Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Week 5 Seminar: The Politics of Play


The ever increasing popularity of gaming has become a mainstream market and a driving force in the entertainment industry. In this week's seminar, we are looking at the political messages that are embedded in today’s games; and what implications and influences do they bring onto the gamers. Of course such issues are not new; in fact existed since the dawn of gaming. However with the dramatic improvement in technology resulting in improved realisms and storylines, such political messages become even more transparent and evident.

The readings required for this seminar are as below:

[X] McClellan Jim, 'videogames with a political message' , Hydrapoetics, 13, 5, 2004 [If this page doesn't display properly in Firefox, Mozilla or Safari, try using Internet Explorer.)

[X] Kennedy.W Helen, 'Lara Croft: Feminist Icon or Cyberbimbo?', Game Studies, vol.2, issue.2, December 2002

[X] 'Chasing The Dream',, 4, 8, 2005

[X] Castronova Edward, 'On Virtual Economies', Game Studies, vol.3, issue.2, December 2003

Here are examples of some flash political games that you might like to try out ;)

As you do the readings, it will be helpful to consider some of these questions (that we can discuss about in the seminar)

[X] How different and the extents of the impacts of gaming on political messages compared to other forms such as radio and television?

[X] Are games built on the foundation of the real world (such as gender, economy) or rather 'the other way around'? If so, why?

[X] What are the potentials (be it good or bad) of gaming in propagating political messages in the near future?


Blogger Hilary said...

Ok, so my articulation of ideas in class is not one of my strong points. Which, well, makes one wonder how I got this far education wise really doesn’t it?! But, therefore, I see this as a perfect opportunity to take some of the ideas I was having trouble getting across a little bit further, and maybe explain where I was going with them. Then hopefully, someone might want to add further ideas into the mix when doing their comment!

The point I really want to make though is about this idea of violence in computer games. Now, computer games and politics was an important point in the seminar today, and how political messages can be effectively conveyed through a game, far better than in say, a simple television broadcast etc, because of the interactive nature of gaming. It engages the audience far more, and can make people think about quite abstract ideas far more effectively than if they were to just read about it. Ie the September 12th game was effective not only in pointing out the fact that violence is not a way to counteract terrorism, but it also highlighted the nature of terrorism itself. I think even young people, who might not necessarily have the life experience to appreciate such a topic, would gain some insight into it through playing such a politically oriented game.

Anyway, back to my original point, being violence. Now, I brought up the fact that one of the articles was comparing computer games to cinema etc, and had covered some experiments saying that violent tendencies didn’t increase with computer gaming. Now, while my point was never to say that violence in general increased due to game play, I still think the psychological aspect of violent and interactive games is an interesting issue.

Basically, throughout the history of civilisation there has always been this interest in violence to some degree, ie like the gladiators in Rome, or boxing and other sports that currently I can’t think of!! But basically, spectatorship of violent sports seems to be ingrained into us! Also, from an entirely different aspect of human psychology there is sadism and masochism, bondage and the like.

So with this knowledge that humans always seem to be interested in violence in some shape or form it’s interesting to consider the gaming phenomenon. I mean, previously, a major outlet for experiencing or viewing violence was in the film industry, what with all different genres of films, from crime to western to horror. I mean classic films full of blood and guts! Very manly!

But now, with computer games, the experience of violence takes on a whole new dimension. No longer are we watching REAL LIFE violence, like in boxing (and in the old days gladiatorial games and all that) and neither are we watching fake film violence. There is, almost a mix between the thrill of the two. You have no bodily damage (and neither does anyone else), but yet you can interact more fully with the violence. You can play computer games of the film FIGHT CLUB, or you can play more graphic versions of MORTAL COMBAT, or you can experience what it is like (to a certain degree) to be in a war, on a battlefield. It is perhaps, quite a perfect outlet for the violent tendencies of human nature.

