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Lets Play Video Games
Video games are complex and yet interesting. They are fictitious and yet close to reality. should video games be played just for the sake of fun or should they be taken seriously?
Have you heard about Black & White 2, the new game by designer Peter Molyneux in which the player is cast in the role of a deity? The goal of the game is to build your flock: converting whole cities into believers, either through wrath or beneficence, by conquering of clothing them or usually a little of both.

If you are not a gamer, you may be surprised how many adults around you are harboring comparable thoughts and the average gamer is roughly 31 years old.

Tricky business
The primary reason for a mental screenburn is this genuinely unsung fact: todays games are exceptionally difficult. They tax the mind in ways that would amaze anyone who last played a game in the age of Pac-Man.

The all time best-selling PC game, The Sims, involves a complete tableau of variables to track, while the sport simulations force you to run an entire organisation making trades, balancing budgets, soothing egos as well as calling the plays from the sidelines. Even the controversial Grand Theft Auto maps a staggeringly large and complex world: one players guide to all the variables involved in the game clocked in at 53,000 words, the length of a short book.

But does this mean we should take games seriously as works of culture?
System addicts
The answer is a decisive yes, but doing so requires that we develop new aesthetic criteria that are appropriate to the medium. Many games take you through some kind of narrative arc, but storytelling is one of the least interesting things about gaming. Where psychological depth is concerned, most games are simple. The great majority of gamers dont engage with games because they want to find out what happens, or because they care about the characters. They engage because they want to figure out how the system of the game works, or because they want to explore the space the game represents.

Game of life
But if games do not tell stories, it doesnt mean that they lack social relevance. All the complex games-from The Sims, to Civilization, to SimCity, to Black & White -are, in effect, animated theories of how a given society works, whether it is ancient Rome or a modern metropolis. You learn by playing. One of the defining attributes of Grand Theft Auto that has been ignored by critics is how explicitly the game plays as a satire of American inner-city culture.

So, the economic strength of the gaming industry, the complexity of the games themselves, and their growing relevance as a platform for social commentary adds up to a conclusion: ignoring games means ignoring the most interesting and innovative cultural forms of our time.
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Posted on : 11/11/2005
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