Clara Fernández-Vara SM ’04 has read her share of mediocre game reviews, whether in commercial video game journals or on industry blogs. In a new book, Introduction to Game Analysis, Fernández-Vara hopes to raise the level of discourse for the field of game theory, one that has gained traction in recent years as a field worthy of academic interest. Listen to the podcast here.
“Games are not only a technology-driven field, but a humanities and social sciences field [too],” says Fernández-Vara. “I see a lot of teachers who want to include games in their curriculum…even though the book is aimed at students, I would hope that professors and teachers would find it useful in thinking about how they incorporate games in their curriculum.”
In one respect, the book is a history of modern gaming, covering everything from Monopoly to Minecraft. While its intended audience is those considering an academic career in game theory, the book sets out a strong argument for critics of the field who might not yet deem it worthy enough for funding at major research universities.
To counter the mediocre game analysis out there, Fernández-Vara points to exemplary analysis in her book that has inspired her and her students. “I’ve been really happy to see that there are now monographic volumes that analyze one single game like Silent Hill or Doom or Myst,” she says. “It’s fantastic, because you’re showing that games have the kind of depth and complexity that other media might have.”
Is Tetris, for instance, “the perfect enactment of the overtasked lives of Americans in the 1990s”? What rhetorical devices did Super Mario Brothers designers employ to teach a new player the rules? How do transdiegetic sounds in a game inform a character or player about future events? Fernández-Vara and her sources entertain such questions.
After earning her master’s in 2004, Fernández-Vara was named visiting scholar at the Trope Tank and worked for five years at the MIT GAMBIT Game Lab, both labs within the MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing department. She is now an Associate Arts Professor at the Game Center at New York University.