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Playing the Past: History and Nostalgia in Video Games

Editor: Zach Whalen, Laurie N. Taylor
Publisher: Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2008
Review Published: August 2009

 REVIEW 1: Carly A. Kocurek
 AUTHOR RESPONSE: Zach Whalen

First I would like to thank Carly Kocurek for this thoughtful review, and RCCS for including Playing the Past in its list of featured books this month. Looking at this collection nearly a year after its publication, Laurie and I hope that others see the strength of these essays and the significance of a shared set of arguments that we think delineates an important thread in game studies as well as new media studies more generally.

This review is generally positive, so I am writing this response just to address a few points from the review and also provide some comments about how I think the collection contributes to recent sholarly conversation around videogames.

Kocurek, in her evaluation of Playing the Past, correctly identifies the nuanced, double sense of historical perspective we hoped would be come through: historical events as videogame subject, and videogames as subjects of personal history. Videogames are, in other words, both subjects of history and subject to history, and in this temporal framework, nostalgia operates on a modal register, imparting value and structuring subjectivity within these backward glances. What these essays represent is a variety of disciplinary perspectives on this topic, and in collecting these essays, Laurie and I felt that this inter-disciplinary (or post-disclipinary) scope gives appropriate breadth to a concept as potentially expansive as historicity and videogames.

Since Kocurek's criticizes (gently) the relevance of certain essays within the collection, but correctly relays our intended argument, it is fair to acknowledge that some of the essays do stretch the thesis of the collection somewhat, without undermining, we hope, the coherence of the accumulative discussion. Including these essays was, however, a deliberate choice because it allows us to extend the scope of the collection to address videogames situated in specific contexts, including relationships with other media and digital platforms.

Along these lines, I think Playing the Past holds up well as a contribution to the recent material turn in new media studies, exemplified by new keywords like platform studies and critical code studies. In Playing the Past, Terry Harpold's and Ruffin Bailey's essays in particular are anchored by a close reading of game code, and Murphy's discussion of the Nokia N-Gage provides important data and insight on a platform that now appears in mainstream videogame discourse as a punchline or an entry on lists like "The 10 Worst Video Game Systems of All Time." Still, the N-Gage is the awkward, taco-shaped ancestor of the iPhone App Store, and Murphy's essay on this device helps illuminate a nascent phase in the development of now-ubiquitous mobile gaming.

Finally, this collection was certainly a lot of work, and Laurie and I are grateful that RCCS and this reviewer found it worthwhile. We hope that this exposure can bring even more readers to these top notch essays by our contributors.

Zach Whalen

<zwhalen@umw.edu>

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