Quibus Lusoribus Bono? A Classicist Shakes Things Up

Recently, in the Escapist, an article entitle ‘Quibus lusoribus bono?‘ appeared, by Roger Travis, a Classicist at the University of Connecticut. On his blog site, he argues that “video games are actually ancient, […] they reawaken the anicent oral epic tradition represented above all by the epics of the Homeric tradition, the Iliad and the Odyssey.” I am going to have to go carefully through his posts, because this is a great argument to make… anyway – in his Escapist piece, Travis writes:

The problem with game studies – the thing that gives rise to opinions like Wilson’s – is that the effort to create and maintain the discipline is keeping gaming from winning the respect it deserves. Against all appearances, scholars are pursuing game studies to the detriment of gamer culture.

By pretending that game studies stands alone as a unified discipline rather than at the nexus of various other fields, scholars of game studies (and those of departments that call themselves things like “digital media studies”) are institutionalizing exactly what Wilson feels: antipathy to the real culture of gaming. The more entrenched the notion becomes that gamers are abnormal and defective, the longer it will take for real works of art like Sins of a Solar Empire, BioShock and, yes, even Halo to vindicate gaming as a worthwhile pursuit.

Comments, critiques and a bit of old-style flaming are all over the games-related blogosphere; but for an interesting dialogue, see Ian Bogost – whom Travis refers to on a number of occasions in his piece – at “A Response to Roger Travis who misconstrues my work and that of my colleagues“.

For the most part, the discussion is moderate in tone, though clearly Travis has upset the apple cart – one commenter writes:

Whatever is said here, it boils down to this: Roger, do you let people with Marketing degrees tell you how to teach “Topics in Advanced Latin”? I’m guessing you don’t. Why is acceptable for you to tell Ian how to do his? I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t.

It’s one thing to question the legitimacy of a professional. It’s another to question the legitimacy of a profession. I really don’t think you want to open that can of worms. While I can see the worth of the classics and how they are basically the basis of all modern thought, I’m thinking it’s probably hard for payroll to justify paying your obviously bloated salary.

I suppose it’s only a matter of time before somebody invokes the Nazis. But in the meantime, the last word by Travis on Ian Bogost’s blog (and then the conversation switches to the forums at the Escapist):

“1. I see the analogy of a marketing professional telling me how to do classics as very unpersuasive. Ian and I work the same job, more or less, and we both (I’m sure) spend time on committees where we’re doing, intramurally, precisely what we’re doing publicly in this discussion. The suggestion that my salary is bloated would have made me laugh if my salary weren’t such a sad little thing.”

And finally, for completeness, here’s the link to the Escapist forum discussion.

So… what do I make of all of this? I admit, I got a bit lost in the original article, since I haven’t read all of the related pieces (nor indeed, the one to which Travis was originally responding).  In essence, it looked as if Travis was warning of the danger of academics sucking the fun out of games (which may be to simplify).  But that’s something every discipline or subject needs to watch out for, the people who take things too seriously. Archaeology sure has a hard time paying the bills, but at least it’s still fun to do…