Category Archives: Galloway

videogames, the humanities and judgment

As we move toward the end of course, it is time for some summative thoughts. I suppose one of my real dislikes about English and the humanities in general is our tendency to make summary judgments about issues. It is an odd contradiction of sorts. On the one hand, we are more than willingly, perhaps even obligated by our discipline, to recognize the uncertainty of interpretation; we will say that a poem or novel or film or painting could mean different things to different people (within reason of course). In part, this keeps us in business. Otherwise the meaning of artistic works could be settled once and for all! On the other hand, we are equally willing to pass judgments that we hold to be as certain as we deem our interpretations to be uncertain. We are quick to say this or that is good or bad, art or not art, racist or sexist, or something.

It is safe to say that videogames produce aesthetic experiences in humans (setting aside any judgment on the quality of those experiences) and that they circulate sociopolitical/cultural/ideological values (setting aside any judgment on those values).We may say the same of any artistic work, indeed any object that humans participated in making. These are the objects we tend to study across the humanities. In this respect they are as worthy of study as object.

However, there’s another glitch. Our traditional methods don’t allow us to study everything. Conventionally we have decided to study those things that we think are the “best” (another judgment): Shakespeare, for example. 40 years ago, we decided that what we had thought of as best was culturally biased (i.e. dead white guys), so we diversified our selection. But we didn’t get rid of the idea that we should study what was best; we just tried to shift our notion of what “best” meant. Alongside this move, we also started to pay more attention to pop culture (i.e. what wasn’t “best”) and the historical contexts of our objects (which also meant studying material that wasn’t “best” but could inform our understanding of the best objects).

I suppose that studying videogames could fit alongside pop cultural studies of popular movies, television, genre fiction, and so on. But I don’t see that as the context in a class on new media. Instead, our more general purpose is to investigate the cultural operation of emerging communications technologies: videogames just happens to be the example. Clearly we make judgments about videogames from video game reviews to studies on their psychological effects. But as a scholar I’m not interested in making those judgments myself; I am interested in understanding how those judgments are made. That is, I am interested in the mechanisms.

How do videogames produce aesthetic experiences? When we look at McGonigal or Galloway we get some answers to that question. We can consider human psychology or we might look at game mechanics, at gamic action as Galloway terms it. How do videogames circulate social values? Bogost offers us a plethora of different ways this happens. Nardi goes in depth into a single game to explore its social function.

So I ask you: what can we learn from studying videogames as humanists? How might emerging media shift our understanding of the purposes and methods of the humanities (purposes and methods invented and designed to operate in a print culture)?

REALISM IN VIDEO GAMES

 

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Bresson’s “A Man Escaped”

The same way realism in movies showed details of everyday life and reality ( such as for instance Bresson’s “A Man Escaped”)  with real scenery, unknown actors and minimal technics, Galloway feels that
“realist games as those games that reflect critically on the minutiae of everyday life”. Thus we see games like “911 Survivor”, ” Waco Resurrection” and “Kuma’s War”

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“911 Survivor”

 

So we see social realism in games “modeled around real events” in “Special Force” and “Under Ashes” where the game creates anti-Israeli battles for Palestinians similar to “America’s Army” but more realistic by the fact that the scenarios are created by those who feel oppressed.

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Personally, I don’t feel that this type of game is beneficial to children or to anyone for that matter. It only incites hate and can only make things worse in the Middle East.

allegories of control

In “Allegories of Control,” Galloway introduces us to Gilles Deleuze‘s concept of the control society. With this concept, Deleuze seeks to account for a shift in the way that ideological and political power operates in the contemporary world. Deleuze’s work builds on that of his contemporary, Michel Foucault, who had identified the emergence of an early “disciplinary society” during the industrial age. A disciplinary society creates numerous institutions–prisons, hospitals, schools, factories, court systems, etc.–that organize people in specific ways. Individuals are categorized into established identities and these institutions enforce these boundaries. A control society, Deleuze explains, is more subtle in its uses of power. Obviously the institutions of a disciplinary society remain, but their operation shifts somewhat and new institutions develop such as mass media and consumer culture. Indeed, consumer culture is an excellent example of how a control society works. It is now conventional in our society for people to construct their identities through their purchases, particularly of clothes but also of media. Where a disciplinary society offers you a solid state identity (i.e. gender, race, class), a control society offers you a plug-and-play identity (e.g. the way Facebook allows you to construct identity around likes and dislikes or eHarmony establishes a profile through a questionnaire.). As Galloway seeks to explain, these mechanisms of control are typically hidden from us while instead we focus on feelings of desire and the experience of choice.

Games, however, give us something quite different. As he writes:

video games deliver to the player the power relationships of informatic media firsthand, choreographed into a multivalent cluster of play activities  In fact, in their very core, video games do nothing but present contemporary political realities in relatively unmediated form. They solve the problem of political control, not by sublimating it as does the cinema, but by making it coterminous with the entire game, and in this way video games achieve a unique type of political transparency. (92)

Later though, he gives us a different perspective, arguing that “In fact, the more emancipating games seem to be as a medium, substituting activity for passivity or a branching narrative for a linear one, the more they are in fact hiding the fundamental social transformation into informatics that has affect the globe during recent decades” (106).

