Dissertation Revolutions

Two days ago I submitted draft 2 of The Disseration ™ at 3:00 am. After my committee had punched some initial holes in it, the whole thing is in much better shape. It even has a spiffy new title: Social Gaming and Discursive Play: Games as Communicative Exchange.

This dissertation shows that video games are a highly social phenomenon, because playing is a form of expression. Traditionally, however, the study of the phenomenon has focused primarily on their socially detrimental ‘effects.’ I argue that this is the result of applying a linear, informational model of communication in studying video games. In its place I offer a contextual approach, and situate contemporary video games in a larger set of media practices.

Conventional wisdom on video games makes the following two assumptions. The first is that play, leisure and games are frivolous activities that exist as separate realms from everyday life. The second is that games “cannot express ideas, impressions, feelings, or information unrelated to the game itself.” (Limbaugh 2002) Combined, this amounts to regarding the phenomenon of video games as a suspicious activity that encourages a-social behavior, varying between a loss of social capital and outright violent behavior. The current study challenges this traditional approach by assessing that contemporary game play serves as an important site for social intercourse, because it facilitates interpretative, collaborative and experimental practices (e.g. modding) within a larger media environment.

After setting up a theoretical framework built on contemporary media practices, the military roots of video games, and an assessment of their visual components, I present three pieces of original research. First, I offer an in-depth ‘reading’ of a video game called Command & Conquer: Generals, followed by a study of message board discussions related to the game, and finally a content analysis of user-created mods. Ultimately I conclude that, contrary to the conventional stereotype of being socially detrimental, playing video games is a highly social activity and exists at the nexus of contemporary media experience.

Comments, of course, are welcome.

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