Playing with Peripherals

Curator's Note

“It was an experience. How do we hold on to the experience?” These words – spoken by Ouisa Kittredge near the end of John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation – prompted me to start a conversation about the material, embodied elements of playing with peripherals. Breaking a joystick while playing Pole Position, running on the NES Power Pad, and calming a dog named Venus who gets nervous when one of her owners loses her balance on the dance mat are examples of how peripherals change play. I want to think about the challenges that peripherals – dance pads, guns, steering wheels, cameras and various types of joysticks – pose to analyses of the experience of play in game studies. Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), Karaoke Revolution, and Guitar Hero highlight the ways that bodies, algorithms, game interfaces, and peripherals enable and constrain game play. The remixed clips of DDR Extreme 2 with the Eyetoy, the attempt to recapture the joy of playing with NES Power Pad, and a master gamer reaching his/her 100th combo illustrate the ways that the experience of playing with peripherals is linked to what Lev Manovich has called the “human-computer-culture interface,” memories of gaming and techno-nostalgia, and the physicality of gaming. Radio, television, and film historians have employed a variety of perspectives and research methods to talk about the investments and pleasures of audiences. What can we learn from these histories? What can we translate from audience studies to help us develop more nuanced accounts of play? How do we talk about the experience of playing with peripherals in our writing and in our classrooms? Game on…


Great set of questions, Ben. I wonder whether we struggle all the more to answer them *in the classroom* since those things are very rarely in the classroom. Classrooms can at least approximate movie theaters and television, but it's a lot harder to get gaming equipment into the class (and onto some unis' old techno-setups). I've taught a single class (ie: not a course) on computer games each year I've taught, and *by far* the best discussion I ever got was when I hauled my PS2 into class once and had people playing while the discussion went on.

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