Video games are their own art, and one can study them from a variety of different perspectives aside from just the historical one.
Raiford Guins, a professor of video game studies at Stony Brook University, rifled off the “narrative perspective, the play, interactivity, reflections of societal issues, the sound and the design process’ without even thinking about the question.
“How do we understand histories of technology? How do we understand the very process of making sense of cultural histories?” These are just two of the many questions posed in the classroom by Guins.
“Games are the newest form of popular culture that the university is now taking seriously,” Guins said. Across the country, some of the most academically acclaimed universities, such as N.Y.U., U.S.C. and Georgia Tech offer degrees in games, or interactive media’ and S.B.U., M.I.T. and the University Of Michigan all offer rigorous courses based on video games.
Stony Brook University is on the cutting edge of the study of one of the newest media forms in existence. As Guins says about Stony Brook’s video game classes. “We have five, we have the two taught by myself, we have two taught in computer science, there is also a games course in technology in society it’s an important medium I would anticipate more games courses in the future.”
As a member of Professor Guins Video/Computer Game History class, I proudly mentioned the course title to friends, family and fellow students on campus, and there were many questions posed about the legitimacy of a course centered on games. The reactions witnessed were actually 50/50: half of those told about the class openly scoffed at it. The other half of the people exclaimed cries of pure joy as the words video game were mentioned, like Kurt Zisa a graduate student at NYIT who said, “they have a video games history class at Stony Brook?” Most of the students, however, failed to hear the History part at all.
Guins addressed the legitimacy of studying video games academically by saying that, “legitimization is always an issue with popular culture,” and he elaborated on the tremendous surge in the study of film media over the last couple of decades saying, “there is a hierarchy and for a while television classes were not taken seriously despite the legitimate film studies programs that provided them.”
Video games are quickly earning the respect of the academic world, however, as the impact that games have had on popular culture and society cannot be denied, for they are seen everywhere (just look at what lies hidden in every cell phone’s memory).
This puts a level of importance on the study of the history of video games, as many of the original games, systems, computers and yes, even arcades, have become extinct within a few short decades. Preservation of video game artifacts seems to have been overlooked, and Professor Guins is one of many who are now scrambling to preserve whatever knowledge and physical history can be salvaged, studied and taught.
Despite the relative newness of video gaming, the history course depicts ties that easily date back as far as claw machines in the 1800’s.’ Nearly every household in the United States has some form of video game device, or at least has had children that were raised in part, by playing video games somewhere.
The Video Game History Class at Stony Brook University is a submersion into the process of historiography. This article will be the first in a multiple part series in ‘The Statesman’ devoted to the news of Video Game History and Video Game Culture aptly providing innovative learning at Stony Brook University on a truly versatile and culturally significant subject.
Raiford Guins is an Assistant Professor of Digital Cultural Studies at Stony Brook University, and a member of the Consortium for Digital Arts, Culture & Technology, and a founding Principal Editor with the Journal of Visual Culture (Sage). He is currently preparing to open a Video Game Archive at Stony Brook University, where students will have access to game consoles from the 1970s – early 1990s for research and academic purposes.’