Turn! Turn! Turn!

Thomas Apperley and Darshana Jayemane’s “Game Studies’ Material Turn,” published in Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture vol. 9 is an interesting article that discusses the ways in which material contexts in video games can be analyzed. The central topic for this article is that game studies are looking more at material methods, meaning a formal, perhaps academic, structure. However, the pair purpose three lenses to use for this analysis: ethnography, platform and software studies, and digital labor.

Ethnography is an approach to video games that is concerned with how objects and practices connect to the lives and experiences of the people who enact them. In essence, this lense advocates for looking at material practices centered around gaming. Ethnography is used in video games to look at how people play digital games, interactions between players, and how location affects a player’s experience. An example of ethnographic studies is from Jansz and Martens’ (2005) study of LAN-ing in the Netherlands. In their study they were able to comment that digital play is only possible after obtaining access to relatively expensive technologies. These obstacles to playing video games relate back to the need for a material lense as without this perspective issues like accessibility would be overlooked.


Furthermore, platform studies is a technique that places videogames, gaming consoles, and other elements in the history of apparatus theory, science and technology studies, and film and media studies. Platform studies can also be described as software studies that look at the code and platform. At its core, platform studies look at the relationship between the computer and the cultural layers surrounding the game. Platform studies can help game critics avoid analyzing the nebulous interactions between people and software, and instead focus on the interactions between the platform and the software. An example of platform studies comes from Montfort and Bogost’s Racing the Beam, which looks at the Atari 2600 platform and the changes it underwent. Without a material structure, the impact the changes the Atari 2600 underwent would go unnoticed.

The last “material turn” the article investigates is digital labor. Digital labor demonstrates how, despite the leisurely appearance of games, they actually demand one’s attention and skills like work would. This digital work is represented in modding. Modding is when gamers modify, add, or delete elements in order to create new materials, new characters, or new levels. The act of modding itself is digital labor as it is work and cannot really be considered leisure. An example of digital labor in the text comes from Julian Kücklich (2005), who studied the Counter-Strike mod for Valve Software’s Half-Life. Through his research Kücklich was able to communicate that looking at digital labor is important because modders do not understand that they are in a position of power. With this power comes exploitation from the video game industry as companies benefit from the increased shelf life and the free labor of skilled modders.

Janet Murray

The context for Thomas Apperley and Darshana Jayemane’s “Game Studies’ Material Turn” is a response and extension of Janet Murray’s idea of game studies as a “multi-dimensional, open-ended puzzle that we are all engaged in cooperatively solving.” This can be seen through Apperley and Jayemane’s extension and addition of the three material focuses. Additionally, they often cite Parikka, Shinkle, and Steinkuehler. Parikka is a Finnish new media theorist and Professor in Technological Culture & Aesthetics at the Winchester School of Art. Parikka was mainly mentioned in the platform studies section. Furthermore, Shinkle is a civil engineer and interdisciplinary scholar in new media that was mentioned in reference to their idea of anamorphic subject and how that pertains to materialistic turns in video game studies. Lastly, Steinkuehler is an American professor of Informatics at the University of California–Irvine whose studies were used to bolster Apperley and Jayemane’s arguments on ethnography.

This article helped me understand how video game studies have evolved throughout time. Through reading this article I have a better understanding of how digital games should be placed in materialist frames. Through this placement, game studies will continue to look in depth at the meaning and function of games.

Works Cited

Apperley, Thomas, and Darshana Jayemane. “Game Studies’ Material Turn.” Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, vol. 9, no. 1, Oct. 2012, http://doi.org/10.16997/wpcc.145.

JANSZ, J. and L. Martens (2005) ‘Gaming at a LAN event: the social context of playing
videogames’, New Media & Society 7(3): 333–55.

KÜCKLICH, J. (2005) ‘Precarious playbor: modders and the digital game industry’,
The Fibreculture Journal 5, available at: http://fi ve.fi breculturejournal.org/
(accessed July 2012).

MONTFORT, N. and I. Bogost (2009) Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer
System, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

MURRAY, J. (2005) ‘The last word on ludology v narratology’. Paper presented at the
DiGRA ‘Worlds in Play’ Conference, Vancouver, Canada.

PARIKKA, J. (2007) Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses,
New York: Peter Lang.

SHINKLE, E. (2003) ‘Gardens, games and the anamorphic subject: tracing the body in
a virtual landscape’, Fine Art Forum 17(8), available at http://hypertext.rmit.edu.
au/dac/papers/Shinkle.pdf (accessed July 2012).

STEINKUEHLER, C. (2006) ‘The mangle of play’, Games and Culture 1(3): 199–213.

Featured Image

Leave a Reply