Game Critique

With the development of the computational ability of machines, the videogame as an important tool for entertainment enters into everyone’s life and affects the society development directly or indirectly. Videogames, together with other traditional media like newspapers and films, carry their information and give people an extended reality while they spread information. From the view of media microecology[1], the videogame as a part of this ecology should be studied if we want to know the media ecology critically and systematically.

Are videogames media? This question has been debated for a long time by many scholars with so many people with old fashioned thinking believing that videogames designed for entertainment with interaction, computational models and digital roles should not be recognized as media. Those people ignore the impacts and nature of videogames behind the computational structures and entertainment activities. A medium is defined as “(1) a channel or system of communication, information, or entertainment — compare mass medium (2) a publication or broadcast that carries advertising (3) a mode of artistic expression or communication (4) something (as a magnetic disk) on which information may be stored”[2] in Merriam-Webster dictionary. It is obvious that videogames are media considering that information is communicated while videogame is interacting with the player and this information always reflects the designers’ thinking about space and time, life and death, justice and evil, society and nature, and so on. In addition, the videogame is a much more powerful medium compared with traditional media that can only affect people by texts, sounds and images. In a videogame, one can interact with the computational program; can experience a virtual life with their avatar in it; can live in a universe that has totally different rules from the real one. With the computational model, digital roles and interaction with players, videogames have huge amount of users and are more widespread compared with traditional media which can be easily seen from the download frequency of videogames and the region of gamers and the amount of games in everyone’s smart phone. Not everyone likes reading Hamlet but everyone likes playing Angry Birds; New York Times is not popular in every country but Angry Birds is popular everywhere in the world.

The videogame like other medium has its own diversity and extends from purely artistic uses to purely instrumental uses. It is true that some videogames are full of violence. But not all! The violence in films is no less than that in videogames. We should see the whole situation and give a critical opinion towards videogames. The videogame as a medium is a platform for designers to show their opinions and thinking about life and about world by means of computational models. For example, games like Flow and Cloud try to make the player have a slow pace when playing. That is the designer’s attitude toward life. With the simple structure and slow pace, Flow and Cloud tell us to take a low pace and enjoy the simple life. Videogames have unmatchable advantages over other media as for conveying new ideas about space and time. Portal and Braid are the two typical representations of games that give the players a total new concept about space and time. In Portal, the player uses the gun to create holes on walls to change the space structure of the world. Going into the hole, the player will shift to another space linked by holes. And in Braid, time can be controlled by the player. The player can learn from the past and uses the new concept of time to complete missions impossible for normal time sequence. Besides entertainment, videogames can be practical and used as instrumental tools in many cases. The simulation games like flight simulator are well known for their function for training pilots and soldiers. Scientists have realized the power of games and they have designed many serious games to help solve scientific problems by the collective intelligence of massive players all over the world. For example, Foldit is designed by the biology scientists in order to find new structures of proteins that could be useful in medicine design. In this game, the player design structures of proteins according to the rules and the system will score every structure. The structures that earn high scores are studied by the scientists to see if they have special properties. And many research accomplishments have been got by this way.


Fig. 1. A screenshot of the game Foldit.

“Medium is message”. Regardless the contents of a videogame,  the videogame itself is an object that is informative and should be studied. “Gamespace is everywhere.”[3] The word “gamespace” is induced by the videogames. In videogames, what players do is to compete with others to earn high scores. What players do is just obey the rules and make use of the rules to do activities that have been programmed before. Is that like some people’s life? For some people, they go along the way that has been designed by their parents or themselves years before. That kind of life is programmed just like what the designers do to games. The real difference between real life and games lies in the fact that things happen in the next moment are unknown to people. That is the real meaning of life. People should abandon the “programmed” way and think about what they really want. Otherwise, they will live in a gamespace until death. Videogames invoke the thinking of life out of gamespace.

The videogame has become a new medium that comprises the media ecology with other media. As a medium, it has the common properties with other traditional media. And at the same time it has some unmatchable advantages over other media due to its computational model and ability of interaction. In order to learn more about modern media and their functions, it is necessary to study videogames critically in terms of the contents and forms.


[1] Bogost, Ian. “Media Microecology.” Introduction. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011. N. pag. Print.

[2] “Medium.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <>

[3] Wark, McKenzie. “Agony.” Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. N. pag. Print.