Game studies is the study of games, the act of playing them, and the players and cultures surrounding them. It is a discipline of cultural studies that deals with all types of games throughout history. This field of research utilizes the tactics of, at least, anthropology, sociology and psychology, while examining aspects of the design of the game, the players in the game, and finally, the role the game plays in its society or culture. Game studies is oftentimes confused with the study of video games, but this is only one area of focus; in reality game studies encompasses all types of gaming, including sports, board games, etc.
A group of academics, museum curators, game designers, archivists, collectors and others, meet annually to share research related to board games. This group, known as the International Board Game Studies Association, grew out of a colloquium organised by Dr Irving Finkel at the British Museum in 1990. A volume of papers related to this event was subsequently published by the British Museum Press as Ancient Board Games in Perspective. After the initial colloquium, Dr Alex de Voogt, then of the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, convened a second colloquium, held at the University of Leiden in 1995. It was agreed by the members of the International Board Game Studies Association to meet biennially, and the next event was held at Leiden in 1997. An associated journal, sponsored by the University of Leiden, was established and the first volume of the Board Game Studies Journal was published in 1998.
The colloquium continued as a biennial forum, meeting in a different European city every two years (1999: Florence, Italy; 2001: Fribourg, Switzerland) while the journal was published annually. From 2002, the colloquium became an annual event. The journal was discontinued as a physical publication after seven issues, but reconstituted as an online journal on the prestigious De Gruyter platform. The annual Board Game Studies Colloquium is now the largest and single most important academic conference related to the study of board games. It has occasionally been hosted outside Europe (Philadelphia, USA in 2004; Ouro Preto, Brazil in 2006 and at the University of Jerusalem in 2009), but it now established as a European event.
Key members of the International Board Game Studies Association are also members of the Editorial Board of the Board Game Studies Journal: Dr Jorge Nuno-Silva, University of Lisbon; Dr Alex de Voogt, American Museum of Natural History, New York; Carlos Pereira dos Santos, CELC, Lisbon; Fernanda Frazão, Apenas Livros; Dr Irving Finkel, British Museum; João Pedro Neto, University of Lisbon; Lídia Fernandes, Museu Romano; Thierry Depaulis, Paris and Dr Ulrich Schaedler, Musée Suisse du Jeu.
Before video games, game studies often only included anthropological work, studying the games of past societies. However, once video games were introduced and became mainstream, game studies were updated to perform sociological and psychological observations; to observe the effects of gaming on an individual, his or her interactions with society, and the way it could impact the world around us.
There are three main approaches to game studies: the social science approach asks itself how games affect people and uses tools such as surveys and controlled lab experiments. The humanities approach asks itself what meanings are expressed through games, and uses tools such as ethnography and patient observation. The industrial and engineering approach applies mostly to video games and less to games in general, and examines things such as computer graphics, artificial intelligence, and networking. Like other media disciplines, such as television and film studies, game studies often involves textual analysis and audience theory.
It wasn't until Gonzalo Frasca popularized the term Ludology (from the Latin word for game, ludus) in 1999, the publication of the first issue of academic journal "Game Studies" in 2001, and the creation of the Digital Games Research Association in 2003, that scholars began to get the sense that the study of games could (and should) be considered a field in its own right: game studies. As a young field, it gathers scholars from different disciplines that had been broadly studying games; such as psychology, anthropology, economy, education, and sociology.
One of the earliest social science theories (1971) about the role of video games in society involved violence in video games, later becoming known as the catharsis theory. The theory suggests that playing video games in which you perform violent acts might actually channel latent aggression, resulting in less aggression in the players real lives. However, a Meta-study performed by Craig A. Anderson and Brad J. Bushman, in 2001, examined data starting from the 1980s up until the article was published, the purpose of this study was to examine whether or not playing violent video games led to an increase in aggressive behaviors. They concluded that exposure to violence in video games did indeed cause an increase in aggression. However, it has been pointed out, and even stressed, by psychologist Jonathan Freedman that this research was very limited and even problematic since overly strong claims were made and the authors themselves seemed extremely biased in their writings. More recent studies, such as the one performed by Christopher J. Ferguson at Texas A&M International University have come to drastically different conclusions. In this study, individuals were either randomly assigned a game, or allowed to choose a game, in both the randomized and the choice conditions exposure to violent video games caused no difference in aggression. A later study (performed by the same people) looked for correlations between trait aggression, violent crimes, and exposure to both real life violence and violence in video games, this study suggests that while family violence and trait aggression are highly correlated with violent crime, exposure to video game violence was not a good predictor of violent crime, having little to no correlation, unless also paired with the above traits that had a much higher correlation. Over the past 15 years, a large number of meta-studies have been applied to this issue, each coming to its own conclusion, resulting in little consensus in the ludology community. It is also thought that even nonviolent video games may lead to aggressive and violent behaviour. Anderson and Dill seem to believe that it may be due to the frustration of playing video games that could in turn result in violent, aggressive behaviour.
