Lit 80, Fall 2013
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Video Games: A Critical Analysis

September 30th, 2013 | Posted by Zhan Wu in Uncategorized

Very much from the occurance of colossal computers that filled rooms in the early 1970s to the ultrabooks super thin laptops we have nowadays, video games have existed to fill our needs for entertainment and maybe even learning. Video games have increasingly become sophisticated as newly operating software were produced and better-performing hardware were invented. Indeed, the digital information boom at the end of the 20th century engendered a series of ultrafast developments that led from the creation of multi-pixel 8-bit video games such as Pacman, to the open world non-linear games such as Grand Theft Auto, which take on several gigabytes on the computer’s hardware storage capacity.

With the sophistication and proliferation of games, people have engendered more complex and mixed reviews about them. Computer games were originally for entertainment for those very few who could afford computers only. As software became cheaper to manufacture, the word “PC” (personal computer) emerged, and families were already buying PCs and software (including video games) in numbers.

Before we go deep into the societal impact video games have for the generations around this time, a choice must be made of whether video games are mediums or not. A simple look-up in the dictionary tells us that mediums are “an agency or means of doing something.” Ian Bogost, in his book How to Do Things with Videogames, claimed that: “ games are models of experiences…we operate these models…our actions [are] constrained by their rules…we take on a role in a videogame, putting ourselves in the shoes of someone else…” (Bogost 04) Simply said, video games are a means for people to immerse themselves in information models to assume a role in a certain environment. Therefore, according to Bogost, (and I would strongly agree) video games are a medium.

It is not untrue that video games caused quite a dilemma for families in the 80s and 90s. In fact, many families reported that their children were virtually addicted to video games and did not put enough attention on the family. The problem persists till today as a main family and societal issue. This is also why “All-too-familiar questions arise about whether games promote violent action or whether they make us fat through inactivity.” (Bogost 05) In his bestseller, however, Bogost talks about how parents and people alike have simply misjudged video games as a dichotomous choice of good or bad, which he dubbed as the “media ecological approach”, rather than seeing games as a medium which is able to influence culture in numerous ways (microecology). I generally agree with Bogost’s idea. Games act as a medium by impacting people’s daily lives continuously, both in communication and perception. I will explore this along with examples in the next three paragraphs.

YouTube, a large video-sharing website as you might know it, has a very large gamer community. And many game commentators post game walkthroughs and reviews for the large audience on YouTube for a living. In fact, according to YouTube statistics, gaming commentators and reviewers alike will upload up to 75 gigabytes of video data to the website every ten seconds. Each gaming video might have more than a million comments (many of which the commentators rely to) and there are plenty of private discussion and public Q&A sessions. From this perspective, I believe that these videos undoubtedly have a large impact on the lives of millions of people who are watching the videos on a daily basis in terms of communication. Again, the gaming content of those videos are irrelevant compared to the impact the videos have on collective communication in gaming communities, as Bogost would have it: “The things a medium does to a culture are more important than the content it conveys.” (Bogost 04)

On the other hand, video games can alter our perceptions dramatically. How our perceptions are changed depend on the type of the video games and our perceived cosmopolitan view of the world. When engaging in video games, we are both acting out the role of the protagonist according to our general perception of the world while simultaneously abiding by the rules of the “model” (the gaming environment) that were created by the game developers.

A good example would be the Portal series created by Valve Corporation. The protagonist in the game is a test subject who has to navigate across numerous test chambers with her portal gun, which can created interdimensional space. Her goal is to flee the “unethical” testing facility, but is constantly stalled by the facility’s main AI computer, GLaDOS. Each test chamber is unique, and there are several ways to finish a particular level. It all comes down to how the video game player perceives the level. Also, there are many moral decisions to make in the game, further altering the gamers perceptions about certain aspects. In one level, for instance, after using the Companion Cube extensively, the player has to make a choice of whether incinerating the cube and pass the level or get stuck in the level with the cube. And it again depends on how the player perceives the game. In fact, many players on the Steam Community Hub reported feeling extremely emotional at that moment.

To acquire a more comprehensive view about video games in our society, we must think more critically about them, not just dismiss them as superficial objects that someone might get addicted to. Parents and families, along with other people who are in presence around video games, need to regard games as a medium which has multifaceted uses rather than only one or two. That said, games are currently used not only in entertainment, but also in medicine, psychiatry training sessions, tools for soldiers to simulate real combat and even placebo means in hospitals etc..In terms of communication and perception, as aforementioned, video games acts as an indispensable means to a medium by encouraging all sorts of discussions and perceptual alterations. The various uses of games cannot be overstated, and most of them have profound impacts in different sections of our society.

Last but not least, I definitely believe that it is vital for people to study gaming behavior. There are myriads of reasons for doing so. Social-cognitive psychologists could research brain pattern behavior when people are playing games. I personally have always wondered  why people’s body do physical movements when they are actually playing games set in virtual reality. Furthermore, researching possible changes in perception of thought would be a great basis for developing our understanding of human behavior. The bottom line is, as games become more and more a part of people’s daily lives, the necessity to study them extensively is ultimately of extreme importance for the comprehension of human physical and psychological behavior to our community.

Sources:

[1]Bogost Ian, HOW TO DO THINGS WITH VIDEOGAMES, University of Minnesota Press.

[2]Portal, Valve Corporation, http://www.valvesoftware.com/games/portal.html. Accessed Sep.29, 2013.

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