Academic writing on video games?
July 29, 2007 6:04 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find smart, theoretical writing about video games?

I'm interested in the analysis of video games from an academic perspective. Any discipline is okay -- sociology, psychology, narratology, literary criticism, whatever you've got. I'm just looking for a bit more substance than some two-bit reviewer babbling about the awesome graphics.

Any suggestions? Quality non-academic writing is good too; for example, I enjoyed this essay, which argues that EarthBound has roots in postmodernism.
posted by danb to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Ludology is the field you're looking at.
posted by effugas at 6:10 PM on July 29, 2007

Might not be exactly spot on, but check out the Xerox PARC blog - Play On
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:13 PM on July 29, 2007

Tim Rogers, who wrote that essay, also wrote for insert-credit, which is now sort of selectbutton and action button. Quite a few of those folks write for gamer's quarter as well. I'm not sure if any of those sites qualify, but they at least have some interesting things to say occasionally. Not that they don't sometimes get bogged down in their own prejudices and mire. It's just a different mire.
posted by mealy-mouthed at 6:15 PM on July 29, 2007

I was referred to The Game Design Reader in my last games design course.

And if it helps, here's my reference list from my first assignment:

BJORK, S. & HOLOPAINEN, J. (2006) Games and design patterns. IN SALEN, K. & ZIMMERMAN, E. (Eds.) The game design reader: a rules of play anthology. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, MIT Press.
COOKE, G. (2007) CQU Study Guide for MMST12017 2007 Term One, Rockhampton, CQU.
CRAWFORD, C. (2003) on game design, Indianapolis, New Riders.
GREENSPAN, R. (2004). Girl gamers grow up. ClickZ stats: The web's richest source Retrieved 12 April 2007, from
HEETER, C., EGIDIO, R., MISHRA, P. & WOLF, L. (2005) Do girls prefer games designed by girls? Proceedings of DIGRA Vancouver.
KRAMER, W. (2000). What is a game? The Games Journal: A magazine about boardgames Retrieved 12 April 2007, from
LAUREL, B. (2003). Design Research. Game Girl Advance Retrieved 10 April 2007, from
LEBLANC, M. (2006) Tools for creating dramatic game dynamics. IN SALEN, K. & ZIMMERMAN, E. (Eds.) The game design reader: a rules of play anthology. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, MIT Press.
MAKAR, J. (2003) Macromedia Flash MX game design demystified: the official guide to creating games with flash, Berkeley, macromedia press.
MARONEY, K. (2001). My entire waking life. The games journal: a magazine about boardgames Retrieved 12 April 2007, from
MOSS, G., GUNN, R. & HELLER, J. (2006) Some men like it black, some women like it pink: consumer implications of differences in male and female website design. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 5, 328-341.
ROLLINGS, A. & MORRIS, D. (2004) Game Architecture and Design, Indianapolis, New Riders.
posted by b33j at 6:20 PM on July 29, 2007

The Daedalus Project is purely academic. It's the basis for a guy named Nick Yee's Ph.D project. There are surveys to take part in as part of helping the guy with his research, as well as several essays. Game, Set, Watch has some good columns. Gamasutra's features are often well done. The Escapist also has some quality writing on gaming and gaming culture.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:27 PM on July 29, 2007

Some faculty in the games theory world write at grandtextauto. Lots of shorter stuff on the blog, but their longerform work is often exactly what you're looking for.

