After several months of fascinating discussion about emerging interest in the academic study of videogames, I am overjoyed that the University of Chicago Library has acquired its first videogame collection, and that these games will soon be available for borrowing from the Mansueto Library. Why, some might ask, should a university library add videogames to its holdings? Moreover, why is the popular digital game form important? And, finally, what might the University of Chicago community gain from this new collection?In seventh grade I had the opportunity to give a presentation on the history of video games to my world history class (it was a pretty sweet class). I cut up some foamcore, printed out some screenshots and went to town. The only games I talked about were early arcade and PC games, I didn't mention fighting games, (J)RPGs, platformers, or anything except shooters and strategy games. I was so excited and so convinced that my presentation was sick that I asked a couple of pals to look at my board and my notes beforehand and give me their feedback. They were not impressed. The games that they cared about (Smash Bros, JRPGS) weren't anywhere in my notes, and I talked about only 2 or 3 games before 1990, and probably half of the games they played at the time were on emulators for ancient systems (as a result of admitting my deficiency to them, I got a CD full of emulators and ROMs, which was way cool and educational). Incidentally, I still don't give a shit about JRPGS or fighting games and I'm probably even less sympathetic to platformers now than I was then. At least now, though, I have the self-awareness to acknowledge from the start that what I'm doing or saying is applicable only within certain limits and with major qualifications. Like anything else.
The aggravating part of the game gallery at U Chicago is that it is evidence of exactly the same kind of arrogance that I displayed when I spent five minutes talking about how awesome Ghost Recon is and zero minutes on the ColecoVision or Street Fighter. My presentation was BS for that reason. U Chicago's list is BS for similar reasons. There aren't any PC exclusives on the list, there are games on the list which are pretty sorry examples even by the standards of their own genre (BioShock), and despite the cursory inclusion of a Really Old Game, most of them were made well after 2000. And, of course, no wargames, no strategy games, no shooters proper, no sims, no traditional RPGs, and a couple of games that are objectively, indisputably terrible (Heavy Rain and the game that's so fucked that the only way it's playable is by mutual agreement among players that certain features and characters be ignored). My one friend said "this presentation just looks like 'games Kyle likes'" and this presentation looks like "games dumb undergrads at U Chicago like."
What's even more aggravating is that these people are setting themselves up as the people who know what they're talking about. I was a child in a school, these people are undergraduate and even graduate students (name a more worthless, suspect field for postgraduate study than video games... economics doesn't count) and they should be aware of the effects of pretending to universality, and the stifling effect that an academic establishment can have when it's really established itself (when critical game studies sits around the house, it really sits around the house).
For me these things are especially troubling because the discipline I study, economics, is divided along lines that I can see emerging in video game studies today. Economics is, for whatever reason, one field that people outside of the field have actual respect for. It is the relevant science of government and daily life. Whenever I say that I study economics people immediately have questions about the job we're both working at, or the news the other day about unemployment, or "the banks," or even the entire state of the US ("so, how long until we're out of this hole?"). As a result of the respect economics has outside of the academy (the president doesn't have a Council of Anthropological Advisors, though he definitely should) it's one of the most hysterically conservative and backwards academies out of all of them. There are a dozen or so schools in the entire English-speaking world where you can study economics other than marginalist neo-classical, and most of those are just Keynesian. If you want to study Marx as an economist at a rigorous post-graduate level you have less than five options, some of which are in the process of backsliding or can't offer you any money. That's serious. The situation in philosophy, with analytical in the hegemonic position and continental out in the cold, is similar but I don't know if it's worse or better than economics. It's hard to imagine that it could be worse. Boo hoo, right?
The way that neo-classical economists talk about non-neoclassical economics (not at all, and superficially when they do) is almost exactly the way that the U Chicago people are talking about games other than ones they're aware of. It's tempting to draw the comparison between U Chicago's economics department, which is among the most prestigious neoclassical departments, and its game studies program, which seems to be aiming for a similar dismissive hegemony, but that's not very fair to the econ department. Grad students in the econ department don't talk about how bold and controversial their ideas are because they know they're on top and they know they're so far above the competition they don't even have to address them. But the game studies program simultaneously blots out entire eras, interpretations, and histories of games and assumes the subaltern stance of a 'discipline under siege.' It's a pure stance. Actually, the rich history of all the games no one at U Chicago has ever played or cared about is the only thing threatened or subaltern.