Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

POWER ON: WHY VIDEO GAMES MATTER: We All Have Particular Kinds of Play We Might Be Drawn To: Vacations, Sports, Hobbies, Games, Television Shows, and Nature Excursions All Characterize Different Modes and Styles of Leisure Activities

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

POWER ON: WHY VIDEO GAMES MATTER: We All Have Particular Kinds of Play We Might Be Drawn To: Vacations, Sports, Hobbies, Games, Television Shows, and Nature Excursions All Characterize Different Modes and Styles of Leisure Activities

Article excerpt

Finding one that is meaningful to each of us is how our lives become resonant, and how we sort the daily grind of our jobs, our households, and the things we are bound to, both structurally and monetarily. Leisure and play are necessary parts to a productive, happy life for all humans. Leisure, while sometimes framed as frivolous and pointless, is necessary. As sociologist Johan Huizinga famously wrote in the 1950s, "All play means something." (1)

But when play mixes with a digital lifestyle, things can get complicated. Video games have a forty-plus year history as a mainstay popular leisure format. We've gone through many iterations of deployment for the video game: early arcades, console systems (first simple and later more complex), portable game systems, computer games, smartphone games, and virtual reality. With each of these, there has been a buildup of something bigger surrounding the space; a kind of culture that involves a distinct language, visual style, narrative conceits, and an abundance of colorful characters. Underlying this culture is a history of problematic and complicated industry practices. Video game culture is renowned for being dominated by masculinity, and console gaming systems were long designed with men as an ideal audience. To this point, video games have long had a problem of excluding diverse audiences, as well as what is sometimes identified as a toxic culture among regular gamers. Take, for instance, the GamerGate movement that resulted in the harassment of women and minority gamers and game creators. With this interweaving of discursive factors, the question becomes if "all play means something," what do video games mean in our culture?

To some extent, when we talk about video games, we talk about them in the wrong way and often about the wrong games. There is a focus on the negative, such as whether video games can cause violence, or on the potential problems of the aforementioned less-diverse, toxic culture. That is not to say these are not important topics, but they lead nongamer audiences to only see negative elements. We need to talk about diversity and to find ways to get more people interested in video games, but highlighting exclusivity and negativity embedded in a culture will rarely attract newcomers.

The reality is that changes over the past four decades show a significant ability to alter our leisure practices and the potential to tell stories within a complex culture. There are video games people rarely hear about or discuss, often referred to as indie games, in part because the industry has been so insular. A lot of nongamers might enjoy the robust, hilarious, and occasionally emotionally poignant narrative of the Tim Schafer game Broken Age, but most have never heard of it. Games become a kind of inside baseball, only discussed by those already submerged in video games and gaming culture. Furthermore, it's worth considering that trying out new forms of leisure--in particular technologically mediated forms of leisure--is difficult. Just as with any pastime that requires some skills and knowledge, it is never easy to jump into a new space.

Video games have the potential to appeal to audiences that previously disregarded them because the totality of their gaming experiences involves hearing about Grand Theft Auto and violence on the news, watching their children obsessively play Minecraft, or spending a few weeks preoccupied with Candy Crush Saga. We need a better way to talk about video games and game culture that does not center itself on negative experiences and rethinks the storytelling possibilities of the medium. The term video game is unlikely to end up being an ideal descriptor for this emerging style of storytelling. This is not to say that what we refer to as video games will become a form of leisure that appeals to everyone. Different people play in different ways.

Games are unique interfaces for telling stories, offering experiences, and getting us invested in characters that can appeal to a lot of people. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.