Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Video Games make me cool, even if my mom does not say so

Video Games are a form of extracurricular activity that many people engage in, particularly people of the X generation and onward. I play video games as a form of enjoyment—an activity that lets me explore the mysticism of the impossible. In being introduced to the concept of “Social Impact Games” I have been extremely skeptical of the type of enjoyment that can be extracted from such games. Conventionally I play video games as a second life, without much thought to purpose. The idea of “Social Impact Games” is disturbing and bordering on the lines of thought control and subliminal messaging. Most video games I have played have been for pure enjoyment. I play MMORPGs, RPGs, and other games without considering the “Social Impact” of the game. The thought of “Social Impact Games” comes across as Orwellian.

“Social Impact Games” seem to be a response to popular games like Grand Theft Auto. True video games like Grand Theft Auto are left with an open ended purpose that is meant to be decoded by each individual player. “Social Impact Games” are constructed around a purpose and restrict the players’ imagination. “Social Impact Games” are designed like a thesis paper—heavily structured to relay a message instead of allowing for creative game play. I am not saying that “Social Impact Games” cannot be fun; I am saying that “Social Impact Games” have ulterior motives that usurp the purpose of traditional video gaming. “Social Impact Games” have the ability to teach the player lesson(s) but they lack the ability to continuously engage the players’ imagination. Games that are categorized as “Social Impact Games” lose their appeal as a game for enjoyment and become a daunting task.

The drawbacks to “Social Impact Games” are that they do not appeal to the traditional video gamer. The traditional video gamer plays games for enjoyment, for exploring possibilities, for engaging their imagination. “Social Impact Games” usurp the traditional video gamers drive to play and replace a gamers desire to play with a purpose to play. Although “Social Impact Games” can closely mimic the real thing, they are designed with a Big Brother aspect that leaves the gamer with a feeling of being watched and controlled—ultimately manipulated.

“Social Impact Games” can pass as real video games so long as the players’ do not associate the game with a social purpose. Video games, like writing, have an ethos, logos, and pathos. The more mysterious the ethos of the video game developer the less distractions there will be to the play of the game. The more creative and innovative the logos and pathos are respectively to the video game the more disguised the video game will be as a game designed for enjoyment. Video games designed by the NAVY, the US Marines, and by other government institutions have the intrigue of generic shoot-em-up games but they lack the creativity that video games like Halo are able to master. Most video games succeed because they are able to detach the excitement of game play from the humdrum of reality. When a player begins to blur the line between reality, particularly social reality, and video game play they begin to lose their imaginative interest in the game. People do not like to be reminded of real world situations in the video game world. Now, this does not mean that people lose touch with reality when video gaming—players continue to be objective about certain aspects of video games, like gravity, lighting, and human capability. “Social Impact Games” transcend and transgress the line of social reality with virtual reality.

“Social Impact Games” are not fun because they are real. While I play video games I try to not think about the reality of the situation. I may be shooting an alien with some sort of futuristic weapon, building a civilization up through the Bronze Age, or flying around with super powers, but I am certainly not thinking about the “Social Impact” (message) of the video game. Well thought out games will be able to implement social impact strategies in their game play, but games designed specifically for social impact purposes will always have a bias that draws away from their effective purpose.

Video games that are successful share a unique ownership relationship with the player. Most players of video games continue to game because they have invested their time (money, effort, skill…) in the game and therefore feel a special sense of ownership, not only over the actual game, but also with the ownership of the avatars/characters that have been modified to reflect the players’ desires. When people invest their time in a game they expect to gain influence in the video game they are playing and expect the video game to react to their actions. A game like Fable (XBOX) illustrates the relationship between a gamer and the video game. In Fable the gamer’s conduct of his avatar is eventually reflected in his actual avatars appearance, abilities, and reputation. Where if you feed your avatar a lot your avatar is likely to become fat, if you do cruel things your avatar if more disliked and begins to look more demonic—gamers tend to relate to their avatar so long as their avatar is able to relate to them. “Social Impact Games” are too structured in their approach to gaming and present the gamer with a set world, set actions, set outcomes, and a limited amount of creativity. Instead of classifying “Social Impact Games” as a type of game, perhaps we should reconsider the nature of many of these so called “games” and redress them as simulations.

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