Television and Radio Criticism

"Games and Gaming" - Jocelynne Gonzalez

Matthew Thomas Payne and Nina B. Huntemann’s chapter “Games and Gaming” is about game scholars discovering suitable methodologies for proper analyzations for game studies. The focus is understanding military themed games, specifically Spec Ops, and its significant popularity. The questions that are being asked are: What theoretical approaches should be used to better understand this medium? “What exactly constitutes [the] objects of inquiry? Is there a foundational set of epistemological questions?” (Payne, 2016). Payne’s thesis is, “This chapter outlines how scholars have endeavored to make sense of games as an expressive cultural form, and how game studies is well-positioned not just to shine a light on the meaningfulness of gameplay but to make contributions to critical media studies generally” (Payne, 2016). A variety of points are made. One is how a video game may have “existing power structures” that can either be further established or completely overlooked, as well as “dominant ideologies [that are] enforced or challenged.” Another idea enforced is the important role of “play” essential for a gamer’s experience. According to sociologist Roger Caillois, there are two main elements in play which are a free-lance, unstructured one, paidia, or a rule oriented, structured one, ludus. Payne uses this scholar to give readers an understanding of the “basic characteristics from which to differentiate between “playing” and “playing a game.”” However, he does not fully agree that Caillois “captures the complexity and wonderment of the play experience”. To build up on this, he uses Brian Sutton-Smith’s to further explain the experience of play and all its complexities. A further explanation can be found on page 307, paragraph 2. A separate point discussed is how Spec Ops: The Line, unlike other military video games that “celebrate America’s War on Terror as a politically necessary undertaking”, promotes the complete opposite, utilizing, what Clint Hocking coined as, ludonarrative dissonance.

The methodology the author uses is a narrative analysis. Payne uses various terms and scholars as evidence to further support his thesis and emphasize his points. The key terms mentioned are gameplay, game studies, the notion of play, the magic circle, paidia, ludus, the frameworks “ludology” and “narratology”, countergaming, procedurality, remediation, military-entertainment complex, critical play, ludonarrative dissonance, and machinima.
Spec Ops is used because it is a game that gives players a set of choices on how to perform tasks but restricts them by giving specific missions or narratives that guide their journey. This game does not follow the average story line where the player has an “empathetic bond” with the hero and builds their skills every time a level is passed. Spec Ops makes it transparent to the gamers that “enjoying any sense of control in war… is a dangerous illusion.”

I believe the reasoning provided is indeed credible and mostly sufficient. Various approaches to how video games should be analyzed are given. However, some terms should be elaborated furthermore to have a clearer sense of some points made. This article is meant for game study scholars, gamers, and war themed game analysts.

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