Enevold, Jessica, and Esther MacCallum-Stewart (Eds.). Game Love: Essays on Play and Affection. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015. Pp. ix+273. Notes, index. $40.00 paperback.
Reviewed by Colleen English
Game Love: Essays on Play and Affection is admittedly different than most of the books reviewed on this blog. Unlike much scholarship in sport studies, which focuses on the meanings and values of physical games and play, this collection addresses meaning and value in different kinds of games—namely, computer/video games and role-playing games. For the contributors to this anthology, the digital worlds of video games and fictional realms of table-top games act as vehicles for symbolism, metaphor, enjoyment, and human experience. Specifically, this collection investigates, according collection editors Jessica Enevold and Esther MacCallum-Stewart, “the loving bonds that humans create with their technological ‘toys’” (p. 3).
This collection defines the concept of “game love” broadly. All essays in Game Love analyze “love in terms of affections and romantic love and its associated symbols, expressed for games and in games, and between players” (p. 7). The articles featured in the collection focus on how game love is present within the game itself, how players interact with the characters from the game, how symbols and metaphors within games can represent love, and even deviant love behaviors. However, the essays in Game Love do not investigate sex in digital or online communities; instead, the authors choose to focus on romantic affection.
In the first section, “Experiencing and Creating Love in Games,” contributors address how players can produce love in games and how portrayals and representations of game characters are influenced by and influence the player’s identity. For example, Annika Waern focuses on the concept of “bleed” (a term relatively unique to the world of role-playing games), where “the distinction between player and character” is blurred (p. 28). In other words, player and character may share similar emotions. The essays in this section explain that the feelings and affection experienced through characters in games (the authors primarily use role-playing games, such as Dragon Age: Origins and Dungeons & Dragons) can translate to a real, romantic experience of love in players. Their analyses make it clear that players or digital and table-top role playing are not pretending to experience romance but are actually experiencing these feelings.
The next section, entitled “Show It Like You Mean It: Expressions of Love Beyond the Gaming Text,” shifts the focus from experiencing love through characters to the symbolic potential of games to express romance and for game characters to be objects of affection. For example, players may show and develop their love for a specific character through cosplay (costume play) or by writing fan fiction featuring different game characters. Additionally, a love for game characters may also provide a mechanism for experiencing “love shared between players and communities” (p. 117). In her analysis of erotic love among players in the Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), World of Warcraft, Ashley Brown claims that players “are able to experience love, tenderness and friendship within a game” (p. 118).
In the third section, “What’s Love Got to Do with It? Alternative Representations of Love in Games,” the essayists approach game love from an interpretive standpoint. Here, the authors use a variety of theoretical approaches, such as phenomenology, metaphor, and psychoanalysis, to discuss how love and symbols of romance and affection are represented in games. For instance, Shira Chess writes about how the depiction of the heart can carry many symbolic meanings within video games. The heart may function as a meter of the avatar’s health, as a reminder of the emotional health of the character, as a consumable item that may restore health, as an integral part of the game story-line, or as decoration. This section highlights the potential for the digital world to function as a site to “rework traditional forms of analysis with that of the game studies canon” (p. 14).
Finally, the last section, “Bad Love,” demonstrates the complexity of love and its potential for deviant behavior. The authors discuss addiction, in particular addiction to video games, and love for “bad” games, those that “do not meet the most basic quality criteria” (for example, the game is too simple, too difficult, or has poor design and dialogue) (p. 254). The articles in this section point to just how difficult defining love can be.
Overall, Game Love is well-written and well-organized. The authors situate their scholarship both within the game studies world and within the broader field of cultural studies. This anthology is a concise and clear appeal to take games seriously. Games can, according to Game Love, elicit real, human emotions of love, provide avenues for expressing affection, and symbolize romance.
Furthermore, the fact that the authors have “insider” status in the game world provides useful context for the reader. Many of the contributors discuss their own experiences playing these games, participating in cosplay, or even their own feelings of love and affection in game play. While most of the authors do hold academic positions, two contributors work as game designers and developers.
While this book has many strengths, some readers (especially those unfamiliar with game studies or game culture) may run into some difficulties. For example, many of the games discussed in this collection were unfamiliar to me (though I confess, my experience with these kinds of games has been generally limited to the original Nintendo Gameboy). Because the storylines of the games featured in these articles is often important, a familiarity with games like World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, and The Sims would be helpful. However, the authors typically provide in-depth explanations to acquaint the reader with the important aspects of the specific game featured in their articles.
For sport studies scholars, Game Love, provides interesting insight into a different, but very much related field. The writers in this collection reference works that are often widely considered important to scholarly studies of sport, such as Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, Roger Caillois’s Man, Play and Games, and Bendict Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities.” Video/computer games and table-top role playing games share a number of characteristics with sport, including the fact that both can serve as important sites for meaning. For those interested in further pursuing the relationship between meaning and games, Game Love is recommended reading.
Colleen English is an Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Penn State Berks. Her research interests mainly focus on the the historic and philosophic dimensions of gender and sport. In terms of sport history, Colleen focuses primarily on women in roller derby and early women’s Olympic track and field. She recently completed her Ph.D. in Kinesiology, with emphasis in sport philosophy and history, from Penn State University. Colleen received a BS in Kinesiology from Penn State in 2009, where she became a lover of the Nittany Lions.