book review

Computer Games: Text, Narrative and Play

Diane Carr, David Buckingham, Andrew Burn & Gareth Schott (2006)

Ludology is pretty dominant in the books I have been reading over the last couple of months. But the authors of Computer Games examine games in a way that extents the narrow ludic approach. Drawing from social semiotics Carr and company regard games as the product and medium of social practices that include three important dimensions: ludic, representational and social. Most of their most relevant observations involve the dynamic interaction between any or all these dimension.

There choice to focus mostly on role-playing and adventure games is a logic one in this regard. In this type of games the representational dimension is better foregrounded than in most other genres. Many other scholarly text regard these types of games as a little deviant not quintessential games. In Computer Games these position themselves on the centre-stage with ease, not because might favour representation over ludic gameplay but because of the balance these seek between the representational, ludic and social dimensions of games. This balance and collision between these dimensions are central to the authors' understanding of games. A welcome perspective that contributes to the existing literature on games.

The authors cast some new light on central concepts in game studies. Especially their accounts of immersion and agency is interesting. In games immersion come naturally and agency is celebrated. When the representation dimension is taken into account these traditional ludic concepts are offset with critical engagement and a form of agency that does not promise total freedom but which forces the player in roles created in by male-dominated and violence-orientated, commercial companies. These are in my opinion important contributions to game studies as, indeed, representational elements do play an important role in the appreciation and appropriation of games. Considering the current standards in this field, the medium still has a long way to go (I am not sure what is currently more impoverished: gameplay or game content).

The social dimension, too, is a welcome addition to the repertoire of game studies. Although I was less impressed by the results of the authors' excavations in this area. Games can be the focus of social activity and are part of a gaming culture that spread from bedrooms to playgrounds and online communities. Many of the research presented in the book is somewhat premature. The authors are more interested in covering a lot of ground and providing the reader with pointers for further analysis, then they are in providing depth and detail. I am not an expert on empirical studies, but much of the pointers feel rather intuitive as a result. Although I am inclined to trust the intuition of the authors.