Guest editorial: Games and Action

Jonas Linderoth


The first computer game in the world was developed in 1958 when the engineer Willy Higinbotham converted an oscilloscope into a sort of pinball game called Tennis for two. Computer games did not become an industry until the mid-seventies and it took until the first game consoles in the eighties before a computer game culture started to take its form. As artefacts, computer games have a very short history. In descriptions of mankind's socio-cultural development specific technologies that made the development take a leap forward are often mentioned. Technological landmarks such as cave paintings, cuneiform, hieroglyphs, the printing press, photography, moving images and information technology are said to be of great importance for historical development. The importance of computer games might well be underestimated when drawing these timelines. The first computer games changes the conditions for media radically; for the first time in history we can interact with a screen image - technology that today is crucial for computer interfaces in general. The fact that images in computer games are interactive gives the consumer of games a new potential dimension of meaning. Unlike the reader of a book or the audience of a movie, players must ask themselves how to use the different features presented for them at the screen. They must make distinctions in the graphical world between what things you can interact with, things that have impact on the rules of the game, and what is purely decoration or simply fiction adding aesthetic value.

This tension between rules and fiction, between games as formal systems and the narrative/representational level in games, is a recurring theme in the literature on computer games. Games challenge our classical notions of media, since the representations we face in games are structured by a system of rules. Within the field of Game Studies there has been a struggle about whether rules or fiction should be the point of departure for game analysis. Should computer games be considered as a new form of storytelling media, or are they more related to traditional games and understood as sets of rules? Even though this so called ludology--narratology dispute has been intense, lately there seems to be a rather shared view within the game studies field that the player's gaming experience has to do with both.

To some extent this might have to do with the fact that games studies as an academic community has grown and therefore started to develop into different branches making room for diverse and contradictory theories within the same field. At least the study of games for education, the so called Serious Games movement and the study of MMO games like World of Warcraft has developed into sub-communities in game research. While the field of Game Studies in the late nineties mainly had its roots in the humanities, the development of online games has meant an incensed influence in the field from sociology. Methods such as ethnography and interaction analysis have proven suitable for understanding game culture and gaming as a situated activity.

In June 2007, LearnIT, the Swedish Knowledge foundation's research programme about issues surrounding technology, learning and interaction hosted a Game Studies conference in Gothenburg. This conference was named Game in action and mainly addressed the study of gaming as an activity. This ambition was a deliberate attempt to support a shift in focus from games to gaming as a unit of analysis in the field. With prominent keynotes from the game studies field, e.g. Henry Jenkins, James Paul Gee, T. L. Taylor, Jonathan Dovey and Helen Kennedy, and over 30 peer-reviewed paper presentations, the conference was by far the biggest game studies event in Sweden. For three days issues such as gaming and identity, gaming and socialization of norms and values, online gaming as social practices, and gaming as a boundary practice between school, work and leisure were discussed.

As the Conference President of Game in action it is my privilege to present the legacy from these days in two thematic issues of the journal Human IT. A majority of the articles were first given as papers during the conference and have during this year been developed to suit the journal. The articles present a variety of the issues that are central to the game studies community and they comprise examples of a young research community that very likely will keep on growing.

May 2008
Dr. Jonas Linderoth
LearnIT and University of Gothenburg

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