Stories about play, theorizing play, designing play

What will you find on this site?

Games are both an ancient part of culture, but also an increasingly dominant entertainment medium, particularly in the form of videogames. Indeed, videogames are 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. But the presence of games extends far before and beyond videogames. We play tabletop roleplaying games in basements with our families, board games with strangers in hobby shops, sports in stadia that hold a hundred thousand spectators, and just about everywhere else one can imagine: sidewalks and city parks, in classrooms, in hospitals, in the war rooms of empire.

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

We play 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 games work, how game players play, and how 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 games have to say about us, but what we have to say about games.

That’s what I want to do with this blog. Relying on almost a half century of experience playing games, a half decade of teaching game studies to undergraduate and graduate students, and my own scholarly research on games, literature, theater, and performance, I want to share my ideas about what 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 games as such. There are lots of smart people writing about 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 of games, what I like to call “playful literature”: short stories and graphic novels whose characters play games, plays about neighborhoods transformed into first-person shooters, television series and movies that use games to create a sense of historical reality, augmented reality performances that mix theatrical performance and games, poetry that uses Pac-Man and Link as metaphors, fan fiction and cosplay that transform big-budget AAA fantasies into something personal and intimate, memoirs about Friday-night game sessions with friends.

In other words, I’m going to write about the stories we tell about 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, the moments we spent with a handful of dice and fantasies of being a hero in an alien world. I’m going to write about the literature of play and about how we play with literature.

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.

More recently, my focus has turned to games and play. With Michael M. Chemers of the University of California, Santa Cruz, I have written Systemic Dramaturgy: A Handbook for the Digital Age. I have written multiple essays on playful literature, including movies about videogames, the immersive qualities of tabletop roleplaying games, the theatrical techniques that go into effective TTRPG game management, and other topics.

I am the founder and director of the Digital Storygame Project, a public digital humanities initiative that supports K-16 teachers to incorporate into their curricula creative coding, design thinking, and ethically oriented storytelling. The DSP has worked with over a dozen teachers and hundreds of students in middle schools, high schools, and universities across Western Pennsylvania to develop not just writing and design skills, but decision literacy, extending the mindsets required to create engaging, memorable interactive narratives beyond the classroom.

In sum, I believe games matter and I want you to believe that, too!