2-Pane Combined
Full Summaries Sorted

Bogost How to Do Things with Video Games Part 2


ard debt. Cell phone services depose the electric com­lrports replace railways. And in Here & Now, you collect $2 lIIulI fOI' passing Go. Times have changed.

mtming properties on a Monopoly board is certainly noth-

IIJ!W: dozens of official and unofficial "affinity" editions of the have been created, one for every city, college, TV show, and mc Imaginable (there's even a NASCAR edition). But Here

NIIW also replaces the classic game tokens with new, branded

Monopoly has a long, complex, and generally unknown hisn klll\NI No more thimble, no more car to argue over. Instead, play-

Perhaps the most surprising detail about this classic game all l'tln choose a Toyota Prius, McDonald's french fries, a New

being a real estate tycoon is that it was originally created with .1,,"cC running shoe, a Starbucks coffee mug, and a Motorola entirely different set of values in mind. .a,r phone. In addition to the branded tokens, the game includes

In 1903-thirty years before the initial release of Mono' • 'ifi~rlc unbranded laptop, airplane, and dog.

"- as we know it, Elizabeth Magie Phillips designed The Landlo~ III his book Monopoly: The World's Most Famous Game, Philip

Game, a board game that aimed to teach and promote Georgi • ',hlUles details multiple versions of the game's early retail edi­an economic philosophy that claims land cannot be owned '",,\,. 'l'he familiar metal tokens had been modeled after charm belongs to everyone equally. Henry George, after whom the p hhU,.lIcts, but they added to the game's cost. During the Great losophy is named, was a nineteenth-century political econo, IhllII'tliiSlon entertainment was a luxury, and Parker Brothers also who argued that industrial and real estate monopolists profit .. "','cd a less fancy version that left out the tokens to lower the justly from both land appreciation and rising rents. To rem tttutlu(,!t's cost. Players provided their own game tokens, often this problem, he proposed a "single tax" on landowners. It'I'tlllf'Iging for objects of the right size and heft to use on the

The Landlord's Game was intended to demonstrate howe hlllU'd, The game pieces we take for granted thus represent im­it is for property owners to inflict financial ruin on tenants. 'til' ll)nt aspects both of the game's historical origin (charm brace­a learning game and a game with a message, the title begins' 1.,. of' the 1930s) and of its history (the financial pressures that look a lot more like political propaganda than entertainme Itlllllvated the lower-cost edition).

And even if Monopoly was created to celebrate rather than " It might be tempting to dismiss Hasbro's move to brand these ment land monopolies, the game does demonstrate the landlor I'lktlnR as deliberately opportunistic and destructive. After all, power, for better or worse. Mlllillpoly's branded tokens seem very similar to static in-game ad-

But more recently this famous game has associated itself . h111liilng in videogames (the sort that inserts a Honda Element on another side of industrial capitalism: advertising. In 2006 Has ,I iIIlmowboard courses in SSX3). Indeed, in a New York Times ar­released a version of Monopoly called Monopoly Here & N IIJilt! about the new edition of Monopoly, the executive director of a This edition offers several updates to the classic 1930s editi IIIIIIIlll11er nonprofit did just that, calling the new edition "a giant including changing the properties to more widely recogniza dllVl'itisement" and criticizing Hasbro for taking "this low road,'? ones: Boardwalk becomes Times Square, Park Place becorn But perhaps the historical relationship between the tokens Fenway Park.' Instead of paying luxury tax, the player shells q tllIlI rhe game's cultural origins should dampen our reaction to

< 52 >



the little metal fries and hybrid cars. None of the brands out the advertising or paid a placement fee for it. Instead, itself solicited those particular brands to appear in the game. company's senior vice president Mark Blecher claimed that branded tokens offer "a representation of America in the 21st tury'" The company, argues Blecher, brings the "icono

commercial products to Monopoly.

Blecher is a marketing executive, so we should think before taking his justifications as wholesome design values. tainly other advertising-free design choices would have been

sible. The game's original tokens were jewelry sized, so

a more appropriate contemporary update of small tokens have been SD memory cards or Bluetooth earpieces.

But Blecher has a point: for better or worse, branded ucts are as fundamental to contemporary life as bracelet were in the Depression. They are the trifles, the collectibles most of the contemporary populace uses to accessorize their Here & Now uses branded tokens to define its game world as

of contemporary corporate culture, in contrast to the develo. baron world of the original game.

Monopoly Here & Now bears a lesson about advertising's in commercial video games. Most developers are concerned the appropriateness of brands in games, and even large

have shown their unwillingness to hawk in-game space

high premiums-for example, Electronic Arts canceled its

to sell brand placement in The Sims 2 after failed CA}.ICUlll<:_ with Intel and McDonald's in The Sims Online. 5 Yet some opers and players also believe that branding is appropriate

it enhances realism in a game. This principle is usually reference to urban and sports environments, which are

with advertising in the real world.

In cases like these, realism usually implies visual authentici

correct appearances. But Monopoly Here & Now doesn't brands for the sake of appearance-just about any icon have looked fine as a player token. Instead, it includes the

Iii I IflIIIIIIIPIlI'MY social values to the game. Such a feat cannot '"IIII'II"Ii,'d by branding alone.

In ",_III It It III II) promotion, in-game ads and product place­

itl~I' j'JtI'I'Y I he cultural payload of the brands that mark H 'i h .. II"U" I III different from visual authenticity-after all, it

"i', jlllilly III,IUCt' much whether virtual billboards and sports 'U [.UI Y 1"',\ I nds 01' fake ones, so long as they look credible,


,til, IIIIVIII'lllIlng in games can service an authenticity of'prac-

III IIII1 ,,, 111'1' bu j I t around values, aspirations, experiences, his- 11111.1,'1111, Consumers make associations with brands when

Iii 14111 1'"1 I 0W'I her in particular contexts.

