Ida Katherine Hammeleff Jørgensen

Ida is a postdoctoral researcher on the ERC-advanced grant project, Making Sense of Games. She received her PhD from the IT University of Copenhagen in June 2020, where she studied representation in games using simulation/models as the theoretical starting point and gender as empirical field.

Contact information:
ihjo at

Espen Aarseth

Editor-in-Chief, Game Studies.

Game Analysis Reloaded

by Ida Katherine Hammeleff Jørgensen, Espen Aarseth

Games have come to constitute a significant cultural phenomenon in our time. During the last 20 years or more, the study of games has evolved from a marginalized topic among the established fields of the humanities to a field of its own that attracts scholars of culture, media, literature, philosophy and psychology, to name just a few. This development is both enriching and challenging. It is of course enriching because scholars of each field or discipline bring with them new perspectives on games along with their own ways, reasons and methods for studying them. As a result, the game studies of today is a much more diverse, interdisciplinary and stimulating field of research. On the other hand, this situation also poses significant challenges. Although repeated ad nauseam, the observation that it is difficult to point to one common denominator of all games is as true today as when it was first made by Wittgenstein in 1953. Although this may be an intellectually stimulating challenge, it can also turn into a significant problem when this ill-defined object of study is approached from dissimilar disciplines: if game researchers are not even studying the same phenomenon, how can the field productively employ, develop and harness its theories, methods and findings? This problem is ontological, epistemological, methodological and political, and like all complicated problems it deserves a nuanced answer.

The humanistic practice of game analysis has been around and slowly developed for almost four decades, ever since the first journal articles began to appear in Europe and The USA around 1984. In 1985 came the first PhD dissertation, Mary Ann Buckles’ pioneering analysis of the text game Colossal Cave Adventure (Crowther, W. & Woods, D., 1977). Buckles’ dissertation is more than a simple analysis of a game; it also contains highly valuable reflections on game analysis as such, and is an exemplary attempt to grapple with an unknown type of textual object. Instead of choosing a single theoretical paradigm, she eclectically applies five different methodologies to see what would yield fruitful results. Among her many groundbreaking observations is that players of these games employ scientific methods, thereby foreshadowing the discussions of theorycrafting that appeared more than a quarter of a century later. This is not the place for a full reevaluation of Buckles’ work, but it must be noted that such a reevaluation is long overdue.

This special issue of Game Studies accompanies the Game Analysis Perspectives conference taking place at the IT University of Copenhagen on April 20th-23rd 2022. In the Call for Papers, we focused on what may very well be the most central aspect of game studies, namely the practice and methodologies of analyzing games. Like most practices, game analysis is something one must learn. Therefore, the CfP stressed the need to build more methodological transparency in game analysis. How can the tacit knowledge of the researchers in the field be turned into qualified and coherent methodologies? Rendering visible existing but unspoken practices and normative assumptions is vital in order to cultivate analytical practices and avoid marginalization of students and junior scholars as well as of those researchers tackling games from beyond the fuzzy field of game studies. We also emphasized that the interdisciplinarity of game studies calls for better and more obvious connections between different existing strands of game analytical approaches.

The six articles selected for this special issue of Game Studies all reflect the interdisciplinarity of game studies as well as the many different notions of games, and the analytical diversity that comes with it. The starting point of Daneels, Denoo, Vandewalle, Dupont and Malliet’s article is the interdisciplinarity of game studies as a field. They observe that game analysis is challenged by the participatory quality of its object of study, by the many ways that games can be framed and understood by analysts and by a lack of cross-historical analytical methodologies. To mitigate these challenges, the authors offer a protocol for conducting game analysis. Rather than a definite game analysis framework, the DiGAP, as they call their protocol aims to be flexible enough to cater to studies of many different phenomena in games, while at the same time ensuring analytical rigor and transparency in the communication of the analysis. The protocol consists of seven sections each detailing important aspects of analytical work, such as deciding on the study’s rationale and research question, sampling games for analysis, deciding on game versions and platforms as well as difficulty level and mode of completion, choosing analytical framework and so on. As such, their protocol offers a comprehensive reference that should be useful for students and experienced researchers alike.

