Lit 80, Fall 2013
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Game(r) Critique

September 30th, 2013 | Posted by Mithun Shetty in Uncategorized

            I have played video games for most of my life. My first video game device was the Gameboy Color, on which I played games like Pokémon Yellow, Red, Blue, and an assortment of others religiously. My first console, the Nintendo 64, was also played into the ground – 3D environments of the Legend of Zelda and Mario 64 brought me to a place that a 2D handheld screen could not. However, regardless of what the game looked like, I’ve always been able to immerse myself in both the environment and storyline of the game. Rather than a mere diversion, most games became an alternate reality for me – I handled the tasks and challenges of the game seriously and sometimes forgot that I was even playing a game. This early experience to video games was definitely a formative experience for me as an individual.

Games have a profound academic value and should be studied – they are multidimensional works that have value in the natural sciences and humanities alike. A game is absolutely a work of art – this is evident in the video game Journey for the Playstation 3. Simply looking at the game is breathtaking – serene landscapes, minimalist ambient noise, and character designs are carefully detailed to produce a pleasant audiovisual experience. One could study a game environment similar to how he or she might study a painting in a museum – more often than not, game environments are specifically designed with a purpose (as opposed to simply repeating a series of textures to fill empty space). Perhaps the environment seeks to disorient the player with bright colors or strobe-like visuals. These types of games could be classified as abstract art:

LA Game Space Experimental Game Pack 01: “DEPTH”

As technology and computer hardware are continually advancing, so too are the graphics of the games being produced in terms of replicating real-world images. Games are becoming so life-like by way of texture detail, colors, shading, and a slew of other computer miracles. In a decade alone, one series managed to completely reupholster its image while maintaining its gameplay:

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition (2011) vs. Halo: Combat Evolved (2001)

These types of games are prime examples of realism in art and can be classified into their own genre.

Further, games can also be studied from a psychological or neurological perspective. Exposure to video games, especially at a younger age, changes how individuals choose to handle real-life situations (BBC). Depending on its difficulty, a game can make an individual more detail-oriented or thorough in real-life tasks. Additionally, studies have shown a correlation between playing video games and hand-eye coordination skills (CNN). Also, the effects that the environments of games have on the visual cortex can provide information regarding certain patterns that explain how humans direct their attention to external stimuli (USC). The level of engagement required in individual games would be interesting to study as well. As Laetitia Wilson describes in her “Interactivity or Interpassivity” (2009), all video games are interpassive experiences. Compare this idea to the idea of interactive games, which have a direct effect on the player. An interactive game (such as Portal) requires a serious level of engagement from the player. It requires critical thinking skills, spatial reasoning skills, understanding of changing physics, and much more. Interpassive games, such as Flow, are much less taxing and serve a different purpose. They are “calming” games which feature soothing colors, music, or simplified gameplay. Interactive games have the player creating his or her own emotional states, whereas interpassive ones transfer these emotional states to the player passively.

Games are also quite useful in providing concrete examples to abstract philosophical concepts. Many philosophical or ethical dilemmas are difficult to understand on paper; video games allow the player to more profoundly understand the dilemma by “living” the experience. For example, The Company of Myself requires the player to kill what is assumed to be his girlfriend/wife in order to progress. The player can choose to continue the story and kill her, or cease playing. Another example is found in the Bioshock series. The game takes place in a dystopian society under the sea. Without getting into too much detail, the player is often times presented with the decision to harvest a parasite from another type of character (which yields more monetary gain but kills the characters) or exorcise the characters (which saves them but yields less monetary gain). The effects of this decision are manifested in the ending of the game, which changes according to how many characters were killed or saved.

Bioshock 2: Harvest or Adopt (Rescue) Little Sisters?

Bogost says that a medium is characterized by the variety of uses it has: “we can understand the relevance of a medium by looking at the variety of things it does” (Bogost 3). The aforementioned examples already qualify games as a medium, but they merely scratch the surface of what games have to offer. It is quite easy to see games as a medium when they are compared to classical examples of media. Books, for example, contain information and, in some cases, rely on the reader’s imagination to transport them to a different reality. Video games do much the same – they contain text information, graphical information, and also serve the function of transporting the player to an alternate reality. The feeling one can get from playing certain games is an escape from the real world. The avatar/perspective in the game is a conduit for the player to experience a wider variety of physical skills or abilities. This alternate world allows us to use our imagination and experience sensations beyond our physical capabilities. Cloud gives players the gift of flight; The Company of Myself and Braid gives players the ability to control time. These functions provide something books cannot – they have a wider range of functions and can convey information in a different manner. It is likely that people consider games as not being a medium due to the subject matter and general stigma of many commercial video games (violence, sexual themes, time-wasting, etc.) However, games have serious potential to be used as valuable tools of transmitting information and should be utilized as such (in addition to recreational purposes).

Works Cited

Bogost, Ian. How To Do Things With Video Games. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011.

Fleming, Nic. “Why Video Games May Be Good for You.” BBC.com. BBC, 26 Aug. 2013. Web. Nov. 2013. <http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20130826-can-video-games-be-good-for-you>.

Roach, John. “Video Games Boost Visual Skills, Study Finds.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 28 May 2003. Web. Nov. 2013. <http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/05/0528_030528_videogames.html>.

Steinberg, Scott. “How Video Games Can Make You Smarter.” CNN. Cable News Network, 31 Jan. 2011. Web. Nov. 2013. <http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/gaming.gadgets/01/31/video.games.smarter.steinberg/>.

Tortell, Rebecca, and Jacquelyn F. Morie. Videogame Play and the Effectiveness of Virtual Environments for Training. Http://ict.usc.edu. USC, 2006. Web. <http://ict.usc.edu/pubs/Videogame%20play%20and%20the%20effectiveness%20of%20virtual%20environments%20for%20training.pdf>.

Wilson, Laetitia. “Interactivity or Interpassivity: A Question of Agency in Digital Play.”Fine Art Forum 17.8 (2009)

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