Eric Kaltman

Eric Kaltman is an assistant professor of computer science at California State University Channel Islands where he teaches game design and game studies courses. He is working to establish the Software History Futures and Technologies (SHFT) Lab as an interdisciplinary alignment of information and library science, computer science, and game studies. He spent 2014-2018 as project manager for the IMLS-funded Game Metadata and Citation Project (GAMECIP) at UC Santa Cruz and Stanford University, and is currently working on computational systems for citation of emulated game states, search within game production records, and other game preservation related tasks.

Contact information:
eric.kaltman at

Stacey Mason

Stacey Mason is a PhD Candidate with the Expressive Intelligence Studio at the University of California, Santa Cruz and is the Founder and Creative Director of Illusory Games. Her work seeks to explore the narrative possibilities of new technologies, and she is passionate about bridging the gaps between industry and academic research communities. Stacey formerly served as creative lead for the R&D team at Telltale Games, and has worked in R&D roles at Hangar 13 (2K Games), Zynga, Sonderlust Studios, and Eastgate Systems. She also co-created academic Twitch stream Scholars Play.

Contact information:
stcmason at

Noah Wardrip-Fruin

Noah Wardrip-Fruin is professor of computational media at the University of California Santa Cruz, where he codirects the Expressive Intelligence Studio, a technical and cultural research group. He is the author of How Pac-Man Eats (2020) and coeditor of The New Media Reader (2003), among others. Computational media projects on which he has collaborated have appeared in venues such as the Whitney Museum of American Art and the IndieCade festival. He was a Principal Investigator for the IMLS-funded Game Metadata and Citation Project (GAMECIP) at UC Santa Cruz and Stanford University.

Contact information:
nwardrip at

The Game I Mean: Game Reference, Citation and Authoritative Access

by Eric Kaltman, Stacey Mason, Noah Wardrip-Fruin


On the surface, scholarly citation and reference may seem incidental aspects of academic research, with following a particular style of citation akin to following a set of guidelines for font usage and margin size. But looking deeper, the questions of why and how we cite and reference point toward fundamental issues in how we conceptualize objects of study and understand the nature of argument in a field. The field of game studies is now beginning to grapple with such questions, as seen in recent changes to the citation guidelines for the flagship Game Studies journal and the arguments that prompted these changes. This article seeks to further the conversation. It examines the core reasons for citation in general: attribution, background reference, retrievability and supporting arguments. It looks at the history and current practice of reference in game studies, particularly through an overview of guidelines and practices in Game Studies. It critically responds to current guidelines and recommendations, then makes an argument for what the basis of citation practices should be in game studies: that which will allow for the retrieval of a pertinent game research object based on the level of access needed to validate an author’s claim. This results in a call for differing citation practices based on the nature of the argument being made and the role of particular objects within that argument. What this would mean for a particular game, and why current guidelines are insufficient, is illustrated through a discussion of citation approaches for Doom. While the article focuses on a critical examination of issues in citation, specific guidelines for those wishing to adopt a level-of-access citation approach (and consider possibilities for the future of such practices) are provided in an appendix.

Keywords: Game citation, game reference, game cataloging, game discovery, platform studies, software studies, critical code studies


1. Introduction

The ways in which videogames and other forms of computational media differ from print objects -- together with changes arising in forms of scholarly communication -- present challenges to current reference and citation practices in game studies. While recent efforts by popular style guides seek to expand such practices beyond the printed word, the roots of paper-based publishing are still apparent in the citation practices of scholars working in computational media -- even within publication venues that engage computational media objects as the primary object of study. This article considers specifically “computer” or “digital” or “video” games as a subset of computational media, and addresses some fundamental issues in game reference and citation using approaches from other relevant media communities as well as the nascent discussion of game reference within game studies proper.

In many game studies works it is not uncommon for references to specific games to pass through the text without a citation. This may be due, in part, to the interdisciplinary nature of games studies, in which scholars from multiple different traditions use their “home” frameworks to inform their bibliographic and citation strategies. It might also be due to the lack, generally, of effective citation practice for computational objects across all fields. Scholars are trained since primary school to cite textual sources, but guidelines for complex computational objects are still being developed. Computer games, specifically, are further complicated by their uneasy status as both objects of creative expression and technology. This latter divide between the creative and the technical, and the specific ways in which technological implementation constrains and affords certain creative expression in games, is at the heart of this article. When we reference a computer game, what are we referencing exactly? And how does that reference manifest in a citation that allows for another to follow our work and that aligns with library and information science concerns over object description and retrieval?

Guidelines for game citation, and game bibliographic reference more broadly, are still in their infancy. The only major game studies publication in the area is Gualeni et al.’s “How to Reference a Digital Game,” from DiGRA (2019). The work in this paper is, in part, an extension and commentary on that work, drawing heavily on insights from the Game Metadata and Citation Project (GAMECIP) that ran between UC Santa Cruz and Stanford University from 2014-2018 (GAme MEtadata and CItation Project, n.d.). GAMECIP provided the first extended interface between library professionals (those responsible for describing and storing games in collections) and game studies scholars in the context of scholarly use and description of computer games. Data collected from that project informs the discussion below.

Primarily, we investigate what impacts different citation strategies have on the legitimation of scholarly claims, and how they affect the ontological commitments that define games as technical and creative works. This article discusses these issues in relation to current work in game studies, academic citation and library science, and elaborates on a citation approach for more detailed description of games based on the intent of the scholar, so called “authoritative access.” We examine why we cite things, how that works in current practice, and how it could or would in a world with more alignment between citation practice, the particulars of references and the state of institutional collections. This includes a significant look at the current practices in the Game Studies online journal, and a demonstration of why these forms potentially fall short for the study of games, and more specifically, games as software.

In our discussion, we bear in mind both the scholarly practice of “citation” and the more general practice of “reference.” We view citations as a more formal subset of the broad class of references, which includes everything from passing mentions to embedded video and emulation. Of interest is the broad range of reference practices applicable to games and other forms of computational media -- from a game designer’s close attention to the specifics of a game’s actions and geometries to the creation of fan communities that reference and build upon games and genres. As noted most directly by Gualeni et al., the practice of referencing games, their creators, or their components is a politically constitutive act that makes certain assumptions about the perceived audience for a specific argument about games. Games and computational media are “multi-modal” and therefore invite many kinds of interpretations. Our goal is to highlight these modalities and argue for a more expansive view of reference and citation that is inclusive of as many traditions as possible, including those outside of traditional humanistic discourse. Specifically, we call for game studies to adopt a citation approach based on the level of access needed to validate an author’s claim, which may include detailed technical information that current recommendations call for authors to elide. In an appendix, we move beyond our examination of issues in the field (and beyond our argument for a citation approach based on the ability to validate authors’ claims), presenting a set of forward-looking considerations and practical suggestions for improving citation in game studies.