I think computer games and violence need to be looked at from a different angle. Its fair, and I quite agree with this fact, that violence in games does not I think make people more violent in real life situations. But I think it is interesting to consider what is going on psychologically with this added dimension of interactivity etc with violence in games. Ok, it might, as was mentioned, work as some form of realise. Just as watching a porn flick or a violent movie may work as a form of realise. But, I think there must be much more that that going on. It’s not simply a release, it’s an engagement, a desire to play, a DESIRE to choose to violent game when you are in the mood. Maybe playing a violent game has more connection than say watching a film, in satisfying such desires that come from the ‘id’ of our psyche. A way of experiencing things outside of the consequences (moral or legal) of society. For a moment, you can be a violent lunatic with a blade, hyped up on drugs and looking for some cash or whatever, and experience a rush without the consequences.

I find this idea very interesting. Games have far more potential I think than any other media, to not only offer educational insights or experiences of good things, but also more negative aspects of humanity. It’s a real psychological element that, is really, only being looked at from one point of view. The violence is only important if it translates into real life violence. But I think it is still an important aspect to be considered even if it doesn’t.

Wed Aug 17, 09:22:00 pm 2005  
Blogger Hilary said...

ok, "work as some form of relise" should be translated to:

"work as some form of release"

I think word automatically changed my spelling. So apologies.

Wed Aug 17, 09:28:00 pm 2005  
Blogger Kaori said...

Hello everybody:)

This is a point I made in class as well...I agree with put it strongly, I would say it is absurd to relate violence in real world to violence in computer games. As I said in class, there is always an argument that when a brutal murder etc. is commited by, for example, a teenager who played computer games, such games encouraged the teenager's crime. However, not everybody who plays the game commit such crimes; it is just that the teenager was an exception who had other problems that led the child to carry out the atrocious act. In this world, there is always an exception to things and a few exceptions can't prove anything.

At the same time, there is always a good side and a bad side to everything. For average human being, I would say that computer games serve a good purpose; for example, aside from the computer games with political intentions, even the contentious computer games with much violence serve a good purpose in regard to the fact that it is undeniable that men tend to have violent nature. For them to vent their violent nature on computer games...I believe is a very healthy way of doing so.

That's all from me...thanks.

Thu Aug 18, 09:39:00 pm 2005  
Blogger Gwyneth said...

Hi dudes,

Good stuff Andrew, I liked the readings you chose and the questions as well... they all took really different angles...

I agree with what Hilary and Kaori have said about the positive potential for these games in education, etc.

All this stuff about virtual worlds has sent me off on a bit of a tangent though.

I started to wonder how analysing the way we think about the virtual world can reveal something of the way we think about the 'real' world. I think Andrew's question about the way game culture/terminology/ideology has changed the way we conceptualise 'reality' was where it started.

A philosophy tutor I had a while back once asked the class how we knew, after leaving a room, that it was still there on the other side of the door. Everyone looked at him like he was a nutter. "Of course it's still there! Where is it going to go for goodness sake... out for coffee?"

But once you think about it, all the information we recieve about things external to ourselves is sensory, and much of what you experience as knowledge is guess work based on previous experience and blind faith. I trust that the room is in fact still behind the door, even though I can't sense it.

We believe the world is there because we can smell it, feel it etc. If a virtual world was created wherein all the gamers senses were engaged.. you could suggest that this world was as real as any 'reality' outside the game.

You could argue that the individual's physical presence is what is missing from a game world... if you're head is chopped off in a game, your body is fine. Sadly, the same can't be said for head chopping in real life.

That's what we believe anyway. I recently heard about a documented case where a woman underwent a serious operation without anaesthetic. She was hypnotised before the operation, and awake throughout. Her body went through the normal effects of such a serious surgery. She sweat, her blood pressure went up, but she felt no pain. This strikes me as an extreme example of the power of the mind... if a hypnotised mind can be made to block out the experience of being cut open.

So my question is this (and I'm aware it's been addressed in various sci-fi movies, but so what), if you were in a game which completely involved your mind and senses and you were killed, would the mind's belief in it's own death create the reality of physical death?

