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October 28 - Moulthrop and McGonigal

Page history last edited by cstroeb@... 12 years, 9 months ago

Main Points

Can ludology be considered a subfield under literature or should it be considered its own field of study?

Arguments that ludology can be considered literature study:

  • Although games are a new storytelling medium inspired by the influx of computer technology, interpretative skills apply to all storytelling media.
  • Games can be studied in tandem with literature, inasmuch as English is a catch-all for all humanities subjects.

  • Films are considered worthy of study, and games have surpassed them in popularity.

Arguments that ludology should be considered its own field:

  • Games require a configurative rather than interpretative skill set to evaluate.
  • Games are difficult to study because they don't provide the same experience for every player.  (e.g. Victory Garden)
  • Although literature has aspects unrelated to narrative, it tends to focus too much on storytelling.  For example in Game Time, Jesper Juul suggests that cut-scenes, which obstensibly reward gameplaying, actually interrupt gameplaying, which is detrimental to the gaming experience.
  • Analysis techniques advance as the technological capabilities of media do; analyzing sound and color in film became important as film-makers started using them.  The technology of literature (i.e. the book) hasn't ever changed significantly, which allows it to become transparent.


The gaming world would not exist without the widespread use of technology and perhaps gaming studies could benefit from the discussion of changes in technology. How does this technology affect society?  Using limited knowledge of McLuhan's text, we can describe the new gaming society as an electro-tribal culture participating in more oral storytelling narratives.


Moulthrop suggests that ludic and traditional narratives require two different approaches:


  • The text is static and does not change during reading and analysis
  • The reader of a narrative finds pleasure in detective work; i.e., interpretation
  • Focuses on looking at the subject
  • Reading significance within someone else's work as-is
  • The reader uses details (characters, plot, metaphors) to understand the structure as a whole


  • Gamers have the ability to transform aspects of the game, configuring it.
  • The player becomes the author of that game
  • The only boundaries are those of the game design
  • The player submits his or her self to a set of rules
  • The player provides significance to the story by manipulating details


Moulthrop makes the point that over time the perception of gaming and the wilingness to consider gaming a worthy subject of study will change. The previous generations, who did not grow up with gaming, are not comfortable with gaming as a subject of serious academic study. While the current generation, who grew up with gaming, will be accustomed to it. Furthermore, Moulthrop asserts that, like literature and film, not all games are worthy of being studied. It is the real gems of gaming that should be looked at in a more serious light.


Within each medium, novels and gaming, there are different elements that create a sence of immersion in the overall experience. With novels the static nature of the medium and the rythmic motion of the eyes can make a reader "lose" his or her self into the book. Moulthrop believed that gaming is not immersive or "transparent" in the way that books are. However, it can also happen with gaming, perhaps even at a greater lever and with more ease. Gaming provides a more encompassing experience in which manipulation of the gaming setting - surround sound options, lighting in the room, etc. - allows a gamer to become easily immersed in a game. So, perhaps the surprising concept about immersion is that we can be so immersed in books that do not have as many encompassing attributes.


Molthroup associates work with interpretation and play with configuration to show how games can help users think more critically.  His goal is to encourage people to think about gaming in a more serious context because there are valid social impacts to the popularity of gaming. To Moulthrop play, more so than work, helps deal with reality.


McGonigal and Collective Intelligence


McGonigal as a game designer is well known for alternate reality games (ARGs) such as I Heart Bees, which combines gaming with reality.

Massive role playing games such as these teach communities to work together to solve problems, the method of collective intelligence, and to utilize individuals for a greater goal.  With I Heart Bees, the lesson in collective intelligence emphasized the hive mentality by associating the game so closely with bees. As one player said, "I'd call us The Hive or HiveMind...after all, we are a collective."

     Media outlets are essential to the functionality of collective intelligence because computers, internet, and cell phones enable massive communication necessary to forming the knowledge base.  By encouraging the hive mentality within her game, McGonigal intends for ARGs like I Heart Bees to teach people how to pool their knowledge and resources to take on real life problems such as curing cancer, ending hunger, lessening our dependence on oil, etc. And in a way, life is much like a high stakes game. For example, the stock market. If gaming can get people to think about real issues as a game, it is better than people not thinking about the issues at all.