2. Why We Cite

Academic citation has enjoyed a long history of practice (Grafton, 1997, pp. 1-33). Scholars have built robust norms around how to build and trace arguments, reference and retrieve sources and catalogue their work. While these practices offer efficient norms for artifacts derived from a print tradition, they do not address the ontological differences of form inherent in the citation of computational artifacts, including games, software and interactive media. Citation and reference in the print tradition is a form of intertextual construction; the bringing in and marshaling of other texts to support and bulwark an argument (Fairclough, 1992). In the case of computational media objects, a textual reference is likely insufficient to support a particular claim unless it is clearly linked to the ability to retrieve that reference (the cited computational object). While this linkage is firmly established in current academic and library bibliographic practice for physical printed texts, both are still struggling with the abrupt digital transition of the last couple decades and its deluge of computational and born-digital ones.

In examining the citation needs of game scholars, we must understand the reasons that citation and other forms of reference are practiced. Currently, most of the academic guidance regarding citation, reference and bibliography arises from the Chicago Manual of Style, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Modern Language Association Handbook (MLA). According to the MLA -- the guide with the most thorough discussion of the motivations behind citation -- academics cite for the following reasons: (1) to give proper attribution of ideas and of work; (2) to prove that the author has thoroughly researched a domain; (3) to strengthen an argument with supporting evidence (Modern Language Association of America, 2016). The Chicago Manual of Style adds that citation “must always provide sufficient information either to lead readers directly to the sources consulted or, for materials that may not be readily available, to enable readers to positively identify them, regardless of… in printed or electronic form” (The University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff, 2017, pp. 793, 861 - 884). This notion of the retrievability of a citation’s reference is important because it demonstrates the need to figure out what one is referencing, literally, and how to retrieve it. In the case of computer games, the content of a reference is rarely straight-forward and unambiguous in many current practices.

APA mainly concurs with the above pronouncements, outlining roughly the same considerations as the MLA while adding that citations “offer critical definitions and data,” and that one should cite “only works you have read,” with primary sources being paramount (American Psychological Association, 2020). In the case of computational media, as will be noted, “reading” primary historical items is sometimes difficult or untenable due to technical considerations. Regardless, in the promotion of citation practices, the major style guides all align on attribution, providing sufficient background, retrievability and argumentative support as principal motivations. We will now consider each of these in turn, with a critical focus on issues related to computer games.

2.1 Attribution

When style guides raise the issue of attribution, they are mostly concerned with the attribution of ideas and scholarship to their appropriate source, in large part because the issue of attribution is critical to scholarly discourse and the institutions that surround its production. Citing an author is a way to indicate the foundations upon which one is building a claim, to demarcate the boundaries of whose idea is whose and clearly identify the contribution to a scholarly field (American Psychological Association, 2020; Modern Language Association of America, 2016). Additionally, the tracking of citation metrics -- including how often a person is cited or how central those citations are to the core arguments of other papers -- is vitally important to academic careers, and is important enough to merit its own field of study, bibliometrics.

Attribution, however, becomes difficult in the citation of media objects themselves. Scholars who reference a game, film, or other media artifact may not provide a citation specifically to ensure proper crediting -- we generally do not provide a citation to the film Star Wars to ensure that its director, George Lucas, is recognized as its creator (Lucas, 1977) in the same way we cite a historian to ensure they are credited for their intellectual contribution to an argument. However, the issue of whose name is attached to a media object in academic citation is important as a means of understanding whose work is being discussed, and perhaps more critically as a means of highlighting whose work may not be (Game Crediting Guide 9.2, 2014).

Furthermore, citation as a means of attribution becomes complicated for works with a sufficiently large number of contributors. Print citations, historically bound by the space constraints of the page, have developed strategies for handling numerous authors including truncating a list with a terse “et al.” after the third, second, or even sometimes the first author. In these instances, looking to how other fields cite their media sources may provide useful insights. For example, within film scholarship we find the following standards:

From the style guidelines for Cinema Journal:

When films are initially cited, provide the director’s first and last name, as well as the release date, in parentheses. For videogames, cite the company that created the game and the original release year. (Cinema Journal/Journal of Cinema and Media Studies: House Style Guide, 2018)

From Film Quarterly:

Please pay extra attention to providing accurate citations of film titles in their original language and in English translation. Please be sure to note the director and the year of production for any film that you reference in your article. You do not need to provide its running time. (Submission Guidelines for Film Quarterly, 2016)

Both guidelines are based on the Chicago Manual of Style recommendations for “multimedia” works outlined in section 14.2 of the manual, which highlights the need for primary authorship as a means of retrievability while allowing for more specific contributors to also be noted if they are more relevant to the discussion (The University of Chicago Press Editorial Staff, 2017). In the case of film, it becomes impractical for scholars to enumerate the dozens of contributors listed in the film’s credits in each citation. Members of the film industry, however, are not depending on citation counts for validation within their respective communities; the film industry handles the issue of authorship by extensively and exhaustively crediting the crews of films, with many roles, like director, subject to union contractual rules (The Guild / Departments, n.d.). Furthermore, film credits appear in standardized places within the film objects themselves, and roles are relatively standardized across titles, making the practice of finding and accessing credits easier for researchers, critics, audiences and other interested third parties -- such as the Internet Movie Database (IMDb, n.d.). For games, however, none of these are the case.

While big-budget AAA games usually have in-game credits, which are often tracked by consumers and third-party databases like MobyGames, smaller studios do not necessarily include in-game credits at all, or may include them only after completing the game, which many players may never experience or may not have the skill to achieve (Video Games Database. Credits, Trivia, Reviews, Box Covers, Screenshots, n.d.). The lack of standardized credits has hampered library efforts to record attribution for games, as library cataloguers generally do not have the time to play through a game to its credits, the ability to literally run older games due to lack of hardware, or the domain knowledge to locate credits menus if they are not in obvious locations (de Groat et al., 2018). And while the practice of including credits in starting menus may be on the rise, and is indeed endorsed by developer special interest groups like the International Game Developer Association Dev Special Interest Group (Game Crediting Guide 9.2, 2014), entire classes of works -- such as mobile games -- often do not include credits at all, making the issue of citation as a means of attribution a complex and difficult one. This may be why, in some cases, style guides recommend not citing software unless it is somehow “quoted” (American Psychological Association, 2020) leading to the further complication of whether games fall under the category of artwork or software.

2.2 Background Reference

A common class of citations are those demonstrating one has performed an adequate survey of research. In his account of the history of annotation, The Footnote: A Curious History, Anthony Grafton writes that a primary purpose of footnotes is to “convince the reader that the historian has done an acceptable amount of work, enough to lie within the tolerances of the field” (Grafton, 1997). The MLA echoes this sentiment, expressing that citation is a means of conforming to the standards of an academic community, and that “the proper use of a field’s preferred documentation style is a sign of competence in a writer... it helps a writer become part of a community of scholars and assures readers that the writer’s work can be trusted” (Modern Language Association of America, 2016).

