Reflections on the nature of video games

In 1966, during a time of identity crisis for Western Civilization as it’s global empire was slowly crumbling, a group formed at UC Berkeley which shortly thereafter would call itself the Society for Creative Anachronism. They looked back to a more noble time when (some) men were gallant and wars were fought sword against sword, rather than bomb melting flesh.

Because the focus of the protest was the ghastly industrial war machine and the perpetual nuclear specter hovering over the world, the focus of the look back was also on war. So this group picked up lances, swords, and shields, and fought in mock combat (what would later be known as LARPing).

This culture, partly derived from Tolkien who experienced the horrors of two world wars including the terrible disappointment of the second one following the “war to end all wars”, would form the spiritual basis for Dungeons and Dragons, and Richard Garriott, the founder of the computer RPG genre, is a long time member of the Society.

Gaming itself rose to new heights of popularity following World War II, with a perpetual game played between the two great capitalist powers (the ideologies only arguably relevant), the West headed by the United States against the Soviet Union and it’s few allies. Game theory vastly increased in popularity and video games, a combination of game theory, interactive visual media, and art, was born.

The 1960s experienced a large increase in drug use, with the intent of escaping the rotten imperial culture or subverting it, depending on the user’s ambition. Then a mere fledgling art form, the recognition of the dangers of drug use greatly helped the popularity of video games, as they took the place of drugs in helping the users explore an “alternate reality”. Despite it’s inherent countercultural maturity, video games were often viewed as being for children, and most of the serious gamers beginning in the 1980s were children, often unsupervised by their parents. Parents, depressed about the failures of the 1960s and 1970s in creating a better world, pushed these new alternate realities upon their children in the hopes of being saved by them. Therefore games *had* to be safe, with wackos demonizing Dungeons and Dragons not helping the cause of thoughtful game criticism.

In 1989 with the end of the Soviet Union and the rise of George Bush’s “New World Order” and Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history”, games took a turn to the political right, heralded by id software’s Wolfenstein 3D and Doom, Doom in particular being an ironic and dark take on this brave new world we were entering. The “big fucking gun”, as id software called it, would be a very portentous phrase as countless shooters would fire innumerable bullets resulting in an obscene body count subsequently. The Fire and Forget genre with the main character playing what could only be described as a Marauding Berserker, covering most game genres from Call of Duty games to Neverwinter Nights style RPGs to Starcraft to World of Warcraft, was not so much about murder in the name of something but rather murder because there’s nothing better to do. Murder, because, well, fuck it – though typically translated by gamers into “because it’s fun”.

We should examine the need in gaming to save the world, one corpse at a time. Game after game after game is filled with monsters who are then murdered by someone(s) the game invariably calls a hero in order to cleanse the world and “save” it. Parallels between this and white racists during Hurricane Katrina celebrating the “cleansing” of New Orleans of people they consider to be monsters is uncanny. According to them, New New Orleans with its upscaling and whitewashing is now truly saved. Countless other examples exist, including the roughly one million dead and millions more displaced Iraqis who Condoleezza Rice celebrated as the “birth pangs of a new Middle East”. Or the “monstrous and savage” native Americans exterminated by the colonizing Europeans. Or the “inferior” Palestinians suffering slow extermination by the “chosen ones” of the Zionist Israeli state.

The market for video games has always been the West (the West includes Japan). Only in very recent years has that expanded somewhat, as the economies in East Asia and South America have improved. So while the West might keep calling the latest Call of Duty clone “fun”, societies not lost in such a high degree of imperial bloodlust have a different idea of fun and will enable different games.

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