I can’t say I fully agree with Galloway. I have become suspicious of cultural critique and its foundations in hermeneutics. As practitioners of literary interpretation, you are aware of the seeming insistence that there is always something “hidden” within the text. For critique to operate, one must posit something hidden that can be uncovered through its methodology. However, rather than thinking of the process of interpretation or critique as uncovering, one might imagine it as a process of composing. That is, a critique of Civilization, as we see in this chapter, does not tell us some truth about the game, but makes new meaning out of the game by combining it with critical methods. How much difference is there between uncovering truth and composing meaning? I’m not sure; you tell me. I would suppose the main difference from my perspective is that one starts to realize that critical methods always tend to compose fairly predictable meanings.

But let me roll this back a little and return to gaming. It is an interesting observation that games like Civilization provide a new way to document our shifting understanding of history and social development. History is not driven by divine manifest destiny or “great men.” We get both of these within Civilization but they are subsumed beneath an algorithm. Economies and social attitudes are controllable by sliders, a balancing act of data flows. Ideology is drag-and-drop, customizable like a drink at Starbucks. We don’t believe in any of these things. Believing in an ideology is like believing in a frappuccino. What we do believe in is information and our capacity to control information: informatics. Civilization is like this. No culture is inherently better than another; no ideology or religion is truer. They are all playable with differing strengths and weaknesses. There is no sense that the world should be one way rather than another. There are even multiple win states. No doubt one can say these are savvy design choices that give the game rich replayability. You can play as may different cultures and try to win in different ways. But such options only make sense when we believe that our history and our future are not going anywhere in particular. Instead we are all just malleable data, and that’s what it means to be part of a control society.

Gaming and Immersion, how far can we go?

I think i’ll jump on the bandwagon and post about the subjective shot. I love seeing everyone’s thoughts on the subject. Personally, I never thought a First-Person Shooter (FPS) was told from anything but a Point of view (POV) shot. I always thought that we (the gamer) were essentially playing the story through the point of view. Now after reading Galloway’s Gaming I think that to label any FPS as told through a POV would be a disgrace to the game itself, and all the people who created it.

After reading about the subjective shot, I began to re-think my experiences with FPS gaming. Now I know I was not experiencing the wonderful stories such as Halo from the point of view of Master Chief, but as the actual character of Master Chief. After learning this I realized that video games provide you with an experience that no other piece of media, or storytelling can. The experience of actually BEING a character. Not only are you experiencing the story an FPS provides, you’re making the character’s moves, his decisions, his actions. The ability to be someone entirely different, someone from a different universe, someone of a different species is mind blowing. The essays Galloway wrote really opened my eyes on video games. I’m not just playing the games, i’m living them.

That within itself is justification alone as to how far we have come in our media and in our culture. Stories are no longer told, they are lived.

Movies VS. Video Games

In chapter 2 of Galloway’s book, he talks about different techniques in movies: subjective shots and POV shots. He gives different examples of each type of shot and different movies should it be Hitchcock movies, movies like “Being John Malkovich”, or “The Graduate”, and “The Blair Witch Project”.  These subjective shots work really well in movies like “The Terminator”, which is very computerized .

When considering video games, we come across what is called the first-person shooter, which are “played in the subjective” often with a weapon. The weapon is in the foreground. There is a clear influence from movies when they show this kind of subject.

The influence of film making on game design has also gone the other way in Galloway calls “gamic cinema”.

“The traditional cinematic POV has fallen away, and an electronic has taken its place”,  says Manovich.

Galloway claims that “gamic vision requires fully rendered, actionable space”, and this complete space has to be designed in advance and three-dimensionally. The difference with film, is that the player controls the camera position and all his or her moving around.

 

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Social Realism

Reading chapter 3 on Social Realism made me do a lot of thinking. I had to disect the title so that I can have a much clearer understanding of the chapter. The term social makes me think about society and the people who function within the society. The word realism can refer to many things but the one term that caught my attention is literary realism. According to Wikipedia, literary realism is a literary movement stressing the depiction of contemporary life and society as it exists or has existed. In other words, the ability to create art based on real life experiences. Now every games does not fit into the category of social realism, however, since the 2000s many more games have been produced to depict actual real life or realistic events and we have shifted slowly but surely away from the fantasy world.

In the section entitled “Are Military Games Realist?” it states, ” What is interesting about America’s Army is not tbe debate over whether it is thinly veild propoganda or a legitimate recruitment tool, for it is unabashedly and decisively both, but rather that the central conceit of the game is one of mimetic realism”. Have you ever played a game that involves shooting and wondered why it feels like reality? I know that I have. This statement made me wonder if there are actual military agents who provide their views from their time in combat so that a dramatic story line can be based off of it.

Another thing that caught my attention while reading this chapter was the “Columbine Theory”. According to this theory games plus gore equals psychotic behavior. While viewing this video, it made me question this theory.

In chapter two of Galloway’s story, he talks a lot about mental affects in relation to shooting guns. He says something on page 46 that unfortunately is true, however, I do not agree with it being used in video games, per say. He claimed, “One of the most common uses of the subjective shot is to show the optical perspective of a drugged, drowsy, drunk, or otherwise intoxicated character.” I do think that holds true for many video games that involve guns and violence. What I don’t like, on the other hand, is the fact that all of these people who are shown using guns in the games have this persona. Realistically, not everyone who shoots a gun or kills someone via violence is drunk, drowsy, drugged, or intoxicated. Why do they not show that a person maybe is crazy or unstable? Why can’t they be sober and do it? Unfortunately there are plenty of people who kill and have no consumed any alcoholic beverages or taken any drugs to commit the act. I think that many video games exemplify a certain stereotype or behavior of a person and Galloway brings it up, but I do not think that it needs to be this way. I suppose everyone has their own views on guns and violence, but that is mine in relation to video games. I would personally be happy if violent video games ceased to exist at all.