the artistry and psychology of gaming

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How Should We Categorize the Video Games?

How Should We Categorize the Video Games?

This is the first article in a series which deals with the philosophy of video games. You can read the introduction here.

What is a novel? And I don’t mean what is the definition or the truth of a novel, but what is the physical, material existence of a novel? The answer to that question is easy and obvious. A novel is a book. You have no problem if you run a magazine and you want to categorize novels under a certain heading. Novels, short stories, and drama are literature, or are books (or theater) and also they can be categorized under broader umbrella terms such as culture. So a person discussing the philosophy of literature has really no problem in this regard, books are literature, or literature is books, and whether they are on print or electronic doesn’t change things. But we can’t even have that luxury.

The truth is, there are multiple categories which can include video games which seem completely unrelated. Some may suggest an answer to the question, but so far none of them have been convincing. So, what are video games? Are they…..

Games? Well this seems obvious. Video games are games, in the way that Mon0poly or Hungry Hungry Hippos or The Weakest Link are games. Both are rule governed forms of entertainment. You have a goal, and there are certain procedures to accomplish them and certain obstacles in your way. Both are competitive, whether you play against your friend or against an AI. The objective is arbitrary (kill that dragon, get all marbles, get all the money), and so are the the rules (use this sword, slam the ass of your hippo, bank your money). The objective and the procedure are independent of the real life. There also maybe different levels, increasing difficulty, and many other aspects related to the gaming side of video games. Can we say that Skyrim is a very complicated and evolved board game which has been infused to your computer? Yes, we can. And nowhere this relationship is deeper and more evident than in the real of D&D Card Games which are ancestor of the RPG genre.

Sports? In the same way as chess or billiard? It may not be as obvious as a game, but in many aspects, video games go beyond what we normally expect from a simple casual game and become a professional non-physical sport. Look no further than South Korea to see why. Not only there are tournaments with real competition and real prize, but there are people whose job is to play StarCraft, and earn their living that way. They also form professional teams. Their competitions are were broadcasted full-time on cable channels. There are stars as famous and popular as sports stars with avid fan following. Still a weird Korean thing, but this shows that video games can be also considered a species of professional sports.

Technology? This seems the way that most people today view the video games. Most websites and magazines cover their video game stories under their tech heading. Many discuss video games when they are also discussing social networking and the advances in the technology. And they don’t seem to be far off. Of course, the history of all media is shaped by technological advances. Literature is shaped by inventions such as paper, print, and eBook readers, cinema is shaped by the invention of negative film, sound in the movies, color in the movies, digital film, and 3D. But also never before the technology has been so intermingled with a media. Video games are the product of computer programming. They are as much a product of technology as any software. The rapid technological advances impact no other media as much as video game. Therefore, they are technology.

Fiction? No one doubts that many games feature an extensive story and this is their prime value. Yet, one can argue no matter how invisible the story is, all video games, great and small, are fictional. A fiction is when you have to suspend your disbelief and believe something which you know is not real is true. You care for what happens to video game characters because you believe that they are real, while you are playing the game of course. Similarly, sports games and racing games are not devoid of fiction. The story is that you want this team or this car to win, and unless you don’t suspend your disbelief you won’t care enough to actually play the game. Even abstract games like Tetris or Pacman are fictional, because you will come up with an implied worth to your actions, which is fictional. Therefore as much as everything else video games can be considered a sub-species of literature.

Visual art? The cinematic clips of a video games must be shot and directed as a great animation or they will come across clumsily. But the visual aspect of video games don’t end there. The coloring, the landscapes, the graphics, they all decide if a game will be successful or not. This is different from the technological aspect of a game. There’s an artistic aspect to the looks of a video game. Our dear resident writer Alice Kojiro shows us in his feature how video games from the time that the technicalities of the graphics were so low-standard produce great and artistic paintings. One can also point to the games like Okami and Alice: Madness Returns. So, video games can sit comfortable alongside paintings and demand the attention of art critics.

So which one of these categories is the true category? None of them. This is a wrong question. This question serves to remind us not to reduce video games to one of its aspects. Each video game may emphasize one of the aspects and excel at one (Tetris, the perfect game, Counter Strike the perfect sports, Crysis the perfect piece of technology, Heavy Rain the perfect story, Okami the perfect painting). Or it might push the boundaries and mingle all of them (Skyrim, Shattered Memories). But a video game is all of them. You may comfortably categorize them under each heading, or better yet, none. We must realize that each of the above categories are a simplification of the true nature of video games.

Our era seems to mark the academia’s tendency to move into interdisciplinary field of study. The clear cut borders between a book and a film are breaking down, or between history, philosophy, culture, politics, and arts. Video games are the truly interdisciplinary medium of our time. They represent a piece of work which overlaps and encompasses technology, art, literature, and entertainment. They are bigger and wider than everything else we’ve been used to.

And this is what we have to remember as we discuss their philosophy.

One Comment

  1. I really agree with the conclusion, and feel that as culture evolves, so do its media. Before, you had literature separate from visual arts, but with the advent of cinema, you have a combination of the two; a film has both aspects of story and of visual effects. The video game is a newer medium, thus it combines many elements of different media and creates a unique experience, and I hadn’t quite thought of it that way before.

    P.S. Thanks for the shout-out.

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