“Just A Game”: Why Should we take Video Games Seriously?

The acceptance of video games in society means the difference between the development of the medium and its cycle of growth and contribution, and the stagnation of the medium as irrelevant and its creative strangulation. It also means the difference in the image of a gamer: a 40 year old man-child living on Cheetos and pizza in his parent’s basement, playing 20 hours of WoW per day, OR any gender, of any ethnicity,  in any place,  with any occupation, with a healthy, balanced life.

1-Videogames need to be taken seriously because they are a vehicle for exploring alternatives to copyrights and traditional business models; they have a chance to move IP law from the 20th to the 21st century. Videogame journalist Jim Sterling asks who the “they” is that “needs” to “take video games seriously.”  Among other people, law makers ought to take video games as seriously as books and film—if not more so because of the special relationship video games have with emerging technologies. Part of what I find exciting about studying Intellectual Property law right now is that new technologies rarely come packaged with a complete set of clear law surrounding it. The law gets to be created along with the technology. Video games are one area (perhaps the single most consumer-intensive area) that highlights that point.

2- Anyone with money should take video games seriously- both for their sake and the gamers’. Taking the medium financially seriously enhances what it can achieve. If it’s “taken seriously,” investors will throw money at it (although capitalism can kill creativity, which is a concern on the other hand). The success of E-Sports shows investors and advertisers that there’s money to be made with video games beyond mere game sales, and that is one of the greatest hopes of the industry and the players.

3- Society at large has already noticed video games. Perhaps the issue is better framed as their “acceptance” of them than “taking them seriously.” If they are to survive and thrive, they must be seen as more than mere childish gimmicks or dangerous indoctrinations of violence. Videogame journalist Seth Schiesel once told an advertising conference (with both ad companies and game companies present): “If you keep thinking about your customer as only grunged-out young men, you will go down just like comic books in this country… you will always be marginalized and you will never be taken seriously.” There have been amazing graphic novels produced in the last 50 years. When works on par with Maus and Persopolis are in production, they’re kept well hidden from the public; only the “niche” audiences really know where to get them. Videogames will be worse-off if they are kept in a “niche.” Others rejecting the value of my hobby doesn’t make me enjoy it less, but it does steer the substance of my hobby down a path of lesser quality.

A Compressed Language for the Digital Age?

Analytic philosophy features some lengthy tomes (Hume, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Rawls, etc). The idea is to be thorough, laying out the explanation and motivation for the argument, the counter arguments and replies to them. It isn’t just jumping in and asserting some ideas. It’s a matter of carefully constructing a case, building it from the foundation up. Another reason for the length is to show context for the argument: where does it come from (historically), how does it connect to other arguments, why is it important, what does it do, what are its limits and weaknesses, etc? Between 400-500 words seems about the limit for many people for these blog posts— More than that starts to get too in-depth and too convoluted for people to stay interested. The benefit to me, as an author, is that I am compelled to think about the issue and boil it down to its bare, core bullet points. The downside of this for any reader is the lack of context. On some readings of Baudrillard, this might be a good thing, in that there is no “seduction” or “leading away” of anyone from the thing which we are trying to understand. However, if there is anything to the ideas of the structuralists, maybe placing the issue in a web of context and showing its connections to and disconnections from the rest of the world is actually how we come to understand it. But is the web too complex for this to work? Can we trust readers to place in the web themselves, to link and tag and categorize correctly and appropriately? Maybe they’ll be better at it than authors. Maybe they won’t do it at all.

It makes me wonder if the amount of material available and the increased access to it in the 21st century begins to impose a need on changes in language that accommodate a faster transfer of information. As files began to get big, we started “compressing” (or “Zipping”) them during transfer. To compress is to increase the density of a mass by decreasing the volume it takes up, even as the mass stays constant. We compress gasses with various tanks and pumps, and computer files with languages and applications —can we compress ideas with language and thought? Would the compression of ideas require a new grammar, or only a few new words and symbols? We would still need to trust the reader to “unzip” or “decompress” the information once they received it: to tag, categorize, connect, sort, collate, etc. in their own mind. Are we equipped to do this, as readers?

Pigeon Syndrome

“Arguing with people on the internet is like playing chess with a pigeon: no matter how well you play, the pigeon will just knock the pieces over, defecate all over the board, and strut around like it won.” Amusing because we can all relate to it, but is this reflective of something deeper in society? People seem to lack the patience and interest to explore issues deeply and thoroughly. Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death) pointed out that the Lincoln-Douglas debates consisted of a series of speeches that lasted several hours as the senatorial candidates argued for their platforms in great depth and detail, as large crowds sat and listened and thought about the arguments before them—contrast that with today’s political rhetoric of superficial sound bites.

Many times I’ve heard people ask a legitimate question: “Why do people do that? Why does that happen? What can’t this be done?” I used to try to explain the answers, but consistently found that people will lose interest in any answer in about 50 words or 5 seconds. They care enough to ask the question, but not enough to put effort into finding answers. On the internet, people are quick to get defensive (usually in an offensive manner), but are more inclined to write “stfu” or “tldr” rather than engage in any kind of meaningful, interesting, or critical discourse. I think it’s sophomoric to dismiss the [non-] interlocutors as “not smart enough”  to keep up with a discussion on why stealing farm in League of Legends is irritating and unhelpful or a thread criticizing the way rape is viewed or discussed in society. I think most participants can understand the words and learn the relevant concepts, especially when they have Google, Wikipedia, and Dictionary.com at their fingertips throughout the conversation. Rather, I think they are more inclined to hide in ignorance than dare to learn something new because of fear and shame.

I think one factor holding people back from seriously exploring questions as adolescents and adults (notice that young children don’t have this problem nearly as often) is their embarrassment at not already knowing the questions they ask. Increasingly, we are deciding our questions are rhetorical because we are ashamed to find that there are answers to our questions and we just don’t know them yet. This approach has the added incentive of allowing us to be lazy.

A Relevant Image:

http://xkcd.com/386/

FIRST!!!1!1!

I don’t know where or when “FIRST!!1!1!!11” became an idea. It remains a minor annoyance or humorous oddity. As a product of an upcoming generation of so-called “Digital Natives,” I think it signals a particular kind of a need for speed. The digital technology we have created has the effect of forcing us to value efficiency. In particular, it helps us focus on our desire to optimize our ratio of “stuff done” to “time spent.” Combined with capitalism’s competitive nature, sequence becomes as important as time; there isn’t merely a need to achieve quickly, but to achieve quickly relative to others. Hence, “first.” (The combination of “!” and “1” might be attributed to either excitement or sloppiness.)

In this blog, I expect to examine a variety of issues. While some will be fairly niche (“Trolling in Online Games”), others may take a broader scope (“Cultural Norms that Make Life Worse”). Some might be a little bit technical or dry (“Why I Favor Kierkegaard’s Lens to Hegel’s in Thinking of Society”), while others may touch nerves and be emotionally charged (“How Discourse Concerning Patriarchy Entrenches Feminist Challenges”).  Whatever I discuss, I have a few goals: 1) To be clear, 2) To understand the issue better because of my post here, 3) To be intellectually honest and academically responsible, and 4) To be both educational (informative; to show something about the issue at stake) and entertaining (or at least interesting).