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Novel in ways that can be equally frustrating and liberating, Gamer Theory does ultimately offer a smart, sophisticated, and altogether different sort of take on gaming as a cultural, technological, and – yes – rhetorical phenomenon. Make no mistakes: this is not a book that points the way to any concrete interpretive or pedagogical program for gaming. Nor does Wark allow much wiggle room for readers not already somewhat familiar with (and receptive of) the philosophies and approaches of Debord and Caillois, with their concomitant emphases on broad ideological abstractions at the expense of tighter and more concrete analyses. However, Gamer Theory's value is rhetorical in the best possible sense of the term. Its approach is multifaceted, its emphasis is much more on production than interpretation, and above all it looks at games as possibilities — necessarily local, material, and contingent possibilities at that -- for making sense of the world.

But where gamer theory gets stuck is in the tension between thinking games through the forms of the past and the desire to found a – some what hasty – claim to a "new" field or "topic" of scholarship around some "new media." Is the game about story or play? Is the authoritative method "narratology" or "ludology"? Questions too ill-framed to answer. The question of the form of the game cannot be separated from the form of the world – of gamespace [topology]. (67)

Engaging those possibilities necessitates a broad and multidisciplinary framework, which readers will find fully on display in Wark's writing. The book sustains its engagement through a rigorous and possibly intimidating array of theories on play, gaming, and digital media, all through the lens of 20th century continental philosophy from Heidegger and the Frankfurt School to the French Situationists and more contemporary presences like Giorgio Agamben. Through the Situationists in particular, and through multiple references to the works of Guy Debord, Wark looks for ways of reacting creatively and constructively to the cultural and intellectual climate. Part of describing what “being now is,” as he declares part of the book's project to be, is also the project of dealing with the emergent apparatus of electronic media, suggesting that Wark can be productively read in the context of the “applied grammatology” work of Gregory Ulmer, with its emphases on developing inventiveness and creativity as a way of solving problems in the world.

Though much of those theoretical underpinnings may be too challenging for undergraduates, the complex ways that the book engages media studies, theory, geography, and rhetorics of technology and invention could make the book an ideal resource in a variety of graduate-level contexts. Given the book's emphasis on individual “allegorithmic” interpretations and reconstructions of games, an equally ideal venue for Gamer Theory would be a graduate-level class on digital rhetoric that emphasizes production. (Given the alphabet book construction of Gamer Theory, perhaps an ideal project could be to have students engage a game and add a chapter to Wark's project?)

Or to put it differently: look past the confusing and possibly unfamiliar controller. Gamer Theory is worth playing.




Works Cited

Aarseth, Espen. (2001) Computer Game Studies: Year One. Game Studies, 1.1: Retrieved from

Bogost, Ian. (2007) Persuasive Games. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Caillois, Roger. (2000) Man, Play, and Games. (Meyer Barash, Trans.). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Castronova, Edward. (2007) Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun is Changing Reality. New York: Palgrave/MacMillan.

Frasca, Gonzalo. (2003) “Simulation vs. Narrative.” In Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron (eds.),The Video Game Theory Reader (pp. 221-36). New York: Routledge.

Galloway, Alexander. (2006)Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Huizinga, Johan. (1950) Homo Ludens: A Study in the Play-Element of Culture. Boston: Beacon Press.

Juul, Jasper. (2005) Half-Real: Video Games Between Rules and Fictional Worlds. Cambridge: MIT Press.

LeFebvre, Henri. (1991) The Production of Space. (Donald Nicholson-Smith, Trans.). Oxford:Blackwell.

Lyotard, Jean-Francois. (1984)The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. (Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Sirc, Geoffrey. (2002) English Composition as a Happening. Logan, UT: University of Utah Press.

Ulmer, Gregory. (2003) Internet Invention: From Literacy to Electracy. New York: Longman.

Vitanza, Victor J. (1997) Negation, Subjectivity, and the History of Rhetoric. Albany: SUNY Press.

Wark, Mckenzie. (2007) Gamer Theory. Cambridge: Harvard UP.