What we need is a grammar of understanding, a way of describing how meaning making occurs in and around videogames. We’ve already made some progress across various disciplines and discourses, from design and art theory to cultural studies and educational applications. Often these approach games by examining what they mean. I care less about what videogames mean than how they mean it. I’ll leave meanings to critics; I care about the ways they mean, the perceptual features, the structures that support the creation of meaning. These are questions which inform both the making and playing of games. Indeed, I feel strongly that questions of meaning serve as a unifying space for both ends of videogames, design and play. Often it’s easy to treat these as wholly separate dimensions, where play is simply an emergent property of the design of the game, or where players interact with a “text” that comes pre-packaged and is simply decoded. I think this stems not from ignorance of the interdependent nature of design and play but in issues of access: critics from either dimension often lack effective ways to interact with and interrogate what the “other side” is doing, from the actual process of design and development to the multitudes of ways to play. Instead, it is far more productive to conceive of games as both designed and enacted.
This is why I feel how meaning happens (or doesn’t) is so important: it provides a more robust vocabulary across the practices of making games and enacting them. Continue reading