The word “games” tends to translate into “video games” for most people, but two Emerson graduate students are seeking to redefine what games are and how we can appreciate them.
Brandon Sichling, MFA ’14, and Jordan Pailthorpe, MFA ’14, have created Level 257, a website through Emerson’s Engagement Game Lab that explores the meaning of games through scholarly essays, documentaries, and traditional video games. The pair is using various forms of media to critique how we interpret games and how we can delve deeper into them.
“Knowing game designers and being able to talk to them about the work they’re doing is one thing, but reaching out to scholars and having scholars respond to us is another, and that’s something we want to foster,” Sichling said.
Sichling and Pailthorpe refer to Level 257 as a scholarly journal, meaning a place where students can submit “articles,” ranging from a traditional written essay to a video game or a documentary they create—they can be in almost any form, as long as they analyze games and play.
“People think that it’s only about video games when that’s not exactly what we’re doing,” Pailthorpe said. “Obviously video games are a big part of this because that’s where a lot of the big space is right now, but when we say ‘games’ and ‘play,’ we mean all forms of games and play.”
Level 257 mostly contains work done by Sichling and Pailthorpe, who are incorporating their work on the website into their graduate coursework requirements. But in the coming weeks, it will include articles submitted by other students.
At the moment, Level 257 is at “Issue Zero”—essentially a soft launch—to give potential contributors an idea of what type of content Sichling and Pailthorpe are looking for.
However, Level 257 currently features an essay by Zoe Quinn, a Boston-area game designer, who submitted an essay about becoming a cyborg after having a magnet implanted in her finger.
There is also a video game designed by Sichling that explores gender representation.
“There’s both a male and a female character that shoot things,” Sichling said. “There’s a female character that’s stealth-based, and there’s another character that’s dialogue-driven. You have the option to be violent, but you can actually neutralize enemies just by confusing them about your character’s gender. I wanted to create a place for play that was outside of the gender binary.”
They hope to launch a new issue of Level 257 once per semester, followed by heavily incorporating social media to drive discussion and even encourage people to contribute.
“We’re trying to redefine how we use social media,” Pailthorpe said. “Social media drives you to the place that has the content, but we’re trying to think about how we could use social media as that space where that conversation actually exists, which is separate from the peer-reviewed journal portion of this subject.”