Dissertation

Dissertation

My dissertation focuses on knowledge-making practices in game studies. I came to this project after my friend Emma Vossen asked me if I’d seen any data on gender in game studies authors. I collated some data after Dr. Vossen contacted me, but returned to the project after reading an issue of Games and Culture offering a retrospective of the field. Too many questions remained, questions that eventually became my dissertation: We Are Building Histories: Games Research and Rhetorical Metrics.

My dissertation is a mixed methods approach to challenging assumptions, and I cannot think of a better one-line summary than that to describe my entire research agenda.

Dissertation Abstract

In the past five years, scientometric research within game studies has increased as scholars have attempted to more concretely define a field which has been volatile since its first journals and conferences were founded in the early 2000s. But a recent controversy between scientometrics and gender studies (Lykke, 2018) has revealed a potential shortfall with relying on metric studies alone. Metrics can reveal which theories, themes, and frameworks have been most privileged within a discipline, but only within predetermined boundaries, a limitation in a multi-disciplinary field which begs the question of who gets to determine those boundaries. Games research draws from many fields, from media studies to literature to computer science and psychology, but unless that work makes it into game studies journals, it will never be included within a metric study. In many fields, these boundaries may arise organically, to create disciplinary lines. In game studies, however, those boundaries may specifically exclude work grounded in feminist, queer, and critical race theories. My dissertation, We Are Building Histories: Games Research and Rhetorical Metrics, employs a mixed methods approach to metrics research that allows for a broader view of not just game studies, but games research. This mixed methods approach, which I call metric tracing, utilizes discourse analysis, grounded theory, and metric research to create a rhetorical metrics that weighs not only the scientometric measurement of a field, but also the contextual meaning of that data. 

The 2006 inaugural issue of the journal Games and Culture promised that in game studies, then a new and developing field, scholarship would delve into the deepest social and cultural issues around games and gaming. In the years since, however, Games and Culture and the other core journals of the field have evolved far from this mission, and nowhere has this been made more sharply evident than in the 2017 retrospective issue of the journal. The slate of white male scholars (only one woman was included, as third author on a single article) discussed games, theory, and research methods, while critical cultural issues such as continued reliance on racist and genocidal themes in games and the organized harassment of women and minorities in the industry received scant mention (Mortenson, 2015; Trice, 2015; Cross, 2016; Poland, 2016). In fact, the issue specifically decried the encroachment of cultural studies on games research. In their focus on the machinery of games, these scholars seemed to have lost sight of the humans at stake. 

In recent years, this shift has become both more apparent and more discussed. Kishonna Gray (2015) has called for more citations of female scholars of color in game studies, and in a recent talk, Adrienne Shaw (2018) called for game studies scholars to be mindful of the boundaries drawn in and around the field. The timeline of events around the dark activist movement GamerGate (Trice, 2015) further indicate an increased need for an interrogation of gaming as a cultural space, a need complicated by activist ties between GamerGate members and white supremacists and the so-called alt-right (Cross, 2016; Poland, 2016; Karabinus, 2019). The heavily white/male Games and Culture retrospective serves then as a capsule of metric data demonstrating this pervasive gap in game studies. The failure to fulfill the mission forged in that inaugural issue of Games and Culture has led to the fracturing of an interdisciplinary field that fails to be responsible to all the disciplines woven together within it. If, as Lykke (2018) noted, there is a need for a more complex and contextual approach to metric research, game studies serves as a perfect test case. 

Using games research as that test case, this project explores knowledge-making practices through broader perspective informed by metric data rather than one dependent solely on it. Tracing games research in this way means breaking through the hard boundaries of game studies, a move which allows for organic discovery of games research wherever it is located, and fosters engagement with previously undiscovered commonplaces in games research.

In this project, I build on previous metric studies of game studies journals and conferences by adding data obtained through metric tracing. This data includes gender identity information, keyword clusters on themes beyond traditional game studies, such as information on race or queerness in games, and data on scholars who publish inside and outside of game studies journals. By revealing where different types of scholarship on games appear, and where certain knowledges are privileged (or not), this form of expanded, intersectional metric analysis allows for a more inclusive view of games studies than current studies provide, and results in a flexible research methodology that can be similarly applied to other inter- and multidisciplinary fields.