Key Terms

Collective intelligence: A group working together to solve a problem.  According to Jane McGonigal, the "use [of] digital networks to connect massively-multi human users in a persistent process of social data-gathering, analysis and application...to produce a kind of collectively-generated knowledge that is different not just quantitatively, but also qualitatively, in both its formation and its users."  Examples are Wikipedia and Google Image Labeler.

Configurative:  Configurative works are interactive; they require the player to manipulate details on a molecular level or at least be aware of the potential for manipulation.  This forces the player to become somewhat of an author, albeit still bound by the design of the game being played.

Immersiveness: How involved a reader/player becomes in the story; or, the lack of recognition of the user interface; or, the extent to which a medium engages the senses. 

Interpretative:  Interpretative works are static; the reader finds significance in using details to comprehend the structure of the existing work on a molar level.

Literature:  According to the American Heritage Dictionary, "imaginative or creative writing, especially of recognized artistic value." But maybe could look at literature and Books as artifacts.

Ludology:  The study of games.

Meta: Self-referential; refering to itself or its characteristics; f(meta) : (x)^2

Metadata:  Data about data; for example, not the song itself but the information about the song; (data)^2

Narrative:  According to the American Heritage Dictionary, "consisting of or characterized by the telling of a story."




The turn from narrative forms such as plays, novels, and films to ludic forms such as games and simulations marks the emergence of a younger cohort who acquired their orientation to language as much from dynamic systems as from Aristotelian or even modernist genres.

Moulthrop suggests that the resistance against ludology as a valid field of study is a generational issue. The older generation is not comfortable with gaming as a legitimate academic field. Gaming has a stigma surrounding it, and many see it as an antisocial and "nerdy" pastime. The new generation has grown up with games and books; they are accustomed to both, and thus in the future will not find it strange to study them.


The claims made here for digital game culture may seem at odds with the state of the art. In the popular mind and marketplace, the terms video game or computer game suggest products such as Mortal Kombat, Tomb Raider, Half-Life, Evil Dead, Quake, Doom, and Unreal. To be sure, the game business has also delivered better fare: the epic adventures of Infocom and Cyan, the attempts to reinvent game culture by Brenda Laurel's Purple Moon, complex entertainments such as Bad Day on the Midway or Grim Fandango, and triumphs of simulation including Black and White and The Sims. By the same token, the best work in older media depends on vast quantities of disposable output which somehow never come to mind when we use the word literature. We can have no serious drama like Copenhagen without a dozen recycled Producers, no Summer of Sam without a handful of Lethal Weapons, no short stack of Annie Proulx absent mounds of Jack Welch. 

Moulthrop addresses the importance of establishing a canon of games worthy of study. He makes the point that there are many games out there, and just because games are worthy of study, it does not mean all games are academically valuable. Just as there are many books that have no academic signifcance, there are many games that should not be considered at more than face value. We do not study romance novels and we should not study Mortal Kombat, either.


Eventually all successful storytelling technologies become "transparent": we lose consciousness of the medium and see neither print nor film but only the power of the story itself. If digital art reaches the same level of expressiveness as these older media, we will no longer concern ourselves with how we are receiving the information. We will only think about what truth it has told us about our lives. (Murray 1997, 26)

Whether we are considering a fantasized holodeck or an actual computer game, interactive media tend to envelop the player in consistent rule systems, if not virtual realities. Indeed, this immersiveness or "holding power" is a major aspect of game experience, as Sherry Turkle pointed out long ago (Turkle, 64)...However, it remains to be seen whether configurative media such as games will necessarily follow the same logic of disappearance that has governed print and film. Configuration after all differs fundamentally from interpretation. Although their behavior may be constrained by the arbitrary construct of a game, players are obliged to know the rules and repeatedly to consider a range of possible interventions, which leads to Murray's controversial distinction between "electronic closure" and catharsis. Arguably the immersiveness of games differs crucially from that of narratives, and much may depend on this difference.

People become immersed in a work if the power of a story is strong enough, says Janet Murray. However, it seems that perhaps story does not have the strongest pull in gaming. Gaming and "digital art" can be transparent and immersive, but for different reasons. Gaming is immersive because of the image that sucks you in and how you are actually involved in the game. You become part of the game. Reading a story immerses your mind, and gaming immerses both your mind and your physical movement. It does seem true that once you are immersed you only focus on the information that is received, and not how it is received with both reading and gaming. Thus, configuration immerses a gamer, but in a far different way, than interpretation.


