It’s been exciting watching more and more theorists come to games as critical objects in the past few years. It’s not totally new. Media theorists like Alexander Galloway and McKenzie Wark were writing about the phenomenon of gaming a decade+ ago, and some of it is very good. Still, a lot of that writing felt a little out of touch with the actual experience or cultural positioning of games, and engaged more with an idealistic vision of the changes in epistemology and ontology that the rise of ‘gaming’ heralded—frequently in ignorance of what gaming actually is, or does.
There’s been more and more exciting academic writing about games, though—it’s a cool time to be someone peeking in the window of academia. N. Katherine Hayles and Samuel Weber curate a great series through UMinnesota Press called “Electronic Mediations,” that has writing from some really wonderful authors: Vilem Flusser, Ian Bogost, Stanislaw Lem. A lot of N. Katherine Hayles’ own writing is incredible. Stephanie Boluk and Patrick LeMieux wrote an essay on Dwarf Fortress (“Dwarven Epitaphs: Procedural Histories in Dwarf Fortress”) that I can’t recommend enough. And a lot of recent exciting writing from people like Donna Haraway or Benjamin Bratton is interesting to read in the context of a deepening digital culture, even when it doesn’t explicitly engage with games.
In the same vein, it’s been exciting to see some interesting art approach games/simulations from a conceptual angle. Ian Cheng has an exhibit up at PS1 right now of simulations he’s built using Unity (if anyone’s in NY, worth checking out—if not, it’s streaming on Twitch). New Museum just launched an AR/VR app, Ed Atkins had a big show at the kitchen last year. Digital worlds are blowing up.
If anyone can recommend more theorists doing interesting work on games, I’d love to hear about it!