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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About Waffler

Joost is fascinated by games and human behavior. His research explores video games as an entryway to contemporary media culture. After completing a Master's degree in Media studies in Amsterdam, he continued his research in New York. There he was project manager on a landmark investigation of three decades of ownership trends in the American media landscape, the results of which were part of a congressional testimony, a series of articles and a book. In 2010 he received his doctorate from Columbia University for his dissertation titled "Social Gaming and Communicative Exchange." Joost currently teaches at the NYU Game Center.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Joost is also founder and CEO of an online games research firm called SuperData. In early 2010 the company secured multi-year seed funding, and today employs five people. Clients include publishers such as Electronic Arts, SEGA, Wargaming.net and Pokémon as well as all the major Wall street firms.

Joost lives in the East Village with his wife Janelle and son Maximus.

Selected Presentations
  • Video Game Data & Trends, Ottawa International Game Conference, Canada, 2013.
  • Business Principles and Market Trends for Multi-Platform Games, Festival of Games, Amsterdam 2013.
  • 2013 Game Changers: How Will Devices Impact Your Future Growth? (keynote), Game Developer Conference, 2013.
  • Free-to-Play State of the Industry, Game Connection Paris, 2012.
  • Online Games Research: Getting Publishers to Play Nice, New Media, New Demand Measurement Methodologies, 2012 Columbia University.
  • The Great Unboxing: Major Trends in the Transition to Digital and Free-to-Play Gaming, DCM East, 2012.
  • The Rise of Free-to-Play, moderator and co-organizer, Re:Play - The Theory, Practice, and Business of Video Games, 2012, NYU.
  • Trading Card Games: Delivering the Digital Promise, PAX East, 2012.
  • From Asteroids to Zynga: Three Decades of Game Design and Revenue Models, GDC Online, 2011.
  • Video Game Industry, 2010 Fordham University, 2010.
  • Social Media and TV, LATVfest, 2010 Los Angeles.
  • Top 5 Trends in Gaming, NY Games Conference, New York, 2009.
  • Kids, Tweens & Teens, State of Play IV, New York Law School, New York, 2009.
  • Game Theory, Play Money, Columbia Business School, New York, 2008. (event organizer)
  • Media Economics: The Question of Ownership, Hunter College, New York, 2008.
  • On Game Mod Communities, 106th Annual Meeting of American Anthropological Association, Washington, DC, 2007.
  • Game Mods & Post-Industrial Play, CITI Visiting Scholar’s Brown Bag Lunch Seminar Series, Columbia Business School, New York, October 2007.
  • The Video Game Vocabulary and the Production of Meaning, MiT5: Creativity, Ownership and Collaboration in the Digital Age, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, April 2007. (abstract)
  • Cities, Games and Media: Playing with and in the Urban Setting, Time|Space Dynamics in Urban Settings, Technishen Universität, Berlin, May 2007.
  • The Aesthetic Vocabulary of Video Games, Seventh Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, November 2006.
  • Haussmann’s Media Environment (revised), Sixth Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association, Fordham University, New York, May 2005.
  • Media Technology & Society: Video Game Theory, Dissertation outline, Columbia University, New York, April 2005.
  • Good Day New York, Fox Television, aired August 20th, debate with Attorney Sanford Rubenstein on videogame violence, August 2004.
Contact: joost at waffler dot org

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