So tonight, just a little sample of something I’m working with/on. It’s just rambling right now, but… thought process! W00t!
I study gaming (specifically video games) and identity/group formation. As such, the “materials” used to game become a part of the process of forging an identity and carry a number of important rhetorical markers for the players. While I deal mostly in “virtual” spaces (I want to eventually, as we go through this semester, try to argue that there is a “virtual material culture” and should be “virtual material rhetoric” but I’m not sure I have the material ammunition for that battle yet), I can offer a number of quick physical examples: Dungeons and Dragons players tend to carry their own dice, the color and texture (and number) of which says something about them, as do the books they carry and the notes they take; serious players of any sport—take bowling, as an abstract example—bring their own ball, and glove, and shoes, and have a specific shirt for competition; and those who take games like pool, dominos, or even console video gaming seriously tend to carry their own equipment (be that a stick, a set of whatever is used to play the game, a control pad, or the game itself).
Of all the things theorized and researched in current gaming studies (and all the rhetorical studies I’ve seen of any manner of gaming), there is precious little attention given to the “materials” of the game. It’s as if the rule systems are elevated to the point of subsuming the tangible aspects of play, when in reality, many games would be impossible without some “thing” (imagine, for example, theoretical basketball with no ball or hoop, or chess based on a belief that one could hold the positions of the pieces in the mind). Right now I’m studying the game World of Warcraft; the game would be impossible without my computer, a keyboard and mouse, the software, or the virtual “material” of my character in the gaming world and the “things” he has virtually acquired.
As such, it seems to me that if we don’t begin to study the materials involved in gaming, we might miss something critical about the nature of gaming and the practices of play.
What further fascinates me is that gamers don’t tend to classify the material objects that go into the game as part of the game itself. In my thesis research, I found that online gamers don’t think of the writing they produce (or the new media they produce) as anything BUT a part of playing. In contrast, pen-and-paper/dice rolling role-players wouldn’t call their dice, their character sheets, their books, etc. part of the game; when pressed, anecdotally several said things like “well, I guess it’s part of the game” and/or “that’s just the stuff I need to play the game.” These materials—in different mediums, obviously, as the pen-and-paper gamers can hold theirs while online gamers simply have files—are roughly equal in terms of their impact on gaming practice but are attributed different classifications by their respective communities/cultures.