Espen J. Aarseth is a figure in the fields of video game studies and electronic literature. Aarseth was born in Bergen, Norway, in 1965 and completed his doctorate at the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Bergen. He co-founded the Department of Humanistic Informatics at the University of Bergen, and worked there until 2003, at which time he was a full professor. He is currently Principal Researcher at the Center for Computer Games Research at the IT University of Copenhagen.
Vince: There's a lot of definitions for "game". From Huizinga to contemporary authors we can find a lot of ideas about this subject. What's your definition of "game"?
Espen: I am with Wittgenstein on this one; '"game" ("Spiel") is a concept that cannot be formally defined, and when we try to do so, we inevitably end up with merely a definition of a sub genre. I do have a definition of games, but I also acknowledge that this is an overproductive definition, that also includes phenomena such as musical instruments: "Games are facilitators that structure behavior, mainly for the purpose of entertainment." Note that I don't use the word 'rules', but the broader term 'structure'.
Vince: What you think about the buzzword "Gamification"? Do you think it's a good concept to define the use of game elements in non-game activities?
Espen: It is an ideological attempt to make games important and useful; and a very naive view of how humans can be controlled. A scenario where gamification is successful could only be a nightmare. But in 7-8 years it will be forgotten. So do check my prediction in 2020.
Vince: In your book named "Cybertext" You said that "the concept of cybertext focuses on the mechanical organization of the text, by positing the intricacies of the medium as an integral part of the literary exchange". In what kind of game it's possible to see it clearly?
Espen: Mechanics is a crucial aspect in almost all games. Games are obvious, almost trivial examples of what I was talking about there. As I made clear in Cybertext, games are combinations of two layers, the semiotic and the mechanical, and this sets them apart from non-cybernetic media such as novels and films.
Vince: Send a message to the new researchers of the gaming concepts and game design field.
Espen: I believe we are entering a new phase in game research, where we already see glimpses of an academic field with professional standards of quality. We are not quite there yet, but hopefully the early days of sloppy research, terrible quality control and half-baked theorizing will soon be over. Things can only get better!
Vince: Thank you!
Espen: You are welcome!