My article on the uses and applications of formalism and formal analysis in game studies titled “The Form of Game Formalism” is out now in the latest issue of Cogitatio Press’ Media and Communication.
In this article I explore how various traditions of formalism have influenced the formalist approach to digital game studies. I go on to identify three types of formalism in game studies based on a review of their uses in the literature, particularly the discussion of essentialism and form that resulted from the narratology-ludology debate:
1) formalism focused on the aesthetic form of the game artifact,
2) formalism as game essentialism, and
3) formalism as a level of abstraction, related to formal language and ontology-like reasoning.
The three types are discussed in relation to the distinctions between form and matter, in the Aristotelian tradition. Moreover, the relationship between game essentialism and the more computer science-centric approach to ontology is explored to account for the contemporary trend of identifying the unique properties of games and opposing them with properties of more traditional storytelling media, explored through their aesthetic form. Finally, I argue that he method of formal analysis of games appears to be dealing with matter rather than form, on a specific fundamental level of abstraction. Therefore, formal analysis becomes a misleading or at the very least problematic concept.