'" II tlHI II l.uncnt the prominence of material consumption in hi'It.~ 1 11111 t It,H prominence is also undeniable. No matter one's 11f!~ U IVII Oil the state of capitalism today, games have not y' f~t'tl 111111'11 ww of branding as a cultural concept. I tried to us r.1I11I1I14 1111' Nodal commentary in Disaffected!, my videogarne

tltltllllllll' 1<1111<0'8 that uses the chain's brand reputation for rotten .111'''''1' ~1'1'vlcc i 11 a satirical commentary. And Molleindustria's " ,,,,,.,/t/'/I Vldcogame uses that company's brand reputation for Iftitltllhll wurldwlde industrialization to expose the social dangers

f "I.flhillillil Iood. The branding in these games is unauthorized; Iii .. M"""I" i'I'it lque rather than promote these cornpanies.s

I" I I III l'Iit' , unauthorized brand abuse in large commercial 1111'. III1K'" not be possible or desirable. But brands' cultural hllill IIUh' 'I bridge between visual appearance and game me- 1,<41i1t jrj Iii t'ome cases, our understanding of particular rules II IlIlfll'IIi'llon in the world has become bonded to products 14utl ,.111 VIt-"H. In a game, the behavior of a character, situation,

" hhlll I'Ililllgcs when aspects of that behavior can be offloaded 111111' Ilw 'llmlliotion into a branded product or service. For ex­IIlphl, wlllil (,',1l1 you infer about a person who drives a Mitsubishi I tll!lc1cl III' wears Manolo Blahnik shoes? Indeed, branding strat­I ~r hi'. 111'1'1) the primary method by which brands made their 111111 Hilmes. In auto racing games like Gran Turismo or fly­,11111'1111 ke Microsoft Flight Simulator, specific vehicle brands


11111 Jllhultl to players' expectations when they get behind wheel 01' the yoke.

This doesn't pertain just to "lovemarks," the term the ad tive Kevin Roberts has given to brands people grow to love than just recognize (Apple, Starbucks, and Lego are

It also applies to less desirable brands that still convey

values-Edsel, Betamax, and Pan Am, for example. brands that have passed their prime still carry extremely cated cultural currency. For those old enough to remember very complex cultural and historical moments are bound brands like LA Gear, Hypercolor, or Ocean Pacific.

rar a very different example of in-game branding as currency, consider Barack Obama's 2008 campaign ads."

to an enormous war chest, the Obama campaign chose periment with nontraditional forms of advertising in additio flooding the airwaves with television spots. One of the campal

more unusual investments involved buying dynamic vertisements in several popular console videogames.

are streamed into disc-based games played on an Xbox

PlayStation 3 with an Internet connection, and they billboards and other simulated advertisements in games real-world locations. In Obama's case, the campaign focused sports and racing titles, including Burnout: Paradise, an auto ing game, and Madden '09, the popular football game. The was red, white, and blue, Obama-emblazoned ads skirting tracks and stadiums, bearing appeals to vote.

The feat made Obama the first presidential candidate to vertise inside a videogame.? It's impossible to know if the tisements themselves were effective at getting out the vote. it might not matter. Monopoly Here & Now uses the Prius and Motorola phone to inject the experience of contemporary into the game. But Obama's ads do the opposite: they inject experience of videogames into contemporary life. Because novelty, the player would likely be struck by an Obama ad bout of simulated basketball or hock~

ys nothing about the candidate's qualification .ourse, but it's not meant to do so. Instead, th 1,llIh' borrow the contemporary, technical, and cornpu-

1I'lt of the videogame and apply them to the candidat .. , unblned with Obama's well-documented love for hi IV dod his opponent John McCain's well-documented

lueptness, buying in-game advertisements made th

nclldatc appear savvy, current, and young." ? In a cam­I", Mil on the very concept of "change," Obama had much hv [mportlng the abstract values of videogames into hi

I hCil' than apply Obama branding in the game, this w It' t hfi Kame branding Oba~cQ

thlllk of brands as markers for complex social behavior, " .IIm Imagine recombining brands' encapsulated social III IIOW contexts: the Yugo stagecoach, or Preparation H III vives, These are silly examples-and some commercial ....... " ... 11N might fear that they represent in-game advertising' Ihl'(lIH: the colonization of even the most incompatibl lIul !' IS Monopoly Here & Now makes clear, advertise­olltHln more than just messages meant to move product IVAIi, 111 addition, advertising encapsulates the rules of cul-

IIUWOnccptions. When familiar products and services find y huo a game world, they serve as shorthand for its social IIWI'dl circumstances. And as Obama's in-game advertise­how, the features of games also feed back on cultural cir­themselves.


only a few examples appeared in 2008. The McCain cam­rved up Pork Invaders, a Space Invaders clone in which a 'dll1"ship" fires vetoes at pig "aliens" as a demonstration of how 'sln "would exercise the veto pen to restore fiscal responsibil­hi mil' federal government:' The game boasts higher produc-

hili vatue than the GOP's similar 2004 offering, Tax Invaders, but lerably less-sophisticated political speech. Tax Invaders cast n the role of the alien enemy and George W. Bush as the exec­hero who would save the people from them, an apt character­

In of conservative tax policy that actually benefits from having

, !ltit In a videogame. By contrast, Pork Invaders struggles to 1 ... IIIUWf gameplay to political message; it's mostly a curiosity.

most visible videogame politicking of 2008 came in th 'If' ndvertising rather than gameplay: the Obama campaign t dynamic in-game ads in console games like Burnout tlllfl1. Gamers welcomed the buy; it appeared to suggest tha

t least did not intend to vilify their medium, despite hav­III'Pvlolisly encouraged parents to "turn off the television set,

1'"1 the video games away." 2 Given Obama's enormous war I the move must have looked like a risk-free experiment to IIlI)n 18n. Still, the Democrats didn't make any games of their '\,,1t met (even if barely) by McCain's hammy offering.

IlIlInkll.\l political games have also made few advances sine t4, 'rho largest crop of them are gamelike gags about Sarah

Iltlt 1\'11111 the almost-topical Polar Palin to the toylike Palin a

1 ..... ',/;1111 10 the wildlife send-up Hunting with Palin to a series of h,!lllll'bots to the inevitable whack-a-mole clone Puck Palin, nun-Palin titles included a retooling of 2004's derivativ

I III 1I lit! Joust; Truth Invaders, another Space Invaders clon Itl!'llllw player shoots down lies; Debate Night, a Zuma-styl

mu In support of Obama; and Campaign Rush, a click­.... lItI.numt election office game my studio developed for CNN IlIIllIl!lInl. Of these, only Truth Invaders cites actual can-

1,,1111)'1 lind attempts to refute them, although in a fairly I'Y wny. The others do not engage policy issues at all,


Election strategy games have been around since 1981's

Elect, but that title and its progeny were games about the process, not games used as a part of that process. The 2004 tion marked a turning point, however, with the birth and rise of the official political videogame. It was the year LdllUlUg and campaign organizations got into games, using the

for publicity, fund-raising, platform communication, and That year, I worked on games commissioned by candidates president and for state legislature, by a political party, and Hill committee. And that was just me-other endorsed games abounded, from the Republican Party to the

president of Uruguay.