In practice, the citation of media -- as opposed to the citation of a scholarly text -- as a means of conveying an adequate breadth of research or as a means of supporting a claim made by the author might be expressed, in invented example, as follows:

Many games involve large-scale living worlds in which action persists even when the player is not actively playing (World of Warcraft, Second Life).

In this case, a general reference to the game is being made -- the equivalent of referring in passing to “revenge novels such as Moby Dick.” This is as opposed to citing a specific moment in these works as a text, the equivalent of pulling a passage from Moby Dick for analysis. Most common style guides would argue that a citation for Moby Dick should be provided here. Even if the specific version of Moby Dick is not important to the discussion, readers should have a way to retrieve the source.

2.3 Retrievability

Citation is a tool for a reader to discover works, editions and translations with which they may not be familiar. Additionally, in computational works, citation can point readers toward states which the reader may not have encountered on her own. Given this, games scholars need a citation practice that supports discovery and reproduction of playable game states.

As a discipline devoted to the practice of discovery, retrieval and access, library sciences are a natural point of departure from which to examine these issues. Bibliographic citations, after all, are used to help locate the cited items in catalogued collections. However, the issue of retrievability within communities of cataloguing and archiving is not straightforward regarding study of games and computational media.

Cataloging standards, like MARC21 and Resource Description and Access (RDA), do make reference to games but rely on incongruous mappings between cataloging metadata fields and information found on physical game packaging and title screens -- in the case the cataloguer even has access to the correct hardware (de Groat et al., 2018). Game cataloguing only gained explicit, informed guidelines in 2015, partially as a result of the support of the GAMECIP project. The most current guidelines, revised in 2018, still note significant difficulties with ascertaining the correct platform and system requirements, locating crediting information and even issues as mundane as proper title determination [1].

Before the 2015 guidelines, as revealed by Greta de Groat’s historical work into game cataloging, available guidance was sparse and inconsistent. Library of Congress Subject Headings, the main arbiter of topical classification in records, do not cover computer games in any way sensical to the domain, for example, “the heading ‘Computer Games’ may not be used for genre” but “Video games,” “Computer adventure games” and “Simulation games” may. Adding further to this genre confusion is the unclear status of games as creative and technical objects, with the basic classification of a physical game resource changing significantly over the last thirty years from “computer file” to “game.” Additionally, these guidelines primarily apply to physically distributed works, which means that mobile gaming and modern online distribution methods are generally not covered.

The situation for archives and archival metadata is similar. Most exhaustively covered by McDonough et al.’s work on the Preserving Virtual Worlds, the world of archival descriptive standards does not translate well to software-based games (J. McDonough et al., 2010; J. P. McDonough, 2010, 2012). Through significant work in classifying games, like Crowther’s and Woods’ Adventure (1975) and id Software’s original Doom (Carmack & Romero, 1993), according to archival models, like the Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records and the Open Archival Information System reference model, the team encountered numerous issues with versioning, dependent documentation, seriality and technical requirements.

The field of bibliography has also wrestled with the complex ontology of games. One notable example is Chris Young’s analysis of the material differences between different versions of Naughty Dog’s game The Last of Us (Young, 2016). He applies Matthew Kirschenbaum’s principles of computational description (Kirchenbaum, 2002) to the different versions of The Last of Us and The Last of Us Remastered, released for the Sony PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 respectively. Young establishes that the game’s executable file, as modified through many updates and content additions, should be considered the stable unit of bibliographic description, and even provides recommendations for citation format based on both the executable version and the materiality of the particular distribution substrate (whether digital or on physical disc).

Clearly, there is still work to be done in adequately storing games in modern institutional collections. While our discussions of game reference and citation look toward future methodologies, we must also be aware of the practical and historical limitations of institutional records management and archives. The difficult ontological position of computer games as data-to-be-executed and as creative work therefore challenges the conditions of their material storage as well as their retrievability and status as referenced objects.

2.4 Supporting Arguments

While the previous section focused on general reference and its relationship to cataloguing and retrieval, one of the most common forms of reference for media objects is the more focused citation of a specific moment in a piece of media, usually called upon as a subject of analysis, or to support an argument or claim. The idea of citing specific moments in a text, while straightforward in print, becomes more complicated in computational media that may contain no convenient content markers. Unlike books, games contain no page numbers; unlike films, runtimes to a particular moment are inconsistent; and unlike traditional paintings, in which the entire work is visible in a high-quality reproduction, second-hand documentation does not always capture the aspect of the work we may wish to cite -- documentation of one person’s play-through may not include a situation that arises in another’s.

Suppose the author cites a line of dialogue from a computer game. Because games react based on player input, the author may only have seen that line of dialogue based on decisions they previously made in the game and be unaware of this fact. Thus, a curious reader may not be able to find the moment the author specifies because the reader does not know what previous choices led to that moment. This is common in roleplaying games (RPGs) which involve significant player customization of a character and their role in the game world. Noah Wardrip-Fruin’s Expressive Processing (2009) highlights this issue in the progression of game narrative structures, including an instance in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (BioWare Corporation, 2003) in which a narrative moment was only viewable in certain playthroughs. In an attempt to tackle this issue with RPG path divergence, a fan of the game Undertale (Fox, 2015) devoted part of their Senior thesis to the construction of a citation system for roleplaying game paths in order to support their analytical argument about the game (Dubois, 2020).

Additionally, different localizations of the same game may provide markedly different game content. Media scholars are accustomed to translations offering slightly different word choices, and cultural context is often vital to understanding humor or subtext. Game localizations suffer from these familiar difficulties of language translation, and also may additionally change vital content including character depictions and characterizations, level difficulties and player abilities, as well as change or remove story moments. Content may be radically altered to adjust to cultural norms, including the changing or removal of sexual, political, or religious imagery. Well known examples of these adjustments include Nintendo of America’s ban on importing games from Japan that included Christian religious iconography (Altice, 2015) and Germany’s extensive prohibition on in-game blood and Nazi imagery, which led to a completely separate narrative version of Wolfenstein II (Cutts, 2018). One cannot assume that a game contains the same content in North America as it does in Europe, even if both games are presented in English.

Finally, because games rely on the input of a player, and many games present challenge by making input sequences difficult to perform, one can imagine a scenario in which an author cites a moment in a game that a curious reader cannot access because they do not have the physical dexterity or time needed to develop the skill required to reach that content.

