections well. Secondly, I argue that games and play, as conceptual categories, need to be thought of as “experimental systems,” and those concepts deserve to be informed by alternative perspectives, not simply a canon. Finally, a return to the notion of “meaningful play” and the sense making and cultural negotiations with structure that lie at the core of exploration and encourage a different kind of reading of play(ful) spaces. Meaningful play is part of what makes games and play so fundamentally an aspect of the human (and non-human) condition. In the examination of games, mechanics, design, rules, platforms, aesthetics, narrative, … the depth and meaning(ful-ness) of a game can be drowned out.

About Casey O'Donnell

Casey O'Donnell is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Information at Michigan State University. He is part of the games faculty and Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) lab at MSU. He is also part of the game development collective Affinity Games. His research examines the creative collaborative work of videogame design and development. This research examines the cultural and collaborative dynamics that occur in both professional "AAA" organizations and formal and informal "independent" game development communities. His research has spanned game development companies from the United States to India. His research examines issues of work, production, copyright, as well as third world and postcolonial aspects of the videogame development workplace.

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