It was easy to get public attention around such work, deed at the time, one benefit of campaign games revolved their press-worthiness. By the final weeks of the 2004 cycle, all signals suggested that campaign games were here to Drunk on such videogame election elation, I remember

a prediction in a press interview that year: in 2008, I foolishl

vined, every major candidate would have their own

game. The MSNBC writer Tom Loftus made a similar, albeit milder prediction in late October 2004: "Already tired of politicians say 'visit my Web site' every five minutes? Wait 2008, when that stump speech staple may be replaced with a candidates' call: 'Play my game.' "1

We couldn't have been more wrong. Videogames played a role in the U.S. 2008 election (and no role whatsoever in the term elections of 2010). In terms of officially created or

< 58 >

Iii r( III "1I11i1111


IIIII¥ ilhll 1I1i111'1'I'llIg, Three decades after its coin-op release, ttl iiilil"1 11'," 1(1 why, we need to comprehend the difference be-

"11!1I11II,lolIlll~ to realize that Space Invaders has become the ..... h 1'11111 II II '111d politicking. Politicking refers to campaigning,

11IIldJI'd for political game design. s. It"" ...... \\'11 tjl'i' and hear about throughout the election cycle:

The turnout for commercial games with political themes tfthlllll4ll11, I Iii.' television ads, the soapboxing, even the de-

also thinned since the highs of 2004. That year, no less than ... '\1'" II h III!II" meant to get smiling faces and simple ideas in

different election simulation games were released; but in 20 t", 11.11'1" 111.JppeaLto what ails them. Politics, if we take the

the only offering was Stardock's retooled and updated ver ."' Ihlllljly, l'I'fCI'S to the actual executive and legislativeeffo rts

of The Political Machine, an election sim for PCs that also 8 tHUfI .. 1,·, "." nllldais to alter and update the rules of our society.

free ~eb release that year. Beyond that, ~he stronge~t exa~pl '!' ,lIhl'lll "I "'l'Ncntativ~ democracy, the one leads to the other,

a mamstream game coupled to the election season IS the po Itt (1IIIItIIIIP"I\\I'y SOCIety the two are orthogonal.

cal brawler" Hail to the Chimp, a collection of party games a IWllh IIIIYI I hlN Is exactlywherevideogames find their most nat-

animals competing for the highest office in the animal kingd ... , t "iiIH'1 II. III to political speech. When we make videogames,

There are reasons games have grown slowly compared .. HiIl.' 1 III I "llIlulated worlds in which different rules apply. To

other technologies for political outreach. The most impo .... Ml'11II'lIll1volvcs taking on roles in those worlds, making deci-

one is also the most obvious: by 2008 online video and so .' HI ~-iJhllllll(' constraints they impose, and then formingjudg­networks had become the big thing, as blogs had been in 20 ."t- 111111111 llvlng in them. Videogames can synthesize the raw Instead of urging voters to "play my game," as Loftus and I .tt!llrlllll ," dvk life and help us pose the fundamental political

mised, candidates urged their constituents to "watch my vid ti!lll, \ Vltrtl 8hould be the rules by which we live? Such ques-

Online video became the political totem of 2008, from [a UI till' 11111,ly posed or answered seriously in elections. Indeed,

Kotecki's dorm room interviews to CNN's YouTube debates .,... tir' I I I' II1, II'()CCSS has become divorced from establishing and the same time, the massive growth in social network subsc "'fit'lIIlU IIIII,lIe policy.

tions made social connectivity a secondary focus for camp Illii'i' 1'1"w of how this alternative might be explored through innovation, especially since Facebook had opened its pages .tttf"M,1l1 1I'1l, Wl' have to travel back in time to 2004. That year, yond the campus in 2006. In many cases, politicking on so Ht~ 1111111111 worked on Take Back Illinois, a four-part strategy game networks was a process driven entirely by voters rather than c 1"1;1 I 11t,1I"IIHl'd players to play through key issues facing Illinois

paigns, efforts that reached far larger numbers than might , ... "."llIlhlll years state legislative election. On the one hand,

been possible previously, even with blogs. .lIiI ~iililtl W,III Vl'l'y much an election game, commissioned by Tom

For once, videogames did not lose an election by sticking t I I!II'IIIII,III)I\ Illinois House Republican Organization. But on the

collective necks out as a sacrifice for values politics, the kind IIlhel 11011111, I he game focused on policy issues instead of cam-

Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman, among others, have use II~iMii jIlIIHIIII,IIII ies.

shift their base toward the center. Instead, videogames lost I <4, It 111'1 he foul' minigames that make up Take Back Illinois election by not participating in it. Precedent aside, reskinn I'i;~ I!I II lIlt II dllferent issue, and one launched every week for the classic arcade games and placing billboards in virtual racetra Itl!!iilil I !I'n 11'(1 I he election. The issues include medical malprac­doesn't take advantage of the potential games have to offer to II! , II 11111111 txlucation, citizen participation, and economic re­litical speech. ,., III! III \Viti", r:1 ill simplified compared with the operation of real



Slimes focus on the state party's np""np,-.t-;".

"C} ther than on the candidates (who never appear game). The game orients voters toward candidate and party form positions on the issues that might affect their lives, than the politicians who might advance such positions.

In the case of Take Back Illinois, players were asked to abstracted policy decisions and to consider their consequen~ Players provided health care to a community, moving citizeni health centers and adjusting medical malpractice policy to

or repel medical expertise; they attempted to balance the tional needs of multiple school districts to improve their tiveness with limited resources; they attempted to inspire engagement by communicating the responsibility of democr

as participation; and they tried to support rural and economic development by creating and distributing

for business activities and support for new job training in

urban areas.

Take Back Illinois is not a perfect game; after all, it still

erated primarily as an electioneering title, one released cally just before the election to drive votes in local elections. precisely because it straddles the fence between politicking politics, it offers a compelling signa(for the future role of games in politics. Party lines fall quite differently at the local sus the national level. While national debates swirl around ues issues like family values, and while politicians and the continue to call abstractly for an end to partisan politics, the issues that really affect ordinary people's lives get decided closed doors. If the political climate demands more refined,

tle thinking about policy instead of politics, then perhaps we imagine a future in which videogames that simulate policy tions slowly eat away at the popularity of politicking, introducill players to issues as they become relevant rather than when election cycle necessitates it.

The solution to the failures of 2008 and 2010 is not to again in 2012; indeed, the best solution may be to abandon

flllIl game" entirely, in favor of the public policy game. What II "uuld live a mirror life in the evolving world of your u.s. r city councilor's policy promotions: How would a com-

111' benefit from a bond measure in relation to its actual cost I'!1Ycl's? What would it feel like to live under the constraints 1,,,I'tlcular fiscal policy? How might an unorthodox energy y bolance environmental and security concerns? Why will Investment in private banking positively affect business

urllinary citizens?

