Pitt-Johnstown professors led video games in academia seminar

Josalyn McMillan, Editor-in-Chief

On Thursday, Oct. 20, Dr. Paul Lucas and Dr. Mark DiMauro held the first humanities colloquium at the Pitt-Johnstown campus in more than half a decade. Their presentation focused upon the field of video games studies, or ludology. The professors used the lecture to discuss the value of video games in terms of art and academia.

Lucas, a Communication Professor at UPJ, has been researching and writing about video games and pop culture since he attended college. He even wrote his master’s thesis on the video game series Animal Crossing. “When I first started researching video games, it was not taken seriously at all, most people didn’t even find it to be of value,” Lucas said. “It’s only been about, maybe four to six years that they finally have a video game studies division in the National Communication [Association] Conference.”

Lucas teaches Media Criticism at UPJ, and for about the first month of the course, his class analyzes the storytelling perspective of video games. He believes video games have become increasingly mainstream but that the scholarship on the subject has been trailing behind in research for as long as video games have been a part of popular culture. Lucas notes that “this medium is evolving so rapidly. If we really wanna keep up with it culturally, I think we should be giving it a lot more attention in our research, but it’s definitely not there.”

Dr. Mark DiMauro, a professor of English Literature and Multimedia and Digital Culture, teaches Introduction to Game Studies at UPJ, which he plans to offer in both the upcoming spring and summer semesters. This class examines the critical study of gaming as narratives and the roles that games play in society and culture. The class focuses on video games but also examines other forms of games such as board games, role-playing games, and literary games.

During the colloquium, DiMauro noted that when analyzing video games as an artform, we should think about The Stanley Parable, an experimental, narrative-driven first-person game. It offers us a perfect example of the literary value of studying video games. It shows us how, unlike more traditional literary mediums such as movie scripts and books, the player’s interactive experience is a key factor of its narrative. The player’s choices allow them to be a co-author of the video game, and the result is a unique narrative that has the potential to be an art form.

Lucas, likewise, discussed The Last of Us game and its storytelling abilities. He explained how by playing an active instead of a passive role in the progression of the plot, the player is more involved in the outcome of the game. They feel the emotions of the characters more deeply by experiencing them “first-hand,” which Lucas believes is a very effective tool in storytelling. This aspect of games is the reason why they deserve an entirely different kind of analysis about their aesthetic and academic merit. The personalized experience that games offer players is what differentiates them and inspires their own field of study: ludology. This is the reason it is so important to discuss these narratives differently than we discuss traditional artistic and literary forms.

The current plan is to hold at least one humanities colloquium a semester. Lucas believes these colloquiums deserve a revival on the UPJ campus since they both offer a chance for professors to present an idea that they are considering for a future conference presentation or publication, and they offer our students a great opportunity to learn about scholarly projects their professors are working on. Lucas noted that he thinks “it also shows a lot of students on campus stuff we’re doing that they may never otherwise be aware that we’re doing.”