This is the last edition of Lot’s Wife for the year, and also my last video gaming column. This has caused me to look back and reflect on what I’ve written over the year. I established a purpose rather early on: to embed video games in a more general cultural discussion. I wanted to discuss video game news in a wider creative context. In doing so, I tried my hand at New Games Journalism, an application of New Journalism (see Wolfe, Capote, Thompson), using personal anecdotes, literary techniques and creative analysis and then applying them to video games (for a seminal and excellent example, Google ‘Bow Nigger’).
One theme that has repeatedly popped up throughout the year is the justification of video games as a hobby. My first piece, titled Gaming. A Bloody Waste of Time? was a quickly thrown-together defence in response to a Facebook friend commanding people to “put down the controller and read a damn book” (and presumably to get off his damn lawn, too). It’s not something to dismiss lightly though, it’s important that we should be analysing whether we are spending our time wisely.
Video games are a relatively new form of entertainment; it’s no surprise to see a push against it. It has the disadvantage of being a form of entertainment, and a ubiquitously popular one at that: resulting in cultural doomsayers pointing their callused fingers at gamers’ callused thumbs.
An argument that I find persuasive is the concept that video games try and hook you in in a malicious way. It’s such a competitive market that publishers would try anything to keep you coming back. League of Legends, for example, gives you a bonus amount of Influence Points for your first win of the day. In the context of gaming, this is a process known as ‘gamification’: using regular, small rewards to condition you to want more. While effective, the tactic feels dirty. Of course, other media aren’t completely innocent. Cliff-hangers, pulpy twists, and wish-fulfillment are found across books and film. But video games have more direct access to our brains. You don’t see as many book addicts. While it doesn’t mean we should outlaw video games, it does certainly require more care.
Another argument is the idea that video games are a predominantly solo hobby. Shouldn’t we spend our spare time building and strengthening your interpersonal relationships rather than in an unproductive time sink? Disregarding the fact that many people play multi-player games with their friends, a lot of people play so they can join in broader cultural discussion. Have you ever felt social pressure to watch a TV show like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad? It’s the same thing. Social groups are built around the discussion of this kind of stuff. I know I’ve played games in the past just so I can feel included. Video games are clearly not the only media we consume in private for the purpose of public discussion. We’ve built our culture around these games in the same way we’ve built our culture around books and movies.
It’s an ongoing dilemma in my head; the constant questioning, rationalising, and perhaps excuse-making regarding the time I spend playing video games. Recently I’ve found I use games as more of a relaxation process with injections of ‘good feeling’, rather than an exploration of artistic creativity. But that doesn’t mean I’m not taking something away from the experience. My views have remained much the same throughout the year: perturbed yet devoted. As I write this I can feel the soft tug of my PC, luring me into some new, exciting and – believe it or not – intellectually stimulating gamescape… Luckily I have a community of likeminded friends with which to discuss the cultural implications of gaming after this column reaches an end.
Farewell, dear readers.