There is a general criticism of blogs as being inferior to academic journals or magazine articles. They are not developed enough, they are not complete enough, they are not rigorous enough to be useful. I do not intend to do any of those things. I mean to keep a diary of tangential musings as I work through the final expression of my learning here in my master’s program. As I try and publish articles that do represent those things above, I will do my best to link them. Until then, if there are any questions, feel free to email me at email@example.com or simply comment here.
I took a couple days to relax and let my mind wander about method. It is interesting to let this happen. In the shower, awake suddenly at night, or even just mid-sentence with a friend or loved one, and you suddenly understand what you’ve been processing. It’s fun to just let go. It doesn’t always work though.
Every once in a while, I rewatch this Ted Talk from Sendhil Mullainathan
. In this talk, Mullainathan notes a particular issue that plagues most of humanity, “the last mile problem.” Throughout his presentation, he points out several things that just haven’t gotten to full adherence yet. Adherence in this case could mean life or death: hydration salts for diarrhea, pens for insulin. He ultimately states that when something like this gets to a point whereupon technological innovation doesn’t work, we try harder to innovate in such a way that the last remaining non-adopters will somehow find it within themselves to comply. What doesn’t typically occur to people is the fact that these people are not adopting because they either don’t understand or do not believe in what they’re seeing. A technological innovation isn’t going to work. Instead, a social behavior drive might end up pushing that last mile out. For example, a letter about energy consumption to huge energy consumers with a smiley face or a frowny face or even a car commercial for a more fuel efficient car that shows how maneuverability and avoiding accidents makes more sense than driving a land tank.
What does this have to do with methods?
What it boils down to is that Mullainathan points out that we often try to innovate ourselves into finishing off a problem rather than look at cultural problems that might present a much more rewarding understanding of the solution. This extends to sociology to a greater extent than most as this is supposed to be what we do (though we often prefer to remain neutral than take sides even if we do take sides without saying
). Often in methods we tend to think about what hasn’t been done before. My first impulse when designing my study was to look at what other sociologists have done and what game studies is trying to do and make a study that does none of that. However, it is important to try and use some of what they have done in order to truly test what I am designing a study to not do.
Ultimately, I want to prove them wrong because I think they have all been wrong. While this is indicative of social science and science in general (perhaps not overtly most times), in this particular circumstance what I want to do is show how to study a video game through a sociological lens that uses both camps of technological influence. The first camp believes in the ultimate benevolence of technology. They are tools that are of no consequence to social interactions. The second camp believes that technology is constructed socially. That innovators and thinkers creating technology are judging society and creating technology that fills in gaps or weaknesses they believe need to be filled.
What I shouldn’t do is what we are trained to do, to plug holes. The problem here is with defining the topic of study. American Sociology as a whole – and to a lesser extent World Sociology – really has no real idea how to study a cultural object like video games. The proper thing to do here, I think, is to write a paper that is ultimately about operationalization with an example of how that operationalization would work.
To begin, define operationalization:
Operationalization is the process of defining a fuzzy concept so as to make the concept measurable in form of variables consisting of specific observations. In a wider sense it refers to the process of specifying the extension of a concept.
So in order to operationalize this, I need to define some of the concepts surrounding video games. Within sociology, you see a lot of reaction to the aggression causing behavior concepts coming out of psychology. Further, there are developments within sociology about the Symbolic Interactionist ideals of generic types (generic representations). Why sociologists seem concerned with perpetuating and negating the same concepts, I have yet to really discover. I would imagine it has something to do with tenure promotions, ease of publication, and period in history. My reaction to sociological texts is to turn them on their head and study them simply as a cultural object but as carefully and rigorously as possible. To do this, I believe I need to loosely define some historical concepts as present tense concerns.
Video games represent an innovation of technology meant to guide missles.
Ultimately, this particular item will most likely be struck. While I believe this is an important note to make, the literature mostly downplays this. Military simulation takes a backseat as what we now call the video game market more represents Japanese created innovations rather than the American model that had failed.
