The Ivy-Covered Console

“Games are big, big objects,” said Barry Atkins, who teaches in the English department at Manchester Metropolitan University in England. “The days when you could play a couple of hours of Myst and write about it are over.” | Dr. Atkins admitted that he didn’t finish Half-Life before writing about it in his 2003 book, “More Than a Game: The Computer Game as Fictional Form,” (Manchester University Press), and only later realized he was two minutes from the shocking plot reversal at the end when he stopped. “I am very nervous that I got it wrong,” he said. —Michael Erard
The Ivy-Covered Console (New York Times)

I knew this article was coming because the author e-mailed me late Tuesday in order to ask whether I knew anything more about Mary Ann Buckles, who wrote her 1985 Ph.D. thesis on “Adventure.” (I tried tracking her down a few years ago, and found someone who thought she might be a relative, but I didn’t go further than that.)

This is an excellent article… the author notes that Espen Aarseth, whose book Cybertext is a seminal work in studying games as games (rather than as kinds of literature or film) is only 38. Erard really manages to capture the newness and multidisciplinarity of the field with the following description of next week’s Princeton conference (“Form, Culture and Video Game Criticism”):

A lawyer, a journalist, a composer, two professors, two lecturers and six graduate students will present papers with titles like “Musical Byproducts of Atari 2600 Games” and “But Our Princess Is in Another Castle: Towards a ‘Close-Playing’ of Super Mario Brothers.”

It’s very exciting to be part of such a young field (though I count three professors on the videogame conference program, not two).

My job description, as a generalist at a small liberal arts school, rather than a specialist at a research institution, simply doesn’t leave room for the kind of intense research that I was able to do as a grad student (oh, those 16-hour days in the library). My dean didn’t actually burst out laughing when I mentioned a desire to get a course release so I could play more computer games, or funding to purchase a game console and some of the latest titles — which would, of course, be part of the new media lab, and which I would let students check out, for academic use. ;)

I used to do a much better job keeping up with interactive fiction, but I find that this year I’m so busy that I’m waiting for the XYZZY Awards to be announced, so that I can catch up on the winners I haven’t played yet. Fortunately I found CliFrotz, which lets me play Z-machine games on my new PDA, so I’ve been working on some of the multiply-nominated games already.