In some cases, documentation of a moment in a game is sufficient to validate an author’s arguments, but for certain discussions, such as the game feel of a jump’s physics on one level versus another, validation can only happen through direct input from the reader. Similarly, scholars may wish to verify, or dispute, aspects of a game that arise through play -- perhaps believing that an event that took place during one author’s experience was triggered by play behaviors other than those the author assumed. For reasons such as these, being able to play and reproduce the moments that authors reference is important to scholarship and discourse in games. Yet for a variety of reasons, readers may not be able to access the material that substantiates such claims. Rather than resigning to citations and research that cannot be substantiated, or relying on second-hand evidence from gameplay videos, we hope the field will move toward a set of recommendations for scholars that can overcome such problems in many cases.

3. What and How We Reference (In Practice)

While this section looks mostly at the citation practices in the journal Game Studies, there are two additional sources that deal significantly with the issues of this paper. First, as mentioned in the introduction, is Gualeni et al.’s “How to Reference a Digital Game,” presented at the Digital Game Researchers Association (DiGRA) Conference in 2019. The second is Olsson’s work (2013) on the form of then-current game citation works. We will deal with Olsson’s work second-handedly due to its being published in Swedish, and so far untranslated, except for excerpts noted in Gualeni et al.’s work. Conveniently, Olsson also took Game Studies as one major source of game citation evidence, so our updated look at the journal is within the current, albeit small, accepted case set for game citation analysis.

3.1 How to Reference a Digital Game

Gualeni et al. deal with three interrelated considerations about digital (in our definition “computational”) games:

  1. The conceptual framing of digital games as objects and how that conceptual framing is an act with political and ontological consequences
  2. That authorship and attribution are difficult in regards to games in many ways that align with notions of the “death of the author” in literary theory and aforementioned issues in determining who, exactly, is responsible for a production that may include hundreds or thousands of individuals
  3. An examination of the historical trajectory of reference practices used for games in general

The “conceptual framing” deals with two further issues, one is the status of games in general as “somethings” that share a rather inconsistent set of attributes, and the other is how the positioning of a game’s reference aligns with the discourse through which it is described. Gualeni et al. circumscribe their analysis around digital games to narrow the foundational ontological issues surrounding the relationship between different types of games, noting that the things which appear to tie “games” to a unified ontological footing is their possession of rules. Tying physical games, folk games, instances of organized play and digital games together into a single citation framework, they argue, will not work due to how brittle the label of “game” hangs over each specific ontological organization.

Games as creative works and technical objects are also discussed, with a pronouncement that in most cases, the creative efforts should be the focus of reference and discovery. To not distort the reasoning, we quote this passage at length before critiquing it:

... we understand our interactions and involvement with technologies to be impossible to completely disentangle and separate from social processes, meaning that the specific question of technical authorship is bound to remain an open one. Those problems and impossibilities are evidently also at work in the case of the authorship of digital games... we propose a working approach that bypasses aspects of authorship that are concerned with the technical components of a game. What we recommend is, in simpler words, to artificially separate the 'hows' of digital games (their technical contents) from their 'whats' (their creative contents), and exclusively consider the second group. Taking a digital game as an example, our decision in this paper is not to include who created the controller that is used to play that particular game in our discussion, or who authored the firmware that controls the activation of the whirring fan that prevents the processing units from overheating. Both are needed components of ‘how’ we play that game and can definitely be considered to contribute to the overall experience, but they are aspects of authorship that are not particularly interesting in terms of qualitatively experiencing and analyzing digital game contents.

To add further context, Gualeni et al. argue that for large productions it is not possible to assign or distinguish specific technical authorship, which would be akin to asking, “Who authored that shopping mall?” Due to the complexity of the task, the answer is close to no one specific individual. Gualeni et al. do concede that smaller games may have specific authorship and note that in their recommendations through a “recognizable authorship” citation format.

The issue with this approach to the technical is that, in many game studies related fields, this notion of eliding it is untenable. In the world of Platform Studies, in which the expressive potential of specific technical choices is the focus of analysis, one needs to make detailed reference to technical contributions and may even follow specific engineers or engineering patterns through multiple games in diachronic analysis. Nathan Altice, author of I Am Error (2015), a detailed look at the inner workings and design implications of the Nintendo Entertainment System, dedicated an appendix chapter to the citation of specific NES ROMs and hardware configurations as they were necessary to support and reinforce his arguments. Similarly, critical code studies (Marino, 2020), like software studies and other forms of algorithmic criticism, explicitly calls for deeper citation of particular segments of code in order to ground claims. Both of these examples show that technical aspects of authorship are “particularly interesting in terms of qualitatively experiencing and analyzing digital game contents.”

A game’s position in discourse is also noted as a significant political act, which aligns with the above considerations of the technical and creative divide. In DiGRA’s purview, which is primarily humanist scholars, technical distinctions are not paramount, thus the removal of their consideration may make epistemological sense within many disciplines. However, if we are going to be organizing a citation standard for digital games, we cannot just bracket off their status as technical objects that are, existentially, specific organizations of data. Archives and institutional collections do not store impressions of materials, but physical ones, even if that physicality is data stored on hard drives.

Game reference as a political act is also extended to their placement within scholarship. When and how they are cited affords them a specific status relative to other forms of discourse and human communication. A simple example from Gualeni et al. is that the positioning of games in separate “ludographies” might be interpreted as affording them a status different (and possibly inferior to) other types of scholarly reference materials. The constitution of a citation is, therefore, a constitution of a political stance toward the referenced object. This makes the need for a malleable set of citation guidelines, which deal with many aspects of digital games both as creative and technical objects, necessary.

3.2 Game Reference in Game Studies

In looking to current practice, we have studied the citation practices of Game Studies, the preeminent journal for scholarship on games. We use Game Studies as a case study, not to call attention to substandard research practices, but to highlight that even well-regarded academic publications struggle with uniform application of reference and citation practice. Game Studies current specification for referencing games is based on Gualeni et al.’s recommendations and was instituted in June 2020. The former specification for referencing games in Game Studies was as follows [2]:

Developer. (Year). Title. [Platform], Release City and Country: Publisher, played month day, year,.

While this specification was first used in Volume 4, Issue 1 in 2004, articles as recent as the current (as of this writing) Volume 20, Issue 1 in 2020 contain citations that do not follow this format or that do not cite mentioned games at all. Generally, as noted by Olsson’s survey of citation practices across multiple game studies conferences, journals and books in 2013, the lack of enforcement of game reference practices was fairly common up to that point. Gualeni et al. summarize Olsson’s categorizations as: 1) no game references in text; 2) specific game reference with “classical” examples unreferenced; 3) game references in separate listings; 4) game references included with all references; 5) game references with consideration of games as a specific cultural form. This last category of reference appears to be derived from the older Game Studies specification above, with its inclusion of a date of play and a platform.

