As I play Carcassone (occasionally, as I’m not good enough to play online with what is a very polished game-playing community), I think back to my days playing games like Starcraft and Starcraft 2, real-time strategy games that involve conquest. Carcassone features the ability to claim territory, but players don’t get to blow shit up (what’s the point then, eh?), whereas in the Starcraft series players can assuage all their desires to cause the death of millions of pixelated characters.
My question here arises from danah boyd’s concept of context collapse. While I don’t think of myself as an academic necessarily (at my university we teach so many courses that maintaining the type of scholarly production that the Research 1 schools maintain is nearly impossible, especially if one likes to sleep occasionally), I do try to stay engaged in scholarly discourse, especially in areas that concern and fascinate me, and boyd’s ideas about context collapse make a lot of sense. As she describes in It’s Complicated context collapse results when folks (and her research focuses on teens for the most part) try to negotiate the often wildly-varying contexts that social media platforms present them. She’s mostly concerned about young people (in particular, she looks at how the Intertoobz both open up opportunities for young people – finding communities of people who are protesting police violence, bullying, homophobia – and exposes them to flak from those who would not otherwise have known their interests – parents, police, employers, and so on).
I’m not a young person, but at the time in my life when I played a couple of Blizzard games semi-regularly, Starcraft was one, and my ability to negotiate different worlds felt challenged. I was able to channel my fascination with scholarly pursuits, even if the field wasn’t all that well-developed at the time, but the feeling that I had to keep that part of my life separate or hidden from my “real” work was powerful. Thus, context collapse as I think that boyd sees it.
All this is less interesting, I think, then looking at where the collapse occurred, and now occurs. It’s hard for me to imagine that Carcassone is somehow more acceptable among academics than Starcraft, but maybe the lack of bloodshed makes that so. The context in which I play the game, though, is one in which I hope to get good enough to play other humans online, and that involves exposure to other possible contexts. I’m not on Facebook, so Facebook won’t reveal me somehow, but it’s still a question that bugs me.
Questions of how the game functions on a ludic scale will have to wait until next time…