Play Beyond the Computer

Mark R. Johnson on Bloomsbury's new game studies series.

Following my recent post about Bloomsbury’s forthcoming series ‘Play Beyond the Computer,’ I contacted the series editor Mark R. Johnson to ask if he could tell us more about his plans for the series.  Here’s what he had to say about the rationale for the series, its impressive editorial board, and the first volumes that they’ve got lined up.

The rationale behind the series is the realisation that there are a lot of game scholars out there doing great work – both within “game studies”, and in other domains – in all kinds of non-digital areas, but such scholarship tends to be highly distributed and sparse, harder to find, with fewer major foundational texts, often winds up published in lower-impact journals, and generally overlooked, in contrast to video games. The main aim of Play Beyond the Computer is to be a foundational series of texts that will bolster research in game studies beyond video games, and bring a range of domains traditionally outside game studies into game studies for the first time.

To expand on the first point: although my own research focus is on video games (primarily right now esports and streaming), I’ve long been fascinated by analogue games. In my pre-academic life I was a professional poker player for several years, and the cultures and practices I saw there are sociologically fascinating, but almost completely overlooked by game studies in our desire to understand video games in increasingly nuanced detail. I want to start us talking about these other kinds of games, and the forms of play more broadly that game studies has overlooked thus far.

To expand on the second: the first proposed volume, for example, is on classic card games (poker, bridge, rummy, etc) and casino games. There's a range of fascinating work out there around the cultures and communities that these, but such work tends to be lost under the deluge of research that uses terms like "medicalisation", "problem gambling", "deviance", and so forth. By contrast, with the first volume of this series (to stick with this example), I see the opportunity to take an area of games that game studies have all but ignored, and bring it more fully into the game studies canon. There are uncountable millions of players who engage regularly in these games, but we overlook them because the negative moral weight of “gambling” has thus far held back any kind of greater engagement. In other areas, meanwhile, small bodies of game studies work have emerged – such as the incisive and growing investigations to date into board games – but these tend to lack many if any fundamental book-length texts, and the attendant visibility they might otherwise have within the wider game studies field.

To hit both these goals, my aim has been to put together an editorial board well-versed in the study of both video games and non-video games, and also whose bodies of research to date have addressed questions that cut across digital and analogue games: such as exploring game communities, game cultures, game-playing practices, and the like. We’re also pursuing short essays in each book written by practitioners in the field – professional gamblers, board game designers, urban game organisers, and so forth – alongside academic analyses, so offer inside looks into these domains.

We currently have six volumes planned on a wide range of topics, including board games, urban games, and many others. I decided to start off with the book on classic card games and casino games because I know numerous people working in this area who would relish a volume of this sort, and these are games all but ignored by the field of game studies to date (in contrast to a field like board games, which have had initial engagements). My long-term hope is for a series of foundational texts for a range of non-video-game game studies concerns, hopefully raising the profile of games scholarship beyond video games, and bringing the existence of game studies as a whole to the attention of scholars from a wide range of other disciplinary backgrounds.

Dr Mark R. Johnson is a research fellow at Goldsmiths, University of London. His work focuses on the intersections between play, work, and money – e-sports, live streaming and professional gamblers. He is a former professional poker player, independent game developer, and regular games blogger, podcaster, and writer. Mark is joined on the editorial board by Espen Aarseth (IT University of Copenhagen), Staffan Björk (University of Gothenburg), Gordon Calleja (University of Malta), Mia Consalvo (Concordia University), Miguel Sicart (IT University of Copenhagen), and Bart Simon (Concordia University).

The 'Play Beyond the Computer' series is currently under consideration at Bloomsbury Academic. With an editorial board that’s a veritable who’s who of game studies and some fantastic ideas for the initial volumes, the future of the series looks very promising indeed. The deadline for proposals for the first volume, The Casino Games and Classic Card Games Reader, is 17 April 2017.

Paul Wake