The practice of referencing games without citation was widespread in the early volumes of Game Studies; Volume 6, Issue 1 included 10 articles that referenced games in text without accompanying citations. This practice, aligned with categories (1) and (3) above, reveals an insular expectation of familiarity with source materials that we would never expect from print-based media. Even if a literary scholar assumes they can reference The Count of Monte Cristo as a point of comparison without citing the particular volume they read, they would likely want to differentiate the particular translation, whether they read it in the original French and whether it was an abridged version, in serialized form, or in a combined volume. If they only needed to evoke the idea of The Count of Monte Cristo and did not need to reference a particular aspect of it or passage within the work (as we are doing here), they would perhaps still include a citation as a way for unfamiliar readers to discover new works. How deeply they need to specify this information might be different depending on the claims in their argument, but as a baseline, they must convey the nature of their reading and provide unfamiliar (or critical) readers the opportunity to find their sources. Not providing any citation is unhelpful to scholars outside of one’s immediate field, and cultural reference points that we currently presume to be ubiquitously understood may be opaque to scholars in the future, yet we find these kinds of references in abundance throughout the history of Game Studies and the broader game studies field.

The citation practices in Game Studies reveal a number of potential issues in how game scholars approach their research, both in what is included and excluded from the reference specification. For example, even though the inclusion of the place of publication was a part of the standard, it was unevenly used and applied (even, as noted in Gualeni et al., in the examples provided by Game Studies within their former submission guide). One way to interpret this is that the location of a game’s creation is not as important, or as determinable, as within the print-based citation tradition from which the specification extends. Books and journals provide publishing location as a matter of course, whereas the location of a game’s publisher, if not present on the physical packaging or within the credits, requires further, potentially futile research. This issue is paramount for the cataloging community discussed above, as the records in institutional collections are designed primarily for print-media with established publication locations. While Gualeni et al. argue that perhaps the location of publication is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the current world of globalized, international game production, historically, the location is important. The location of the publisher ties the object to a specific, geographically bounded cultural position that is historically relevant, even if just for correlating the specific localization of the referenced (and presumably played) game.

Geographically bounded citation is also relevant in a specific case in Volume 8, Issue 1, in which Matt Barton includes the physical location of arcade cabinets. A print analog to this might be to include the library in which you read a particular book, or the theater in which you viewed a film or performance. This practice reveals an assumption that the ontology of an object is related to the particular location in which it is consumed; it presumes that the location matters in the ability to facilitate and retrieve the object and its cited experience. The notion of games as performance arises again in Volume 18, Issue 3 regarding site-specific installation game works, providing an overlap between computational media artworks and computer games [3].

Further deviations point to a need for further clarity in citation. For example, the inclusion of URLs and access dates in some references follows current standards for citing Web page locations drawn from the APA standard which Game Studies follows for non-game references. This presents an ontological confusion as to whether browser-based games are web pages first, or first-class media objects themselves that should be cited independent of the page in which they are embedded. If the latter, we might argue that the URL in the citation is then just serving as a convenient way to locate the game. However, because a game embedded in a Web page exists as a computational object dependent on the browser to run, the inclusion of a Web page URL implies the presence of a browser through which to run it. We see this ontological division within the Game Studies citations, as some authors include “[Browser]” as a platform without a further link to a URL.

Clearly, Gualeni et al.’s assertion that games’ ontology and politics manifest in different ways through reference and citation is true. The question is what to do about it, in practice, that allows for a flexible referencing of games without removing specific types of use, primarily technical, from consideration. Below we propose creating a set of extensible, standard recommendations that allow for the retrieval of a pertinent game research object based on the level of access needed to validate an author’s claim. This “level of access” may differ among scholars and arguments, even among discussions of the same game.

4. What We Could and Should Reference (In Theory)

To ground out an example of how a level of access to a claim might be supported, we use the computer game Doom (id Software, Inc., 1993) as an example. Doom is often discussed within game studies for its myriad effects on the way games were developed, played and discussed within popular culture. Doom is involved in discussions of in-game violence (Arriaga et al., 2006; Uhlmann & Swanson, 2004), early multiplayer and eSports contests, graphical innovation and the inauguration of “game engines” as a development practice (Lowood, 2016). When talking about Doom, a researcher might want to discuss any number of topics -- from an analysis of a particular tournament match to a comparison of program files over the game’s development to its position in legal and political arguments about the societal effects of games. Different claims about the game will require different levels of support (and access) to validate these arguments, and thus the citations made in support of these arguments will require different levels of granularity in their references. An argument about Doom’s impact on popular culture in the 90s does not need the same level of specificity as an argument about a particular line of code in a particular build. In the former case, citing Doom using the general specification provided by Gualeni et al. (and discussed in section 4.1.1, below) is fine for validating the argument, as any version would do. In the latter case, citing Doom more generally does not provide enough information to lead a curious reader to the particular object of study -- the code itself in a particular build. Thus, we would expect the citation of these objects to differ, even though they discuss the same game.

4.1 Untangling Levels of Access

In recognizing that various arguments will require different levels of specific access to validate claims, a difficult question remains: How do researchers know what levels of access are necessary for validation? To continue with a common point of reference, we will continue to use Doom as an example case with further examples prompted by ad-hoc citations in Game Studies. The categories below are not exhaustive, but represent specific aspects of the game that are currently citable if infrastructure was developed.

4.1.1 General Citation and Versioning

As mentioned, framing Doom relative to its larger sociocultural impact, say in arguments on game violence or in discussions of the rise of the first-person shooter (FPS) genre, would not require anything more specific than a general reference. In this case, the Game Studies format is more than appropriate, as is Gualeni et al.’s recommendation for distributed authorship:

Developer. (Version, Year)[Year of original release if different]. Title [Platform]. Digital game directed by director, published by publisher.

For Doom there are many versions available on many platforms, so based on the date of the reference’s publication, the following may suffice:

id Software. (Unity, 2019)[1994]. Doom [Sony PlayStation 4]. Published by Bethesda Softworks.

There are numerous caveats present here based on the history of Doom specifically -- however, the following would also be concerns for other games. Doom is one of the most popular and most migrated game software objects, and the only game initially released on MS-DOS that is still available on every major modern platform. One immediate issue with the versioning, as noted by “Unity,” is that the version of Doom running on PS4 is a port of the game to the modern Unity game engine based on a previous port (“Doom Classic”) written by Nerve Software for the Xbox 360 version of the game [4]. The PS4 version is based on the Ultimate Doom, version 1.9 released in 1994. Given that we are concerned with general reference, it is likely good enough to direct a modern reader to the PS4 version. However, there are likely many cases based on historical, or historical-phenomenological arguments, in which the currently available version of Doom is unsuitable.