McGonigal writes, "[A]s CI increasingly becomes a vital component of our social, political and creative lives, it seems ever more likely that our formal education system will need to include both instruction and practice in how to construct and contribute to a collective intelligence."

Specifically, this refers to how practical collective intelligence is becoming in society. She believes that with its ever growing presence, people need to start learning how to function with collective intelligence and contribute to it. Thus, she thinks we should start young and teach children. The best way she has found to make people interested in collective intelligence is through entertainment. Generally, this quote speaks to how games can teach people about networking and communication. 



Learn to Play Magic: the Gathering (Part 1)

Magic: the Gathering is a trading card game which allows players to customize their decks by choosing which cards to include.  At around :46, this video explains the configurative aspect of the game, even going so far as to say that the player is like a game designer.


A Theory of Fun

Raph Koster posits his theory that the "primary cognitive activity" (Moulthrop) in games is actually interpretation, suggesting that pleasure in games arises from recognizing patterns and structure.  He later expounded on this idea in a book.


World of Warcraft Teaches the Wrong Things

Game designer David Sirlin criticizes the assumptions people must implicitly accept in order to play World of Warcraft (i.e., the message of the medium).


Super Mario World vs. the Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Physics

This video demonstrates two of the concepts discussed in class: configuration and narration.  Firstly, Kaizo Mario World is a reconfiguration of the original Super Mario World, someone having hacked into the game and taken authorship over it.  Secondly, the simultaneous playthroughs of the level represent different narrative possibilities; sometimes Mario clears the jump, other times he is killed by an enemy.

Comments (4)

amccutc@learnlink.emory.edu said

at 9:43 pm on Oct 29, 2008

I'm not sure if what I found is actually Jesper Juul's Game Time. I'm also not sure if arguing that the reward for winning a game is not being able to play the game anymore makes sense. Suppose you're playing a game that ends after a certain objective has been completed (for example, a racing game that ends after three laps around a course); your goal is then to end the game as quickly as possible.

I also think that this discussion was incredibly difficult because none of the terms were ever defined well. For example, "immersion" seems like a really ambiguous concept; it could refer to being immersed in the rule system of a game or to the "virtual reality" the game presents. It was never clear exactly what kinds of games we were talking about; as indicated in the various links I provided, different kinds of games involve narration, interpretation, and configuration in different ways. I suppose this demonstrates the need to establish a canon that Moulthrop talked about.

Hopefully my links are worthy this time around. Somehow, we always end up running into physics concepts in this class...

amccutc@learnlink.emory.edu said

at 10:24 pm on Oct 29, 2008

Ah! I decided to add "ergodic" to the glossary even though we never talked about it in class, because it was mentioned all the time in the Moulthrop article. After looking it up on Wikipedia, it seems to me like this concept of extranoematic effort is probably very closely related to immersiveness/transparency; because the medium of books has become normalized to us, we don't notice the extranoematic effort we put forth when reading.

I kind of want to condense the bulleted lists for interpretation and configuration (I'm not entirely sure what "focuses onlooking at the subject" means), but I suppose that would make them the same as the definitions in the glossary. Libby, weren't you the one who came up with the definitions that really impressed Prof. Croxall? Feel free to go ahead and edit mine...I was trying to pack all the information the article gave us into two sentences, but it's probably just really confusing.

Libby said

at 10:43 pm on Oct 29, 2008

I don't think we need to condense that part because several people mentioned multiple aspects of each tactic in class. I did list my explanations under each as well.
I am going to remove 'ergodic' because we did not talk about it in class and it makes me more confused.

Brian Croxall said

at 3:41 pm on Oct 30, 2008

"Ergodic" is a term that Espen Aarseth introduced to talk about texts like Victory Garden and House of Leaves. He isn't interested so much in how the text is composed so much as the reading process, the effort that is required to read one text rather than another (say, a normal novel like _Middlemarch_). We didn't discuss the term in class, but it's certainly relevant to the concept of the configurative.

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