In other words, the benefit videogames can offer public life is Illphasize politicking in favor of policy. The role of video­In politics lies here, in their potential to unseat elections uflltofpopularpolitical currency, rather than to participate In tI i rectly,

One year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, the U.S. Army hosted a spectacle of military excess out­side the L.A. convention Center's South Hall, to promote the new Special Forces edition of their popular title America's Army. As part of this spectacle, they offered passersby the opportunity to pose holding a large assault rifle next to a camouflaged Special Forces operative and a Humvee. In a nimble perversion of the tourist trap, the army even offered complimentary Polaroid pho­tos of potential players (and recruits) posed for glorious combat.

Just like many spectacles, this performance benefited more than just the army. It served the industry as a whole, drawing gen­eral attention to videogames through the example of America's Army. Here gun porn and- booth soldiers took the place of soft porn and booth babes, but to the same effect: to promote and reinforce the roles players want to occupy.

Reflecting on the experience, the critic Noah Wardrip-Fruin observed, "Most games offer variations on the fantasy of being a "gun/sword/spell-toting tough guy,"! The Special Forces soldier, after all, is a role common to video games, not just those produced by the army. Ifvideogames place us in other people's shoes, those shoes are very often combat boots.

As videogaJ1les expand in scope and purpose, they offer play­ers access to different sorts of fantasies. The almost unthinkable success of the United Nations World Food Programme's serious game Food Force underscores this promise. Food Force is a game about being a humanitarian. Yet few games, no matter if they're produced for education or entertainment, take on a slightly more

< 134 >

specific challenge: are there valid, even positive fantasies involve gun toting? Can games offer positive messages

rying and using firearms?

One might point to the wealth of games, both in

and in dollars invested, that strip fantasy from military

Games like Full Spectrum Warrior offer detailed depictiOIll military service that de-emphasize the discharge of weapOlllli favor of more "realistic" combat scenarios. No matter the these games still rely on the soldiering tough-guy fantasy,

they present a soldiering tough-guy following the chain of mand. But there's another candidate for novel gun fantasy, perhaps a surprising one. It's a PlayStation game that bears name and endorsement of the American gun lobby organization, the National Rifle Association.

NRA Gun Club is a target shooting game. It contains over on, hundred firearms, all realistically modeled both in appearance and in operation, from discharge to reload. Players choose from around a dozen shooting challenges, from an indoor target range to an outdoor skeet field to a carnival shooting gallery.

As one might expect, the game adopts the conventions of the first-person shooter (FPS) genre. The player stands behind the fire­arm, or looks through a sight in some cases, taking aim at the center of a target. E3 previews of the game did not even seem to suggest considerable additional detail over traditional FPS gunplay, save the ability to hold one's breath when sighting to achieve a more ac­curate shot. Following common convention, players can playa kind of sportsman's "career" mode in which they become certified on a particular firearm in order to unlock new classes and new guns.

Many people-perhaps even avid players of brutal FPSs-may cringe at the very idea of an NRA-licensed game. For some, the endorsement is reason enough to shun Gun Club. For others, the NRA name may raise bitter memories of Deer Hunter and its cousins, titles that still sell much better than more highly crafted, nuanced games. The attentive cynic might even note that the game's publisher, Crave Entertainment, also published The Bible


Game, a Bible trivia game for Game Boyand PlayStation 2 primar­ily intended for children. God and Guns, a tagline that sometimes doubles as a foreign policy.

I would challenge such skeptics to look beyond preconcep­tions of the NRA and analyze this game on its own terms. For one part, it traces the organization's increasingly sophisticated ap­proach to videogame-based public communication. This isn't the first NRA-endorsed videogame. Back in 2004 Interactive Sports Entertainment and Marketing created NRA Varmint Hunter, in which the player brandishes firearms against infestations of groundhogs and prairie dogs. Marketing materials for the game assured "realistic animal behavior" modeling, thanks to a collabo­ration with the Varmint Hunters Association. The game's splash screen depicted an unassuming prairie dog in the crosshairs of a long-range sight. The player even visited a bumpkinish general store to stock up on supplies.

Whatever preconceptions one might have about the NRA and its membership, Varmint Hunter's developers clearly chose an un­flattering characterization. With NRA Gun Club, the organization makes an important rhetorical turn away from the gun's repu­tation as an adornment of hayseeds, hicks, and yokels. In fact, the fetishization of guns in videogames of the last two decades may make Gun Club one of the most effective serious games of recent note, as it offers a fantasy of gunplay that stands in stark contrast to that of most popular media.

Reviews of Varmint Hunter were, to use the game review web­site Gamespot's official terminology, "abysmal,'? One reviewer kind enough to score it "terrible" called it "very boring ... and repetitive." Another called it "disastrous;' asking, "what can you say about a game that shoots rodents? ... trash it." One might attribute such a response to offense at the killing of innocent crea­tures, but a later comment reveals that the disaster is one of ex­ecution, not of conception: "The (simulated) reload time is super slow .... I mean, if you really want to shoot a vermit [sic] as fast as possible, you won't take 2 minutes to reload!!!!" NRA Gun Club


fared no better-earning another "abysmal" rating and the back­handed praise, ''Absolutely pure in its devotion to awfulness'?

It ought to be no surprise: anyone who actually has shot at a firing range knows just how slow-paced and even boring the ac­tivity really is. Perhaps the only sport of greater boredom between gestures is golf, yet at least that time can be filled with gossip or business dealings. Just as all golf videogames abstract the long stroll from ball to ball, all firearms games abstract the tedium of reloads and gun handling. But perhaps firing guns for marksman­ship ought to be slow, arduous work. Merely holding a real gun is anything but fun-in my experience it's quite an anxious activ­ity. The reality of a firearm's power is an overwhelming sensation, and a reminder of the seriousness of such weapons. Yet the repre­sentation of firearms in most videogames is exactly the opposite: it's one of celebration, of power fantasy, and of general inconse­quence. I'm not referring to inconsequence in the act of shooting and killing, but of inconsequence in the mere act of holding a weapon capable of such feats.

By making firearms boring, NRA Gun Club might actually per­form the rhetoric many have previously laughed off as politicking and fabrication: the responsible handling of firearms. One might even go so far as to say that NRA Gun Club owes most of its rhe­torical power to the commercial FPS. The very obsession with the fantasy of gunplay common to commercial videogames creates an empty space in which the fantasy of responsible gun handling takes more coherent form than it might do in any other medium: at the end of the day, being a marksman might just not be very interesting.

