Lit 80, Fall 2013

Gamer Critique

September 30th, 2013 | Posted by Sai Cheemalapati in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Video games, since their introduction in the mid 1900’s, have come a long way in breadth and scope. When they were first introduced, processing ability was measured in the thousands of operations per second. A game consisted of a blip on the screen representing a person or a ball.  Today, with processing ability measured in the tens of millions of operations per second, games are visual spectacles rivaling the clarity and scope of real life. The often-made comparison is that video games are ‘interactive movies’ (Rutgena).  I argue that video games act as a medium for communication where storytellers can build an epic world and players can channel a bit of their own personalities into their game avatars.

Ian Bogost states “videogames are a medium that lets us play a role within the constraints of a model world” (Bogost 4). The model is constructed by teams of engineers and artists to encompass the scenarios of play – complex rules that govern the virtual world and what is allowed. This world is a medium through which the writers can express a story, and through which we can express ourselves in the form of an avatar. The avatar is a representation in the game where we can act on its virtual surroundings. Through the avatar, we have an impact on the virtual world, and our decisions produce tangible impacts in the virtual world. Consider the video game ‘Skyrim.’ The player is allowed in the beginning of the game to create his or her own avatar. The player can chose from a number of races and hundreds of different options to customize the character to his or her liking. As a result, a personal connection is made. The medium allows for the player to transfer a bit of his or herself into the game and invest in the character. As an open world game, the player is free to journey wherever he or she wants and follow any storyline they choose. There is no pressure in the game to follow the main storyline, and no pressure to play in a particular manner. Players can choose to be magicians, or warriors, or archers or any combination of skill sets. As a result, they build their own story around the character as they level up, gain skills and make a name for themselves in the world. Players feel loss when their companions die or excitement when a new piece of armor looks really cool on their avatar. In the process of playing, a real connection is made to a virtual character. As a medium, the game has succeeded in creating a connection. Many people get addicted to progression – to keep going back and conquering monsters in dungeons to get that new sword or level up one more time.

It is natural to ask why this should be true – that a connection to the player is made in a game like ‘Skyrim.’ Games are a very powerful medium. Like movies can tell powerful stories through images and media, games too can deliver similar experiences. The difference comes through the interactivity. The ability to control characters and put hours of time into a scenario creates a connection that most mediums are unable to capture. The idea of choice comes into play – that games succeed because they allow players to choose what they want to do and how they want to do it.

Wark proposes in his book “Gamer Theory” that “The gamespace of everyday life may be more complex and variegated, but it seems much less consistent, coherent and fair” (Gamer Theory 32).  His suggestion is that games work perhaps because they operate so differently from our world. They must work, as a computer game, on a set of rules defined by the world. As a result, it seems more inherently fair and precise.

Consider another example – the game series ‘Sim City.’ In this video game, there is no story. The player is the mayor of a virtual city with a budget. There are no goals or directions. The mayor is able to place plots and roads and nurture a virtual city and watch it grow. The irritations and mundane realities of being a real mayor are forgone for the satisfaction of placing lots and watching homes rise spontaneously. By playing to the rules of the simulation, a bustling city can be built in no time at all to the satisfaction of the user. What is inherently separated from reality plays to fantasy – the idea of building something through nothing by sheer virtual power. Like Wark says, Sim City removes much of the reality from the game. By dropping more realistic roadblocks in city building and making the player essentially a God in the world, the game world is fair to the user’s demands – to build and destroy.

It follows from the above examples that games are an effective medium for communication between the player and the game and vice versa. Consider a more nontraditional game such as “Flow,” for example. “Flow” has no epic story like big blockbuster games, but it too has an impact on the player. As the game starts, the player is an organism in an underwater world. There are no directions and no indications of where to go. It’s easily observed that moving the mouse causes the organism to move, and that by approaching smaller creatures the organism can eat and grow. With a little bit more experimentation, it can be observed that eating an organism with a red dot moves the player to a deeper level, while eating an organism with a blue dot moves the player to a higher level. The game plants you starting as a lowly creature and you slowly build up until you defeat the final boss. Then you start all over again with a new creature, which you previously encountered as an enemy. The game chooses to start off with no directions or indications for symbolic reason perhaps. The player is a weak organism that has to eat and find it’s way in the world. You find out you can eat others to grow stronger and that others can eat you if you’re not careful. As you grow you learn the way the world works and you can outsmart and defeat your enemies. As a survivor, you were naturally selected to continue your lineage, and at the very end of your journey your organism lays an egg, which hatches back at the beginning. The game tells a story about life and slow progression and is oddly addicting. There’s an anxiousness that is built in the player to see what’s next – to try to get that next stage of evolution or see just how big the organism can get. “Flow” is a game that’s intended to be artistic – to make the player think and interact with a piece of art designed to be beautiful in visuals, audio, and interactivity.

Video games have come a long way since their inception to become artistic masterpieces. They build on established forms like movies, and through the option of choice they allow a new level of involvement for players. They are unique in this manner as there are few mediums that are able to demand so much involvement and evoke so much emotion.