While noting “id Software” as the developer is likely correct, given the contemporary situation, the Unity port was created by Nerve Software and released by id Software’s parent company, Bethesda Softworks. Should the game director be the project lead of the PS4 version or a member of the original development team? In Doom’s case, due to team size, it might be more appropriate to cite the four primary individuals -- John and Adrian Carmack, John Romero and Tom Hall -- responsible for Doom’s development. The historical contingencies of game development are therefore certainly not fully addressed in the general citation above, nor the recommended format provided by Gualeni et al.

Further, “PS4” is a current marketing and community shorthand for the “Sony PlayStation 4.” Coherent and consistent naming for platforms is another issue the field should address.

4.1.2 Game Performances

In many instances, a reference to a game will refer to a specific instance of play that is more akin to a “performance.” Lowood et al. (2017) discuss Doom performance at length in reference to Doom game replay files and the community surrounding their preservation. In Doom -- and many subsequent games -- the game engine enables the recording of player’s inputs indexed to some engine-based timestamp (a “tick”) which allows for the engine to later read a small replay file and reproduce play. In the Doom community, this allowed for seminal historic matches to be replayed inside the exact execution context of their creation, even for the play of now deceased players. Citing an occurrence like NoSkill’s match versus Meg in 1995 would require not only a reference to the file needed to replay the match, but the correct version of Doom 2 (id Software, Inc., 1994) to ensure the game engine that recorded the replay is the same as the one replaying it [5]. Lowood et al. mention NoSkill specifically, as he is potentially the first player to be regarded as a “Doomgod,” or professional class Doom player, and therefore also one of the first professional FPS players. His tragic death in 2001 means that the replay files are one of the major primary sources of his contribution to the Doom community and FPS history.

With the significant rise of online game streaming and gameplay video recording, it appears that the future archive of game-based activity will primarily consist of archival video. Newman (2012) discusses the need to take video capture seriously as a game preservation method, citing the difficulty of keeping obsolete software running in contrast to the technical ease and substantially longer legacy of video and film preservation techniques. Equipping game scholars with clear guidelines for the reference of gameplay video, and specific video of specific gameplay performances -- like famous matches, speedruns, or other examples of “super” or “meta” gameplay -- would benefit the field.

4.1.3 Modifications

The discussion of Doom’s versions also highlights the phenomenon of the modification and extension of games by third-party developers or motivated players. Modding has a long history within the Doom community (Morris, 2003), having been promoted by id Software to the extent that numerous fan-created campaigns and modifications became officially released “expansions” to Doom 2 (id Software, Inc., 1994; TeamTNT & id Software, Inc., 1996). Newman (2012) assigned games the status of “unstable” objects due to their mutability across time and platform. Looking into the various versions of Sonic the Hedgehog, Newman noted the difficulty in keeping track of the baseline set of features available in each different version of ostensibly the “same” game over time, which created a headache for archives in figuring out which “definitive” version to collect or maintain.

Modification citation appears twice in Game Studies, in Volume 2, Issue 1 following Mortensen’s (2002) discussion of the player community surrounding the Dragon Realms MUD:

Dragon Realms (1995-1999), Diku-MUD modified by Envy and further modified by Elwyn of DR, implemented by Topaz, Scarabae and Elwyn, unavailable to the public since February 28th 1999.

and in Volume 12, Issue 2 in Targett et al.’s (2012) analysis of World of Warcraft user interface modifications:

Day, I. (Zeksie). (2012). X-Perl UnitFrames [User interface modification]. Available from

In the former case, DikuMUD is a well-used, and generously licensed MUD implementation responsible for the Dragon Realms MUD. Here, the attempt is to credit the developers of the initial DikuMUD and those responsible for its modification into Dragon Realms. In the UI modification example, the X-Perl Unitframes mod is listed as a separate piece of software, without direct reference in the citation to the game, World of Warcraft, that it is modding. Ideally, in reconstructing a “modded” version of a game, one would want a reference to the modification and the game it was modifying, however the line between “modification” and a new, separate game object is often not clear (as the previous version discussion of Doom points out).

4.1.4 File and Line References

The literal composition of games is also of note to scholars in a range of fields engaging with critical studies of implementation. Software studies, critical code studies and other science and technology studies-related fields all make reference in specific cases to written code and its effects (Marino, 2020; Wardrip-Fruin, 2009). Within game studies, as noted above, platform studies is probably the most prominent example of a sub-field that critically examines the implications of algorithmic, software and hardware design (Montfort & Bogost, 2009). References to the organization of files, and to specific lines of code, do not currently have standardized practices, though it would be possible to take notes from line-level analysis in literary contexts, or data sub-tree notation /root/branch/leaf used in technical fields -- including data set citation -- to construct some best practices (Wu et al., 2018). Returning to Doom, id Software habitually open sourced many of their products from the company’s founding in the late 1980s to 2008 (when they were purchased by Bethesda Softworks). As Kaltman et al (2017) have shown, it is possible to do comparative analysis of id’s implemented games to see how specific algorithms, like Zone Memory Allocation, appear and are modified by subsequent releases, or how the file organization and consolidation led to design improvements over time. Lederle-Ensign and Wardrip-Fruin (2016) also use references to specific code in the Quake engine -- Doom’s successor -- to analyze the incorporation of the “strafe jumping” bug into an accepted feature of Quake. Unified means for citing files and code within games would help promote and encourage these types of studies.

4.1.5 Game States

Citing literal files and code is, in general, a means of citing the “static” components of a computational media artifact, but what about the “dynamic” elements present during its run-time execution and play? As noted above, many games are long and branching, making it difficult for those following a game reference to locate specific in-game events, items and locations. Games, in many cases, are models of other worlds and development of citation practices for locations, branching paths and the like are already well advanced with the game player and FAQ communities. Additionally, with the growth in computation and network resources, research has shown it is possible to index running programs to specific execution states (even within a web-browser, see Kaltman et al., 2017, 2021; Scott, 2018) providing the potential for game state citations to run alongside game studies articles.

Clearly, one small set of citation standards will not cover the breadth of game artifacts, either contemporary or historical. In the preceding sections, we have presented some small examples of how different levels of reference and citation might be valuable to various types of scholarly inquiries, and we advocate for computational media-adjacent fields to lean into this complexity. Clarification of how to make a reference is also a complementary clarification of what is important to a discipline and the means needed to store it.


In considering directions in which to steer digital scholarship, the conversation around the reference of computational media artifacts is a vital one. We do not intend our arguments (or our proposed guidelines, see appendix) to be a last word, but rather hope they might serve as a continuation of the conversation that has started around the role of citation and reference within computational media as a discipline. We also invite similar conversations not just in games, but across many disciplines, particularly as questions around digital scholarship and archiving transform the study and access of various media. We can envision similar fruitful conversations arising in areas like film studies, sound studies, literature, etc. especially as the documentation of the experience of media performance becomes increasingly ubiquitous within our culture.

