On Video Games and culture

I’ve only just discovered N+1. I’ve read two articles. And both have been fascinating. Read this one too, it’s about video games and culture.

Here are some paragraphs. I like them.

Games are, by design, what Plato believed epic poetry to be: ethics manuals for inhabitants of the cave.

There is no game, at least not yet, in which you accomplish the mission only to learn you’ve been torturing an innocent man, or get passed over for promotion. Neither is your guitar heroism cut short by an overdose of heroin or rooted in coping with your abusive father. Here is a very un-labor-force-like experience of meaningful activity.

In China and other economies less moribund than our own, you can even get a factory job as a gamer, acquiring “virtual gold” and special virtual weapons, which your company then sells for actual dollars to other (recreational) players from once wealthy nations who are looking to save time on their way to the top of one or another virtual hierarchy. And what do the gamers-for-hire do during their downtime? The Times tells us that they blow a lot of their money on arcade games. Only, here, at last, they play for themselves! That kind of irony has yet to make it into any computer game, no matter how avant-garde they are.

We have sometimes played these games until dawn peeps through the airshaft window. Go and lie down, and the game replays itself on your retina. Part of your brain is now imprinted, perhaps forever, with a map of feudal Japan, and the exact position of your armies at the moment you decided—unwisely—to chance your band of samurai against a much larger group of peasant spearmen. Another bad decision was to spend your allotment of rice recruiting 10 samurai instead of 200 peasants. Elitist! Worse yet was the moral debate, before the console, about whether to reboot at the moment right before disaster—or to samurai on, in the lifelike knowledge that things weren’t working out exactly as planned.

The post-’60s culture consumer no longer wants to be a passive spectator or a mere appreciator, neither of the free beauties of nature nor of autonomous human endeavor. Perversely, the more Nietzschean we’ve become in our attitude to the arts, the more a certain telltale ressentiment shows itself. Like an insulted gentleman, the public now demands satisfaction from its art. We want to be the ones doing it—whatever it is. We don’t want to be left out! Let us play too! Behind every gamer’s love of the game lurks a hideous primal scene: watching other children at play.