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25. Digital cultures

 
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Graeme Kirkpatrick studied 1980s computer and gaming magazines to understand the beginnings of a gaming culture.

Contemporary computer gaming could not have been forced into being simply by the physical presence of computer game programs. Cultural work had to be done in order that people could recognize them as games and the machines that hosted them as objects to be played with. Computer games had to struggle for recognition and cultural space. People and places had to be prepared for their arrival.

For this to happen there had to be an opening in the culture where the games could be recognized and criticized. A discourse was created around games and gaming that enabled people to make sense of the new objects and of themselves and their own activities in connection with them. Gaming had to be established as a cultural field (Bourdieu 1993), in which perceptions and dispositions are aligned with objects and identities and through which a new cultural proving ground is created.

Such a field was necessary to create people equipped to perceive computer games as games and with the habituated dispositions and inclinations necessary to play them, that is, a gamer habitus. Such people possess the embodied perceptions and skills necessary to play games. They recognize themselves in gaming discourse and they use that discourse to make sense of their own practices. In this way they identify themselves with the activity and become ‘gamers’.

Graeme Kirkpatrick’s study of computer and gaming magazines of the 1980s uncovers the processes through which this field was created. Evaluative terminology for games, notions of game genre, and the ‘gamer’ identity were produced and circulated through the pages of these publications, which were instrumental in creating the new culture. Computer Games and the Social Imaginary examines the discourse through which gaming established itself as a legitimate cultural practice with its own more or less autonomous standards and criteria. Understanding the logic of gaming as a cultural field enables us to identify what games and cannot do and to examine the sociological significance of the activity in a wider sense.

 

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