In the latest installment of the DiGRA Hardcore Column, Diane Carr discusses the role textual analysis can and should play in the study of videogames. Her column, "Un-Situated Play? Textual Analysis and Digital Games," responds specifically to some implications of the DiGRA 2007 call for papers and more generally to the emphasis on structuralist approaches within the field. The value of textual analysis is something that I, as a grad student in an English department, have long taken for granted, so it is refreshing to read Carr's succinct and compelling argument in its favor. In a nutshell, Carr is arguing that we should not dismiss textual analysis for its shortcomings, but rather embrace the strengths that it does offer for understanding games as sites of meaning production.
One such apparent dismissal is typified in the DiGRA CFP:
Carr uses Barthes as her focal point for defining textual analysis, but there are other possibilities as well. For example, my research is very much a textual approach, but I take inspiration from the Textual Studies approach as performed by such scholars as Jerome McGann and Johanna Drucker. In this approach, the material "situatedness" of a text (or videogame) is of central concern, so it would not be fair to criticize it for isolating its objects of study.
Ultimately, Carr is arguing for balance, and that's probably what the DiGRA CFP authors would agree with as well. While one could well argue that there is a predominance of structuralist scholarship on videogames, I don't think there is a critical shortage of textual approaches either. Certainly, there is plenty of work to do, but I don't think it's yet the case that someone (like me) offering game research based on textual analysis is going to be shunned or have a hard time finding venues.
What do you think? Is Diane Carr stating the case too strongly here, or is there really a need to correct the balance?
For more on textual studies and videogames, Steven Jones has a forthcoming (2008) book from Routledge entitled The Meaning of Video Games: Gaming and Textual Strategies. I'm looking forward to it.