Kłosiński offers a similar manual, but this time focusing on a particular mode of game analysis informed by the philosophy of hermeneutics. Kłosiński frames it as a non-totalizing procedure supporting game interpretations rather than an extensive and all-encompassing framework. The article offers a useful discussion of hermeneutic theory and inquiry in games and discusses how hermeneutics can be used by researchers from various backgrounds, coupled with their own disciplinary perspectives. This manual covers issues ranging from high level concerns such as what existential inquiry is in relation to games, to the very concrete questions one may ask about the game when performing existential inquiry. This way, the article makes the latent hermeneutic method of most humanistic disciplines easier to understand and apply in analyses of games.

In comparison, Backe offers a more bespoke hermeneutic inquiry into a particular game, namely Deathloop. The starting point is a fascinating game that departs in non-obvious ways from similar games and from the genre in which the game is discursively positioned. Backe then makes sense of this game by imposing a particular concept on it -- metamodernism -- as a hermeneutic lens with which he builds an understanding of the game as a cultural product. Backe’s intriguing analysis of the game shows that interpreting games as cultural products must always be grounded in the object itself, rather than in some ready-made model.

Fizek’s article focuses on how games can be analyzed as algorithmic spectacles. Fizek explores games as images that can be configured and operated by the player and argues that these images visualize and simulate rather than depict reality. Fizek aims to move beyond what she describes as analytical dualism in game studies, namely the differentiation between representations and mechanics, and between decorative and simulative imagery. Fizek discusses the analytical implications of this way of looking at digital images, and proposes approaches to study the meaning within. With this, Fizek at the same time zooms in on very particular visual aspects of digital games, while maintaining that this requires a distinct theoretical framing of video game objects. These visual expressions are considered in conjunction with their computational, operational and engaging aspects.

In contrast to the focus on the spectacular aspects of games, Dwyer’s article considers the soundscapes of games, and how “sound walking” can be used as a method for game analysis. Their analysis of Watch_Dogs 2 focuses on how different neighborhoods in the game’s open world are socioeconomically classed through auditory cues related to sex work. This analysis employs different modes of listening, but also demonstrates how the players’ navigation through space -- and how different modes of interacting with non-player characters and objects in the game -- play an important role in the construction of its soundscape.

In the final article of this issue, Keever offers a discussion of the potential for ideological critique in game analysis. This discussion revolves around the notion of “agency” as Keever criticizes how this concept has been theorized in posthuman approaches to game studies. As a response, Keever considers ideology a technology that produces subjects within a material apparatus, such as games. In an analysis of the game Outer Wilds, Keever shows how this production of subjectivity is enforced on a technical and representational level.

Common to several of the articles is that they are not proposing “all-inclusive” approaches to game analysis. Rather, they acknowledge that games are multifarious and disorderly phenomena. But all six articles deal with this premise in different ways. Some focus on meta-methodology issues, some insist on being open-ended and explorative, and others insist on being tailor-made for specific games or game genres; or focus on particular aspects and phenomena of games. Compared to earlier analytical frameworks, this is maybe suggestive of a common trend in game analysis today. After two decades of game studies, game researchers may now be thoroughly grounded in the field, and allow themselves to truly embrace its interdisciplinary messiness.



This special issue has been devised and carried out as part of the Horizon 2020 ERC Advanced grant MSG -- Making Sense of Games (Grant Agreement No 695528). The aim of this project has been to develop the game-specific methods and theoretical foundations necessary to train researchers and build curricula. This special issue works towards this aim by gathering some of the most innovative approaches to game analysis.

We’d like to thank the rest of the MSG team, Rune Lundedal Nielsen, Pawel Grabarczyk, Miruna Vozaru, Nina Houe, Michael Debus, Joleen Blom and Frederik Bakkerud who have contributed with valuable help and support during the whole editing process.

This special issue would not be possible without authors who daringly submit their work for review. We also highly appreciate the work of our reviewers who have spent a lot of time reading, evaluating and giving feedback to the authors. Finally, we want to extend our thanks to the editorial team at Game Studies, and particularly to Ryan Wright, Maria Gedoz Tieppo and Jessica Enevold.



Buckles, M.A. (1985). Interactive Fiction: The Computer Storygame 'Adventure' [Doctoral dissertation, University of California San Diego].

Crowther, W. & Woods, D. (1997). Colossal Cave Adventure [Digital Entertainment Corporation PPD-10]. Digital game designed by William Crowther and Don Woods, distributed by Crowther & Don Woods.

Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical investigations. Basil Blackwell.

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