Game designers Amy Jo Kim and Jane McGonigal have suggested that platforms which leverage the powerful qualities of video games in non-game contexts can maximize learning. Known as the gamification of learning, using game elements in non-game contexts extracts the properties of games from within the game context, and applies them to a learning context such as the classroom.
Another positive aspect of video games is its conducive character towards the involvement of a person in other cultural activities. The probability of game playing increases with the consumption of other cultural goods (e.g., listening to music or watching television) or active involvement in artistic activities (e.g., writing or visual arts production). Video games by being complementary towards more traditional forms of cultural consumption, inhibit thus value from a cultural perspective.
More sociologically-informed research has sought to move away from simplistic ideas of gaming as either 'negative' or 'positive', but rather seeking to understand its role and location in the complexities of everyday life (Garry Crawford 2012).
For example, it has been suggested that the very popular MMO World of Warcraft could be used to study the dissemination of infectious diseases because of the accidental spread of a plague-like disease in the gameworld.
However, this particular field has also caused a lot of controversy in ludology, known as the 'Ludology vs. Narratology' debates. The Narratological perspective is that games should be looked at for their stories, like movies or novels, while the ludological perspective says that games are not like these other mediums due to the fact that a player is actively taking part in the experience and should therefore be understood on their own terms; there is a third party however that says separating scholars into different camps is not a good idea and can hurt the field as a whole. The idea that a videogame is "radically different to narratives as a cognitive and communicative structure" has led the development of new approaches to criticism that are focused on videogames as well as adapting, repurposing and proposing new ways of studying and theorizing about videogames. A recent approach towards game studies starts with an analysis of interface structures and challenges the keyboard-mouse paradigm with what is called a "ludic interface".
As is common with most academic disciplines, there are a number of more specialized areas or sub-domains of study.
An emerging field of study (Oliver Grau, 2004, and others) looks at the "pre-history" of video games, suggesting that the origins of modern digital games lie in: fairground attractions and sideshows such as shooting games; early "Coney Island"-style pleasure parks with elements such as large roller-coasters and "haunted house" simulations; nineteenth century landscape simulations such as dioramas, panoramas, planetariums, and stereographs; and amusement arcades that had mechanical game machines and also peep-show film machines.
In light of population ageing, there has been an interest into the use of games to improve the overall health and social connectedness of ageing players. For example, Adam Gazzaley and his team have designed NeuroRacer (a game that improves cognitive tasks outside of the game among its 60+ year old participants), while the AARP has organized a game jam to improve older people's social connections. Researchers such as Sarah Mosberg Iversen have argued that most of the academic work on games and ageing has been informed by notions of economical productivity (Iversen 2014), while Bob De Schutter and Vero Vanden Abeele have suggested a game design approach that is not focused on age-related decline but instead is rooted in the positive aspects of older age (De Schutter & Vanden Abeele 2015).
Massive multiplayer online games can give economists clues about the real world. Markets based on digital information can be fully tracked as they are used by players, and thus real problems in the economy, such as inflation, deflation and even recession. The solutions the game designers come up with can therefore be studied with full information, and experiments can be performed where the economy can be studied as a whole. These games allow the economists to be omniscient, they can find every piece of information they need to study the economy, while in the real world they have to work with presumptions.
Former Finance Minister of Greece and Valve's in-house economist Yanis Varoufakis studied EVE Online and argued that video game communities give economists a venue for experimenting and simulating the economies of the future.