Pragmatic Musings: New Directions in Game Research

Thomas Malaby, Dan Hunter, Douglas Thomas

The rise of virtual worlds and their ability to generate new economies, forms of belonging, and learning — all within spaces that are deeply game-like — makes new demands of our thinking about games and society. A number of scholars have recently begun to respond. By shifting attention toward broader, contextual understandings of games, communities, and play, they aim to account for the contingent and emergent relationship that these spaces have with other domains of human experience. In doing so, these scholars have taken up the study of virtual worlds in relation to law, anthropology, economics, cultural studies, communication, network analysis, and literature (to name a few). When viewed as a whole, the work of these scholars shows a new perspective beginning to emerge. While neither discounting the power of narrative nor the structure of rule-based play, they seek to ground our understandings of games in the practices of players and developers as well as the broader array of other constraints and systems of meaning within which they are historically embedded. What unites these approaches is a pragmatic appreciation of the complexity and range of forces at work and the need to tap the wisdom of a wide array of varied fields’ approaches and methodologies. Emerging from this work is the unifying question which will animate this fireside discussion: What happens at the intersection of practice, meaning, and community within these persistent and complex domains for action, and what does this reveal to us about the centrality of learning as a process?

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