the international journal of computer game research volume 3, issue 1
may 2003
home   about   archive     player one
Joanne Bryce is a Lecturer in Psychology at the Department of Psychology, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK.
Jason Rutter is a Research Fellow at the ESRC Centre for Research on Innovation & Competition (CRIC) at the University of Manchester, UK.
Both authors manage the Digiplay Initiative.

Guest Editors Introduction


by Jason Rutter and Joanne Bryce


CRIC (the ESRC Centre for Research on Innovation - and the Department of Psychology at the University of Central Lancashire ( hosted the conference "Playing with the Future: Development and Directions in Computer Gaming" in Manchester during April 2002. It is hard to believe that at this time Nintendo had still to release the GameCube in Europe and the joy which is Super Monkey Ball was not even a glimmer in UK gamers' eye. However, just a year on Super Monkey Ball 2 has just found its way beneath our TVs and, in the UK at least, major retailers are removing the GameCube from their shelves and the curse of the Dreamcast seems to loom large, as the future of Nintendo's console looks a little uncertain as stocks are cleared at bargain basement prices.

As the commercial world of digital games moves on and the more routine aspects of research and teaching have filled the time between then and now, there are a variety of intangibles that remain for those of us involved in the conference. For us these include memories of a five and a half foot green monster, moving a lorry load of PlayStation pods across the city at 7am in the morning, and the hearty fried English breakfasts at the conference venue. More tangibly, there is a small collection of conference photos on a website (, and a long list of friends and colleagues who we met for the first time a year ago but with whom we have enjoyed sharing ideas, research and research proposals in the intervening months.

Taking this opportunity to reflect, it is exciting to see the development over the last year of digital games research as a broad and rapidly moving field. The number of recent conferences dedicated to the field, the increasing visibility of game research clusters including Copenhagen, Tampere, and SungKyunKwan and, in the form of DiGRA (, the creation of a digital games research association indicate the vitality of the people and work in this area. The papers collected in this edition give a small flavour of some of this development and the rich diversity of work that was presented in Manchester. This edition of Game Studies is a chance to revisit some of the academic highlights of Playing with the Future but crucially it also gives us an opportunity to share with a larger audience some of the work presented for the first time at the conference.

In this edition Carr and Kücklich engage in interesting ways with the debates around the textuality of games which are often associated with key figures of this journal. Carr, explores engagement, cybertextual analysis and game-space, through analyses of Silent Hill and Planescape Torment - games which, despite a shared tendency for gore, are of different gaming genres. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari as well as Murray, Carr explores the different geographies of the games, the conditions placed upon the gamer in exploring these spaces, and the manner in which game representations take on semiotic significance through 'magnification'. She uses elements of Aaresth's work to build towards concluding with a speculative Freudian account of the role of the uncanny in the relationship between a player and their avatar, and our psychic relationship with death.

Kücklich's piece, while retaining a textual perspective presents a more conceptual approach as it eloquently raises a number of very pertinent questions that are currently being grappled with within textually-orientated game studies. He questions 'where' the game text is to be found and how the reading of it relates to gaming engagement. Regarding digital games as "non-trivial machines", Kücklich presents a Garfinkel-like conception of interaction in which the gamer assumes meaningful and context-sensitive responses from the game's code, text and agents. He importantly highlights that software, rules and design only become games when they are played, and that this is a "process [which] takes place on a level that cannot be located within the game, but exists merely as a projection of the player's mind" (Kücklich, this volume). The dilemma Kücklich presents us with is considering the possibility for a wide ranging method to understanding digital games which unites semiotics, philology, ludology and more general literary and textual theory.

With a similar feel for the 20th century classics, Manninen engages with the critical theory of the Frankfurt School as he employs Habermas' Theory of Communicative Action (TCA). Although this approach has been making inroads into Information Science in the last few years, especially when exploring online environments and CSCW, it is an innovative contribution to studying digital games. While still placing the gaming text at the centre of his investigations, Manninen moves further towards understanding how gamers engage with, and make use of, games as social and communicative artefacts. It is somewhat refreshing given popular concern with the increased sophistication of games that Manninen highlights their profound limitations in comparison to everyday interactions, and that much of the variety they appear to have is actually due to the work of gamers themselves. Indeed, although Habermas' TCA is perhaps not the easiest two volumes to thoroughly understand, Manninen makes an valuable attempt at concretising the application of theory, and highlights the way in which it can help us understand the mediated interaction that goes on through digital games. Further, he uses this to look forward to the way in which TCA can be used to inform game design decisions.

Walther brings a new turn to discussions within ludology by drawing on the positive psychology of Csikszentmihalyi and the social philosophy of Foucault, whilst at the same time keeps his analytical roots within the classic texts of Huizinga and Callois. Usefully demarcating 'play mode' and 'game mode', Walther argues that his analysis frees us from ethnographic evidence whilst, at least in part, presenting a situated perspective which adds Wittgenstein to this rich conceptual mix. When playing games, he suggests, we seek to recognise structure and organisation from elsewhere, and use this to make sense of the gaming experience. Doing so, Walther persuasively argues that play and game are not an escape from reality, but instead a space boundaried within real experience from which the gamer constantly risks displacement.

This trajectory of exploring gaming as a practice is continued by Fromme in his fascinating paper which presents some of the empirical work currently being undertaken on gamers and their daily routines. Doing so, Fromme raises a raft of methodological questions related to undertaking quantitative digital games research, and contributes to the development of a gaming social science which is still relatively underdeveloped in Europe. The paper demonstrates that in contrast to the frequently claimed view of gaming as a technological parasite eating away at childrens' social skills, time and physical activities, digital gaming is a strategic and situated practice chosen by children from a broad menu of potential leisure activities. Fromme's paper gives us a rich and much needed view of what is going on when children play digital games beyond that of the direct engagement with the game itself. From this perspective, this paper presents some interesting answers to the basic questions that are often posed within digital games research.

Together these papers represent not only a snapshot on the debate and exchange of ideas that went on in Manchester in 2002, but a perspective on the current state of digital games research and its future trajectory. If our view of this trajectory is right then, as fellow researchers in this field, we all have an exciting future ahead of us – at least one that currently looks brighter than that of the GameCube.



[To the top of the page]

© 2001 - 2004 Game Studies
Copyright for articles published in this journal is retained by the journal, except for the right to republish in printed paper publications, which belongs to the authors, but with first publication rights granted to the journal. By virtue of their appearance in this open access journal, articles are free to use, with proper attribution, in educational and other non-commercial settings.