Of course, NRA Gun Club says nothing about the organization's fervent support of hunting or its often blinkered defense of Second Amendment rights. Whether violent media does or does not in­fluence player behavior, the NRAand Crave Entertainment's claim that Gun Club is a "nonviolent" game deals a fascinating coun­terpoint to the gunplay fantasy common to commercial games. Gun sport, it turns out, is a monotonous affair filled mostly with


qulpmenr and waiting. For those who find it pleasur­

ble, the pleasure lies largely in the mastery of mechanism. When the weapon's destructive power produces excitement, it's an ex­citement contextualized in reverence, even anxiety, accentuated by the relative rarity of actually firing a shot. And perhaps this is exactly the type of gun fantasy we really need.

NRA Gun Club's ability to present the detachment of gun use arises from its earnestness, an earnestness that doesn't come with­out considerable work. It's a rule that can be best shown through exception. Consider Torture Game 2, a simple web game in which players can inflict various bloody punishments (spikes, gunfire, razor, ropes, and more) on a rag doll, physics-driven character dangling from a rope.

In an MSNBC article critiquing the game, the journalist Winda Benedetti reports that the game's nineteen-year-old developer had seemingly little in mind when he created it." For critics of games of this sort, it's tempting to conclude that the subject mat­ter causes the problem: a game about torture could never be a good idea. But as NRA Gun Club suggests, deliberateness and dryness might be the best way to simulate something horrifying. It's precisely the lack of earnestness and depth of simulation that makes Torture Game 2 offensive, not its subject matter.

Torture is not the same as random violence. Torture is physi­calor mental suffering conducted for punishment or compliance. The process of being tortured is traumatic precisely because death or madness is not immediately desired, but the fear and sensation of those conditions arise almost immediately. This game doesn't attempt to address the experience of the tortured, so I'll leave that interesting question aside for the moment. From the torturer's perspective, the attitude and resolve required to carry out the act itself is most worthy of understanding and dismissal. The grue­someness of Torture Game 2 pales in comparison with the his­tory and present of real torture. Just compare the real devices of torture with the anonymous ones present in the game: the choke pear, a wood or iron device used to lock a victim's mouth open;


of drowning.

What's it like actually to enact torture? That's a topic I vld­eogame offers a unique position to understand, by simulatln the experience of its motivation, its enactment, and its conse­quence. What's the sensation of clamping down the head crusher one more turn as your victims scream in agony as their teeth first crack, then their eyes squeeze from their sockets, and finally, if desired, their very necks shatter? What's it like to pour buckets of water over a thrashing but silenced victim whose brain is tricked into the panic of suffocation? What's it like to hear but not heed the desperate cries for mercy in pursuit of information or con­fession? Or, on the other side of things, what's it like on the way to market to pass a man every day slowly dying of the gangren infection wrought by the chair of torture, set there as an example,

But the doll in Torture Game 2 does not cry, or wince, or re­spond in any way save for the physics of its inverse kinematics and the careful spatter of its blood. We're not forced to feel the tender burst of flesh as razor enters thigh, or the buttery passage of chainsaw through forearm. No social context motivates us or makes us pause with confusion, misgiving, or regret. Torture Game 2 is a voodoo doll, not a torture simulator. It allows us to imagine we're inflicting suffering but without taking on the agen­cy or consequence of the act itself.

Yet just as there are videogames like NRA Gun Club that make the common simulated act of gunfire seem boring or undesirable, so there are videogames that come closer to an earnest simula­tion of torture. The best one is Manhunt (where "best" means "most repugnant"). The game tells the story of a sociopath denied his own death (itself a kind of torture) in exchange for slavery as a mercenary butcher. The acts themselves are heinous, yet the


game succeeds in making the player feel motivated to conduct them. One feels the dissonant reverberations of that pleasure long after playing.

When a sequel was released for the Nintendo Wii, it met a firestorm of controversy thanks to the addition of gestural inter­faces to the game's demented acts: now you could "really" saw off' a limb, garrote a neck, or grip and tear at a victim's testicles," The context this time is pure psychosis, but the effects now become physical as well as visual. The player feels the same disgust and intrigue as in the original game, but now he or she must also rec­oncile a physiological response: the burn of muscle from virtual sawing, the racing heartbeat of exertion.

Much of the controversy surrounding Manhunt 2 was directed precisely at the gestural controls of the Wii edition. Actually em­bodying these sadistic acts, many argued, edged too close to a murder simulator. But these critics get it precisely backward. A murder simulator ought to revile us, the more the better. If any­thing, trivializing death and torture through abstraction is far more troublesome than attenuating it through ghastly represen­tation. Torture Game 2 fails not because it makes us feel plea­sure but because it makes us feel nothing, or not enough anyway, about the acts it allows us to perform. We should simulate torture not to take the place of real acts but to renew our disgust for them.

When considering the unique powers of videogames, we may cite their ability to engage us in thorny challenges, to envelop our at­tention and commitment, to overwhelm our senses and intellects as we strive to master physical trials of a battle or work out the optimal strategy for an economy.

Usually we're right when we think this, no matter the sub­ject or purpose of the game. Indeed, one benefit of games over media like print, image, and film is how effectively they occupy our attention, forcing us to become practitioners of their prob­lems rather than casual observers. From algebra to zombies, good games captivate us with sophistication of thought and action.

Ifwe imagine that this sophistication is the gain on an ampli­fier, we might realize that some problems don't need the levels cranked up to eleven. And not just because they're casual games or games meant to relax us or to facilitate our interaction with friends. No, some games just don't take on topics that interest­ing. They're regimens more than experiences. Tools more than art. Drills more than challenges.

The International Civil Aviation Organization requires that flight crews provide passengers with explanations of the safety and emergency features of a commercial aircraft before takeoff. If you're a frequent flyer, you've heard such demonstrations enough that you probably ignore them. Air travel is very safe, after all, far safer than driving. According to statistics aggregated by the sci­ence news source LiveScience, the odds of dying in an airplane crash in the United States are 1 in 20,000, compared with 1 in 246 for falling down, 1 in 100 for motor vehicle accidents, and 1 in 5 for

< 141 >

<142> DRILL

heart disease. 1 Statistically, the flight safety demonstration would be more productively used to dissuade passengers from eating at the fast-food restaurants in the terminal on arrival.

Despite the low risk, who can't spare five minutes? Why not figure out where the nearest exits are and remind yourself how the oxygen masks work? The best reason is not the most obvious: the airlines' demonstration practices have actually made it harder to do so.

Things didn't used to be this way. As late as the mid century, commercial air travel was downright dangerous. When boarding the luxurious Boeing B377 Stratocruiser in 1950, a Pan American passenger might have been well advised to study the safety card, given that thirteen of the fifty-six Stratocruisers built suffered hull-loss accidents between 1951 and 1970.

