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On the social and cultural significance of videogames

Posted by CaptainBinky | Posted in Games, Rants | Posted on 15-08-2015

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AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! *runs screaming for the hills*

I’m back now. So, in the last couple of days we’ve had two semi-related articles to read. The first, by Paul “[month] the [day] be with you” Kilduff-Taylor of Mode7 (“The Itch to Make and Nothing to Say” Creative Significance and Games) and the second, by Keith Stuart from Eurogamer (Why I will never call video games a hobby).

Both these articles seem, to me, to be perfectly fine personal interpretations and thought experiments but I struggle to relate to either of them. The trouble is, videogames aren’t really anything at all. They can pretty much be anything and everything. Trying to talk about them in a big-picture way is essentially impossible and pointless. Some games are pretentious twaddle. Some are ‘shoot the people in the face for a bit’. You can’t even talk generally about games from the business angle because although videogames, as a commercial industry, make a tremendous amount of money – many games are free, and these are just as much a part of the whole as any Call of Duty game.

It’s hard enough talking about just specifically indie games given the ridiculously wide set of games that covers. Add in big commercial AAA games, whatever the hell that alt-games thing is all about, and absolutely everything else that involves booting up some sort of interactive (or vaguely interactive) electronic thing and you’ve got this giant wibbly mess that absolutely cannot, in any capacity, be talked about as if they share en-masse anything other than the most superficial relationship to each other.

How can you talk about success without stamping your own interpretation on what constitutes “success” all over it? Do you mean financial success, creative success, both, or neither? Games should neither be meaningful or vacuous – screw you with the “should”. The former isn’t magically more important just *because* it tries to be deep and clever. It can still be shit. And some vacuous twitch-shooter game which makes no claim on making some sort of statement about life, the Universe, and Everything and sells three copies on Steam can still be totally awesome and important.

All you can really do is talk about the narrow slice of videogames which contains the bit you’re interested in, and talk about that slice to people who are also interested in that slice. Attempting to draw broad conclusions from this is, frankly, flupping pointless. Games are no more or less important, socially, culturally, anything-else-ally than any other creative medium. No artsy game, no matter how ground-breaking and immersive, can do what an incredibly well-written book or well-made film can’t do. But they can let you shoot people in the face.