As far as higher education is concerned, there are Game Studies courses all over the world, especially in North America and Europe.
The study of video games has become a new discipline globally as it encompasses the social and cultural aspects of modern society. And there are few like Souvik Mukherjee, an assistant professor at Cultural Studies at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences (CSSS), who knows this emerging area inside out.
Edugraph recently caught up with Souvik, who is an alumnus of Jadavpur University, to take a peek into the video game culture that is leaving its marks on social identity and culture.
Edugraph: What is Game Studies and what is its scope in India?
Souvik Mukherjee: Game Studies is a relatively new discipline all around the globe with the foundational research being done as late as the ’90s. This discipline involves critically analysing videogames as a ludic (playful) media and exploring emerging discourses in gaming cultures. Of late, Game Studies has also started including discussions on board games and other non-digital games.
In India, we now have a fledgling interest in the area with a few PhD and master’s students writing their thesis on the subject. When I started working on Game Studies in 2001, I was the only researcher from the region, so this increase in numbers is a heartening development.
I am officially mentoring two students doing their PhDs at Cultural Studies at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences. Apart from that, I also informally advise many others all over India. I started the Digital Games Research Association’s Indian chapter with a bunch of dedicated postgraduate and undergraduate students in November 2020 — our group now has 125 members and counting.
Is Game Studies a part of academic curricula globally?
Souvik Mukherjee: Academia in India has been reluctant to engage with digital games, but it is possible that this will change in future. For instance, the national school curriculum in Poland has now included the video game, This War of Mine, based on the experiences of the Bosnian people during the Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s.
Which are some of the institutes offering courses in Game Studies?
Souvik Mukherjee: As far as higher education is concerned, there are Game Studies courses all over the world — especially in North America and Europe. Such courses are increasingly being offered in Brazil, Mexico, China, Japan, Singapore and Indonesia. Some of the major institutes dedicated to Game Studies are the Centre of Excellence at the University of Tampere, Finland, and IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark, in Europe and Georgia Tech in the US.
Are there any specific courses offered as part of Game Studies?
Souvik Mukherjee: There are some courses on Game Design which may incorporate some topics from Game Studies. I knew of a course run by Srishti in Bangalore and another one by DSK Supinfocom in Pune that may have incorporated Game Studies elements. As far as such topics are concerned, these have been taught in Presidency University’s Department of English when I was employed there. There was obviously a literary connection in those courses. Recently, there is an increase in the number of PhD aspirants in Game Studies topics. Though many of them go abroad, there is a rising number who are seeking PhD opportunities in India as well. I am supervising both MPhil and PhD students who are interested in Game Studies at CSSS.
There is an increase in the number of PhD aspirants in Game Studies topics. Though many of them go abroad, there is a rising number who are seeking PhD opportunities in India as well.- Souvik Mukherjee
What are the prerequisites required for this?
Souvik Mukherjee: I would say that a grounding in basic critical theory, philosophical discourses and a familiarity with some of the key writings in Games Studies would help, though these are not essential.
What are the major trends in Game Studies?
Souvik Mukherjee: Globally, Game Studies addresses multiple issues such as whether games can be a storytelling medium, whether they can represent history, how the rules of play affect the play-experience, cultures of play, diversity and inclusivity in games, gender and postcolonialism. Behavioural studies, psychological analyses, and anthropological and sociological research also form an important part. eSports and sustainability studies of online gaming as well as the broadcasting of gameplay instances through Twitch, Youtube and similar platforms are also emerging areas of interest.
How does it contribute to a new game culture?
Souvik Mukherjee: Game Studies is a response to the culture(s) of playing digital games and as I said, more recently, of non-digital games. Just as Film Studies and Media Studies courses are involved in critically analysing various aspects of film and media, the same goes for Game Studies and digital games. Nevertheless, Game Studies research also has had a lasting impact on the development and the experience of video games. We are seeing more narrative-rich games such as Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, which is set in Victorian London and where the player gets to meet Charles Dickens and Karl Marx! There are also more inclusive games that represent race and gender issues by making the player feel responsible for their decisions — such games provide a wider range of play-experiences ranging from the philosophical to the comic.
How is Game Studies different from game development/designing?
Souvik Mukherjee: Game Studies may or may not be linked with game development or design. Just as someone who teaches Media Studies does not necessarily have to make a film, so the Game Studies scholar may not be directly connected with game development. However, Game Development is a diverse process and involves large teams working on multiple facets that may or may not involve programming. For instance, there are game writers, playtesters, game evangelists, critics, researchers, artists and a whole range of other professions that connect to game development.
In many cases, Game Studies scholars team up with game developers to make games. For instance, a local game developer, Satyajit Chakraborty, has made the Durga Puja Mystery video game with Xenia Zeiler, a games scholar based in Helsinki.