But today, as we jockey for overhead space and attempt to settle into the uncomfortable crush of economy class, air travel is too or­dinary to merit curiosity, let alone fear. There are too many passen­gers and too little time to personalize. Thus the safety demonstra­tion plays right into the weary ennui of contemporary air travel.

After September 11, flight attendants won a long-fought battle to be recognized as safety workers. The results have been helpful from a labor perspective, but they haven't done much for overall passenger safety. As Drew Whitelegg describes in his book about flight attendants, Working the Skies, airlines don't draw any more matters of safety than they absolutely must, lest they turn off rather than attract customers.'

In some cases, like Southwest Airlines' famous safety rap, in­dividual flight attendants have taken it on themselves to liven up the cabin, to make the announcements more fun (and probably to make their jobs more tolerable). More recently, the airlines have adopted a similar approach as an official corporate strategy. For example, my hometown airline Delta introduced a new safety video in 2008, featuring a shapely strawberry-blonde flight atten­dant as its narrator. The video included numerous cuts to close­crops of her face, accentuating her high cheekbones and full lips.

DRILL < 143 >

At one point, she playfully wags a finger in front of the camel' •• , rejoining: "Smoking is not allowed on any Delta flight."

Her name is Katherine Lee, and she's actually a Delta fligh attendant, not just a spokesmodel. The Internet dubbed her "Deltalina" thanks to her resemblance to sexpot actress Angelina Jolie (she's since adopted the name and become a minor celebrity). The YouTube video of her security shtick has been viewed over two million times." She's appeared on television talk shows and on CNN. called her "Delta's Sexy Safety Starlet." In a weird historical inversion, this very much is your father's Pan Am.

In a similar, yet weirder maneuver, Air New Zealand ran an in-flight safety video with its cabin crew, both male and female, totally naked but emblazoned with body-paint uniforms. Careful framing and cuts ensure the video is totally PG (there's a blurry booty shot at the end), but the intention is clear: reinvigorate at­tention by giving passengers something they want to look at.

And these videos certainly have made passengers pay more attention, even if they've also perpetuated a retrograde picture of the air hostess as sex object. In the words of the Delta manager who produced the Deltalina video, they "make sure [our custom­ers] know what to do in the event of an emergency ... adding bits of humor and unexpected twists to something pretty standard." Yet, in making the safety briefing more interesting, efforts like those of Delta and Air New Zealand actually reduce its ability to communicate safety information, if that was even possible.

Live safety demonstration raps or videos with bombshells hope to raise our interest above the level that a printed pamphlet, illus­trated card, filmed demonstration, or live display can accomplish. The pique works; we hear and see them (Rapper Steward is funny, Katherine Lee is beautiful). But what we attend to is not the ma­terial being delivered but the manner by which it's delivered. I've flown hundreds of thousands of miles on Delta since Deltalina made her debut, but I still have no idea where to find my life vest ("Life vests are either between your seats, under your seats, or in a compartment under your armrest"). Never mind the eight


steps required to don one properly. The result is safety theater. Airlines perform the appearance of safety to comply with regula­tions while imposing the lowest cognitive and emotional burden possible on the passenger so as to suppress fear and agitation.

As anyone who's traveled on an ocean cruise knows, all pas­sengers are required to participate in a "muster drill" soon after embarkation. Even though ships sink even more rarely than planes crash, international law requires the crew to conduct an actual drill (not just a demo) in which passengers must don their lifejackets and report to their assigned lifeboat stations within a certain amount of time.

The lessons learned from this practice are banal, but startling.

It's easy to put on a life vest, once you've done it. It's easy to find the right lifeboat station, once you know where to look. It's easy to find the fastest route to that station, once you've tread it. But the first time, all of these tasks are confusing.

Likewise, it's easy to fasten and unfasten your airplane seatbelt, because you've done it so many times. Thankfully, I've never had to put on one of those yellow oxygen masks that may fall "in the unlikely event that cabin pressure changes." But if they did, de­spite myself, I bet I wouldn't know exactly what to do. Never mind finding the exit doors that have inflatable rafts instead of slides, or divining the proper way to unlatch and extract an exit door.

For some time now, emergency personnel have been using live-action role-play and computer simulation to drill emergency preparedness scenarios. Indeed, first responder simulations for paramedics and firefighters are among the most active areas of serious games development. For example, Virtual Heroes has cre­ated HumanSim, a sophisticated medical simulation for health professionals to try out unusual scenarios, including responding to "rare conditions or events:'

But these drills are complex and expensive, even if they're less complex and expensive when simulated instead of carried out on real city streets with real equipment. Indeed, cost-effectiveness is one reason serious games appeal to the organizations and mu­nicipalities that use them for this purpose.


Drill in games has traditionally been u

tizatipn of skill exercises. Math Blaster, ,Reader Rahblt, edutainment titles are the obvious examples, wlth t'lltlll' "'''J''' late-covered broccoli approach to arithmetic or phonlc8, 'l'ha 811t belt, the life vest, and the emergency exit represent a type ()f tlllk simpler and less challenging than the emergency respon

nario, yet a more complex, less boring sort than kiddie drill and skill. One doesn't really need to practice seat buckling and life vest donning very often. Once might be enough. But that one tim sure is useful.

It's helpful to contrast HumanSim with the Deltalina video and the muster drill. The first uses sophisticated artificial intelligenc to simulate the interrelated effects of split-second decisions. The next uses understated naughtiness to incrementally greater at­tention. And the last uses the nuisance of drill to get passenger to figure out how to put on a life vest. There's potential in this last kind of drill, the "do it once, know it well enough" sort. It's an ap­plication domain we deal with constantly: how would I get to th emergency exit? How do I operate my cruise control? How do I pick my child up from summer day camp?

Most of these tasks are simple ones. But they are still complex enough to recommend consideration as processes rather than as simple sets of instructions. It might be raining when it's time to fetch junior, or one of the nearest exits might be blocked with de­bris. This sort of drill doesn't just mean rote practice, as in Math Blaster, nor does it involve complex dynamics with unpredictable feedback loops and race conditions, as in HumanSim. And instead of doing whatever it is the task demands, we would simulate it.

Perhaps the best example of a game that does this sort of simulated drill is Cooking Mama, a series of kitchen simulation games. Mama helpfully guides the player through the steps in­volved in preparing a dish-filleting the fish, sauteing the season­ings, dressing the plate. And Mama chides and berates the player when he or she does it wrong. While I probably wouldn't want to eat a meal prepared by someone who had cooked only in Cooking Mama, I would feel oddly more confident in such a chef's ability

1 .. 0> DRILL

In the kitchen than in the case of someone who had only ever watched Rachael Ray.

