Are video games the new and improved ‘opiate of the masses?’
Recently I’ve come across the relatively recently created podcast called “No Catridge Audio“. It’s good, go listen to it. It was created by Hegelbon (I can’t find his first name as I swim in his pseudonyms), a PhD in literature fellow, wherein he talks about games with or without someone else. The ones that are the most interesting, for me at least, are where he brings in a guest. The other ones are interesting too, don’t get me wrong, keep at ’em Hegelbon. Anyhow, this week in episode 23 he brought a guy by the name of Matt Christman to the show, and Matt markedly does not play games, for reasons. First off, this is refreshing, to have a show to listen to that has a diversity of perspectives on video games. Secondly, I like Matt’s argument, and …here I want to write my take on some of what they touched on.
Basically, and this is going to be a terrible summary of his argument, Matt says that games, due to their unique level of interactivity, are especially attuned to giving people who play them the sense of accomplishment that would otherwise only be available in the real world. With a generation weaned on video games, comes a class, ‘the gamer class’, who identify themselves as gamers, and who, due to their lack of real world experience, often end up being a mob of people with strong opinions, but who’s maturity is defined by an unrefelective state of arrested development. This gamer class seems to often lack concern for social issues and feels entitled in many ways, leading to things such as ‘gamer gate’.
As the conversation continued, and to Hegelbon’s credit, it was broadened to an issue of art and technology, in more general terms. What I would like to add to the conversation is that I agree, but I want it to go further into more realms than just video games and then open it up to thinking about how ideological and/or spiritual frameworks can play a part in all this. Overall, Matt’s argument would fare well when looking at social media too, and yes they did touch on it in the podcast, but I think we can give this realm just a bit more of its due.
Video games, first, aren’t easy to categorize. Raph Koster, one of the more famous and outspoken designers of early MMO’s, thinks that they aren’t really games, but sees them more as virtual social worlds. Here’s a link to an amazing talk of his that I also came across recently. I don’t want to steal his thunder really, but I kinda am with this post because a lot of what I’m arguing for, he really is arguing for, in his talk. He’s saying there can be some serious social consequences when it comes to designing virtual worlds, like MMO’s and Facebook, and virtual reality tech could take it to a whole new dangerous level.
Some video games are more worlds than games, and some are more like sports. Some video games are more like stories, whereas others are more akin to walking through the park, a park with ummm a bunch of logic puzzles, and odd statues… and meta-puzzles, like The Witness. Traditional games, like Baduk or Chess, are different from many video games, but many video games fit into the traditional game category, like Tetris. For Raph, there’s not that much of a difference between Facebook and MMO’s on a basic level, but Raph doesn’t go so far to discuss issues like ‘gamer class’, I mean, you can only say so much in one talk. But that’s where Matt takes it, and that’s super cool. What I’m getting at is not all video games are the same and that’s an important difference to note for a stronger argument. And throwing VR, as defined by Raph as straddling some video games and social networks, in there, only adds more fuel to Matt’s argument.
All interactive technology whether social or not, has the potential to isolate people and create little basement monsters. Now when looking at it from the social media side, it’s not just about opinionated middle class white boys, but for Moms and uncles and whoever else with a political opinion that has figured out the tweets and the likes. Raph talks about virtual reality and it is clear to me from not just him, but many others, that VR headset tech is even more captivating than the boogeyman of video games. Facebook wants to own this shit, right? See where we are going by putting Matt and Raph’s arguments together? If this is the case, then we are in for a wild ride and I don’t mean this in a fun ‘video game’ way, but giant swathes of humanity who don’t have a clue of how the world works. If you want to be snarky, you could say that I’m just putting 20 and 20 together when looking back to the last presidential election.
Where do I come at this though? Frameworks and such? I don’t consider myself a gamer, as I said in my first post. My identity is Native American, and this comes with some important differences from most Americans, one where I’m happy to meet Matt halfway from. Maybe he’d love it, for all I know, because I don’t know the guy. Anyway, when it comes to knowledge, what we would call the ‘Indigenous Knowledge Framework’ assumes not only objectivity to be a way to gain knowledge, but what some might call relationality (not a stand in for subjectivity). So it’s an equitable system of knowledge compared to the scientific system of knowledge.
Taking relationality as an onto-epistemological sort of axiom (please don’t let me put those words together again), guides my ethical viewpoint. So when I hear Matt’s argument, I agree in general, not because of my political ideology, but because of my relational-oriented worldview. Isolation, as opposed to connection, breeds crazy. As for communists and Indigenous people, what happened with the Zapatista movement of the 90’s until now, from the Indigenous people’s perspective will stand as a case worth digging into before let’s say, jumping the gun, and saying spirituality is not a big issue in discussions of political ideologies, technology and games. But who’s saying that anyway?
And games… I see that some are, more or less, designed to be Skinner-boxes, and people should not be socialized by poor stand-ins for real-life experience. I’ve probably spent way too much time playing video games myself. However, there are so many things that we call games, and many of them aren’t as nefarious as Matt argues them to be. For me, ideally, we wouldn’t even need video games, at all, but here we are in what looks like the gosh-darn age of computers. I just think that there are many ways to fight against consciousness traps, and not-playing games is just one. Playing games can be another, depending on what you are playing and what you got going around it, like making a super cool podcast with interesting people.
Anyway, that’s about it for now. Wow, a podcast made me get a bit soap-boxey. Cheers and hats off to Hegelbon and Matt Christman. I’m now a sub for both of the podcasts they are a part of. Can’t wait to learn and hear more interesting things from interesting places. 🙂