April 13, 2004
Playing By the Rules, But Whose?
In the libertarian mag Reason, Kevin Parker writes about the politics of video games:
… But as a political vehicle, games may have an inherent bias. Bridging an ideological chasm, libertarian Iain Smedley and socialist Julian Stallabras agree that computer games possess a native individualism. Writing a decade ago, Smedley noted the “heroic and individualistic philosophy” of video games, in which the player “does not merely cheer on the hero in [his] struggle; the playerís actions determine the outcome.” Writing contemporaneously in New Left Review, Stallabras concurred: In games, “the passivity of cinema and television is replaced by an environment in which the playerís actions have a direct, immediate consequence on the virtual world.” For Stallabras, this makes computer games “a capitalist and deeply conservative form of culture.”
I do think Parker makes a good point about the rules embedded in games, especially games like SimCity:
Certain rules are embedded — sometimes consciously, sometimes not — in video games. What are these rules? The question may become a refrain, at least for perceptive parents and teachers, because games can communicate ideas not merely through exposition but through the experience of playing them.
Political economy is a natural frontier for gaming. As some PlayStation-savvy Marxists have noted, many games incorporate “simulacra” of work and exchange. (In postmodern jargon, a simulacrum is a copy of an original that never existed — Disneylandís Main Street, for instance.) We donít slay the dragon or blast the alien just for the fun of it. Thereís treasure in that thar dungeon or asteroid! Newer games are asking, What do we do with the booty?
Quite a bit. Multiplayer online games routinely feature emergent economies. Programmers, absorbed in the business of turning imagined ogres, grenade launchers, and nebular vistas into stable computer code, now find themselves puzzling over inflation, product shortages, and property disputes. Just how realistic the economic models should be is a topic of continuing debate. But at least one development house, Artifact Entertainment, actually hired an economist to assist with its modeling.
“PlayStation-savvy Marxists”? Cool!
I’m now slightly frightened by the specter of an age, decades hence, when the “common sense” argument for some new tax policy goes something like this: “Of course a tax cut will stimulate the economy! Didn’t you ever play SimWorld on the Playstation 4? That’s how you won the game, man. You had to drop taxes, especially on the rich.”
(Thanks to Penny for the link!)
Addendum, nerds only:
But I guess if that really came to pass, then people would also be encouraging the government to type shift-F-U-N-D to get extra money. Or maybe not, as everyone knows that causes earthquakes.