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The difficult and definitive guide to what video games are
Author: David Myers

The nascent field of game studies has raised questions that, so far, that field has been unable to answer. Among these questions is a foundational one: What is a game?

Despite the widespread appeal of games, despite the rise of digital games as a global cultural phenomenon, vexing problems persistently confront those who design, play, and think about games. How do we reconcile a videogame industry's insistence that games positively affect human beliefs and behaviors with the equally prevalent assumption that games are “just games”? How do we reconcile accusations that games make us violent and antisocial and unproductive with the realization that games are a universal source of human joy?

In Games are not, David Myers demonstrates that these controversies and conflicts surrounding the meanings and effects of games are not going away; they are essential properties of the game's paradoxical aesthetic form.

Buttressed by more than three decades of game studies scholarship, Myers offers an in-depth examination of games as objects of leisure, consumption, and art. Games are not focuses on games writ large, bound by neither by digital form nor by cultural interpretation. Interdisciplinary in scope and radical in conclusion, Games are not positions games as unique objects evoking a peculiar and paradoxical liminal state – a lusory attitude – that is essential to human creativity, knowledge, and sustenance of the species

David Myers

As games and gameplay have become increasingly popular and widespread, the products of games – most particularly digital games – have become increasingly profitable, and digital game design has become increasingly influenced by the digital game industry. Given these circumstances, it is tempting to view digital games and gameplay as consumer products subject to conventional market forces of supply and demand. In this chapter, I point out how digital games and gameplay avoid market valuations and how the lusory attitude associated with gameplay, in

in Games are not
Abstract only
David Myers

Play as a kind of assimilation has the potentiality to retreat increasingly from its original objects of reference. The toy itself, which signals the first such departure, then makes possible a series of increasingly remote responses depending on the resident fantasies within the players’ experience. (Sutton-Smith, 1984 , p. 19) How can we interpret a claim such as the one above in light of the explosive growth, since 1984, of digital games and digital game industries and the relatively (and somewhat curiously) lesser

in Games are not
David Myers

simulations from the voluntary rules of games and, as a suffix to the preceding chapter, further rue the aesthetic consequences of transforming games into simulations. In the last chapter, models and theories were deemed largely irrelevant to the semiotic system of a simulation. However, that chapter advanced no reason why a simulation might not (even if not necessarily so) have some theory or model associated with it. Likewise, digital games may sometimes, even if not always, include mathematical models and computational algorithms as formal causes of the game

in Games are not
David Myers

's Quest ( fortressofdoors.com , 2012) is equally direct in its claim for meaning: Lots of people know what Tourette's symptoms look like from the outside, but it's very hard to communicate what it feels like internally, and that's what I am trying to capture with this experience. (Doucet, quoted in Campbell, 2012 , online) Contemporary digital game theorists also assume digital games have meanings – or, at the very least, referential functions – in accord with the intent of game designers. Salen & Zimmerman ( 2003 ), for instance

in Games are not
David Myers

its “correlation” with them. Examining this concept of an objective correlative helps reveal critical features of the semiotic system of the game – and perhaps moves us closer to an understanding of games and gameplay as art – because, as it turns out, the peculiar semiotic system of the game, amplified and extended by digital media, is not without precedent in the non-digital age. Quite informatively, based on T. S. Eliot's analysis, Shakespeare's Hamlet (most unlike other theatrical plays) and digital games (most like other games) employ objective

in Games are not
David Myers

What is the relationship between games – particularly digital games – and simulations? Currently, games and simulation are found and used in very similar educational and commercial contexts. And, with the growing popularity of digital games, games have been widely touted as interactive simulations and, therein, effective teaching and learning tools. Some would say, for these reasons and others, that games function as simulations. In the strong version of this claim, the simulative properties of the game do not depend on the intent or skill

in Games are not
David Myers

–eye coordination or strategic planning become trivial, insignificant, and functionally non-existent. This points directly to the interactive component of games – particularly that of digital games – as potentially incongruous in conjunction with the more sedate narrative experience of books, films, and, from the audience's point of view, theater. This incongruity has been recognized early and often – e.g. Murray ( 1997 ) – but has been subsequently interpreted by narrative-inspired game designers optimistically, as an opportunity to extend narrative form to game form

in Games are not
David Myers

simulations – e.g. Civilization – frequently reference slavery and war, in many cases positioning these as necessary to engage imaginatively (i.e. fully, creatively, and skillfully) with the game. And, of course, many widely popular and acclaimed digital games are variations of a first-person shooter template, in which the game player willfully chooses to “kill” something or other. Game fiction and backstories employ a variety of glosses (beyond that of historical precedent) to justify this “killing”: self-defense being perhaps the most common and morally defensible

in Games are not
Between old and new media
Maurice Roche

was watched simultaneously by 1.4 billion people around the world (IOC 2009). In addition what was also noticeable about mediation aspects of this particular Olympic event was that it was possible to portray it not only as a television event of practically unique scale but also as being, simultaneously, ‘the first truly digital Games’ (IOC 2009). In this case old and new media seemed to operate in parallel, and in their different but complementary ways they each served exceptionally large worldwide audiences and networks of media users. In terms of the internet

in Mega-events and social change