In a single sentence in a homework for a historical overview I mention that:

Video games [in academia] became relevant only after the new milennium. Before that, topics concerning video games mentioned them mostly as an application of computer graphics, but did not as a major part of research, maybe with a few minor exceptions.

I don’t want to linger on this topic at all but I am making myself crazy about how I can prove the correctness of the broad scope of that assumption without performing a whole study on when what paper handled what topic in what timeframe. How do I do that?

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Ah, finding citations to back up generalizations. I know that annoyance, and I'm glad you're alert to it. When I'm editing my writing and find something like this, here's my thought process:

  1. Do I really need to establish this time frame in the first place? If I can delete this part without negatively affecting my argument, all the better.

  2. What would a really picky person respond and how do I deal with that? ("Actually, video games have been relevant since Pong!" "OK, I should narrow my claim substantially...")

  3. Who would have written about this authoritatively in a way I can reference or quote? (For instance, look for a review article on video games in academia: someone reviewing the field systematically or a long-term contributor to the field could say the same thing with more gravitas.)

  4. Is there systematic evidence I could use, such as the founding dates of academic journals that are specifically about video games? (Perhaps the first issue editor's note would say something relevant.)

  5. What examples am I thinking of? How can I reference them without claiming to be comprehensive? E.g. "Video games were used in academic studies on computer graphics (see Mario 1987 and Luigi 1993), but it was a major breakthrough when articles began dealing with video games as an art form (e.g. SuperMeatBoy 2013)."

More generally, timeline statements should usually be deleted out in the editing process.

It bugs me when my students make historical-ish claims without having a true historical perspective. ("Nowadays, computers are more and more important!") These usually happen in introductions, where people are getting warmed up writing about the topic.

"History" is rarely an interesting hook for a paper introduction, unless the whole thing is a nuanced historical analysis or there are interesting anecdotes that highlight a contrast. ("When Don Knuth began working with computers, it was standard practice to X (Knuth p. XYZ). Even though today computer scientists often do Y, implementing X in an object-oriented programming language can help us understand [topic].")

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  • The topic is actually a historical overview of videogames using a certain current topical technique ... , so history is actually exactly what I ramble on about for the next 20 pages ... – salbeira Mar 26 '18 at 23:44
  • Ah. In that case, hopefully the content of the paper will help you pick out key milestones to highlight, a la point 5. :) – cactus_pardner Mar 26 '18 at 23:54
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    +1 especially for Do I really need to establish this time frame in the first place?, which generated the OP's clarifying comment and edit of the original question, and which resulted in my more focused answer. (I thought I had already upvoted your answer, but as I was heading out the door to the gym this early a.m. morning, I realized that I had overlooked doing so.) – Dave L Renfro Mar 27 '18 at 7:49

You could consider softening the assertion to something like the following.

Literature searches indicate that published academic research in video games, excluding applications to computer graphics, is confined mainly to the new millennium.

This replaces your assertion about actual academic research with an assertion about what literature searches reveal. If your field of study allows some informality in writing, then you could further soften the assertion to something like “Our literature searches . . .”, and now the claim is made only for literature searches that YOU have conducted.

I recommend omitting the filler phrases “but did not as a major part of research” and “maybe with a few minor exceptions”. Your previous remarks, and certainly my use of “confined mainly”, does not suggest the absence of minor exceptions. Besides, depending on what “minor exceptions” means, this could be said about pretty much anything, and thus these phrases add essentially nothing but extra words.

If you have access to ProQuest, which is likely if you have access to a U.S. university, then you can conduct full-text and title searches for “video games” (for title searches, use “TI(put search words here)”). Not all results of such a search will be available to you, but from among the theses that are available to you, there might be some which give historical overviews and/or literature searches that could be helpful, not only with relevant literature and research results but also with examples of the kinds of sentences you’re trying to write.

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