Notes on Jesper Juul’s Speech @ Tilt: on today’s debates in video games studies

Juul believes that there’s something missing from academic game studies.


We are beginning to understand that games are not static artifacts. Games are dynamically created and changed by the players who engage with them and the cultures within which they are played. Each play session is a completely different experience with different motivating factors and very different meanings.

Games can be:
-rule based systems that you master
– fictional worlds that you imagine
– social phenomena that you play with other people
– self-expressions that show who you are.

And there are this many different types of “meanings” at play in video games because 1) there is no authority for interpretation and 2) games are fundamentally ambiguous. Their experiences are re-authored with every iteration, with every player.

“Social meaning is probably the most powerful source of meaning”

In a way, games are a masquerade, a form of polite speech. You play as yourself and not-yourself at the same time. Rules, fictions, social influences and expressive abilities apply  to the human player and their digitally embodied self at the same time. The whole process is quite confusing, and might be impossible for academics to fully understand. Yet is this any different from finding meaning a our own reality (Lacan)? Theorists have had time to pick apart the novel and aren’t even close to fully understanding it.

Juul ended his talk at Dartmouth by asking: are game studies making games boring? Maybe! Gamers need to assert the right to play simply “Because we want to.”