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Understanding Video Games: a proposal

January 5, 2011

Comics fans are probably aware of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics (1993), the landmark text that explored the structural aspects of the comics form and provided the tools to think about how comics make meaning.

The most attractive aspect of McCloud’s book is the fact that it is presented in the medium about which it comments, in a tone simultaneously academic and accessible, providing self-referential examples of the concepts discussed: panels, the gutter, “closure,” color, line, etc. This unique introduction to the form and the language it provides has made it essential for academic discussions of comics–indeed, it has helped greatly to legitimize comics as a serious subject of study.

With McCloud as the inspiration, we need an Understanding Video Games.* We need a “text” one can play that explains and explores issues endemic to our medium: level design, saving, controls, goals/obstacles, etc. For the most accessibility, I see this as a computer / Flash game – or possibly a PSN/XBL download you can share with your family. Following McCloud’s lead, players would play through various “chapters” highlighting different essential aspects of the form. They don’t have to be well-known games, or previously released games at all, to illustrate. Of course, if this is going to be the definitive guide I want it to be, there will be quotations and references to important games, and a fair share of history.

Imagine if people who are skeptical of video games see what sort of decisions (and, indeed, artistry) are worked into the fabric of even the most apparently simple games. Think too about what it means to establish a framework for further academic discussion of games, and the mainstreaming of language to do so. Just imagine having something like this in a high school or college course as an introduction to the serious humanistic analysis of games.

McCloud knew that the best way to make people outside of the comics industry care about what he did was to explain it clearly in its native form. Designers and programmers, I’m looking at you. (I’ll write!)

*I am aware that a book of the same name already exists by Egenfeldt-Nielson, Smith, & Tosca. But you know what I mean!

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From → High-brow

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