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New Game Plus

June 24, 2008

Critical Approach to Analyzing Games

Filed under:Theory — Lake Desire @ 12:54 pm

My gaming and academic work have lined up rather nicely. I started this blog in a women’s studies class when I was a junior. At the time, I was in an interdisciplinary program studying science fiction and gender, and that eventually opened up to include race and cyborg theory. All of that provided plenty of blogger fodder for videogame discussions, although looking back I could have written more accessibly in my old posts since for theory to really mean something, it needs to speak folks in the real lives we actually live. I just got so excited when I learned those smarty-pants words, I was giddy to use them.

I study English now, already less than a year away from finishing my master’s degree, and although I’ve written on videogames in some of my classes English studies lacks that personal is political drive that prompts me to blog on media. If anything, I feel like blogging takes time away from my studies. Fuck that! If I can write about videogames in school, what I study can come back around and make an appearance here.

BomberGirl of Girl in the Machine writes an accessible post Musing Over Method in which she uses the theory of new criticism (or perhaps more accurately new historicism) to debunk the “authorial intent” defense of an art. She writes in response to defenses of Resident Evil 5:

Which brings us back to my initial question: What’s a writer / artist / video game designer to do when a critique reveals some important theme in her work that she neither foresaw nor intended? Getting defensive about it definitely won’t help; it’s out there, it’s what it is. Absolutely everyone is prejudiced to some degree, including when it comes to race and sex. It’s my firm belief that a lot of racism and sexism is actually subconscious, molded by our experiences of social conventions throughout our lives, and the first step to overcoming these prejudices is to recognize that they exist. You are not a Horrible, Awful, Terrible person for admitting you’ve done something prejudiced. The point is to see that it’s there, and to do something about it; to fix it, to change how you think; to spread awareness to others.

Theory is a pretty useful approach to analyzing games, and defending critical thinking and debunking passive absorption of media. Especially since gaming is especially not passive in comparison to television/movies or even reading.

end

15 Comments »

  1. We talked about race and classification last semester in my project studio in relation to games. Having read the book Brown Tide Rising by Otto Santa Anna, I learned a lot of ways forms of racism make their way into our media. He writes about four kinds of racism: overt, covert, institutional, and foundational. Each of these develops in different ways and brings their own set of challenges. The foundational is a form of social racism, in which a culture has evolved to think of races differently. I believe this point has been the largest bone of contention.

    We’ve got Jun Takeuchi, a Japanese game developer, who is faced with the task of understanding the global cultural implications of his team’s work. If we apply theory here we might be a little more forgiving. But we also run into the “new criticism” point raised that there is no such thing as authorial intentionality when it comes to analyzing a text. I point out that a) New Criticism hit its peak in the first half of the 20th century and is by no means “new,” b) such a look at games ignores many important factors that go into a games production, c) Barthes’ Death of the Author provides a better nuanced view of the author than New Criticism, but d) even Barthes’ writings have significant flaws.

    As you’ve learned in your studies, we can’t just apply a theory to a media artifact and call it gospel. We have an intertextual culture that requires interdisciplinary thinking. It’s also all very political. BomberGirl tells us that we need to fix the problem but gives us no ideas how to do so. Should Capcom have changed the setting to Europe so that it’s white zombies getting killed? Last time it was in Europe and I don’t recall an eruption of this proportion about Spaniards being upset. I mean, being a zombie is a pretty trifling existence irregardless of your race or ethnicity.

    She also uses the word prejudice, which is different than racism. Some prejudice is borne out of racism for sure, but prejudice involves behaviors. Is the game affecting behavior? We have no idea. After all, we haven’t even seen the game, just a trailer. The original blog posting that sparked the controversy wrote that this game would “Start them young… fearing, hating, and destroying Black people.” At this point we have to ask ourselves if it really will. I don’t know, but certainly we can’t base our answer on a trailer.

    Is it important to look at games with a critical eye? Absolutely. That’s what I hope to make my career out of. I also hope to make my career out of getting others to do the same. BomberGirl’s effort is commendable but short-sighted. It’s a situation that needs to be poked and prodded and we may never have an answer we can agree upon (nor a question we agree upon). It’s difficult, especially with subjects like racism where we don’t want to piss anyone off. But that’s the nature of the beast, I suppose. For now it’s back to GTA IV where I can kill people of all races equally.

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