Exploring the interface

What will you find on this site?

Video games are an emergent, increasingly dominant entertainment medium, reconfiguring the space and pace of our leisure time, the quotidian moments of bus rides and coffee-shop lines, the strategies of teachers, the management of fretful children at restaurants, and the training of soldiers. We play video games on dedicated consoles and fifty-five inch flat screens, on mobile phones and company-owned laptops, on sidewalks and in city parks, in arenas for million-dollar prizes, in classrooms, in hospitals, in the war rooms of empire.

We play video games whose costs, crews, and profits rival those of Hollywood superhero punch-em-ups. We play video games crafted by independent designers at weekend game jams. We play video games that are obviously games and we play those that aren’t so obvious, like the one my insurance provider makes me to play in order to earn a better rate.

We play video games for fun (no, that insurance game is not fun). We play them to escape. We play them to learn. We play them to connect. We play them to learn how to kill and conquer. We play them to be moved, to think, to explore and experience.

I believe we need to play smarter, play more thoughtfully, and play with a keener understanding of how video games work, how video game players play, and how video games are part of who we are and what we’re becoming, both individually and as a global community. To do that, we need to think not only about what video games have to say about us, but what we have to say about video games.

That’s what I want to do with this blog. Relying on almost a half century of experience playing video games, a half decade of teaching video game studies to undergraduate and graduate students, and my own scholarly research on games, literature, theater, and performance, I want to share a few ideas about what video games are, what they mean, and how they shape–and are shaped–by social, historical, political, and personal forces.

What I’m generally not going to do here is write about video games as such. There are lots of smart people writing about video games–both individual games and games as a medium. (I’ve listed a few of my favorite websites over there on the right.) Instead, I want to write about the literature and theatre of video games; in other words, short stories and graphic novels whose characters play video games, plays about neighborhoods transformed into first-person shooters, television series and movies that use video games to create a sense of historical reality, augmented reality performances that mix theatrical performance and video games, poetry that uses Pac-Man and Link as metaphors, fan fiction and cosplay that transform big-budget AAA fantasy into something personal and intimate.

In other words, I’m going to write about the stories we tell about video games, the poems we make out of them, the performances of players, the theater of sitting on a chair with a controller in hand and a screen before our eyes.

Who am I?

I’m an internationally recognized scholar of the avant-garde, the Black Arts Movement, and modern world drama, theater, and performance. I’ve written a couple of books: Avant-Garde Performance and the Limits of Criticism (2005), the publication that inaugurated the Critical Vanguard Studies movement, and The Avant-Garde: Race Religion War (2011), an interdisciplinary genealogy of the avant-garde concept. I’m the editor of the 1960s volume of the multi-volume Decades of American Playwriting series (2018), Avant-Garde Performance and Material Exchange (2011) and Ed Bullins: Twelve Plays and Selected Writings (2006). My essays have appeared in African American Review, modernism/modernity, New Literary History, TDR, Theatre Journal, and Theatre Survey as well as in anthologies published by Blackwell, Cambridge University, Oxford University, Palgrave Macmillan, and the University of Michigan. My scholarly achievements were honored by IUP in 2013 when he was awarded the prestigious IUP University Senate Distinguished Faculty Award for Research. I regularly review submissions to Theatre Journal, Theatre Survey, Modern Drama, African American Review, Blackwell Publishing Inc., the University of Michigan Press, Palgrave Macmillan Press, and Routledge.

My interest in literature is interdisciplinary and cross-media. For example, my research on dramatic literature focuses not only on the printed text, but on the many contexts in which that text might be staged and the many ways it might be performed. My work on the Black Arts Movement crosses the lines among literature, music, film, sculpture, and painting—and the lines between art and theory about art.

And that’s why I find videogames so fascinating. To play videogames, we have to use multiple skills and many forms of literacy–visual literacy, textual literacy, haptic literacy, and so on. To study videogames, we have to bring to bear multiple disciplines–computer science, art history, philosophy, theater studies, performance theory, and literary criticism.

I’m as passionate about teaching as I am scholarship. I won four teaching excellence awards while a graduate student at the University of Michigan, including the prestigious Rackham Graduate School Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award and Grant. But I am most proud of the three Outstanding Professor of the Year, two Outstanding Adviser of the Year, and the Mentor of the Year honors he has earned at IUP, because these were awarded by student organizations based on student recommendations and votes.

When I’m not reading, writing, or teaching, I’m usually with my family, playing video and board games. I’m an enthusiastic follower of Premier League soccer and roots for Chelsea. I play, too, very badly. My Twitter timeline focuses on the avant-garde (#AvantGardeDocs), power, politics, family stuff, absurdity, and the Premier League. You can follow me @mike_sell and my Twitter feed is over there on the right, if you’d like to check it out.