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The Academics of Gaming

Gaming doesn’t appear to be a subject appropriate for academic study, right? It’s a form of entertainment, of competition, of escape and enjoyment. But like most other things in this world, academics want to understand the underlying motivations, behaviours and practices that accompany our favourite pastime.

Earlier this year I dabbled in the idea of studying gaming, gamers and gamer identity in a Do Gaming blog post. As I investigated the concept of gamer identity and
how gamers and non-gamers chose to define and differentiate themselves, I began wondering about the academics of gaming.

It appears Einstein was pondering the same thing.

We all know the typical studies involving gaming and gamers: studies that investigate the physical and psychological effects of gaming on gamers – violent tendencies, isolation and introversion and deteriorating physical health. I searched for more extensive academic research into gaming – and its various forms – and to my surprise, I found much more than I expected.

I found studies about the effects of mobile gaming on learning and how these games could teach children to learn. I found studies about addiction to the Internet and online gaming and about what’s called “pervasive gaming” (gaming “in the real world” on portable devices), about simulators and dating simulators and comparisons between teenage and adult online gamers.

Interestingly, I came across the Game Theory: an analysis of the interactive decision making process that takes place when two or more parties are thinking in a similar way at the same time about the same thing. In plain English: the behaviour of people playing games; whether it is tennis, military war games or Starcraft.

Game Theory suggests that the strategies used in a game like Starcraft can resemble the possible and probable outcomes from an average Rock-Paper-Scissors game: a finite and limited number of outcomes.

It is theorised that Starcraft 2 and Rock, Paper, Scissors operate on the same basic principles: limited possible and probable strategies and outcomes.

I found that almost every aspect of gaming has been researched and studied in most academic fields: sociology, behavioural science, economics and communication. The most fascinating find: a book published in 1974 called Gaming: The Future’s Language, by Richard Duke.

Duke defines gaming and simulation as a “hybrid communication form” that, at the time of the publication of this book, was brand-new and misunderstood. But Duke believes that by carefully studying and understanding gaming/simulation as a new language, that it’ll be incredibly useful to mankind in decades to come. This book was published well ahead of the kind of pervasive and monumental gaming we experience today, but I think the idea of gaming/simulation as a future language is already firmly being realised.

Already gaming – and other forms of multimedia – has allowed us to approach reality and illusion and the world and its problems in a completely different way. For example, gaming teaches children problem-solving skills, the ability to make quick but correct decisions under pressure and great hand-eye coordination.

Gaming is becoming an unmistakably rich and as yet unexplored field of academic study.

It’s an incredible realisation that the world of gaming has taken on a bigger role in society and has begun an adult life of its own. It’s no longer just a form of entertainment for a select group of people but has become an economic powerhouse, a societal statement, a lucrative industry and a viable career choice.

And the continued academic interest in the ever-growing gaming world is solidifying gaming’s official and accepted stance as an unmistakable force driving the world forward.