Game studies

Podcast: The Future of Video Game Studies with Dr. Shira Chess

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The Grady Research Radio podcast recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr Shira Chessassociate professor in the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies at Grady College, game studies researcher, and author of books, including “Play like a feminist” and “Ready Player Two: Female Players and Conceived Identity.”

Over the summer, Dr. Chess published an introduction to an article in the journal Critical Studies in Media Communication titled “The future of media studies is game studieswhich highlights the importance of video games in the broader field of communication studies.

In the episode, Dr. Chess discusses his writing, why video games may not be getting the attention they deserve, and what the future may hold.

Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for clarity and brevity.

Shira Chess cutting the cake at a celebration for the release of “Ready Player Two: Women Gamers and Designed Identity” in 2017. (Photo: Sarah Freeman)

Grady Research Radio: What is Game Studies?

Shira Chess: Many researchers have been studying video games and have been doing so for quite some time now. It’s been an emerging field since around the late 1990s, when games stopped being thought of as toys and began to be seen more and more as media objects.

Grady Research Radio: You recently published an article entitled “The future of media is game studies”. Can you explain what this article is, just a brief overview?

Shira Chess: It was an introduction to a special issue. So to rewind a bit, one of my heroes of academia, Mia Consalvo, and I were talking about something we could work on together during the pandemic. And, you know, things were kind of bleak during the pandemic, in general, for a lot of people. We were trying to think of a project that would really get us excited about what we were doing again.

The idea for the special issue was not just about a specific topic in game studies, but highlighted the potential for the future and sought out young scholars and young researchers to see where they see the field emerging. So the article I wrote was largely an introduction to this special issue.

We kind of had this provocation as a premise, you know, that the future of media studies is the study of games. A big reason for this is that what often happens in academic conferences is that everyone kind of stays in their silos. You go to a college lecture or you read newspaper articles and you tend to stay in your little silos of what you’ve studied and what everyone around you has studied. And you continually watch the same things over and over again.

I’m making some broad generalizations. There are certainly academics who do not do this. But, at conferences, for example, often what happens is that you don’t see the stock market and the changes in a specific subfield because you just haven’t paid attention to it.

So we kind of started teasing this idea – people in media studies could really learn a lot by stopping and looking at games studies, even if they’re not someone who studies games specifically videos or play video games. And that’s kind of a reflection of a larger issue, something that I’ve studied a lot, which is how people tend to be very dismissive of video games, you know, treating them like they were a toy and as if there was no content there to study. Really, they are content rich. They are overflowing with content.

Part of my career has been trying to talk to people about video games, why they should reconsider them, and why we need to expand the video game market. This article was really trying to do the same thing in media studies, trying to convince people who are into media studies and maybe study television or film or other fields and say “But wait, maybe you should look at some gaming scholarship, some emerging researchers, and take a look at some of their activities, because you might be surprised.

Grady Research Radio: So why do you think there’s this resistance to accepting game studies, or even video games in general, as a viable source of media and not just as a game?

Shira Chess: I mean, I think that’s changing. I think in terms of game study resistance, it’s like I said. I don’t know if a lot of scholars are the “um, game studies” kind of thing. It’s more like “It’s not for me”.

But the problem is that with the way the corporate conglomerate works and with the way transmedia storytelling works, we all study digital games to some degree. Everything became a little more blurry. It matters, the same way TV matters in a different way than it did a decade ago with the advent of streaming services, right? Television is different than it was. Video games are different than they used to be.

As for why people look down on video games – I started out saying gaming and violence studies, or gaming and addiction studies, watching this salacious stuff sometimes creates a panic low level morality. But the reality is that video games are a medium still in the process of being discovered, and we’re only just beginning to see what they are and what they can become.

Grady Research Radio: Absolutely. I don’t want to ask you to speculate too much, but what do video games have to offer that the general public doesn’t necessarily see?

Shira Chess: So a few things I’ve written about in the past.

It’s not my specific field, but I know a lot of good scholars, like Aubrey Anable and Katherine Isbister, have written about games and affect. Video games are uniquely positioned to make us think about other people’s emotions and place our subject matter in someone else’s body. It’s pretty cool, right? It’s in a way that movies and TV can sometimes do, but this reliance on action puts us in a place where we might empathize differently with different subject positions.

One thing I’ve written a bit about is video games and agency, or the will to act. Video games are training machines. They teach us how and when to act on things and make us think about our actions.

And then, in general, there are video games that are just aesthetically beautiful. In the same way that books, movies, and television are beautiful, there are beautiful video games.

I’m definitely not saying anyone should throw out all the other media in their life and replace it with video games. It would be ridiculous. But I think there are opportunities to play games in a way that will give us moving experiences similar to other forms of media.

Grady Research Radio: Great. So back to the article. You’ve covered a lot already, but can you go back and explain your argument, the purpose of this article and where it all happens?

Shira Chess: The argument was basically, “Hey, look here.” It’s not deep. It wasn’t meant to be deep. It was more like, you know, we got together some young junior researchers who have some interesting arguments, and we think you should read them.

We specifically asked researchers to write things shorter, to make them a bit more accessible, to make them a handful of ideas, rather than a few big thoughts.

Basically, when we approached people, we said to ourselves, “What do you think is the future of game studies? And everyone kind of took that mission a little differently and responded to it in different ways. So all of these people, collectively, created this tapestry of different ideas and thoughts, which was really what we were looking to do in the first place.

Grady Research Radio: This could be kind of a two part question. Game studies are a relatively new thing. Video games are relatively new. But, do you think it has followed an upward trajectory in terms of people accepting it as a valid form of media? Do you foresee this article, this whole idea, having a positive impact on game studies?

Shira Chess: I think people in general take video games more seriously than they actually do. But I think that comes with a caveat, right?

I think more people than ever are playing video games because mobile devices are making games more accessible. You’re hard pressed to find a person who doesn’t play any type of digital game, whether it’s a console game, Candy Crush Saga or Wordle, right? Once you start to expand your definition of what a digital game is, you realize that we should all be part of this conversation about what they can look like and what they can be.

I think, however, that at the same time it brought new layers of anxiety. For a long time, people came to me, you know, inside and outside of academia, and they were like, “Oh, you’re studying video games. They are so violent. Or someone would write a newspaper article about violent video games. And my first answer would always be “What video games?” Because, you know, I’ve spent a lot of my career studying Diner Dash and Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Other than some aesthetic violence in Kim Kardashian Hollywood, I’d say it’s not a very violent game, is it?

But the problem is that the industry and the public often centralize violent games or games that are big console games. We’re starting to see this breakdown a bit. And with that comes a lot of concern within the industry, because the industry itself is going through some downturns, and there have been issues over the last couple of decades. But, at the same time, I would say that some of the anxieties related to video games and violence have been replaced by anxieties related to video games and addiction.

And that’s not to say these things aren’t real or worth talking about. But this medium is still in the process of being discovered. And by ignoring the product, we do not shape the support.

Grady Research Radio: Thank you for coming today.

Shira Chess: Thank you very much for inviting me.

Date: November 3, 2022
Author: Jackson Schroeder, [email protected]