Have fun with the "ludology versus narratology" debates that the field is totally mired in.
posted by zpousman at 6:33 PM on July 29, 2007

Good recommendations so far. For books, you might like:
The Meaning and Culture of Grand Theft Auto
From Sun Tzu to XBox: War and Video Games

Less about the games, more about the larger culture:
Playing the Future: What We Can Learn from Digital Kids
Everything Bad is Good for You

Most of the books about video games, though, have focused on the business end of things. All of these are at least pretty decent:
Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games
Game Over: How Nintendo zapped an American industry, captured your dollars and enslaved your children
Opening the X-Box: inside Microsoft's plan to unleash an entertainment revolution
Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture
Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution
Zap: The Rise and Fall of Atari

posted by box at 6:55 PM on July 29, 2007

I met a guy at one of my college alumni events a few weeks ago who is playing a hell of a lot of World of Warcraft for his dissertation research (dept of Education at the U of Wa). It was really interesting talking to him. I went poking around his website and noticed that he has PDFs of some of his papers.
posted by Good Brain at 8:10 PM on July 29, 2007

I think narratology v ludology is basically dead as far as Reasonable People are concerned. Yes, it's a nice debate to trot out for undergrad classes, but no one I know in the field actively writes about it.

I'll second the Game Design Reader edited by Salen and Zimmerman. That is far and away the best single volume I know of. What's great about is that it's not just academic style writing - often the academic writing about games is obsessed with explaining games to non-gamers in their respective fields, which makes for excruciatingly boring reading if you know your shit. In the GDR, you get a lot of classic articles that appeared as web essays before there was any other place for them to live.

I haven't read them yet, but I've heard really good things about James Gee's books - Why Video Games are Good For Your Soul in particular.

If you're interested in MMOs, the Terra Nova blog is pretty good, if extremely in-crowdy.

Always Black also sometimes has good content (home of the famous Bow Nigger article, and my favorite EVE stories).

I'll probably think of more later – I'm always looking for this kind of thing myself, and I read a fair amount of it. I'm just blanking on where it comes from at the moment.
posted by heresiarch at 8:15 PM on July 29, 2007

seconding grandtextauto.
posted by juv3nal at 8:17 PM on July 29, 2007

The Escapist online magazine is extremely well written games journalism. While not precisely academic in nature, there are some really nice sociological analyses in there. They used to do this weird-ass janky PDF format (which, while it had lovely page design, was a bit random) but it looks like it's just built on a blogging/CMS engine now.
posted by Happy Dave at 10:30 PM on July 29, 2007

Mackenzie Wark's Gamer Theory, full text online or in print. Writeup here.
posted by avocet at 10:40 PM on July 29, 2007

An oldie, "Computers as theatre" Brenda Laurel.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:35 AM on July 30, 2007

Greg Costikyan, for an industry insider who ruffles feathers with his blunt and sometimes radical analysis of games and the game industry.
posted by -harlequin- at 2:51 AM on July 30, 2007

The gaming discussion over at Barbelith can get pretty brainy, although it's a little swamped by "Have you played this game? Yes I have played this game!" posts.
posted by Drexen at 2:59 AM on July 30, 2007

Jason Rutter maintains what I find to be one of the most comprehensive bibliographies of game literature to date, and it's updated frequently.
posted by Bryan Behrenshausen at 5:10 AM on July 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Primary academic journals include,

In the United States:
Games and Culture
Simulation and Gaming

Game Studies
posted by Bryan Behrenshausen at 5:15 AM on July 30, 2007

David Sirlin often posts good articles on his site... mostly game design, though. and his infamous playing to win theory. interesting, if probably not really what you were looking for.
posted by Jacen at 7:46 AM on July 30, 2007

Oh, also, the Communications of the ACM this month has a big section on games. The one article I've read from it (science & engineering education) was pretty boring, but the others might be good. The table of contents is here. The link might not work - it's hard to tell how much of the ACM portal is open to people outside academic networks. If you want a PDF of the page for hunting down the articles on google scholar, let me know. Email's in profile.
posted by heresiarch at 11:43 AM on July 30, 2007

In addition to stuff already mentioned:

elumados - journal for computer game culture - Vol 2, No 1
DiGRA - Situated Play
Ren Reynold's game studies bibliography

Check also for anything tagged "ludology" or "gaming+academic" (either public or in my feed in my profile)
posted by mkn at 10:15 PM on March 18, 2008

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