Clubberjack\’s WordPress Experiment

Games Matter, But How?

Clive Thompson has a short post up about Islamic videogames (which seem to be popping up in the news a lot lately). Thomas Friedman recently noted that “Video games matter,” referring to Islamic games designed to spread a jihadist message. However, Clive points out that action games quickly become abstracted from their narratives, and therefore they aren’t so great for getting across something complex like ideology.

This is, more precisely, the real point about why point-and-shoot action games suck as tools of indoctrination: Their narratives rarely matter. In an action-shooter game, the real narrative — the one that matters — isn’t the type of uniforms or country you’re fighting; it’s the the physics. The emotional and cognitive content of the game is just about being physically graceful enough to achieve your goals in fast-moving, fast-changing environment — a statement that defines everything Half-Life 2 to football.

The problem with Friedman — and other pundits who don’t play games — is that all they see is what’s happening on the screen. And sure, on the screen, you might be fighting Nazis, or contras, or green-blooded aliens, or the Civil War South. But in the gamer’s mind, it’s all just vectors and motion: After a few hours of playing the game, the external reference points boil away. Talk to chess grandmasters and it’s the same thing. They don’t look down at the board and think, oh, this is a war-like situation in which a powerful queen is defending a hapless, old, past-his-prime king. They just see abstract forces, the platonic interactions of the game’s rule-set. Some masters have told me that they do not even visualize the pieces any more — just the interactions between them.

If action games aren’t so good at ideology, which games are? See also: Games for Change.


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