I've convinced myself that it would... feel free to change my mind ;)

Fri Aug 19, 05:10:00 pm 2005  
Blogger Andrew said...

Hi all,

Gwyneth, regarding your will have to be a really REALLY immersive game to create the sense of true death. (heck, not that i know how death in real life will be)

I can't imagine games to invoke such extreme emotions on the players tho. It could be scary.

I guess part of the reason why it could never deliver such emotion is because they are That means typically you can restart and keep trying until you achieve something satisfactorily. So although 'dying in a game' can be devastating (sometimes fun) but it is never permanent. You can keep trying and trying to change the 'fate' of your avatar.

Regarding the violence bit, its still vague whether games REALLY do causes violence on gamers. Some research/studies say YES, some say NO. Hilary, i liked your idea about games unveiling the mask of human's inner behaviour.

Indeed games can be a source of outlet for actions that you normally (through common sense) wouldn't do. Yes there are times I'll play a racing game and just break the speed limit and deliberately crash the car. Just for the fun of it.

Perhaps since in today's society, violence is not condone or consider as an acceptable behaviour. Therefore reinforce a strong emphasis of violence in gaming. Maybe :)

Mon Aug 22, 09:12:00 pm 2005  
Blogger Hilary said...

Hi Andrew
That was really great to respond to people's points like that.
Nice work.

Tue Aug 23, 12:18:00 pm 2005  
Blogger Liz said...

Wow! You guys all write really well! I find it tricky to muster the confidence required to make my thoughts concrete in this conversational blog-style. Existential angst aside, it seems to me from reading these great comments that games provide another avenue through which we can explore, as Hilary said, the id.
At the moment we seem to be living in an ultra-self-aware society where what you look like, what you wear, what brand you buy etc defines our identity (in meat-space at least.) Due to the growing immediacy and breadth of media coverage, we also seem to be constantly met with the consequences (both real and imagined) of different courses of action, different behaviours, etc. (And a media that often promotes an attitude of fear (eg. Bowling for Columbine, "If it bleeds, it leads (the news bulletin).")

Throughout history, literature has been an important source of both escapism and entertainment as well as social comment and critique. I think games can be seen as spaces within which ppl can attempt to do that which ppl have done for ages: attempt to abandon the realities and fears of 'real life' existence by becoming briefly preoccupied with the realities and fears of an artificial reality (or so they think.) Jung and Freud said that in dreams people deal with stuff on an unconscious level that they can't deal with in real life. Through fairytales a person is met with different archetypes that are present in dreams but their meaning is more readily analysed and engaged with because all the personal variables that have to be dealt with in dreams (the individual's memories etc) have been shorn away. What I'm trying to say, unfortunately in the most long-winded way possible, is that, apart from games' cathartic functions and those incidents where they act as a comment on politics, maybe for a young generation gameplay is addictive not just for its' entertainment value but also for its' engagement with different archetypes (eg. an old man representing paternal forces) which can be used to play out the desires of the id in a consequence-free (in meat space of gamer) environment, yet still allow player to actively follow a course of action that help it deal with the unexpressed issues of the unconcious/subconcious mind.

I guess none of the above is strictly relevant to the discussion we had the other day, but everything was so well discussed in everyones' comments, I could not have said anything new! I really enjoyed reading the different thoughts on violence, the educational potential of gameplay and the possibilities of game interaction presented by Hilary, Kaori, Gwyneth and Andrew.

P.S. I'm not yet 100% sure I believe in the id, ego, superego framework.

Tue Aug 23, 09:10:00 pm 2005  
Blogger Hilary said...

yeah true, Freud is uncool now...or something....
No I think a lot of what he said, while once revelational is now being rethought.

Personally however, I still think SOME of his points are valid, or are at least stepping stones in finding out what is really going on in the human mind.

But, it can never be an exact science, afterall, how can you study yourself without bias?

Tue Aug 23, 10:09:00 pm 2005  

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