Why

Posted on November 6, 2014

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Monographs on subjects of interest to me are one of my favorite things, and I’ll almost always pick them up sight-unseen, especially if they contain a personal or journalistic element. I found one over the weekend at my friendly local city-block-sized book store. I wasn’t sure it was going to be any good; it seemed too neat, a “video games saved my life” kind of thing, where our intrepid protagonist’s love of immersive feedback software loses him a job and then gains him one.

Like I said, though, sight-unseen. And it looks an easy enough read, something to bang out in a couple evenings.

Pretty early on this stuck out to me:

“I am going to try to persuade you here that games are worth paying attention to. They are worth thinking and talking about in some detail. They might even be a very good thing for our culture as a whole. But what is most important to my analysis is the fact of video games’ ambiguous social value…”

-Jim Rossignol, This Gaming Life

I don’t need to be persuaded of this (I believe it already), so I’m not the target audience here. Fine, I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book and felt that I’m squarely in its sights. What I immediately saw in this passage, though, was his conflation of “game” with “video game.” From the time I picked the thing up in the shop it’s been clear that the book is about video games; I’m not rolling my eyes at the fact that that’s his subject and he sticks to it.

It’s the thoughtless fusion of the entire history of games with this contemporary technological part of that history that bothers me. As if video games were the only important kind of game. I’m sure I wouldn’t have noticed this if it weren’t a bit of a sore thumb already, something that just seems to be in the air. A byproduct of the all-encompassing power of consumer culture. Video games make Big Money, so they are worth paying attention to. Board games are increasingly worth paying attention to, as well, since they seem to be making more and more money these days.

I have complicated and usually poorly-expressed thoughts on the intersection of consumer culture and games. To generalize in bold, I think video games, taken on the whole, are the more passive, disconnected—and thus easily commercial—game medium, as contrasted with a traditional face-to-face game.

This isn’t a screed against video games. I play video games. I have loved video games since I was a child, and only relatively recently have become a tabletop game enthusiast. Like most arguments, this one is too facile, but I make it because it’s the only way I know how to express what is at the beating heart of what I want to say here: Anything that gets us, in our increasingly isolated, lonely culture, to be present physically in the same space as another human being and engage in a ritual that allows us to express and experiment with new and different modes of being is potentially revolutionary. It’s why, philosophically, behind all superficial reasons, I go to church. It’s why I play games.

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Posted in: Readings