Platform Studies Inquiry

Your platform studies inquiry is an in-depth consideration of the material history and technological relations of both an individual videogame and the specific hardware you use to play that game. This platform might be a PC, a console, a portable gaming system, or a phone or tablet. This inquiry is worth 15% of your final grade for HNRS 353 and is due via Blackboard on Thursday, February 23. The inquiry should be 5-10 pages long (double-spaced, with 1″ margins), not including your properly formatted bibliography.

First, begin by reviewing the idea of platform studies. Your platform studies inquiry will go beyond the five levels at the heart of this methodology, as you will also be working towards what we could call a pre-platform picture of the elements that go into the making of a game—such as the specific physical components of a system, and the sources of those components.

The general rule of this inquiry is this: Strive to come as close to the source as possible. In art history this is called provenance, tracing a timeline of a historical object’s ownership and location. What is the provenance of the game you play and the hardware you play it on?

The inquiry is divided into three sections: (1) software, (2) hardware, and (3) a synthesis.


The software section of your inquiry will be the shorter of the two sections.

  1. Begin by deciding what game you want to use as the basis of your inquiry. It should be a game you are familiar with and play often. It can be an intense game that takes weeks to play or a casual game that can be played in a few minutes.
  2. Investigate the company and people that created the game, published it, and distributed it (these are not always the same group of people). Try to trace the game back to its most nascent origins. Also consider the constituent parts of a game (for example, a game may use a 3D graphics engine designed by a third party entirely).
  3. The credits of a game are a great place to start. But your paper should not read as simply a list of names and places. Use the credits as clues to help you pinpoint the chronological and geographical provenance of the game. And distill what you consider to be the most crucial or intriguing of these pinpoints into your paper, explaining why you choose these particular elements of the software to focus on.


The bulk of your inquiry will be devoted to investigating the hardware that runs the game you studied in the software section.

  1. Begin by stating clearly what hardware runs the game you’re studying. Be as specific as possible, using model numbers and serial numbers.
  2. Analyze which specific components of the hardware directly influence and/or constrain the game you played. This is the most traditional “platform studies” part of the inquiry. But there is no need to consider every hardware component. Instead choose a few critical components (say, a graphics chip, touch screen, or controller) that profoundly impact how the game is experienced. Be sure to explain why you’ve chosen to focus on these particular components.
  3. Trace back at least two of these components as far back as you can. Where were they designed? Where were they manufactured? What sub-components are in these components and where do they come from? (Think of this as the coltan-level of your inquiry.)


Spend a bit of time synthesizing what you’ve found out. Some question you may want to consider include the following (though you are not limited to these questions, and you don’t have to answer all of them or in any particular order): What was your most unexpected finding? What patterns did you notice? What component was the most difficult to trace back to its origin? Was there some component or element of the software or hardware that seemed markedly different from the others? What can your findings tell us about the interlocking circuits of production, marketing, distribution, and consumption?


There are a wide range of sources online that can help you trace the provenance of software and hardware. Wikipedia is a great place to start, but it should not be your endpoint.  Use the reference section found on every Wikipedia page to go back to primary sources. Remember the guiding rule of this inquiry: Strive to come as close to the source as possible.