The four articles I read [Adrienne Shaw’s “What Is Video Game Culture? Cultural Studies and Game Studies”; Patrick Crogan’s “Tracing the Logics of Contemporary Digital Media Culture”; Gigi Durham’s review of Douglas Kellner’s Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern”; Bo Reimer’s review of Jostein Gripsrud’s Understanding Media Culture”] were more convergent than I may have expected, given their divergent objects of study. These articles converged in their focus on cultural studies and the common academic ethos, likely as part of that wide-ranging discipline, that could be found in the various interrogations.
To begin, let me first elaborate on the individual articles and approaches. Shaw examines how the term “video game culture” has been used, adopted, and challenged through a discourse analysis of popular and academic articles using the aforementioned phrase. Through this analysis, she sees “culture” as a combination of actions, identities, and values—particularly how individual texts and genres of games are valued. Crogan explores the relationship between the simulation technology—screen mediated virtualization and visualization of the real that leads to a potential shift in the role of history as data for simauthors and as a way to check the accuracy of simulations (SIMNET)—and the political, economic, and power influences of and on society. Durham sees Kellner as being concerned with alternate, combinatory approaches to the cultural studies of US mass media. Reimer reads Gripsrud as writing an exemplar and useful text book for introduction to media culture for students and for serving as a common touchstone text for faculty in the traditionally various humanistic and social science approaches that might be valued in a typical media studies department.
Throughout these texts, a search for a reflexive and complex understanding of the relationship of culture and media is a common concern. Shaw challenges academics to reflexively ask why some favorable stereotypes of video game culture (VGC) are blindly accepted in the field while the more unflattering assumptions of VGC are destabilized. Rather, she argues that we interrogate all aspects of VGC, whether perceived as favorable or not, in order to reflect an inclusive and diverse understanding of VGC.
Crogan seeks to unearth the connections between the post-WW2 state of “pure war” (Paul Virilio’s term for the condition of military build-up and mobilization that made peace time indistinguishable from war) and Eisenhower’s notion of the military-industrial complex that fed “pure war.” This connection can be seen in the development of the screen-mediated virtualization of reality, reified first through the command and control defense system the Semi-automated Ground Environment (SAGE)—used to manage a potential nuclear strike response—and then through the networked military simulation system SIMNET. In both cases, Crogan focuses on how the simulation technology is both shaped by the cultural expectations of graphical and cartographic representation and is a shaping force for those expectations, specifically through the films and video games associated with the Military-Entertainment complex. Furthermore, and perhaps of higher stakes, contemporary military simulation techniques use data gathered from real battles, such as those in Desert Storm, to develop conditions and systems, which can then be used to simulate alternate outcomes. Crogan argues that this might be a shift in the perception of history, from “historical discourse as a hermeneutic, critical processing of the past” to a set of conditions used to predict probable futures—and secure national interests against perceived future threats.
Kellner and Gripsrud seem to approach their objects of study through more common understandings of media: mass media. These objects seem appropriate for their focus. Kellner is interested in a combinatory methodology of modernist and postmodernist theories of social science and cultural studies to excavate the connections between mass media and identity, ideology, race, gender, class, and politics, to name a few areas of concern. Through this “multicultural, multiperspective” (Kellner via Durham) approach, he seeks to open new opportunities for discussions of policy in the name of the grand project of the “democratization of society through media culture” (quoting Durham). Gripsrud, in composing a text book on media culture, offers a structured yet diverse approach to understanding media culture, through a audience-text-production context trichotomy. (neologism ftw…) The main critique of Reimer, the reviewer, however, is the lack of reflexivity in discussing why theories are included/excluded and what the historical influences on media culture theory might tell us about what theories have become privileged. Reimer’s critique, to me, seems very similar to Shaw’s critique of VGC: too little reflexivity, limited inclusiveness.
In these objects and methodologies I see at least two very specific echoes of what Mitchell and Hansen privilege in their introduction: interdisciplinary approaches and the concern with the “middle” position of media—its (at least) duality of being. Media is both influenced and influence; it occupies a complex role in the ecosystem of everyday (not ordinary, but ubiquitous) life.