Often video games are simply regarded as play things and because of this, are not brought under any scrutiny except for how they harm children. The video game as a medium though offers many new ways of interacting with a simulated world that the likes of movies or books could never dream of achieving. Marshall McLuhan describes games in general as, “situations contrived to permit simultaneous participation of many people in some significant pattern of their own corporate live” (245). Therefore when we interact with a video game we are interacting in a way that reflects what goes on in our daily lives.
Though McLuhan did not write about video games in Understanding Media he did write about games such as baseball. McLuhan described baseball as a reflection of the industrial age. Baseball requires each participant on the field to fill a specialized role. The pitcher for example focuses solely on throwing the ball in a manner the player in unable to hit, while the third baseman’s skill is in having a strong arm to get the ball to first as fast as possible, and the first baseman’s skill being to catch anything that comes his way.
When games are just a reflection of society, it is easy to see how technology would reatly impact them. the first video game, Spacewar (Rockwell). Spacewar was produced on a PDP-1 computer that was larger than a refrigerator and had the amount of processing power as that of a 1990’s era pocket organizer. The game was a series of white lines and dots and is as cool as a medium could possibly get (Cool meaning that the medium does not overload our senses and requires participation from the user).
Russle distributed his Spacewar program to other institutes such as Stanford and one In 1962, at MIT, Steve Russel made of the people who got a hold of a copy was Nolan Buschnell (Rockwell). Buschnell is the creator of the first successful video game, Pong, as well as founding Atari. Once again the game is as cool as cool can be: a series of three lines, a dot, and the score. The closest games ever came to becoming literature was when text based games where introduced.
Text based adventure games would be in essence dungeons and dragon game that allowed to player to explore a textual Tolkien like world through text. These games where hotter than the games that preceded them because even though they are text based and the reader controls what comes up on the screen, there is usually much ore text from the computer than the player. This is different than a book because readers a forced to follow the story as dictated by the author. more visually interesting. Games finally became more than a series of dots on the screen. The first game worthy of mention is Myst.
Similar to text based adventure games, Myst allowed the player to explore a world but instead of through text there was a graphical representation of the world. It is important to note that with Myst that though it depicts a three dimensional world it is not actually a three dimensional world. Myst was a series of round 2,500 pictures that players could sift through by clicking. Just as the desktop metaphor allowed for less use of the keyboard and typing, games like Myst did the same. Games such as Super Mario 64 did allow the user to explore a three dimensional world.
Myst allowed for the player to click through pictures but Super Mario 64 let players navigate space, with a joystick, and move across both the x,y, and z axis while Myst only allowed for the x and y movement of the mouse. The reason that there was such difference between the two was because of real time versus non-real time rendering. Non-real ime rendering allows for all computer generated images to be loaded beforehand while real time rendering means the computer is actively generating the world the player is interacting with as the player moves through it.
In today’s world of video games it is much different than in it was in the past because of how far technology has come and how much the market for video games has increased. Due to the technological advances video games can no longer be considered a cool medium. When playing a video game there is no longer the 8-bit graphics and a simple monophonic melody. When playing a video game today you are bombarded with isual stimulus that is worthy of art and a score that in some cases goes on to be played by renowned orchestras.
All of your senses are overloaded and everything is asking you to react to something which makes this medium interesting. If Marshall McLuhan’s ideas of hot and cold mediums are taken into account video games today do not fit perfectly into these two groups but are instead a hot medium with cool tendencies. Nothing in a game can occur without the player making it In Walter Benjamin’s essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction says that, “To pry an object rom its shell is to destroy its aura. ” This quote by Benjamin explains exactly what happened to video games.
Initial video games started out in computers larger then refrigerators that could not be moved, and then they shifted to arcades, then home consoles, and then to portable devices. The technology that allowed video games to become more complex also resulted in the miniaturization of formerly large machines. Then, when Gameboys were introduced it was only a matter of time before video games that where once difficult to transport were transferred to the now smaller devices allowing the games to be layed anywhere. Games then, by Benjamin’s definition lost Interplay is a universal aspect of video games.
McLuhan says, “There must be give and take, or dialogue, as between two or more persons and groups” (pg. 241). All games must have communication. Even games that do not have other people involved, such as text based adventure games, involve communication with the computer. Recently, due to the internet, communication between other players has increased happen. as well. Where before players would have to be in the same room and connected through a LAN, it has now become ossible to communicate and play against people literally on the other side of the world.
The medium is the message” is one of McLuhan’s refrains and the message for video games would be escape. Games such as The Sims allow us to escape the rules and obligations of our actual lives and replace them with ones more ideal. The sad thing about this is that The Sims allows you to create a virtual family or person and then control their life and get them a good job, wife, and numerous commodities. At the same time someone plays The Sims though, they themselves could be bettering their but instead is staring at a computer screen.
Video games act as a means of escaping all the pressure we face every day by removing it. Games are a release valve for our boredom, our monotony, or dissatisfaction we have in our lives. Whereas most mediums aim to extend our body, video games aim to remove or body from the world we live in and supplant in a totally new one. Escaping from our lives in preference to one where we can have total control in. Whether in arcades, our homes, or on a subway train video games allow us to escape our surroundings by clicking through pictures, exploring a fully rendered world, or simply interacting with texts.