Markku Eskelinen's response to Julian Raul Kucklich

Markku Eskelinen's response to Julian Raul Kucklich

2004-10-19

Markku Eskelinen reiterates the bounds of ludology.

It’s very hard to figure out in what way Julian Kucklich’s remarks could constitute a relevant response to my essay. He says next to nothing about what I argue in my paper and doesn’t provide specific counter-arguments to my treatment of ludology and narratology. In short, as Kucklich doesn’t debate in a reasonable academic manner, he wouldn’t even deserve a proper reply.

Kucklich spends the first half of his “response” in attacking his own fabrications and choosing to pretend that ludologists are against interdisciplinarity and don’t define their concepts except tautologically. These claims are both absurd and unfounded and in their ignorance more suitable to be published in the continuous amateur hour of Kucklich’s blog than in any serious scholarly context.

Let me try to explain this like I would to a child. The ludological slogan “games should be studied as games” is based on game definitions, and means (among other things) that games have primary characteristics such as rules, goals, and the necessity of more than interpretative player effort. They are primary because without them there would be no games, and however hard and disappointing it may be to some scholars, these primary features can’t be adequately explained, theorised and analyzed by theories uncritically imported from other fields (including literary and film studies). This uncritical tendency of ignoring and downplaying dominant game-specific features, and not interdisciplinarity, was what the ludologists opposed and did so rather fiercely in 2001 when I wrote my First Person essay as a response to the first wave of narrativist nonsense.

It was and it is clear to me that also the premises and presuppositions of reception studies and “generations of audience research” should be modified before they could be used in computer game research. This is based on three modest observations: first, by definition the audience members are not supposed to play against each other; second, games don’t require an audience as a necessary part of their communication structure, and third, gameplay can’t be reduced to reception.

In other words, “it should be self-evident we can’t apply print narratology, hypertext theory, film, or theatre and drama studies directly to computer games”. Kucklich says this claim makes me a colonist, but I fail to see and Kucklich certainly fails to show how and why this common sense claim is unreasonable or could be seriously contested.

In retrospect, I think that the early ludological research and the debates around it, even the most misinformed ones, have been constitutional to the field of game studies or at least have helped it to take shape and mature. I believe there are less and less scholars in 2004 than there were in 2001 believing they can just take their favourite readymade theories off the shelf and project them blindly to computer games. In fact, without the counter-examples of Julian Kucklich and his response I would have thought this type of scholarship was already a thing of the past.

Markku Eskelinen