The Finnish National General Broadcast News, or YLE news, recently had a piece about video and computer games being more than entertainment nowadays, that they now comment and depict social issues as well as touch upon hard philosophical as well as explain stories. This naturally is horse shit at its best, as this would imply the half century games have been around didn’t consist of wide variety of games that were exploring topics that other forms of media have. Ultima alone made its legacy of creating a game where the player’s Avatar creates rules and virtues to improve people’s lives and give them faith. The follow-up games was all about perverting those ideals and how they can be abused the worst way possible. That’s just one example, with the Japanese PC platforms also containing their own adventure games with even more exploration of culturally relevant topics. I don’t mean VNs, think more along the lines of Sierra adventure games and you’ll be on point. Then you had titles like E.V.O. The Theory of Evolution that still stands as unique simulation-RPG, that the SNES sequel doesn’t exactly stand up to.
The issue of course that entertainment was depicted as something that doesn’t handle topics that require the audience to think. Literature, music, all forms of games, films and television are all *just” entertainment. Something being entertainment doesn’t suddenly mean they wouldn’t be able to discuss topics that would make the audience’s head ratchets clatter. Some people find their entertainment to be all about the discussion about current topics and politics, where they are required to consider issues that oppose each other as well and weight on the benefits of unsavoury actions. Other people like bang band woosh flash kind of entertainment where you can watch Iron Man punching Hulk in the face for fifteen minutes. Both are as valid as entertainment, but they’re different kind of entertainment. Both offer their own thing for the audience and the audience consumes them at their own pace. The difference is, of course, that games are active entertainment. The player is required to make the decisions. This isn’t what the news meant, as it had the classical approach of pre-written narrative being the core. After all, that’s the narrative about video and computer game storytelling, rather than the significance of playing and player being the most significant part of the story by creating a unique tale through player’s own actions and decisions. It’s strange that there are no news or studies made how much decision making in any given game situation affects the play or the player’s current mind set.
Because games are a form of entertainment the player takes place, player’s actions and decisions have all the ramifications within the game’s world itself. Sure, most players will blow things up just for the fun of it because they can and there are no repercussions, but in the same breath we can say that the same actions wouldn’t be taken in real world. That’s why games don’t work as a training device for general population without being conditioned for it and help of external real-life devices, as games are played. It’s interesting to see how little the media discussed playing being the most essential part of games, with terms like gameplay, game-loop, designs and whatever is the current buzzword thrown around to describe the simple of the player taking in the game rules and acting on them both physically via the input device as well as playing in their mind the role the game is giving for them. While it’s quint to see papers wondering how people can relate themselves in the characters on screen and refer their actions and events in first person rather than referring to the character on the screen, it also tells that it is common to see video and computer games as a separate thing from usual playing. There is no difference in a player controlling Mario in Super Mario Bros., controlling the horseshoe in Monopoly, playing the role of mother in playing house, referring to yourself when playing with dolls or being the dwarf in Dungeons and Dragons. All these forms of play have the same point of putting the player in the actor’s role and being there. For whatever reason this is seen as a more juvenile form entertainment, and all the forms of entertainment that are passive and ask the viewer to be a non-participant in are the more elevated thing. Funny that, that was one of the arguments what separates art from video games, where art can only be observed and not interacted with, despite interactive art and instalments have always been a relatively common thing.
Is this art, or is this a toy?
Toys are some of the best of entertainment. The toys we play with changes as we grow up, but the act of playing with something doesn’t. It’s also interesting to notice that at some point we “grow up” from something, but much later in life we return to them. Action figures and model kits are an example of this, but the best example might be doll houses. For whatever reason, at some point doll houses become a passé to a teenage girl who abandons childish toys, but just as often she finds herself playing Sims on the PC to pass time. Later in her life doll houses become a thing again, but this time she might build everything herself. From readily made toys to serious hobby, but in the end, it is still playing around. Just with more gusto and more expensive toys.
Video and computer games, much like all the other forms of entertainment we consume, don’t suddenly evolve or step up from their lower-ranking or childish spots. Games are, have always been, entertainment that put the player into uncomfortable positions to make hard decisions due to their nature of play. Often through competition either against the machine or the other player. However, these are momentarily events and something we can’t pass to anyone else, just like all play is. It isn’t that people stop to look at the veneer on the surface, but rather the simple lack of understanding how electronic gaming is no different from the rest of the play cultures we have. The form may be the different, the underlying actions and intentions are the same. Despite we’ve had few generations that grew up with electronic games now, they’re still treated as a second or third tier entertainment compared to the more classical form of media. Then again, modern comics are about a century old now and the view on them haven’t changed despite multiple generations have passed and their status as a form of proper art and storytelling has been challenged every which way. Perhaps this is another form of classism, where we have to create hierarchies instead of accepting that one form is no better than the other, as they are intended to be consumed in different manners with different end-goals. What is expected from a challenging piece of media has been relatively common due to sheer lack interactive element before, and now that we do have a whole new media dimension in our hands due to the digital revolution, the expectations are all fucked up. Perhaps in order to justify our interests and hobbies we often prescribe already accepted nominations and expectations of others. That way if we love to eat a BigMac and think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, we can describe it in the exact same manner as we would describe the most high calibre steak. This sort of reflection is sadly somewhat common, which forces arguments to lean on existing media and views rather than building new arguments and perceptions for the benefit of electronic gaming. Whatever the kids are into now can’t be better than the thing you grew up, after all.
Entertainment doesn’t need to be mindless and stupid. Some of us find it entertaining when the media challenges us to think, or in case of games, challenges to base and act our decisions that have ramifications larger than any other form fiction can depict directly with the inactive consumer. It only depends which game we are playing. We’ve always had games of all needs we’ve ever wanted.