The National Museum of Science and Technology’s project The Worlds of Computer Games ran from 2013 to 2018. It involved three researchers with different backgrounds studying the social aspects of the use of computer games. The aim with this project was to understand how the characteristics of computer games and their use are connected in order to get a picture of what influence computer games have on culture and social life.
Altogether, the world’s gamers spend some 3 billion hours per week on gaming. This corresponds to 342,465 years of human experience – per week. By the age of 21, an average gamer has spent 10,000 hours playing computer games, which is more hours than a primary and secondary school education put together. Today, computer games are not a marginal phenomenon – quite the contrary. Gaming is a central cultural form, an integral part of the majority of human beings’ lives and everyday existences. Computer games attract people of all ages, regardless of gender or social background. Smartphones have opened up a whole new world for game creators and players.
But while their use is skyrocketing, computer games continue to be much debated. There are concerns about computer games: that they disrupt children’s school work, social life and acquisition of skills; that they are addictive and influence young people’s values through warped representations of gender, power and violence; and that they exploit unpaid intellectual work and have payment models that parents sometimes find it difficult to manage and control.
Research project: The Worlds of Computer Games
In 2013, the Technical Museum chose to take a closer look at digital games as a phenomenon. The initiative began as a documentation project with the aim of documenting digital games from both a user and producer perspective and investigating how they interact with each other. The project was named “The Worlds of Computer Games”. This initial phase was largely carried out without external funding and included three sub-studies: 1) Users of computer games, 2) Manufacturers of computer games and 3) Subculture and industry – the Swedish gaming culture and gaming industry 1980–2000. The latter sub-study was funded by the Magnus Bergvalls Foundation and was conducted in collaboration with economist historian Ulf Sandqvist at Umeå University.
Between 2014 and 2018, the Swedish Cultural Council funded a research project on computer games at the Technical Museum, which was to be accommodated within the project The Worlds of Computer Games. The museum was thus able to employ three researchers. These were the child and youth scientist Björn Sjöblom, who defended his thesis in 2011 with the thesis Gaming interaction: Conversations and competencies in internet cafes, sociologist Lina Eklund, who dissertated in 2013 with the thesis The sociality of gaming: a mixed methods approach to understanding digital gaming as a social leisure activity, as well as media researcher Patrick Prax, who did his dissertation during the project period with the dissertation Co-creative game design as participatory alternative media (2016).
In his research at the Technical Museum, Björn Sjöblom has looked at video-mediated gaming, that is, when the gaming is switched to watching other people play via films on, for example, youtube or in e-sports contexts.
Lina Eklund’s research is focused on the history of social gaming. She has been interested in how gambling becomes a social practice and with whom and in what contexts players play with each other.
Patrick Prax has researched how players through so-called “add ons” themselves help to shape the games and change the gaming experiences and the sometimes conflicting relationship that arises between co-creative players and the game producer companies.
Filmed symposiums from the project
The project also organized five symposiums on various aspects of gaming and gaming: Digital games and game cultures: then, now and tomorrow (April 15, 2015), Save Game! (April 4, 2015), Fun and Troubling: A full day seminar on children and computer games (April 12, 2016), Digital Games and the Internet: Play, Community, and Business (June 6, 2016 and A Dangerous Game? Problematic Aspects of Digital Gaming (2017-05-04) The symposiums were filmed and can be viewed on our Youtube channel.
Conclusions and final report from the project
The purpose of the research project has been to provide the museum with additional knowledge in the field of computer games, introduce scientific competence and support to formulate the most relevant issues and thereby obtain a scientifically based documentation and production of knowledge. The research project was intended to function as a quality enhancer for the museum’s preservation and exhibition activities. The research results form part of the Play Beyond Play exhibition, which was inaugurated in 2018.
In October 2018, the project concluded with a final seminar and release of the final report Dataspelen’s worlds: Digital games such as culture and heritage, which can be purchased in the museum’s webshop (in Swedish). At the same time, stage 2 of the Play Beyond Play exhibition was opened.