Rule Following; The Aesthetics of Games vs. Video Games

A part of the definition of aesthetic experiences that Nardi borrows from Dewey is an experience with a temporal “temporal flow of actions that are valued in themselves, ending in a satisfying consummation.” Video games certainly qualify as an aesthetic experience by such a definition; one plays the video game for the enjoyment of playing, and there typically is a sense of completion at the end of the game. But then, all games qualify as an aesthetic experience by this definition, which seems implausible, since I don’t think we would want to call “Apples to Apples” an aesthetic experience.

The difference between games and other goal oriented activities seems to be that success in a video game is a possibility made by design. When you play a video game, you are not really connecting with your environment, in the same way a mechanic who constructs an engine is; that mechanic is interacting directly with the natural environment, and as such cannot be sure that the environment has guaranteed him a chance at success in his activity. The same cannot be said of games; the rules of solitaire make it so the game can be completed, and when you play a video game, any task a person takes up, is one which another person has made success a real possibility. You can beat a level of Mario, or complete a mission of WoW because a programmer’s work made it possible. A part of the reason that video games are marginalized in society, particularly in comparison to other art forms, is that they are at their heart, just games; activities with arbitrary rules and goals which are designed to make both failure and success a possibility, yet they, perhaps more than any other game in history, have the ability to take over a person’s life. 

The key difference between games and video games that allows for video games to considered more akin to an aesthetic experiences, results from a difference in how the rules of those games are followed. It seems to plausible to think that aesthetic experience in its truest form is unmediated by self-imposed rules governing the person’s task. That is, real aesthetic interaction with the environment is not restricted by any rules enforced by the person; there are only the natural restrictions of the relevant world. The person thus does not have to hold anything back in his or her pursuit of the relevant goal, and so have a sense of freedom when interacting with the environment. Games thus cannot be considered real aesthetic experiences because the rules of a video game are not enforced by players but rather by an external force; the software, rather than a single person. (This was pointed out by Bogost.)  This is to say, the appeal to video games, is that a person can do what is within their power to complete a task in a video game. They are not restricted by rules of custom, etiquette or morals, and thus can embody a lack of self restraint, that I think is associated with raw aesthetic experiences. 


3 thoughts on “Rule Following; The Aesthetics of Games vs. Video Games”

  1. Pretty sound analysis, I’d say. The failures in many games are really stepping stones to success- if I keep trying and trying, eventually I’ll get better at the game, and eventually I can beat it, or I can get a higher score. I think the fact that there are rules -to begin with- make games more aesthetic. Life, of course, does not always follow by any set of rules. Stuff happens, as many say. And when it comes to other goal oriented tasks in reality, one does not, say, advance up their career ladder simply by going to work in a good mood and having a specific number of friends, like in the Sims. In reality, friends in high places may help one to get a promotion, as might hard work or the boss catching the worker doing something promotion worthy. Thing is, all those things may well not lead to a promotion. The promotion may be the goal, but there aren’t really any rules or set way to acquire a promotion, and too, there is no guarantee. The company could, for instance, go bankrupt, even if one apparently does “everything right.”

    Generally in video games, as long as you complete the task to all the requirements, you cannot fail.

    1. So it’s suffice to say that in most cases video games don’t imitate life they imitate video games! To even start comparing video games to real life or life situations is absurd. A video game is just that a game, we can’t get unlimited lives, or press reset or pause! I think most people who really immerse themselves in a game truly loses a sense of the real world!

  2. I want to amend my comment on video games and rule following. In the above I said that the key difference between the aesthetic experience involved in video games and regular games is the way the rules are enforced; in regular games the rules are enforced by the players, while in a video game the rules are enforced by the software, which allows for a certain no-holds-barred engagement with the game, which is similar to an aesthetic experience.

    But I wasn’t exactly correct. For in multiplayer games, a sort of etiquette evolves between players; unofficial rules that players enforce in order to improve the group’s gaming experience. These rules seem to be generally applicable to a diverse group of players, and are generally designed to inhibit people from exploiting features of the game which are deemed to give players an unfair advantage. (This type of play is more commonly known as being “cheap”) What this unfair advantage is differs from game to game. It could be using a character with powers which make it markedly better than every other character; using an item which gives the player an unfair advantage (such as the hammer in Super Smash Bros.) or using one move over and over a game. Beneath is an article on gaming etiquette.

    What is clear about gaming etiquette is that it is meant to keep up a certain complexity in a game. People using advantages which gives them an easy chance to win makes the game too simple. There is no more challenge or ambiguity in who will win, and thus the excitement of playing the game is diminished. Gaming etiquette also serves as a counter to my earlier point about the difference between video gaming and regular gaming, at least with regards to multiplayer games; for it seems that there are at least some rules a person has to willfully follow when playing a video game, just like with regular video games..

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