This year has seen a lot of activity involving games, politicians and legislation. Some states in the US have brought in legislation to control the sales of videogames to minors in an effort to protect them from the so-called corrupting influences of our media. A frequent response to such behaviour is for someone to explain that no other form of entertainment media is controlled by government legislation – it’s controlled by the industry. Why should games be any different.
Whilst I agree with this sort of response in principle it makes me think about gaming and whether the positioning alongside that of film, music and books is truly justified.
Clearly, I’m biased. I freely admit that. Whatever I may feel about videogames I can assure you that I still indulge in other forms of entertainment. In fact movies are probably my second greatest passion after videogames (it goes without saying that my greatest, greatest passion is my wife – who can regularly kick my ass at SSX. What a woman!). I feel that videogames have the added dimension of interactivity that elevates and seperates them from their established cousins.
The whole interactivity thing is a blessing and a curse regardless of which side of the line you stand with regards to games being harmful or not. I feel that the connection a player may make with a game has the potential to be far stronger than any other medium. Nothing else puts you in the middle of events, directly responsible for the direction they unfold in or the pace at which they unfold like a videogame can. Films are, perhaps the most passive and undemanding of the three alternatives I’ve mentioned as nothing is required of the viewer to enjoy them other than to sit still and keep their eyes and ears open. Music requires a little more effort to get the most out of it – to listen and interpret the lyrics. Of the three it is books which demand your attention, vocabulary, imagination and understanding that are possibly the closest in terms of involvement a particpant comes when making comparisons to videogames. Typically, the more effort something requires the greater a sense of achievement is gained from it’s completion. Once again, films are the least rewarding and disposable whilst music and certainly books have the potential to become incredibly important to us. They can represent some of the greatest and most rapturous rides that our consciousness has ever experienced. I firmly believe the return is directly related to the investment the viewer/listener/reader makes.
It’s no surprise then, when you see such direct involvement with the medium and such commitment and dexterity required by the player that I feel the rewards and satisfaction can be in a whole different league to a film. Of course this isn’t a golden rule. The worst games won’t be as rewarding as the best books. But that level of interaction just takes the participant to the next step and opens a greater dimension of return for their investment.
Certainly, let’s continue to group gaming with other forms of entertainment, it would be silly not to. But we should not ignore gaming’s most unique qualities and differences from other mediums. Nor should anyone else. Failure to do so is a failure to understand the medium and, fundamentally, make judgements on it. Those that know the medium the best – the developers and the gamers – are the experts. They are best qualified to aid studies into any effects gaming might have on the physical or psychological behaviour of the player. If you are not a gamer yourself then to dismiss their value as vital and accurate representatives of this medium is to demonstrate a total lack of understanding, respect or objectivity for it.