In thinking about the changing needs of the digital scholar, we might also ask how to build the tools that will enable scholars to leverage the power of computation to study computational media in interesting ways. One way is to realize that computer games are data, and that, as data, they can be shared and referenced in addition to their textual descriptions. With the growing availability of web browser-based emulators -- as noted in 4.1.5 -- it is now possible to reference a game’s data (including its run-time configuration) and load it dynamically inside online scholarly works (Kaltman et al., 2021). This opens up a new level of citation practice that involves linking citations to data stored on servers at memory institutions. Data that, when recovered, could bring the reader directly to a specific point in the game’s narrative or location in the game world and present it for play. This play would be preconfigured to support the argument in which it was embedded, and this potential opens up a host of questions about how citations linked to new types of data -- new types of citable objects -- can empower new modes of game scholarship

Appendix: Citation Recommendations and Best Practices

As argued in the main body of the article, many of our current practices have been adapted from codified standards of citation in print-based paradigms. Issues like constraints on printed space, inclusion of only static images, abbreviated author lists and so on will no longer be necessary as scholarship moves forward into digital distribution models. As such, our citation practices will no longer be limited by the constraints of the printed page. We can cite at greater length, link to additional references and cite additional media that would be impossible in print. In changing these practices, we will allow for more thorough and rigorous scholarship.

This appendix looks forward toward how our field may adapt to such changes. It also moves beyond the scope of the article, which is focused on critical and historical examination, and toward practical recommendations. By developing these recommendations for future citation practices, we look toward the possibilities for future academic distribution models, and future advances in digital repositories, while still recognizing the limits of current practices.

We believe that the application of Gualeni et al.’s recommendations should function as a basic minimum for game citations in academic works, and that we, as scholars, should apply the same level of detail and rigor to computational media references as those of more established print-based forms. We will explore and expand on the minimum citation format in the following sections.

Additionally, more information may be required to substantiate claims. This will depend on the type of game cited and the argument being made. In line with the prospective references outlined in 4.1.1-4.1.5 of the main article, our recommendations enumerate a partial extension of the minimum citation format. Note that the following two sections are intended to serve as guidelines; we welcome rigorous discussion to help with the clarification of additional considerations that may be necessary for new fields of study, new types of computational media objects and new perspectives on game’s “political” positioning that might not be fully considered at this time.

1 Minimum Citation Guidelines

The minimum citation form for “distributed” development is already mentioned in Section 4.1.1:

Developer. (Version, Year)[Year of original release if different]. Title [Platform]. Digital game directed by director, published by publisher.

Gualeni et al. also recommend a citation format for “recognizable” development, in which “a distinct, individual authorial vision is possible to identify.” That format is as follows:

Author. (Version, Year)[Year of original release, if different]. Title [Platform]. Digital game developed by developer, published by publisher.

This citation style, and its variant featuring “Developer” over “Author,” should be sufficient for many cases. For online games, presumably in-browser ones, the addition of “Available online at: {URL}” is also included. We also recommend the following additional guidelines:

Title: Because variants, sequels and series of games are common within the games industry, and due to the issues laid out with confusion over title serialization in library cataloging, subtitles and sequel numbers should never be truncated.

Version (including Patch Number): As the number of living games [6] increases, identifying the specific version becomes increasingly important. With most game platforms now connected to the Internet, online distributed development patches are a common occurrence in contemporary titles, which have prominent versioning to help consumers understand the current state of their installed games. In 4.1.1, we noted that some versioning identification may be difficult to discern, however an attempt should be made to find some version number as many games do significantly change based on updates, bug-fixes and revisions made through patches. Young’s aforementioned recommendations for multiple versions of The Last of Us is likely a starting point for a more thorough elaboration on versioning (Young, 2016).

Developer: Generally, a developer will be identified by a company name, an individual or a small set of individuals. If a developer is listed on physical packaging or a digital distribution page, use that developer. If no developer is listed on packaging, the packaging is not available or there is no developer credited from the download source, take the developer as listed in the software object itself (if in-game credits are available).

Year: The year of publication should align with the cited version of the game being referred to if that version was released in a different year than the original game. Gualeni et al.’s addition of “Year of original release” is also useful in that context, and also in the case of a game made with the same title on a newer platform. For example, there is Doom (2016) released in 2016 by id Software that is not the same as Doom released in 1993, however a version of 1993 Doom may have been released on a new platform in 2016 that is the same as a release platform for Doom (2016).

Platform: We agree with Gualeni et al. on the inclusion of a game’s platform (if it is determinable) upon which the cited game is played, or on which it was played in a particular referenced instance (e.g., by a researcher or in a specific performance). For general citation of games with multiple platforms, it is unclear whether to choose the earliest release platform or the platform most accessible at the moment of citation publication.

We also recommend that researchers try to use a controlled vocabulary for platforms discussed, such as the ones provided by GAMECIP (Kaltman et al., 2016). Such vocabularies will tend toward the unambiguous and accessible (e.g., “Sony Playstation 3” rather than “PlayStation” or “Microsoft Windows 8” rather than “PC”). Whenever possible, try to use terms already in use, and when not possible, try to include discussion to build toward a new controlled vocabulary.

Game Director: The inclusion of a “game director” is unlikely to be possible for some classes of historical games, as the position is aligned with more modern, large scale development work. While a game director would be in line with citing the “director” of a film, it is not as common in the games industry to assign authorial vision to a “game director” in quite the same way. Perhaps this is why Gualeni et al. do not place the “game director” as the lead agent in the “distributed” citation style.

Publisher: Again, there is a historical contingency with the use of “published by” as many early games had notable distributors instead of publishers. In the case where there is a distributor, we would include “distributed by” instead of “published by.”

2 Extended Citation Guidelines

As discussed in Section 4, different scholarly arguments will necessitate different levels of access to a specific work. In general, authors should include the level of specificity in their references needed to validate the claims in their work.

The mechanisms for the inclusion of additional information could come in the form of extended in-line citation, as noted by Gualeni et al., extended footnotes (following the Chicago Manual of Style) or in an expansion to the minimum citation style.

Additional Developer Information: In some fields of scholarly study such as film and music, it is common practice to credit the contributor(s) directly responsible for the portion of the artifact of study (e.g., citing the composer for a film). In such cases, following the in-line citation note in Gualeni et al. is probably appropriate. Their example specifically references the “creative director” development role, but it should readily expand to most other forms of discernable contribution.

Technical Specifics: For arguments about the technical nature of specific games, additional information around technical specifications, such as more specific platforms, operating systems, filenames, or even code fragments may be necessary to validate claims. In these cases, one would want to look more to the research community efforts in software citation (Smith, 2016; Di Cosmo, 2020). As mentioned in the main article, Altice (2015) probably has the most comprehensive citation style guidelines for file-like descriptors of game ROM files. This may provide further guidance, and we believe that technical specification warrants a significant look by the game studies community.

