The Cultural Significance of Digital Developments and Gaming

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Matt Barr presenting at the Launch of the Press Start game studies journal

It’s difficult to think of a popular, contemporary cultural form that hasn’t been affected, often in some fundamental way, by digital technology. The means by which cultural content is delivered has certainly been transformed by digital technology: whether you’re reading a novel on your Kindle, listening to music via Spotify or streaming a movie from Netflix. The ‘cultural conversation’ has found a natural home online, as we discuss and dissect (and occasionally denounce!) all aspects of art, film, music and literature via social media. It is through channels such as Twitter I find out about the next museum exhibition I want to go to, the next album I want to hear or the next book I want to read.

My own area of interest lies in the more recent – and almost entirely digital – cultural form of video games. Personally, I’m interested in studying games for many reasons: I think they’re a fascinating and influential aspect of modern cultural society, and they have a lot to tell us about how people learn and interact with each other. But one of the most often cited reasons for studying games, and for the very existence of the emerging game studies discipline, is the sheer size and significance of the industry which, in terms of consumer spending, now outstrips its film counterpart. Furthermore, games are a great deal more inclusive than we might be led to believe: adult women who play games significantly outnumber the teenage boys, for example. The pervasive nature of games makes them a highly relevant object of study.

The games industry evolves with phenomenal speed. For those of us who research or teach about games, it is impossible to do so in a bubble: academics can’t possibly keep up with developments in gaming without engaging with the people who create the games. That’s why the industry contribution to our own game studies course here at HATII is so important.

Recent contributions include a talk from Alan Jack, game designer at Glasgow-based Chunk Games. Drawing on his work at Chunk, Alan was able to give us an insight into the opportunities for – and limitations of – storytelling in games: a great example of how digital games are opening up new possibilities for creativity. We’ve also heard from Brian Baglow, director of the Scottish Games Network, which represents the industry in Scotland. Brian’s storied career includes writing for the first Grand Theft Auto games, and he really brought home the cultural and economic importance of games in Scotland. Home-grown titles like Grand Theft Auto and Lemmings are a large part of why Dundee was just named as the UK’s first City of Design by UNESCO, for example.

There are also opportunities for us, as researchers, to contribute something to the industry. As part of a recent project that looked at the Scottish games sector, one of HATII’s Information Management and Preservation students went out and talked to games developers about their records management practices. We found that there was an opportunity here for us to bring our expertise in information management and digital curation to the industry, delivered in the form of a series of recommendations and practical advice.


Text by Matt Barr, Research Officer, University Teacher (Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute), School of Humanities.

View Matthew’s related YouTube video

Learn more about Digital or discuss developing a partnership with the College of Arts with Dr Fraser Rowan the College of Arts Business Development manager by email or phone (0141 330 3885).

Post Author: Fraser Rowan

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