The Gaming Medium

Four pages into Galloway’s piece, I found myself reading, “Video games create their own grammars of action; the game controller provides the primary physical vocabularies for humans to pantomime these gestural grammars” to myself several times over as I tried to digest what it was really saying. This piece has been a lot to take in, but I did get a few thought provoking ideas from it. The main one, for me, is the idea of exploring the medium of videogames.

I was interested to read that the medium of videogames is whatever “electronic computational device” it is played on, and that the software downloaded to the machine “instructs the machine to simulate the rules of the game through meaningful action” (Galloway pg. 2). Until this point in the course, I have spent so much time looking into the psychological aspect of videogames referred to by so many of our readings that I forgot to even consider what vidogames really are: events that are controlled by sequences on an electronic device.

I liked that Galloway linked videogames with the term “action” so early on; it gave me something to think about as I read about how the player and machine “work together in a cybernetic relationship” to make things happen in the game. When videogames are looked at as a relationship between a player and a machine, and the immense popularity of the videogame is taken into account, one begins to wonder why humans find so much more joy in interacting with machines than interacting with each other, in the real world. What does this say about human nature?

I kept this in mind as I read that “code is the only language that does what it says” and looked back to an earlier paragraph that said that the player must “engage” the machine, and that “In our day and age, this is the site of fun” (Galloway pg. 5). (I apologize for all of the quotes; this piece was a little hard for me to read, so connecting quotes is the only way for me to be able to think clearly about what it’s trying to say). This connection is interesting because it seems to say that we, as people, prefer to interact with machines because our actions cannot be misread. While there is a lot of evidence that points to the popularity of videogames belonging to a way to relax after a long day at work, there could also be some comfort in knowing that one’s language will not be misinterpreted and that one will not misunderstand another person, which often leads to conflict. What are your thoughts on this?

Getting back to what I was saying earlier, it was refreshing to consider what the physical properties of the game itself have to do with human nature when so much time has been spent on looking at the abstract portions. I find that, sometimes, we get so involved with something that it becomes hard to see the larger picture, and end up missing large pieces of the whole. Galloway has brought me back to center and made me see a part of videogames that I failed to even notice before. Can anyone think of any other aspects of videogames that should be considered that should require futher investigation?

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2 thoughts on “The Gaming Medium”

  1. Galloway does offer a nice departure from our previous readings. Bogost, Nardi, and especially McGonigal were all trying in varying degrees to find the good in gaming, and so they seemed to approach the subject matter with an agenda. Galloway is much more analytic and investigative ion his treatment of video games. He wants to know how our experience of video games is unique. To this end he gets at the first and perhaps most distinctive feature of video games: engagement with machinery for recreational purposes.

    What seems to be meant by engagement with video games is subject-response. A player makes acts, the machine responds, the player responds to the machine, and so forth. This is principally similar to how people interact socially. The advantage of doing this with the machine is the nondiegetic element at play. When a person evokes a negative reaction from another in a social setting, there is no pressing pause and restarting the interaction; you are stuck with the unpleasantness of the scenario. But in a video game when things go badly, one can step outside of the reality of the game and consider with their own time their response, and their next action. In this way, games are almost shelter for the socially anxious; a form of interaction where they can assert an outside control if they so desire. This said, I seriously doubt that people genuinely prefer interaction with machines to interactions with persons, as machines simply lack the ability to be as exciting as people can be.

  2. An excellent post, and a good observation about the difference between Galloway and the earlier authors we read, although I think you’ll find the book turns toward more cultural/political issues in later chapters. You asked about different areas we might study, so here are some general directions of investigation:

    “Critical Code Studies” is the close study of programming languages themselves. Doing this work requires an analysis of the code itself.

    “Software Studies” investigates a higher level where you aren’t looking at the code itself but rather the operation of software at the user level. I suppose you could think of what Galloway is doing as a videogame oriented version of software studies.

    “Platform Studies” examines the hardware rather than the software or code. Bogost has a book title “Racing the Beam” that investigates the original Atari system.

    I suppose any one of these areas could turn more or less toward cultural/social questions regarding users (e.g. in the way Nardi or McGonigal do).

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