Events (Tournaments, Matches, or Performances): In many circumstances, authors may want to cite a specific performance of a game. In these cases, we recommend authors cite the performer(s) and the game, including such relevant information as dates, game versions, venue and URL to documentation (e.g., a video or recording) when such information is available. This would most likely take the form of a specific citation for the record of the event and a complementary citation of the game involved in the reference.

Place of Publication: Place of publication is historically a useful means of differentiating publishing houses, but is not always visible in game materials, and may not be included in cataloguing information. As such, we do not include it in our minimum citation guidelines.

We do, however, find place of publication to be a useful means of differentiating localizations of games. Because localizations of games may offer different content, there is an argument for including place of publication, if known, when making a reference to a particular version of a game.

Parts of Games, Files, or States: When referring to specific moments in a game, it may make sense to include such information as specific levels, moments, or parts of games. While in many cases, citing a performance of a play-through (ideally with a particular time stamp) is adequate for discussing a particular state, authors may also make arguments that scholars wish to validate through their own play. Especially when such play experiences are only available in difficult-to-reach states (e.g., many hours into a game, via a glitch, based on generative processes that do not function the same way for all players) making save game states, recorded input strings or other means of reaching the states available in digital repositories is recommended.

More generally, as scholarship moves forward toward digital distribution, style guides might also consider the additional inclusion of links to particular file repositories or links to external tools such as emulators.

Modifications: Modifications to games (mods), are additional game files, usually created by someone other than the developer -- sometimes developer-sanctioned, sometimes not -- that change or extend the game in some way. In these cases, the mod is considered a derivative work, and the mod’s creator deserves recognition alongside the creator of the game. However, because mods are usually dependent on the original game to run, the original game should not be omitted from the citation or both the mod and the game should be cited individually, with the mod citation referencing the game.

Location-Specific Works: In some instances, the location in which a work is experienced is vital to the experience of a work. Live-performed works, such as interactive plays, live-action roleplaying games and location-specific alternate-reality games fall into this category. In these instances, we recommend the inclusion of the location in which the work was experienced (and ideally the date).

3 Best Practices

In addition to providing guidelines for citations themselves, we also propose more general best-practices for researchers to follow in thinking about their own reference practices. Again, we do not propose these to be an exhaustive set of regulations, but rather as a starting point upon which conversations about citation practices might arise.

3.1 Use Controlled Vocabularies

One common occurrence in the Game Studies citation example set was a lack of consistent naming for platform designations. Game Studies does provide for a standard set of spellings for game-related terms in their submission guidelines, but they do not appear to be drawn from an authority outside of the journal itself. Because cataloguers (and records management systems more generally) depend on consistent terminology to keep their records organized across institutions, using controlled vocabularies of metadata is vital. Whenever possible, see if there is a standardized naming scheme for the particular subcomponents of a citation.

3.2 Declare Vocabulary Extensions

As the study of games expands, the types of games studied and the formats of these objects will necessarily change. It will become necessary to extend our current controlled vocabularies.

However, in cases in which a researcher uses a new term when referencing a game, we recommend explicitly calling attention to how a term expands the vocabulary, why, and how the new term ontologically differs from terms already in use.

3.3 Consider What Information is Needed to Validate Claims

As outlined in the main article, we ask that researchers consider what level of access to the media artifacts they reference is needed to validate their claims, and that they format citations with an eye toward retrievability.

3.4 Consider Attribution

As media studies move forward, we can also envision means of linking to databases of contributors, allowing for attribution-conscious references that might enable the reference or citation of media objects and their associated contributors to be tracked and measured with the same rigor as academic attributions. Be conscious of the implications in providing attribution to a single individual, as in the case of the “distinguished” style above, to guard against the potential erasure of contributions.

3.5 Seek Ways to Lessen Citation Burden

In this age of digital citation tools, sharing properly considered and formatted citations, especially for commonly cited games, is one way to considerably lessen the burden of citation on scholars. Sharing well-formatted citations also encourages common vocabularies, and consistency across citations allows for easier tracking of citations, and following of references.

In addition to sharing metadata in digital citation tools, we ask that scholars and style guides seek ways to lessen the burden of citation on future scholars.

3.6 Consider Cross-Disciplinary Research

Our review of Game Studies found several instances in which assumed cultural knowledge served as a shorthand that allowed for a lack of references (and lack of citations). While everyone in the field may know what Game X is, how it plays and who created it, other communities and adjacent fields may not have that common cultural understanding. We ask that researchers consider whether their references would make sense to a researcher from another field, and when in doubt refer to the guidelines above.

3.7 Consider the Future

Similarly, in thinking about reference practices and citations, we ask that researchers consider not only current communities of practice, but also future research communities and technologies. We recommend providing explicit ways to obtain media referenced, at the level needed to validate claims, through archival sources (e.g., depositing performance video in a digital repository, and referencing that copy, rather than depending on commercial video sharing platforms, which offer no guarantees of longevity).

3.8 Do Not Count Citations Against Page Count

For some publishing venues, the space constraint of the printed page are still very real concerns. Increasingly many academic venues, however, exclusively publish in digital formats, which theoretically need not be bound to as rigorous space concerns for citations. Whenever possible, we ask that publishing venues consider omitting reference sections from their enforcement of page counts, thereby encouraging authors toward more inclusive and rigorous citation.



[1] Many games in series reuse the same primary title across multiple entries and multiple platforms, which is an issue when cataloguers enter data into cataloging systems that assume unique titles across things like editions but not software platforms. For example, “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey” would be entered with “Assassin’s Creed” as the primary title and “Odyssey” as subtitle, which would not be desirable given the other titles in the franchise. Placing the primary and subtitle into the primary title field also create an issue, as there are multiple versions of the game for multiple platforms, leading to “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (PS4)” as a potential entry, but again there is no standard in larger cataloging for how to cover this quite common case and “PS4” is not actually in the game’s title, leading to ontological issues within the rather strict world of cataloging.

[2] The former Game Studies specification is now unavailable, as the guidelines were updated in June 2020. Fortunately, there is a cached version available at:

[3] Games as performance is highlighted further in Lowood et al.’s chapter in Histories of Performance Documentation, work that came about as a result of GAMECIP investigations (Lowood et al. 2017).

[4]Doom Classic” is a reference to a version of the Doom engine, not a version of Doom, and is therefore quoted instead of italicized.

[5] There are numerous modern Doom engine ports that support historic gameplay files as well, however while we are open to discussions of more complex file dependency related citation (see 4.1.4) we will not get into that level of depth here. How a modern port “manifests” the data from an older system is also slightly addressed in (4.1.5) while discussing emulation and state citation.

[6] By living games, we mean games that persist over an extended period of time and change over time through developer updates or player input. Prominent examples include World of Warcraft, Second Life, and Street Fighter V.



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