THE VIDEO GAME THEORY READER Mark Wolf and Bernard Perron, eds. New York: Routledge, 2003, 331 pp.
The Video Game Theory Reader serves as an excellent introduction to video game studies, the history of video game studies, the current positions in the field, and the current problems with video game studies. The Reader manages to argue for and present several important points while avoiding the pitfalls of homogenizing new or existing media forms, and it manages to analyze video games in their own right. In the introduction, after briefly covering the history of video game studies, editor Mark Wolf states that:
The video game is clearly a unique medium and worthy of attention and forms of theory that can address it specifically, narrative elements and conventions taken from other media are still present to a great degree in many games, and a spectrum of positions exist combining ideas and terminology from various movements, even as the terms and definitions are not always agreed upon (11).
Following Wolfs comments, the book is a productive attempt to present the most popular of these current positions and to tentatively define video game theory within the contexts of existing scholarship, while also declaring some of video games' unique and significant attributes. The fourteen essays approach video games from various positions in order to clarify both the nature of the games as a medium as well as current theoretical arguments over them. While the majority of these articles are well written and fruitful, some showcase the current problems with video game studies.
The most useful chapters are those that attempt to establish a critical vocabulary for video game studies; those that study video games for how they operate and the effects of these operations; and those that focus on current critical discussions. Wolfs introduction and his essay "Abstraction in the Video Game" serve to establish some critical vocabulary while connecting his delimitation of terms to the emerging critical vocabulary of theorists such as Lev Manovich and Janet Murray. Likewise, Alison McMahan's "Immersion, Engagement, and Presence: A Method for Analyzing 3-D Video Games" argues fora method of analyzing video games using presence as part of an aesthetic criteria. McMahan's essay draws on the critical concepts of immersion and engagement, both of which, among video game scholars, are hotly debated in connection to interactivity. McMahan's essay also highlights the significance of interface and perspective as components of video game play and theory. Similar to McMahan's essay is Bob Rehak's "Playing at Being: Psychoanalysis and the Avatar," which addresses player perspective and player representation within the field of the game space. Other essays also address identity formation in massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs), embodied experiences with video games, cyborg relationships with technology and entertainment, and war games and visual rhetoric.
In order to investigate the nature of video games as a new medium, The Video Game Theory Reader addresses the complex production and interplay of game designers and theorists; the essay by Walter Holland, Henry Jenkins, and Kurt Squire specifically addresses the need to communicate between game designers and theorists and the need for game theorists to study game design to adequately approach game studies. The Video Game Theory Reader also includes two essays by noted game industry professionals: Warren Robbinett, the famous designer of Adventure, and Chris Crawford, game designer and theorist. Robbinett's foreword helps situate The Video Game Theory Reader as a bridge between designers and theorists, and helps to establish that video games and video game theory, though recent inventions, are not without important histories. This effort is furthered by Crawford's "Interactive Storytelling," which addresses the important arguments in the field about interactivity and narrative. …