Game Time

New book takes a scholarly look into the world of video games

Written by Annie Beckmann
Photography by Chris Joseph Taylor
September 11, 2012
Maybe you think video games are for introverted teenage boys who aren’t old enough to drive and spend countless hours perched in front of the TV or computer playing their favorite virtual game.
Well, bust that stereotype wide open. Seattle University’s Chris Paul, an assistant professor of communication and women’s studies, says more adult women play video games (37 percent) than boys younger than 17 (just 17 percent). Even more surprising—the average age of a gamer is 37.
Paul is a gaming world wizard whose new book, Wordplay and the Discourse of Video Games, explores the cultural aspects of video games. And, as he investigates this very contemporary topic, he’s gaining recognition for using the age-old tools of rhetorical criticism—what he calls wordplay—to understand and analyze gaming.
While it’s not exactly akin to online dating, gaming can bring people with similar interests together in real life, Paul says. “Games are becoming increasingly social."

Wordplay and the Discourse of Video Games is more than just a scholarly work for Paul, who describes how gaming enhanced his relationship with his dad and created a common bond for them both. They teamed up on games such as the Legend of Zelda, where Paul’s dad would grind through the content, then yell “boss fight”—a signal that it was his son’s turn to jump into the game.
“There’s a difference between how men and women play games, too,” Paul says. “The ones played by women are shorter. My mom might play a little every day, but doesn’t consider herself a gamer. Dad, though, settles in with a bowl of snacks and plans on playing awhile.”
On the gender front, Paul says that as gaming continues to draw different kinds of people there is greater variety in games as well.
“For all the same reasons that diversity is a key value for SU, increased diversity among gamers should have value for the games’ industry,” says Paul. “The more that gamers are representative of a broader slice of society, the more interesting games should become.”
For those who have doubts about the scholarly nature of video games, some of the people who grew up playing video games now have PhDs, Paul points out. 
In recent years, Paul’s research led to presentations at cutting-edge conferences on digital-game research in England, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden. A National Science Foundation workshop in Southern California sought him out to get his take on the future of computer games. 
This past spring, Paul gave a talk on EA Sports, the developer of sports video games, at a conference in Boston. He described how EA Sports’ recent emphasis on online play increases its control over how its games are played, while offering more opportunities to monetize its games.
When he studied rhetoric at the University of Minnesota, where he received his master’s degree and PhD, Paul first explored the construct of modern-day feminist journals. Soon he developed a method for rhetorical analysis of the World Wide Web, a topic that became his doctoral dissertation.
“It became apparent that what I was doing with the web could be done with games as well,” he says. “How they’re made to be meaningful and influential, the persuasive and social dynamics of games are all important.”
It’s Paul’s fifth year at SU and he’s pleased with how compelling and interesting his students are. “For me, it’s a push to do better, ask hard questions and give good answers,” he says.
He teaches two classes each term that include critical analysis of digital media, gender and film, and video games, communication and culture. 
When student Marques Hollins, ’12, tells his pals he took a course on video games, the response he gets is “How easy is that?”
Yet Hollins and others in the class say it was the toughest of their courses. 
Kainoa Cambra, ’12, says there’s so much content in each class, Paul doesn’t make it easy on students. Hollins had taken other classes from Paul and was intrigued by the history of video games and the strides from the days of game arcades to the proliferation of online gaming.
“Everyone around the world is playing video games now,” he says.
Chris Paul has taught at the College of Arts & Sciences for five years and his video game class is popular among gamers and non-gamers alike.
Many students who take Paul's video games course say it is one of their toughest classes.