Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Do Androids Count Electric Sheep?

"You mean old books?"
"Stories written before space travel but about space travel."
"How could there have been stories about space travel before --"
"The writers," Pris said, "made it up."
― Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The art world is full of new genres, those emerging in the last handful of decades. In modern fashion, you see clothing on the catwalk exposing women's busts in the 70's from Saint Laurent of France. In literature, you see fantasy novels beginning with Tolkien's works in the late '30s and mid 50's (though scientific/planetary romances and the sci-fi works of Verne, Wells, and others, as well as fairy tales, myths, and folklore certainly influenced the distinct genre). In the broader Humanities and the field of computer science, you see the development of the Digital Humanities (or DH) some time in the middle of the 20th century. Around the same time, video games entered the scene and soon exploded into a bona fide mass medium. While the term "video game" predates that of "the Digital Humanities," it's somewhat unclear which truly came first. Moreover, the ideals of these two concepts overlap in many places. This begs the question: Should video games fall under the umbrella of the Digital Humanities? Were video games the first element to DH, or, similar to stories of space travel, did they predate the actual birth of the field?

Sports have frequently been looked down upon by those in the Humanities. They are considered crude and animalistic or basic and soulless. Yet sports can be just as human as the broader Humanities. Player storylines and such may be absent from Pong, the first video game to achieve commercial success, but this simple game of table tennis did well to represent human struggle, a key theme of the Humanities. It seems wrong to not consider a video game even as simple as Pong to belong to the Digital Humanities.

If Pong falls under DH, plenty of other video games should too. Not every game may fit the bill, such as Klondike/Solitaire or Tetris; however, many other games contain characteristics of the Humanities that seem to make them DH. Sports games like Madden and FIFA should be counted automatically. Puzzle-based games may draw more questioning. Does playing "I Spy" rouse enough creative inquiry to fall under the Humanities? Tactical strategy games, especially those with characterization and rich storylines, should definitely count as DH. The Fire Emblem series knows what's up, that's for sure. Each individual game could be put to a test to determine whether it should be DH or not. That test is not for us to make, at least not at the moment.

It is still hard to say how the timeline plays out for DH and video games. Video games may have started the field off or come in early on. They may have just jumped on the bandwagon. Only one thing is clear: many video games should count under the Digital Humanities. Which ones those are is just a little harder to determine.

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