First Person Scholar aims for critical play and better gaming

Friday, December 5, 2014

First Person Scholar team

“We’re all doing this because we like to play games,” says Emma Vossen, who together with Steve Wilcox are the driving force behind the website First Person Scholar. The site’s name points to FPS, a common acronym that denotes First Person Shooter video and online games, repurposed by the team of English graduate students to represent critical thinking in the industry. “If you make more critical players,” says Wilcox, “they are going to demand more critically designed games,” – and enriching and challenging the gaming experience is one of the key goals of First Person Scholar.

As an online publication, First Person Scholar (FPS) straddles journalism and scholarship by seeking to expand the role of the game critic via reviews, essays, interviews, and commentaries. Wilcox, editor-in-chief of the publication, describes the site as having a knowledge translation focus. “We want to make game scholarship accessible to those working in the gaming industry as well as to academics.” FPS was started three years ago in conjunction with The Games Institute, a research centre based in the Faculty of Arts, and is run exclusively by current and former English PhD students.

The site recently received a huge boost in traffic when Wilcox and Vossen posted an article about GamerGate, a controversial movement declaiming unethical games journalism and what is described as a cultural war against women and diversification in gaming. When the article, written by American academic Katharine Cross, and was cited in The New Yorker and Huffington Post, the First Person Scholar website attracted  20,000 international users in a single week.

“We want to create a safe space that is open and inviting, and conducive to critical and conscientious game criticism,” explains Wilcox. He and Vossen explain that there is a resistance in game culture to the subjective player. The non-academic approach to games is to treat them objectively – apolitical and genderless. “Games reflect the person or people making them. Most developers and programmers are men. It’s hard for women to become game-makers,” says Vossen. “Talented women are leaving the field. I would be lying if I said I haven’t also considered it.”

As for future developments of First Person Scholar, Wilcox has many projects on the go. The first is a partnership with PAIDIA, a German game journal. The two publications will select, translate and cross-post articles to expand their reach and bridge cultural/language barriers. FPS is also in talks with another journal about shared content, and a research group dedicated to increasing publications on women in gaming.

“One of my biggest driving forces in running FPS” says Wilcox, “is to talk about games at a time when researchers, academic institutions and industry are interested in joining this conversation about producing and playing games -we can see our criticism having an impact beyond academia.” Explaining that she considers games a form of art, Vossen adds, “I’ve been playing games my whole life; I just wish they were better. I want to see gaming improve as an art form.”

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