Home > Role Playing, Social Media, Video Game Research > Since When Did Playing Games Become Work?

Since When Did Playing Games Become Work?

Dragon Age Origins: I bought it not so much for the fun as for studying the morality system.

I ordered Dragon Age Origins from Amazon last week.  Now I am not a real big role-playing fan but I do play them from time to time.  In fact I usually buy one role-playing game (RPG) per year.  I played Oblivion in 2006 and Mass Effect in 07.  I never finished Fallout 3, so I stayed away from the genre until Mass Effect 2 came out earlier this year.  I guess Dragon Age could be my RPG for 09. Whatever.

Somewhere in the midst of checking the US Postal Service website for the status of my package, I began to wonder why I was so intent on playing this game.  I then realized that while the game only mildly appeals to me (I prefer sci-fi RPGs), I am fascinated by the morality system and the choices presented in the game.  I know if I can get my hands on it I can probably use the content as the basis for a study, a paper, or at the very least some good blogging. That’s when it dawned on me: I play games for research and not for fun.

So then I started debating with myself, thinking “surely I play other games just for fun.” What about NCAA Football 11? I play that game every day, but it is also research.  I’ve already blogged about dynasty wire and social media.  I sent some tweets about the power of the press in that game. In fact I started tweeting about the social aspect of the game before I even picked it up from Gamestop. And while eating breakfast this morning I tossed about an idea about getting users to create more stories to increase the hype and tension before big games and therefore make online dynasties more realistic. That would make for a fascinating study.

Well then perhaps I play Mass Effect 2 just for fun. That’s no better.  After all that adventure provided inspiration about death in games, cultural hegemony and racism.  I even thought about blogging on how the game treats the disabled in the “Overlord” DLC.  So much for that.

Worse still, I bought Red Dead Redemption to see how Rockstar went about developing the narrative.  Fable II was only an exercise in studying the morality system and how NPCs would react to my in-game decisions.  I got great information, but never finished either game.

I think something is wrong with me.

I see more than Tomb Raider's Lara Croft. I see body image and media effects.

It finally dawned on me that my gaming only serves as a platform for my research.  Even when I think I am just having fun or relaxing, I suspect that somewhere in the back of my mind I am taking mental notes for my next project.  I would not be surprised if the gaming I’ve been doing these past few years (Mass Effect 1& 2, NCAA Football, Dragon Age, Tomb Raider Underworld, Gears of War, GTA, Modern Warfare 2) will provide a wealth of potential projects to work on after my dissertation.   And so here I sit with research ideas about male body image and the use of drama in video games floating around in my head.  Even now I have a blog draft about the perseverance of hyper-masculine heroes in games such as Gears of War. In an age where Lara Croft looks more like a women and less like an adolescent fantasy we still have Marcus Fenix who exemplifies the typical ultra-macho, super-aggressive male role model.

And so my brief self-reflection has led me to the conclusion that my days of gaming just for fun are gone and they aren’t coming back.  That pastime has been replaced with the need to explore game content for hegemonic messages, changing player identity in the face of moral choices, and genre-blending trends in the industry.  I used to joke that studying games gave me an excuse to play them.  Now I think studying games is my sole reason for playing. How my (gaming) world has changed.

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  1. August 9, 2010 at 18:10

    Great post! I play for fun mostly, but I also look at social and gender studies stuff in the games. I blog at http://almud.auner.net, recently posted about “feminine playing”, and already tossing around a continuation about “gender roles in games” in my brains.

    I loved how Dragon Age made me deeply sympathize with the Elves; but it was morally easy compared to sympathizing with the Elves/Dwarves in The Witcher, because they choose to fight (as in dirty fight) their oppressors.

    Haven’t tried the Overlord DLC yet, but you made me more curious! I think Mass Effect did a great job at a dignified portrayal of a person with disabilities with Joker. Oh and that whole “human predomination” theme in ME2 was totally awesome, especially after ME1 made you feel so unimportant as a species. Great material for thought – I hope many people use it!

  2. JLJ
    August 9, 2010 at 19:00

    Thanks.

    After reading your comment I’m so ready to play Dragon Age. And I will head over to your blog now and start reading.

  3. August 9, 2010 at 19:18

    JLJ :
    Thanks.
    After reading your comment I’m so ready to play Dragon Age. And I will head over to your blog now and start reading.

    Cool. 🙂

    I haven’t figured out yet how to link my proper blog to this profile (which I need to comment). I created the blog on wordpress.com only to migrate my Posterous blog to my custom domain. Sigh – long story short, it is on http://almud.auner.net, no matter what my profile says.

  4. Mike Shannon
    January 24, 2011 at 00:55

    “And while eating breakfast this morning I tossed about an idea about getting users to create more stories to increase the hype and tension before big games and therefore make online dynasties more realistic.” … I don’t know if I’ll enjoy playing in the Online Dynasty for NCAA 11 as much anymore! My joy for playing thrives on other users enjoying the game play experience just as much as I do if not more. When I discover that others lose interest, I usually do the same. The competition between users keeps me captivated and constantly trying to outwit my opponent intrigues me. Competing against the CPU has some temporary gratification, but it can get to be very redundant. In college, my friend and I recorded 102 games of Madden 2003, where I held the lead at 53-49 (probably because I was on a 4 game winning streak or something). But we were constantly changing, adapting, and tweaking our strategies in order to get the upper hand. The more one changed, the better the other became. Like iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17). Growing up, the childhood innocence of having bragging rights for winning in video games was replaced by winning bets from gambling on who would win. I spend so much of my life being concerned with serious matters, it feels good to kind of step away from reality and relieve some stress. I hope those days of playing for fun do come back for you!

  5. Mike Shannon
    January 24, 2011 at 00:58

    Ouch … copied the wrong quote … “And so my brief self-reflection has led me to the conclusion that my days of gaming just for fun are gone and they aren’t coming back.”

  6. JLJ
    January 25, 2011 at 06:55

    Thanks Mike. I know singers who are always critical when they hear a song on the radio. Likewise, I know some dancers who never seem to be satisfied when watching a dance scene in a movie. They always have some critique or something rubs them the wrong way. I am the same way with gaming. Even if I enjoy it, in the back of my mind I am always thinking of a way to make use of what I am experiencing.

    NCAA football is a great example. Not only do I feel like I should put this on my resume (Commish on an online dynasty for 3 years, planned dynamic schedules for 12 users, negotiated meeting – playing – times, settled disputes, adapted gameplay and rules after said disputes, booted non-contributing members, etc) but I know there is some research I can do from all of this about how gamers will actually do real work in the game that they might never do in real life because now it is “gaming.” In reality, it is actually work.

    I still love gaming. Always will. It’s just that now it is linked to my career and thus I can’t view it the way others do.

    Best.

  1. December 8, 2010 at 16:05

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