What's Wrong with Studying Video Games?

I don't know what's weirder, that a politically right-leaning biweekly like National Review would pick up on an LA Times three-parter about majoring in video games, or that they'd ultimately wind up defending the idea. Well, maybe not so weird when you consider their defense (after making a specious distinction -- more on that in a minute) stems from a pretty simple business calculus, a sort of primitive baseline concession that you can make a whole lotta scratch as a game designer these days.

Of course it wouldn't be a story about video games without a swipe or two. The folks NRO got the story from, Minding the Campus, have a paragraph referring to the LA Times finale that does the stereotypically tuned-out thing by saying on the one hand, money good, but on the other, "these students are studying video games for credit."

Yeah? So? I mean, not to make a molehill out of a slightly smaller molehill, but isn't that the same sort of casual dismissiveness that gets you into trouble when you file an incredibly complex and sophisticated medium like comic books under J for Juvenile, ignorantly tramping all over nuanced stuff like Art Spiegelman's Maus, or Joe Sacco's Palestine, or Chris Ware's Acme Novelty Library, or Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis?

The NRO piece exacerbates the faux pas, adding "[T]hey're not studying video games themselves, the way some colleges offer courses studying Pink Floyd's The Wall; they're studying the making of video games, which is incredibly complicated."

So studying "video games themselves" isn't? All the social science projects and behavioral research into games and violence and/or aggressive behavior as well as their potential cognitive learning benefits and rhetorical/theoretical relationships between players and virtual worlds is all tantamount to some implied catch-all screw-off drug trip? (Not that I agree with the implication's analogue here in terms of the oft and unimaginatively scapegoated Pink Floyd.)

Anyone care to tell that to academics like Ian Bogost and Edward Castranova and Henry Jenkins? All the folks working not just in game design, but the study of ludology and/or narratology? Game luminaries like Will Wright and Peter Molyneux and Shigeru Miyamoto, who've made it their business (never mind quite a bit of cash) to figure out what players are thinking and feeling when they play?

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