Bogost, Ian. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011. Print.

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


Rugnetta, Mike. Idea Channel: Top 5 Most Artful Video GamesPBS. Web.

Changed The Game

September 29th, 2013 | Posted by Shane Stone in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Are video games a medium?

There is an apparent answer isn’t there?

Although you may think there is, it is a controversial debate with both supporters and opponents. In fact, when I told my roommate what my assignment was he immediately responded “video games don’t teach anybody anything” and he asked me to explain why I thought they did. Rather than replying I told him to read my blog post.

My method of answering this question is based on the definition of medium. According to Merriam-Webster the definition of medium is “a means of effecting or conveying something.” Based on this definition I suggest that video games should be included under the umbrella of media.

From cave paintings to motion pictures, forms of media have co-evolved with society to more accurately and effectively communicate “something” to people. Similarly to any form of media, video games send direct messages, but what sets video games apart from other forms of media is how they communicate them. Video games are an interactive form of media that allows players to be a part of the game and to make choices. Yes, one can argue that in board games like dungeons and dragons this is equally true and that with proper imagination a reader can become part of a book just as easily. However, in How to Do Things with Video Games Ian Bogost highlights that “videogames are computational, so the model worlds and sets of rules they produce can be far more complex” and much more realistic (Bogost 2011). The dungeon master asking you to slay a dragon is much different than a mission given to you in Call of Duty. Missions in these games challenge your morality. In 2009, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 presented a controversial mission entitled “No Russian” where the user is told to massacre hundreds of civilians. This is different than the dragon because the player has to pull the trigger, witness the pain, and hear the suffering of the victims. However, game play allows for the user to not participate and act as a bystander (which is arguably just as bad). Decisions like this make gamers reflect on themselves and who they are. Not all the lessons of video games are as deep and thought provoking though. Pokémon for example, allows players to control an avatar that is an adolescent traveling the world with animal-like companions. Through this journey the player learns about independence, fiscal responsibility, and the importance of treating “animals” with kindness.

Image from Flickr

Image from Flickr


Understanding the relevance of video games as a medium is not limited to lessons learned, but includes how video games are impacting society. Scholars in the field of media ecology have started investigating the effects video games have on life. In McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory, he proposes that “the game…is the sole remaining ideal” in life, and the world we live in is “gamespace” (Wark 008). He elucidates his point by describing the world of “The Sims.” In this world there is no such thing as idle time because every action is just a part of the overall plan to advance the life of your avatar. Although video games are more notably abstract, you find more parallels between our world and The Sims’ world than expected. In today’s society, more and more people are focused on advancing their lives to achieve a goal, but when “[they can do what [they] secretly wanted to do all those years ago… [they]can’t remember” what it was (Wark 017). The game’s designer, Will Wright explains how “The Sims” also acts as a parody of consumerism because players spend all their time acquiring objects that are meant to save time. Just like in “The Sims”, today’s society is overwhelmed by the compulsion to have the next big thing, but all of this time spent on these objects defeats their initial intent to save time. It is not just what games are saying about our lives that needs to be studied, but how these games are affecting our psyches and lives. The most popular topic in this genre is the potential correlation between violent video games and shootings in America. Is this truly the case? Or is this as baseless as schools banning Catcher in the Rye after the Lennon shooting? Millions of people have read Catcher in the Rye or played a violent video game and only a small percentage have participated in a shooting. Rather than focusing on this, I believe that the attention should be shifted to studying military training, especially those of drone pilots. Earlier I discussed how video games challenge our morality, but is it possible that games could potentially dull that sense? Pilots use video game simulations during training, and then when they execute missions their stations resemble that of a hardcore gamer. Bogost argues that technology is “changing how we perceive, conceive of, and interact with our world… it structures and informs our understanding and behavior” (Bogost 2011). By making it a less realistic scenario, is the military using technology to isolate morality from killing? (Though one could use this same argument to defend that video games correlate with shootings, there is an inherent difference between the two. This is intentional training, with the purpose of training to kill).

With the introduction of more mobile technology, video games are no longer limited to time spent at home. Sony has allowed for game play to transfer from console to handheld and the Facebook app has allowed for players to harvest their “Farmville” crops on the go. With the ability to keep this connection with video games at all times it has become harder to “jack out” and return to reality (Gibson 1984). Perhaps the break suggested by Wii during gameplay is not just advocating exercise, but jacking players out to remind players what reality is. As video games become more accessible, it becomes a medium for a more diverse population. Although gaming was once thought to represent a niche audience, times have changed. Video games are “woven into everyday life,” but not everyone is aware (Bogost 2011). Unfortunately, as suggested in The Matrix, “no one can be told [this]. You have to see it for yourself” (The Matrix 1999). So now this leaves you with one question. Which pill will you take?


Works Cited
Bogost, Ian. How to Do Things with Videogames. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011. Print.
Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.
The Matrix. Prod. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. Dir. Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski. By Andy Wachowski and Larry          Wachowski. Perf. Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne. Village Roadshow Pictures, 1999.
Wark, McKenzie. Gamer Theory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007. Print.