As someone who’s played video games all my life, I think ludology – the study of video games – is the most interesting subject of all time. Going to game production school taught me a lot about video game history, the industry, user experience, and design principles. I had a great time and am grateful to have learned so much, but I find myself about to graduate and still want to learn more. I want to dig deeper than I’ve done so far and keep writing my silly little papers about Mystic Messenger’s parasocial relationships and Pokemon’s gender mechanics. And while I probably won’t do it right away, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to continue my education at Indiana University with a Ph.D. in Media Arts and Science, where I could focus on video game studies. However, my university is the only one that offers this, because there are not many graduate programs to study video games in the United States.
Recently, more and more colleges are offering degrees in game design, and there are even a few colleges that offer master’s degrees in game design and development. A master’s degree in video game development is an attractive pursuit for those looking to join the industry, but there is still a need for graduate programs focused on the study of video games. Currently no Ph.D. programs specifically dedicated to video game studies are offered in North America. The only option is to find a school that offers a media studies degree that allows you to focus on a video game field. If universities realized and recognized the importance of video game studies, more people would have the opportunity to study them.
Restructuring our view of video games to see them as cultural artifacts allows us to think more seriously about what we can learn from them. This idea is embodied in the following quote from my graduate student in video game studies, Logan Brown: “In studying games, you inevitably end up having to do a little anthropology, a little engineering, a little computer science. , a bit of philosophy, etc. ., etc.” It takes a lot of intelligence to critically analyze media in all its forms, but video games demand much more from their students than just a critical eye.
In video game studies, you need to know the time period, the background of the developer, the targeted player base, hardware capabilities, restrictions, and countless other factors. Getting people from different backgrounds and fields of study would be a great way to advance game studies. The study of video games is just as important as the study of music, film and literature, because video games illustrate the human condition in a completely new and unique way. With all these static art forms, there are only two sides: the producer and the viewer. In video games, there is a third dimension: the interaction that allows a conversation between the producer, the art and the spectator.
Video game preservation is a big deal in video game academia. Old physical forms of video games like discs and cartridges eventually expire as they age. For example, Nintendo Game Boy cartridge batteries only last about 10 to 20 years – a period that is rapidly approaching its end. Digital games also have an expiration date: servers are taken down or games stop receiving regular updates. How do you fully study video games when they have such a short lifespan? Video games can be kept alive through emulation, but the legality of emulation quickly begins to get complicated.
Video game companies argue that emulation hurts their market, which has been proven to be totally untrue. Consoles and their cartridges, as recent as the 2011 Nintendo 3DS, are being phased out of production, thus bringing no profit to Nintendo. Game companies kill their own consoles, then get upset when people want to keep them? Some companies have released ways to continue playing their older titles, like Sega’s Mega Drive and Genesis Classics on Steam. However, not all companies do this, which perpetuates the huge barrier between ludologists and games worth investigating. When game preservation is hampered, we are left with a long list of lost video game titles. Some of these titles may seem niche or small, but every game has a lot to say, and it’s depressing that so many of them are erased from existence. More schools joining the fight for game preservation could pressure these companies to allow emulation for education.
Video game lessons apply to more areas than you might think. Video game industry courses cover different business strategies used by game companies, as well as marketing and special promotions for games. Gaming history lessons teach students about popular culture from the 1970s to today and discuss media censorship and rating systems implemented in the 1990s. Talking through gaming technology gives a background -coherent plan of early computer systems, programming languages and hardware improvements; it can also be a fun introduction to coding. Game theory introduces systems thinking and user-centered design, concepts applicable to almost any career choice. And of course, by producing your own games, you learn to be tough when it comes to reviews. You learn to have flexibility in your design choices. You learn to work in a team.
If you have the chance, I highly recommend taking a course on video games. Not only are video games fun and interesting to learn about, but you can learn a lot from them! The video game industry is growing at an astronomical rate – in 2019 the industry was valued at around $151 billion and is expected to be worth up to $256 billion by 2025. Video games aren’t going anywhere, and the longer they are here, the more we have to learn from them.