Systemic Representation: Bogost Definition: “Videogames are an expressive medium. They represent how real and imagined systems work. They invite players to interact with those systems and form judgments about them. (Bogost 2006). “It is through this playing that society expresses its interpretation of life…” Johan Huizinga
In my previous blog, I compared these two ideas and concluded they mostly represent the same logical conclusion from different periods in history. I needed to find something to set this idea against, what had changed since Huizinga wrote Homo Ludens. Later in this list, I bring the work of Hiroki Azuma into this picture. Bogost and Azuma’s definitions sit at opposite ends of the same idea. While Bogost believes that video games represent expressions of systems, Azuma believes these systems to be shallow and meant to fulfill the needs of a consumer base who does not care about what the games express past their ability to represent something in a database of items noted as important for a particular moment in history with no greater motive in mind. This dialectic (Hegelian in more ways than one), will most likely form the crux of my method: Expression of systems vs apathy of consumer. I believe the easiest way to measure this is to examine what parts of systems have progressed over time. To do this, content analysis of a particular game and each of its iterations, notating what exactly was done to them, should be done.
When videogames came under the purview of the Japanese, Japan was in a rapidly growing Otaku sub-culture. Japanese literature calls the Otaku a symptom of post-modernism (nothing is real, everything is subjective sense). Otaku are “database animals” concerned more with filling out databases through immediate animal like gratification rather than pursuing human betterment through exploration of deeper and deeper meaning. Japanese dominance of the video game market reflects this as games became more complex with more wildly varying, but shallow stories that represent specific instances within various databases representing various subjects. – Hiroki Azuma
Building on Bogost’s definition is this somewhat depressing statement. This is where a test comes into play. This is an interesting concept that is very new to me. As I work through his book, I am continually amazed at the work Japan has done in this realm. While I regret that I cannot read Japanese well enough to grope at their sociological a priori understandings, I am somewhat saddened by what is typically communicated through it. There’s an almost overwhelming sadness and underlying fury at what Japan is now. Things there seem very unique and I wish I could read more about it.
Privileged White Male Plaything: “Computer games as we know them were invented by young men around the time of the invention of graphical displays. They were enjoyed by young men, and young men soon made a very profitable business of them, dove-tailing with the exisiting pinball business. Arcade computer games were sold into male-gendered spaces, and when home computer game consoles were invented, they were sold through male-oriented consumer electronics channels to more young men. The whole industry consolidated around a young male demographic. – Brenda Laurel
Working from the previous two statements, I then want to move onto constructing a test to test this idea. It is interesting to note that most of the popular video games in America are marketed to American white males despite most of the video games, historically, not being made here. What does it mean that Japanese influence and marketing had this remarkable impact on youth from 1985-present? This idea will also be valuable. The historical development is somewhat obvious but there are these items to note:
- Videogames in America were sent to the negative “fringe” of society when Atari closed its doors and associated with PC Gaming.
- Videogames were then called Console Videogames and hardware was controlled by Japanese interests.
- Videogames grew more complex through making the effort to more properly represent systems, human representations, and physics.
- American PC gaming grew more complex than console video games that were more concentrated on tight database control rather than multiplayer innovations that had come through internet based co-op gaming (FPS, MMORPG).
- 5. American console makers reestablish a competitive edge through representation of PC gaming on home consoles.
Which then leads to this from Justine Cassell and feminist researchers
Male dominance of video gaming in general is called into question. Video games represent a means through which the process of human-computer interaction is taught to humans, in particular, males. This, combined with the subject matter of current video games (compete, dominate, play on a team) represent male interests and male socialized norms (hegemonic masculinity).
Video games as a whole, have begun to be considered as a tool of male dominance. In particular, video games, often blamed for keeping people indoors and making people more violent and heftier, are pointed to as a new and more focused tool that communicates the basic tenets of hegemonic masculinity. Stereotypically perfect males allow males to identify and explore (consciously or unconsciously) male models of behavior. Criticism of this typically takes the form of criticism of female games who less covertly communicate female norms and values while downplaying technological factors (multiple button presses, combinations, puzzle configurations, themes and contexts). To test this, I believe that I need to examine video games created by specific groups. I am concerned with how this sentiment differs between cultures, and how it is real, if it is real. Statistical trending I believe would help here.
In the end, I believe I have 3 different tests I would like to do.
- Development of System Representation; meaning, how have the systems of video games grown over the years. What aspects of the world “real or imagined” do these systems represent? What trends are present and what does this mean?
- What have these trends lead to within male culture when correlated to historical developments within feminism. How has privilege changed and how is it communicated by games?
- Within that correlation, what have been the trends thoughout video gaming between cultures.
I know by tomorrow these tests will change quite a bit. With only a couple weeks to go before I really begin though, I feel like i’m ahead of the game. I seem set on cross-cultural comparison. With the next few days of writing, I hope to take that idea a bit further to truly develop some interesting hypothesis testing.