It’s just past Hand-in Month now. Everyone’s essays have been filed away under the categories of ‘Queer Theory,’ ‘Racism,’ ‘Socio-economics,’ ‘Advertising,’ and much, much more. Trees will have been cut down for the hallowed citations, references and bibliographies which prevent students from getting kicked out of university and forced to find a real job, and we’re all just twiddling our thumbs until we get them back now.

But the source of our references, our background research, is extremely interesting.

Opening up your average course handbook, you’re likely to find a section entitled ‘Background Reading.’ Why background reading? Why not background viewing, background play, or better yet, background research? Why is it that when academic resources are to be made available for – say – English Literature, course convenors aren’t looking to film or video games which touch upon the ideologies students are expected to write on in their essays? When reading Dantes Inferno for religious influence on literature, why is the game not recommended to see an alternative interpretation of the text?

The answer, to put it simply, is that education and academia is still locked in the old mentality of books, journals and scripture as the only viable source of secondary research, and it’s about time Generations Y and Z made a push for these new interactive art forms to be considered worthy of citation.

For English Literature this semester, I had to write an essay on gender and power in two novels on the text. I decided to write about Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, discussing male power fantasies and the use of female characters to either strengthen or strip down these fantasies in both books. When discussing Heart of Darkness, I drew a parallel between Conrad’s novel, and the fantastic video game Spec-Ops: The Line, but I couldn’t just mention Spec-Ops: The Line in this context, because I was taking a particular moment in the game (granted, I only mentioned in passing) and breaking it down with Conrad’s novel, so I popped a tiny little 11 next to it, and left a footnote at the bottom, citing the game like you would a novel.

However when it came to trying to cite the novel using the Harvard Reference System – the standard for my essay – I came across a minor speed-bump. Whilst the HRS has set out numerous ways for citing books, film, journals, articles and websites, there’s no set way for video games yet. After a lot of research all I could find was an e-how article advising that I just ‘write the name of the game and its publisher in the footnote.’

Well… no e-how, because when I’m citing articles and books I’m listing page numbers and paragraphs and all sorts, so that’s just bloody-well not good enough!

So I took the brave route – and I created my own citation technique for video games. It looked something a little like this: Yager Development (2012). Spec Ops: The Line. 2K Games: Level 1: Evacuation. Approximately 1 Hour in.

It’s by no means perfect, but it does the job properly. It’ll be interesting to see whether or not I’m marked down for not using a ‘valid source of secondary research,’ or some other rubbish. I’ll report back as soon as I get the essay returned.

But until then, have a go with your next essay. If there’s a video game which reflects what you’re talking about (The Stanley Parable could be used as an excellent discussion of free will or game theory in Philosophy) try and use it. It’s only through our actions we can force the powers that be to honestly accept games as an art form.

Some of them have more depth than most literature these days.

[Alex Lamont]


  1. Kudos for trying, but your referencing system isn’t going to work. There would need to be a legitimate way to see the part of the game you are talking about without actually playing through the whole game. Right now, it might be a possibility to see that part on youtube, so you could reference to a specific playthrough video with the times of the moment you are talking about. But then referencing youtube brings up its own problems, such as woeful commentary and no guarantee it isn’t taken down due to copyright issues. So unless it’s your own video and can guarantee it will still be up it’s tough.

    But i am interested to know what it was that this game said or revealed about gender and power within the source material that it demanded a new system be invented for referencing.

    1. Hack, if you haven’t played Spec Ops: The Line, do it at your next opportunity. It takes all of these preconceptions we have about male power fantasies in games and brutally, unapologetically destroys them. It’s amazing.

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