Games of Equality: Machines verses Operators

In beginning Galloway’s, “Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture,” he talks immensely about “the machine” verses “the operator.” I think that he brought up a very interesting concept that people do not necessarily consider when playing video games. Yes, to be able to succeed in a video game you have to do your part and know how to operate the game to reach that final goal. But what is often times failed to be acknowledged is that when playing a video game it is not just you as the operator that has to put in the work. The machine does half of the work for you, as Galloway gives the example with Super Mario Bros on page 5 when he says, “Locating a power-up in Super Mario Bros is an operator act, but the power-up actually boosting the player character’s health is a machine act.” So in reading this, I realized that this was something that I did not even think about. Often times people will get frustrated with a game and think that it is solely their fault if they are losing, but maybe they should consider that it is maybe due to them not directing the machine to do its part correctly, of course in accumulation with knowing how to actually play the game.

This chapter also led me to wonder, since I do not know much about video games, if there are games that do not have that balance between “operator” and “machine?” Are there video games that are solely machine operated or vise versa? Are there games where the percentage of involvement between the two forces is not equal?


2 thoughts on “Games of Equality: Machines verses Operators”

  1. This reminds me of the video games Portal and Portal 2. In fact, after reading the section about machines and operators, I realized that Portal might a personification of Galloway was talking about with machine and operator. In the game, you play Chell who is imprisoned within a massive (and eerily empty) laboratory. Your only companion, is a simulation computer voice (GLaDOS) who directs you to new tests to solve. So it is literally operator, Chell, and machine, GLaDOS. This is a a spoiler but eventually the player realizes that GLaDOS is an AI supercomputer who has killed all of the humans in the lab and continues to run experiments on test subjects, killing them once they’ve finished. However, right before Chell is to be executed, she uses the skill and materials provided by the machine to survive. At the end of Portal 2, after hours of trying to kill each other, Chell and GLaDOS end rather amicably. Just as Galloway says machine and operator should be seamless, this game becomes just that at the end, with GLaDOS and Chell sharing some very key traits of each other.

    Here are some videos, since you mentioned you don’t game. The first one is Chell escaping for the first time. Fast forward to about 5 minutes in on the video.

    This next video is from Portal 2, the very end, where they’re somewhat amicable.

  2. I am intrigued by your question and will keep it in mind as I pay more attention to the videogames being played around me.

    I also found Galloway’s paragraph on the machine having to work with the player to be interesting because it is not a view seen by most people. I like the thought of this because videogames are so frequently seen as a place away from reality, but this observation makes it seem like the two are not that far apart. While the interactions between people and machines are different from interactions between humans and other people, this new perspective shows that there is a different side of videogames and that, even in the virtual world, there is always another point of view that is not seen by everyone.

    As discussed earlier in the course, there are videogames being designed today that are made to encourage people do things like enjoy doing their chores, want to go to school, etc. (most thoroughly discussed in McGonigal’s novel), but are there any that are trying to develop better personal skills? For example, seeing the new point of view of videogames having to work in order for players to level up in the games could make a lot of people realize that, even in videogames, not everything is as it seems. I always try to see from other points of view, but this is one I would not have found had I not been enrolled in a course on videogames. Should game developers try to make people see this point of view in order to realize that they, the players, need to be more perceptive? Should game developers start making videogames designed to promote better personal skills?

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