of Computer Game Studies
Joost Raessens and Jeffrey Goldstein,
The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2005
496 pp., illus. 58 b/w. Trade, £32.95
Reviewed by John Knight
Birmingham Institute of Art and Design
The book has six parts that deal with
history, design, reception, audience,
aesthetics, and the social and cultural
aspects of gaming. It brings together
14 contributors who tackle these issues
from a practitioner and research perspective.
Authors include some well-known researchers
such as Sherry Turkle and many of the
authors are involved in New Media Studies
(p. 424). The book is particularly welcome
given the dearth of scholarly books on
the subject. The length and large format
reinforces the handbook's reference credentials.
The book has some difficult problems to
tackle. Research findings on such important
issues as violence are often contradictory.
In addition, potentially useful contributions
from other disciplines (e.g. cinema) are
hampered by the unique character of games.
This leads to disputes including whether
games are narrative or non-narrative (p
219). Britta Neitzel notes "[r]esearch
work on computer games cannot avail itself
of a long traditionpopular
games are just thirty-five years old"
Difficulties are further exacerbated by
the skewed demographics of the gaming
world. Sandra L. Calvert notes that "boys
are . . . typically spending twice as
much time gaming as girls" (p. 125).
The influence of this audience naturally
affects which games are produced and what
research is conducted. In some ways, the
book is about broadening the audience
The best chapters draw on relationships
with the gaming audience through design
and participation. Unfortunately, these
links remain outside of much of the gaming
industry and non-gaming community. Exceptions
include Anne-Marie Schleiner's look at
the "Gamer Culture" and end
user modifications and Douglas Rushkoff's
"Renaissance Now! The Gamers Perspective".
The book starts at the prehistory of gaming.
Erkki Hutamo goes back to before the industrial
revolution "as manifestation of the
human-machine relationship" (p. 004).
Steven Mailiet and Gust de Meyer bring
things up to date. The authors note that
"it is remarkable that almost all
genres known today already existed in
a prototypical form in the early 1980s"
(p. 031). The history ends with a chapter
on mobile gaming.
A more sociological history would have
been useful here, particularly an analysis
of the impact of industry on content and
consumption. This is partly redressed
by chapters (e.g. Isabelle Raynauld) linking
the gaming world to cinema. Henry Jenkins'
great chapter is based on Gilbert Seldes
and offers a cinematic approach to criticism.
Corollaries of cinema include genre, narrative
and interactivity. And, these three issues
underpin much of the analysis including
chapters by Juul, Wolf, Salen, and Zimmerman.
The importance of play is evident in many
chapters. This is often referenced with
Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga.
Thus, Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman propose
that "the goal of successful design
is the creation of meaningful play"
(p. 060). Meaningful play consists
of "the way game actions result in
game outcomes to create meaning . . .and]
occurs when the relationships between
actions and outcomes in a game are both
discernable and integrated in the larger
context of the game" (pp. 060-061).
The centrality of play lends games to
more utilitarian ends. The most obvious
of these ends are educational although
Jos de Mul offers a compelling investigation
(drawing on the work of Paul Ricoeur)
of "the way computer games construct
our identity . . . ." (p. 251). Mark
Griffiths' chapter breaks the stereotype
of games as 'shoot em ups'. His chapter
("The Therapeutic Value of Video
Games") includes examples of gaming
in pain relief, rehabilitation, development
of social and communication skills, tacking
attention deficit syndrome and care for
Play can also be harmful, and much of
the research is based on empirical studies
of audience reception. Given the demographics,
this focuses on developmental issues,
such as the effect of violent games. The
concluding chapters introduce a sociological
dimension to the analysis. These see games
in terms of gender (e.g. Birgit Richard
and Jutta Zaremba) and political intervention
(e.g. The 'Ethnic Cleansing' Game, p.
319), including race (e.g. Anna Everett).
Authors tackle these issues with authority
and balance. Jo Bryce and Jason Rutter
conclude that "it is important to
see . . . beyond the game text, and that
an overly deterministic approach to the
construction and influence of gender is
restrictive." (p. 307). "Games
as Social Phenomenon" ends this solid
work. Like other sections, it offers a
prescient and multidisciplinary perspective
on computer games. Well-written and authoritative
it is one to recommend for your library.