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Mikkel Hvid Amstrup


Why Are Games Getting Dumber?

- A Story of Interpretative Flexibility in Designing Games

By Mikkel Hvid Amstrup (mhva)

October 12, 2012

Wordcount: 1000

Mikkel Hvid Amstrup

Why Are Games Getting Dumber?

- A Story of Interpretative Flexibility in Designing Games


When computer games originated it was for the select few. Computers weren’t common and as such, neither were computer games. They were also often extremely difficult, as the discs they were released upon didn’t hold a lot of memory and increasing the difficulty thus made a game last longer without having to add more content. Since then however, a plethora of new socio-technical actors have emerged. New and cheaper computers have made access to games more commonplace, storage memory has increased greatly and there has even been mass production of what is known as consoles, a technological system with the only purpose of playing games; thus making it possible to play games without having to make the major investment of having to buy a high performance computer just for playing games. Games has went from being a pastime for a select few to being a mass media rivaling that of the movie industry, with a net grossing of billions of dollars every year, and with this it have become necessary to appeal to a much wider audience, spreading across many subcultures and with widely varying backgrounds.

This has resulted in the old audience feeling that games are getting “dumbed down” to hit this new very broad crowd varying from the very experienced to the completely inexperienced, from those just looking for entertainment to the people interpreting game as an artform. Therefore they have organized themselves in groups such as 4chans videogame message board “/v/” and the massive online forum “RPGCodex”.

Games have become a subject of interpretive flexibility where several different actors struggle to define its purpose and content. The publishers at one end is claiming that even though games are becoming simplified it is in the process of removing excess fat and “streamlining” and the old audience claiming that the games are getting “dumbed down” and “[made] for the unwashed consoletards”

Mikkel Hvid Amstrup

However, as consumers take on the role of what were once people’s full time jobs such as journalist, through blogs, critics, through sides such as Trustpilot, and even moviemakes, through Youtube, we are beginning to see them moving on to the economic scene as well. Some are not content with being just the consumers anymore; they want to be the publishers; and to this end they have Kickstarter.

With this new tool, a site where it is possible to fund the projects that you want to see published, games that would not normally be published due to its limited audience is starting to see the light again, and already millions of dollars have been invested in not only games, but also new platforms for these games to be released and developed upon. Now the blackbox of game design is being reopened as the old audience once again has an opportunity to participate in defining the content and purpose of games.


I believe this controversy to be relevant to the Society and Technology course as it is taking an artifact which has long been blackboxed, and which is now again subject to interpretative flexibility and redefinition and describing the different actors and their part in this redefinition, a large part of the course being how different actors influence how an artifact ends up looking like, and in this process describes the inseparability of society and technology.

It is relevant because this controversy goes against the technological deterministic attitude of the best technology imposing itself by its merits alone, since there is no best way to make something that is this subjective and instead goes beyond that to see the different actors that plays a part in the definition of the content of this genre.

Furthermore it is relevant because it analyses artifacts as actors on level with human actors, as described by Bruno Latours actor network theory

Research question

As we have seen, the blackbox of how to design games are once again being opened, after many years of closure. This leads us to the the main question: How are games being defined and how is this definition changing?

Mikkel Hvid Amstrup

This however leads us to a series of sub questions:

Which actors plays a part in this definition? What is their interest in this controversy? How large a part do they play? How do these different actors, not only the human, but the technical actors such as the consoles, the new, cheaper computers and the Kickstarter site try to define this genre, and to what success? These questions call for a socio-technical approach to get the right tools to investigate and analyze this process.

Therefore, I will use Bruno Latours actor network theory throughout this project to investigate the different actors defining games; both RPGCodex and /v/, some of the main critics against the current state of games, the publishers themselves, the new Kickstarter initiative and the users who are quite content with the current state of affairs, and investigate these in depth as well as plot them on the certainty trough.

I will then move on to investigate how the game genre is being defined using SCOT, a theory that was described by Massimiano Bucchi, by showing how these different actors influence the game genre, and extrapolate this to see where a closure is likely to be made and what stable form the game genre is likely to achieve.

Last but not least I will use Thomas P Hughes works on large technological systems to describe the large technological system of game development and see how the different components are changing as the game genre itself is being redefined. As components in the technological system is changing, so much the different components in contact with these components change themselves or become reverse salients.


I am using a wide array of empirical sources, both public statements made by major game corporations, forum messages from RPGCodex.com and 4chans videogame board and an ethnographic interview with an administrator from the board of RPGCodex.com.

There will however also be academic sources, defining several theories and methods that will be applied to the case to give a nuanced and in depth view of the case at hand.

Mikkel Hvid Amstrup

Academic Sources

Hughes, Thomas P. (1989) “The Evolution of Large Technological Systems”. In W. E. Bijker, T. P. Hughes and T. Pinch (eds.) The Social Construction of Technological Systems — New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 51-82.

Bucchi, Massimiano (2004) “Tearing Bicycles and Missiles Apart” in Science in Society: An Introduction to the Social Studies of Science, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 77-92.

Latour, Bruno (1992) “Where Are the Missing Masses: Sociology of a Few Mundane Artefacts”, In W. Bijker and J. Law (eds) Shaping Technology/Building Society — Studies in Sociotechnical Change. Cambridge, Ma: MIT Press, pp. 225-259.

European Journal of Information Systems (2006) 15, 569–582. doi:10.1057/palgrave.ejis.3000653 A re-conceptualization of the interpretive flexibility of information technologies: redressing the balance between the social and the technical Neil F Doherty 1 , Crispin R Coombs 1 and John Loan-Clarke 1

Empirical Sources