Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ideology versus Informatics in Video Games

I dabbled in the Civilization game series in the halcyon days of my youth, and I'm afraid that Galloway would likely have laughed at me if he had watched me play. Despite his informatic reading of the video game, I must admit that I was completely seduced by the ideological aspects of the game. "Would my ideal civilization be more industrious or philosophical?" I'd ask myself. "I could wipe the French civilization off the map, but then how would my people visit the Louvre?" Although I knew intellectually about the algorithms underlying the programming, I'd build cities that I thought would really be nice places to live and I'd spare my vulnerable neighbors if they assuaged my ego or if I liked the aesthetic of their buildings.

I think Galloway misses the point of video games when he reduces their pleasure and their essence to mere informatics. Surely, purely informatic games have their place - Tetris comes to mind - but part of the fun of a game, especially in contemporary gaming, is the surface ideology. This may make them uncomfortably and inconveniently similar to the cinema, but it is impossible to deny the importance that most gamers place on story lines and presentation - alongside the admittedly priority of "game play." Good video games thrive on this tension, a game that is too "difficult to figure out" would get bad marks, just as one that was too obvious, or whose mechanics were too easy to spot and manipulate, would get panned. Contemporary "Tetrises" nevertheless include some element of ideology and story, be it the concert venues and music in Guitar Hero or the space-ship atmosphere of Geometry Wars. Perhaps this trend is just a throwback to an audience still dependent on the ideological narratives of the movies, but I suspect that purely informatic games would be less compelling regardless. Its certainly a unique feature of video games - one I appreciated the Galloway reading for explaining - but its hardly their essential element.

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