Computer Games: Heart of the Humanities?
Part of humanities’ ludo-anemia, of course, can be attributed to resources: there are few available these days thanks to the sad state of states’ budgets. Most public institutions are in a period of sustained retrenchment, which is compounding the humanities’ decades-long plight of diminishing allocations and importance in the university hierarchy. Many humanities programs these days are fighting just to stay afloat, and as a result new initiatives are shelved or shot down in intensifying turf wars sparked by the mandate to reorganize in order to preserve departmental missions and core offerings.
That said, part of the humanities’ tentativeness is also probably epistemological. It has been a long time since the humanities were direct-to-market providers, if indeed they ever were. Humanities education is not typically job-specific training, but rather the enhancement of critical and perspectival faculties. The opening in computer games, at this point, is precisely in worker preparation; the industry is hungry for talent to press into service. As a result, there is something of a disconnect between what the humanities do and what games (or at least their commercial developers) require.
Likewise, computer games are an expressly computational medium. From the binary code that underpins them to the screen HUDs that display the quantification and recording of play, computer games are ineluctably about numbers and their calculation, extrapolation, and delimitation. For all their diversity and remarkable ability to explicate the human condition, the humanities are traditionally not so inclined toward calculation (a disinclination further intensified, in many cases, by a strategic and ideological push back against the increasing quantification and corporatization of university processes and assessment).
All this is to say that what came out of the round table was interesting and fun, if perhaps wildly impractical. What I liked most was the idea of computer games as a computationalizer, as a sly way to articulate numerology and humanism. It is a fraught and problematical articulation, to be sure, but a delightfully cheeky one in terms of expanding (rather than always defending) the humanities’ purview at a time when that ken is being so sorely pressed. The timing is also right: so much of human action, communication, expression, and understanding today is shaped by the binaries and hexadecimals of computer hardware, software, and networks. Who better to understand the workings and implications of this phenomenon than humanists, the very folks who have been probing our species’ behavior for millennia?
So, Antenna community, what do you all make of this? Where does the study of computer games fit in the humanities? Or better yet, where could it fit?