Gaming Uber Alles

Gaming Uber Alles
Culture Wargames

Kieron Gillen | 12 Jul 2005 12:04
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Except, perversely, that's what it actually feels like to play the Zelda pantheon. Even if it's a ludicrous, fantastical situation, it convinces you of its truth. And it's here where we find what I suspect is the central core of gaming's power and why it should be the premier form of interest of the twenty-first century. In this future, games can be viewed as machines for artificially inducing sensation in the gamer - digital hallucinations creating holidays in places that don't exist.

Well, yes, but the counter-argument to games' rising importance is that's equally true that most forms of art or entertainment induce sensation. For example, reading any piece of fiction, from Dr. Seuss to James Joyce, is an exercise in building images and fictions in your mind. Where games differ is their interactive nature. The feedback loop between your decisions and the game involve you in a way other forms simply can't match.

Games create a cybernetic system between you and the machine, with your senses eventually expanding to possess your avatar when you've sufficiently mastered the control system. This is the absolute magic of the form, where you stop thinking, "I need to press X to jump," and start thinking, "I'll jump." Just look at the language people use to talk about games to show how much their sense of identity has merged with their in-game character. If someone's enjoying a game, it's, "It hit me," never, "It hit my character," in the same way that a human's sense of self can expand to include the vehicle they're in ("He hit me!" versus the actually correct "He hit my car!").

Videogames are the simulator which swallows your consciousness alive and takes you to another place. While other forms just let you look at how the creators believe the world to be, games let you step inside an artificial construct and allow you to actually be there.

This is a fundamental power of the form and can't be overstated. There's never been anything quite like a videogame before. For this reason, Neophiles gather around games, because they're a form which still has a little bit of The Future in them. While you can argue that games are grounded in postmodernism in that they, by their nature, celebrate the death of the author and explicitly make the "reader" the driving force, the fact there's still so much to do with them makes them absolutely modernist. As the rest of pop-culture plays remix tricks with the past and can't even be bothered to start thinking about ways forward, videogames have a grand vista before them of new, uncharted possibilities. But it's not purely in potential where games are interesting. There's more than enough in their current actuality, rather than their abstract future, to make them interesting and worthy of discussion. Living solely for the future is just as bad as living solely for the past.

It's in that spirit we find developers and gamers denigrating themselves. The feeling seems to be that even though games are amusing enough at the moment, because they're stuck dealing with primary-coloured emotions and without the subtle blend of emotion that literature manages, games are somehow lesser. When will a game chart the emo-esque moment of seeing someone who reminds you of a person with whom you had an ill-fated affair and now you experience regret mixed with longing with a touch of realization that nothing will ever be the same again, and perhaps a little bit of the colour mauve, as well as literature can?

All this line of argument does is lacerate games for not being another form. It's bemusing why games are always compared either film or the novel, as if they were the only art-forms worth mentioning. Why aren't games compared to - say - dance or architecture, which are equally accepted as art forms and don't operate anything like the silver screen or the printed word?

This form of inferiority complex has always been endemic in any new cultural form. Last year, I finally got around to reading Aristotle's Poetics and was charmed to discover that large sections involve Ari discussing the relative merits between the new-kid Tragedy versus the established form of Epic Verse. He cites other critics who argue that Tragedy, featuring vulgar elements such as singing and creating works of hugely less scale, is a lesser form than the traditional Epic Verse. Aristotle plays it cute, arguing what they've analyzed as weaknesses are in fact strengths, allowing Tragedy to move people in ways Epic Verse simply can't.

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