Following the definition given by Ian Bogost in How to Do Things with Videogames: a “medium [is] an extension of ourselves for just this reason: it structures and informs our understanding and behavior” (Bogost 2). I want to extend this by arguing that video games act as a medium because they allow people to have an interactive experience that allows the simulation of a real event.
In properly arguing video games to be a medium, a video game must have the trait of becoming extensions of people’s realities. This intrinsic connection between a person and the digital environment within the video game lies within the change of perspective that a video game can provide. By forcing or allowing a person to play a player role within the video game experience, it allows a natural immersion into the scope and rules of the game. Lev Manovich states, “as the player proceeds through the game, she gradually discovers the rules that operate in the universe constructed” by the game (McKenzie 21). People become players within the game and they have to learn the limitations and constraints of their abilities in an algorithmically controlled setting. To win, one must conform to the rules and bound oneself in that immersive environment as quickly as possible. This is interesting because this arguably imposed mentality to become a subject within the realm of the game delivers the trait of the extent of one’s self within the game.
To share a personal experience as a gamer, I used to play a lot of FIFA (a soccer game) during high school. In addition to that, I was very active as an actual soccer player, playing Varsity for my high school and for a travel team as well. When I think about the power of video games as an extension of ourselves, I always refer to the integration of my real soccer player experience and my simulated soccer experience. The power of video games created a gray area and meshed those two aforementioned experiences in terms of my personal abilities. When considering video games to be a set universe with limitations, those limitations many times are greater than those of real life. FIFA allowed me to shoot greater distances, do skill moves, and run without getting tired. This influenced me because after playing FIFA and going to a soccer game or training I would over-estimate my abilities in those areas. This speaks volumes of how video games can temporarily mind alter your own physical capabilities. This creates an extended real-life experience, and does so in an enhanced form.
The second important characteristic to consider is the role video games play in structuring and informing our own understanding and behavior. I think this is really speaking about a medium’s cultural influence and relevance in human society. This characteristic of video games is clearly demonstrated in today’s society. As Neil Postman is quoted saying in How to Do Things with Videogames, “in the year 1500, fifty years after the printing press was invented, we did not have old Europe plus the printing press. We had a different Europe” (Bogost 6). Video games have contributed to changes in the modern culture, especially among the teenagers. Just to give an economic perspective of video gaming prevalence in the United States’ culture, Amazon acquired Twitch.tv for $1.1 billion a month ago. Twitch is a site that live-streams video game footage to 45 million viewers a month. Amazon, a company that is always following innovation and generally makes sound acquisitions, is moving into the growing video game industry within entertainment. Video games create cultural movements and big franchise games such as Call of Duty, Halo, and World of Warcraft develop an astounding following. Now, with the creation and growth of Twitch, people do not only have the hobby of playing video games, but also watch players play video games. When it reaches this level of hysteria and enthusiasm among the gaming community, it can only signify that video game industry has permanently embedded itself in society.
Video games meet the two defining traits necessary by Bogost’s definition. However, video games take it a step further as a very versatile medium. Even though they are known for their first person shooter and sport simulation games, video games extend much further than that. Aside from the general main purpose of video games, which is winning, new technologies are pushing video games to become more useful for educational or preparation purposes. One example that was shared with us in the DiVE (Duke Immersive Virtual Environment) lab was that they are trying to create a cave-like simulation that can be used to train U.S. Army soldiers in cave combat and essentially prepare them mentality for the darkness and tight spaces that they are to encounter in real warfare. This is similar to the enhanced experience that FIFA gave me to a greater degree; however, this video game would be exposing a soldier to a cave experience, and in doing so, mentally enhancing his or her readiness of what to expect.
It is important to understand how dynamically video games are expanding in cultural relevance and scope. New developers are branching out and focusing on directions varying from educational games for math courses to perfecting the coding physics for airplane pilots that now have to spend 100 plus hours on airplane simulators before being able to practice in a real plane. These are a few examples of the different directions gaming is moving towards. As this grows, the quality of simulation video games is inherently increasing.
Playing video games means “to play the code of the game. To win means to know the system. And thus to interpret a game means to interpret its algorithm” (Wark 21). As simulations improve and slowly coincide with the limitations or algorithms of real-life, (which is already starting to happen, having experienced the DiVE simulations) winning in the game will essentially mean winning in the actual real-life situation. To this hypothesis of the future perfection of video gaming simulations, Wark’s statement that video games are real-life and real-life is a video game may become true, because the distinctions may blur and become one (it is a scary thought, but it may not be far off).
Bogost, Ian . “Introduction.” How To Do Things With Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. 1-8. Print. Mckenzie
Stone, Brad, and Adam Satariano. “Amazon Bets on Gamer Website Twitch in $970 Million Deal.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 25 Aug. 2014. Web. 06 Oct. 2014. <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-25/amazon-buying-gamer-website-twitch-for-1-billion.html>.
Wark, McKenzie. Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. Print.