Cooking Mama aspires for more aesthetic ends, goals beyond a simple tool. But as a conceptual model, it offers a good starting example of a drill game. One closer to the spirit of a real drill is Drivers Ed Direct's Parallel Parking Game. It does just what the title says: the player parallel parks a car, trying to avoid collisions. Sure, the keyboard controls are unlike those of a real car and the game's physics are unrealistic, but the drill approach is very much present: by trying the task in the game, one gets a preliminary sense of what it involves, how to approach success, and how to avoid failure.

There aren't many games like this, but there could be. Think of all the other things you'd benefit from trying out once before hav­ing to do them in earnest: changing a diaper, threading a needle, negotiating a car purchase, loading a dishwasher, carving a tur­key, waxing a sports car, ironing a shirt, wrapping a gift, tasting a wine, assembling a bookshelf, staging a pickup, scolding a child, recording a television program. None of these are terribly monu­mental or interesting acts; indeed many are about as banal as it gets. But almost anything is challenging once.

Consider the commercial airliner once more. Every seat on every flight I take has a personal video display on which I watch Katherine Lee wag her finger and pout her lips at me. Each screen is also a terminal running a little Linux distribution, and I can

_/ already play trivia and blackjack and Zuma on it. It even knows the location of my seat and, presumably, the type of aircraft that's about to hurtle me across the ocean at five hundred miles per hour. What if I could choose to run a little practice drill, follow­ing those white emergency lights amid the darkness and smoke and chaos, to one of those eight emergency exits, whose door I might have to shimmy open and whose raft I might have to deploy, in order that I might defy those 1 in 20,000 odds and survive. Wouldn't that be a better use of a few minutes of my life than lust­ing after Katherine Lee?


The End of Garners

We like to think that technological progress is spectacular, Whether our attitudes follow Clay Shirky's celebration or Nichol Carr's censure, we remain certain that something dramatic will happen. Either new computer technologies will help solve our most pressing problems, or they'll create even more pressing problems demanding totally different solutions. No matter th case, one thing is sure: the present is sensational, and the futur will only be more so.

Certainly it's true that media do sometimes dramatically change the way we live. The internetworked digital computer may be poised to join media like toolmaking, agriculture, metallurgy, the alphabet, the chariot, the printing press, and alternating cur­rent as forces that have altered the shape of human life and expe­rience fundamentally and forever. But within the wake of media ecologies like these, smaller ebbs and flows make increasingly smaller waves. They just make more of them. Within an ecology, the individual actions of particular creatures exert local forces on the overall system. Media micro ecology steps in here, asking modest, pragmatic, but still consequential questions about th internal operation of particular media microhabitats.

In this book I've tried to dig in the dirt of videogames' media ecosystem. I've not set out to present a complete inventory of all the ways video games are put to use, but to offer a variety of ex­amples that demonstrate their rich variety and complexity. I've tried to show that much has already been done with games, even if many more applications have not been explored fully. Still oth­ers have yet to be discovered, and perhaps you may be inspired to

< 147 >


stake out your own tiny corner of videogame earth and see what strange playable creatures might thrive there.

But we must face a humbling and perhaps even disturbing con­clusion about the media forms we love: they're just not that spe­cial. Indeed, they become less special by the day, as they do more for us and as we discover more about them. We don't need more media ecologists raising their fists in boosterism or detraction, painting overly general pictures with broad brushes. We need more media entomologists and media archaeologists overturning rocks and logs to find and explain the tiny treasures that would otherwise go unseen. We need more media particle physicists and media nanotechnologists explaining the strange interactions of the tiniest examples of various media, video games among them.

When it comes to a spread of access and use in media, we often hear growth celebrated as "democratization:' As tools and distri­bution channels become cheaper and more accessible, their spoils are thought to be available to everyone rather than just to some well-trained, highly capitalized creative elite. But such access comes at a price: the loss of scarcity, of novelty, of curiosity, of sur­prise. Walter Benjamin recognized that mechanically reproduced works of art lose their ritual value, their "aura," but he also predict­ed that such media (particularly film) would enjoy new adoption in politics as a result. 1 Benjamin was right to some extent, but his prediction was too narrow. As it turns out, mechanically reproduc­ible media can be put to myriad uses, from crass advertising to high art to political intervention to new ritual practices. It's not the


aura that declines in the maturity of a medium but its character,

its wildness. Media are not democratized; they're tamed instead.

Journalists, pundits, and professors are unlikely to come to such a conclusion, partly because they rely on novelty, curiosity, and drama to make compelling claims worthy of big headlines, large book contract advances, or incendiary provocations. For this reason, we might want to look to other sorts of folk for new media strategies.


Who would serve as a less traditional mcdlA fh~orhil I him I h fashion mogul Marc Ecko? His eponymous clothing ~(lmllimy brings in $1.5 billion a year in revenue.! Whtlc he's bellf kn(lw, for rhino-emblazoned T-shirts, shoes, and underpants, Ilcko h branched out to popular media in recent years, starting up th consumer culture rag Complex Magazine, the extreme llfcstyl YouTube knock-off, and the videogame Mark Ecko' Getting Up: Contents under Pressure. On his corporate website Ecko cites attention deficit disorder as an inspiration that he' built his world around."

After the release of his videogame, a canned interview with Ecko ran in popular magazines like Wired, paid for by the finan­cial consultants CIT Group. It's one of those "special advertising sections" designed to integrate so seamlessly into the magazin that it's easy to mistake it for editorial content. In the interview, Ecko explains "what's next" for his growing conglomerate:

I want to keep growing in the video-gaming space. I be­lieve it's the Wild West of media culture. There's some­thing magical and abstract about gaming. Games aren't yet demystified-versus movies, for example; there are TV shows about the making of movies. 4

Ecko's point is both insightful and ironic. It contains a complex observation about the current state of video games as a medium. Television is so familiar, it's not even startling to think about TV programming produced solely to discuss other media forms. The same could not even be imagined for videogames. The form in which the insight is presented only reiterates Ecko's point: his comments appear as a paid advertisement simulating a magazine interview, an absurd situation that's nevertheless completely legible to the millions of magazine readers whose eyes pass over it. Magazines and television are just too mundane, too boring for these things to be very surprising.


Ecko is not interested in the mundane; his sights are firmly set on the flashier side of the medium he already began to explore in Getting Up, itself a critically underappreciated game that hides a critique of an autocratic police state in a game about graffiti." But we can turn his observation on its head and use it to set a compass bearing for the future of videogames: demystification.

