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Title: Developing the International Game Canon
Supervisor: Michael Heron

Game studies, encompassing a wide variety of media such as video games, board games and roleplaying games, lacks anything as defined as a rigorously defensible canon of great works (c.f. Howe, 1991). This lack of common ground massively fractures the way we can talk, teach, and strategize about games as cultural and technical artefacts. We all agree that there are important games out there. What we disagree about is which games are fairly considered to be candidates for inclusion on a hypothetical list of truly important games. Not only do we lack a canon, we lack the tools necessary to construct a canon. It is this deficit that this project proposal aims to address.

The construction of a canon will always be controversial and reflective of the make-up of its creators. However, dispute and disagreement shows the perceived value of inclusion in a canon – that being a work that is widely acknowledged as having lasting cultural merit is of value (Bloom, 2014). Canons have an inbuilt bias towards reaping the benefits of productive contemplation. That in turn requires the hard work of rigorously dissecting games through a number of technical and academic lenses, and comparing and contrasting often ephemeral elements that do not long survive isolation from their context. All of this to arrive at a meaningful view on what makes a game worthy of deeper study, as opposed to simply being worthy of being played.

Students for this project will work on building a theoretical model of identifying and documenting deep merit in playful experiences – specifically within the frames of video games, board games and roleplaying games. This foundational work will then be further developed into the creation of a canon of especially meritorious games, working collaboratively with scholars across Europe and beyond. PhD students working within this project will be expected to build familiarity with a wide range of games; to critique and deconstruct their fundamental elements; and to create the experimental scenarios under which the social context of play can be interrogated in situ. This project will involve teaching others how to play games; running roleplaying sessions for public events; and conducting qualitative work (surveys, interviews, research studies and focus groups) with relevant stakeholders.

An ideal applicant for this position will be able to demonstrate several key skills. They should have an inquiring mind that can dig beyond surface level aspects of games and discover meaningful intertextual and intratextual connections (Such as Heron & Belford, 2014). They should have broad experience with video games and analog games – including modern hobbyist board-games and tabletop roleplaying games. They should have familiarity with relevant game research techniques (For example, Hunicke et al, 2004) and general qualitative research techniques. They should also have specific familiarity with models of player motivation and gamer categorization (c.f. Yee, 2016). Most of all, they should have a love of games and a desire to raise the quality of gaming discourse.

Suggested Reading

Howe, I. (1991). The value of the canon. New Republic, 204(7), 40-46.
Bloom, H. (2014). The western canon: The books and school of the ages. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Hunicke, R., LeBlanc, M., & Zubek, R. (2004, July). MDA: A formal approach to game design and game research. In Proceedings of the AAAI Workshop on Challenges in Game AI (Vol. 4, No. 1, p. 1722).
Heron, M. J., & Belford, P. H. (2014). Do you feel like a hero yet?. Journal of Games Criticism, 1(2).
Yee, N. (2016). The gamer motivation profile: What we learned from 250,000 gamers. In Proceedings of the 2016 Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play (pp. 2-2).