One way to make games more ordinary and familiar is to help them realize their place in meaningful art and culture. Indeed, that's the primary strategy one finds in the commercial game indus­try. Whether successful or not, the industry strives for Hollywood blockbuster-style spectacles. The fledgling indie game scene often privileges new gameplay mechanics or subjects for games, but just as frequently it showcases the hopeful yet derivative swing of so many minor leaguers trying to break into the majors. Despite major differences, both efforts trace the earnest hope that video­games are an expressive medium as important and viable as film or literature, but different in form. It's a fine goal.

But as videogames become more familiar, they also become less edgy and exciting. This is what Ecko means when he talks about demystification. Over time, media become domesticated, and domestication is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it allows broader reach and scale. It means that more people can under­stand and manipulate a medium. Grandma and grandpa under­stand what it means to watch a VHS tape or a DVD of junior's birthday or karate tournament; television viewers see beyond the sheen of an advertisement to learn about the product it peddles; a couple settles in to watch a movie downloaded from Netflix on a Friday-night. On the other hand, it makes a once exotic, wild medium tame and uninteresting.

Indeed, gamers already find themselves disturbed and disori­ented at the domestication of what was once a private, danger­ous wilderness. Social games played on Facebook offer one fron­tier that's been overrun with unwelcome settlers in the minds of many computer and console game players. As the social game designer Tami Baribeau explains, traditional gamers hate games



Domestication is violent and tragic. It strips the stallion of some of its power and magic and beauty. But it also allows the cow to be ranched and milked, and the dog to herd the sheep, and the wheat to be predictably germinated. Some species of videogame will always remain wild, like the warthog or the kudzu. But they'll be the exceptions.

If we think of the possibility space for games as a more com­plex, graduated space, in which many kinds of experiences could be touched by games, then many more kinds of innovation pres­ent themselves. But more so, the more such opportunities game makers and players exploit, the more deeply videogames become familiar, and the more rapidly at that. Such a perspective forces us to hope games will be more ordinary, more mundane. Not just some games: we should want many of them, maybe even most of them, to be ordinary and familiar, their particular purpose a footnote rather than a billboard.

Consider an example. In 2005 my game studio Persuasive Games created Stone City, a training game for the Cold Stone Creamery ice cream franchise. In the game, the player services customers at the popular mix-your-own-flavor ice cream fran­chise by assembling the proper concoctions while allocating gen­erally profitable portion sizes. Since its release, we've received fre­quent phone calls and emails from the general public, expressing interest in playing the game. The vast majority of people who con­tact us are not human resources managers or training executives


looking to build their own corporate games. They're ordinary people who are simply curious about it.

You'd never expect such interest if you read Justin Peters's Slate riposte to educational games. As Peters charges of our game, "Animating mindless, boring repetition doesn't make the repeti­tion any less mindless or boring. No sane Cold Stone employee will be fooled into thinking that Stone City is anything other than a soul-crushing training exercise." Why, then, would so many ordinary people go out of their way to express interest? Perhaps some aren't clear that the game was commissioned as a train­ing tool and not a leisure game. Perhaps some are misinformed teenagers yet to be disillusioned by a soul-crushing job. Perhaps others are as smart and skeptical as Peters suspects they might be, and they want to see how possible workplaces represent their expectations for labor.

But I bet most of them just like ice cream. They find intrigue in the Cold Stone method of service, which involves bashing to­gether flavors and toppings on a frozen granite slab. They want to have a go at it for a few minutes.

Peters's ideal model for educational games is Civilization, Sid Meier's classic game about building a society based on scarcity of resources. There's no doubt that Civ is a great game, one that any designer could learn from no matter his or her expressive goals. And Peters is right that there's considerable educational poten­tial in this kind of game; Kurt Squire, an education scholar, even made it the topic of his doctoral dissertation." But Civilization is just one kind of game. It's a kind of game that demands significant commitmentand devotion. It's a gamer's kind of game.

Are the would-be players of Stone City just too stupid or in­-experienced to know about the much more complex and sophis­ticated kinds of games that they could get their hands on in­stead? I don't think so. I bet many of them have even played Civ. I think they're looking for a different kind of experience, one that might not have as much to do with videogames as it does with ice cream shops. Stone City serves at least two purposes, then: one to

educate line workers in the frozen dC88a"llllduNII'Y, "",I

just to satisfy the curiosity of people fut, whom I" sweet tooth. It, along with all the other exam pI

book, offers a tiny taste of the mundane futme of vldllUMI'I

Instead of chasing after a mythical vldeegame C'ltl~tm Kcm. Of trying to reconcile all videogames with one monollthlc let of' law

for design and reception, what if we followed Ecko's Pt'OVI

to demystify games. What if we allowed that videogames hay many possible goals and purposes, each of which couples with many possible aesthetics and designs to create many possibl player experiences, none of which bears any necessary relation­ship to the commercial video game industry as we currently know it. The more things games can do, the more the general public will become accepting of, and interested in, the medium in general.

A summary of that future would have no place on a T-shirt or poster. It wouldn't be worth quoting as a sound bite on television or splashed across the cover of a nonfiction bestseller. It would state the obvious, with humility: videogames can do many things, They do so every day, whether or not people notice them. They do so in public and in private. They do so with and without fanfare. Counterintuitive though it may be, that's a future in which video­games win their battle in the culture wars and become relevant and lasting.

For decades, videogames have been played primarily by the people who already play videogames and who consider the play­ing of videogames a part of their identity. But other sorts of people abound: people who fly for business more than three times a month, people who read all of the Sunday newspaper, or people who have kids with food allergies. I am sure these people read magazines and watch television and listen to the radio, but no right-minded person would label them ziners or tubers or air­wavers. They're just people, with interests, who sometimes con­sume different kinds of media as they go about their lives.

If videogame playership is indeed broadening, then video­games will no longer fall under the sole purview of the games


industry. There'll no longer be a single court in which the legiti­macy of games will be tried. There'll no longer be an oligarchy of videogame industrialist-gods to whom all creators and players will pay homage. Instead, there'll be many smaller groups, com­munities, and individuals with a wide variety of interests, some of them occasionally intersecting with particular videogame titles.

Some might argue that as videogames broaden in appeal, players' demands will only increase. Games will have to become more and more gamey, more like commercial video games of the current industrial variety to meet the increasingly sophisticated demands of these new players as more and more of them become gamers. But I suggest the opposite: as videogames broaden in ap­peal, being a "gamer" will actually become less common, if being a gamer means consuming games as one's primary media diet or identifying with videogames as a primary part of one's identity. The demands of players will surely increase and deepen, but those demands may bear little resemblance to the ones gamers place on games today.

Soon gamers will be the anomaly. If we're very fortunate, they'll disappear altogether. Instead we'll just find people, ordi­nary people of all sorts. And sometimes those people will play video games. And it won't be a big deal, at all.


DMU Timestamp: March 28, 2013 23:38