Video games are a perfect representation of what the modern day consumer wants out of their entertainment. They evolve as we evolve (with technology), they entertain, and they make a lot of money. These three factors are necessary for any business to be successful in the world of entertainment. It’s been a long time coming for video games to garner their rightful place in terms of a respected societal medium that up until about fifty years ago hardly existed. Music and movies and television have been around for over one hundred years, for the most part, and at their emergent times they were the pinnacle of discussion. Musicians like Elvis Presley or Johnny Cash pioneered their respective genres with innovation and currency, very similar to the most brilliant games of our time. Directors like Steven Spielberg or even actors like Brad Pitt all remain relevant and current due to their relation to their audience. However, these art forms are passive for the crowd. The same clich©s seen in movies and music and even books are repeated over and over, but with video games, these same clich©s cannot be repeated. The gamer is an active participant in the development.
If I turn my X-box 360 on today and want to play the most current, most interesting game I can think of, I’m not going to be playing Halo. In 2001, I would be playing Halo, but its 2010 and it has changed. I can’t pick up my copy of Fight Club and expect for the content within the book to be different nine years later but with a video game I can. Downloadable maps, patches, and game modes make playing even the oldest game somewhat fresh. Halo was an amazing game during its initial release and subsequent years, but it also represents how video games evolve and adapt to what we want. It is unavoidable.
In a movie theatre I can shut my eyes and fall to sleep, or watch intently and feel like I’m in every scene, but at the end of the two hours I stand up and walk away feeling like I watched something, and didn’t do anything, to the form of entertainment I was experiencing. I can also opt to tune out the whole experience at the movie theatre all-together whereas with a video game I have to pay attention the whole time in order to experience it. A video game shares some of the main features of film and music and literature, but combines it all with an even more innovative way to entertain a society geared towards instant gratification.
The gamer has complete control of the world they experience. In a First Person Shooter, the gamer controls every move the character makes from the virtual characters own eye level, causing the whole experience to require complete immersion or else someone else in the game, immersed in the world more fully will capitalize on the lack of dedication and commitment to the world. This type of entertainment/ art genre, where the audience is given complete control of their experience, aside from stylistic limitations, represents what society wants of their escapism. Because of so many other contributing factors out in the world that cause us as humans to generally feel without control, the strongest way to mediate this would be to develop some form of coping with this emotion, this drive to control something completely.
This is the case for most video games, apart from their legitimate story-telling ability, their flawless graphics and game play mechanics, their cheesy soundtrack and voice acting. Aside from all of that, video games create complete control. This is why there are so many people shelling out $60 every time the next Call of Duty comes out or the next WoW expansion. So many people feel taken advantage of that modern video games garner towards safety and justice. Look at the difficulty of a normal campaign of Call of Duty MW 2 and you’ll see that while the whole experience is intense and dramatic and overwhelming, it is still relatively easy to control the action on screen. CoD: MW2 is an exception in most other cases with the constant story changes, but the gameplay mechanics all play towards a sense of control and security.
Although I could make the case using Halo, I want to look at a more current and more direct game that isn’t showing any signs of exhaustion even though it’s been around since 2004. World of Warcraft is responsible for bringing the world of casual and hardcore gaming together in a persistent online world, filled with rich lore and quests and upgrades that have the gamer feeling completely immersed in the world, sometimes without realizing it. Where World of Warcraft succeeds in regards to other games is in its ability to remain current (partly due to the monthly fee). My extensive history with MMORPGs has led me to conclude one thing about all of them until I played World of Warcraft. They eventually lose their fun because there is nothing left to do in the game after a certain point that wouldn’t substantially cut into my daily routine (most MMORPGS feel more like work after awhile). Innovation is key to quelling this, because other games in the genre like Everquest or FFXI or even the old Dreamcast hit PSO eventually grow old from the lack of new quests to do, new areas to explore, new items to achieve, new everything. World of Warcraft saw this and capitalized on it with periodic expansions and updates to the world that keep even the most dedicated and addicted (if you call it that) gamers still signing in day in and day out just to see what else the game has in store.
Blizzard would not have noticed this if they themselves weren’t gamers and if their fans didn’t give them feedback. By giving players the opportunity to make a character and exist in a fictional world where they invest time and effort to achieve virtual gains, the response to the content is so direct and honest that it’s hard not to listen to the voice of a gamer.This speaks volumes in favor of video games as a new and emergent way to tell a story and entertain the audience. People need things to communicate through. Language, like English, puts words into our heads and mouths and into the air to help us relate to the world around us. The way a gamer plays their video game is another form of language. Each gamer plays differently or the same, but either way, it represents the way they think. In WoW, it is incredibly easy to notice the differences in the way each player plays just by the way they name their character, by the way they have them look, and by the weapons and areas they spend most of their time in. The gamer controls all of this. The gamer communicates in WoW by deliberately picking and choosing how their characters look as well as through a headset or by typing on a keyboard. This causes the players around the gamer to have an experience with the world that is eerily similar to walking down to the mall or the nearest Wal-Mart to buy groceries.
Another exception to the general claim that video games are just about expressing complete control over something is with the numerous updates and expansions of MMORPGs like WoW. These updates and expansions exist in a game built around a false sense of accomplishment. The gamer in most MMOs doesn’t have complete control of their environment. Almost never is the game necessarily easy. The monsters and quests given to players put up an equal fight, reestablishing a sense that the gamer in an MMO is not in complete control. They may be able to make their character unique, much like the real world, but they do not shape and dominate the world around them. Not completely at least, not as much as a FPS or an RTS. With most MMOS there is PVP and an auction house, which could have the most entrepreneur hungry players at the top of the list. Guilds and advertisements populate the virtual worlds too. This perpetuates a parallel fictional universe where players don’t feel the physical and real pain of existing, and instead plant themselves in Loch Modan slaying polar bears and building up their own story and virtual accomplishments.
Not that playing any game is a complete waste of time. If you are a gamer, you know the energy and dedication you put towards the game; the thought processes, the amount of micro-managing or macro-managing, maintaining a social life within the context of the game, putting in the time and effort to achieve something. These are all beneficial practices. If you take all of that effort and energy out of the game and supplant it in the real world, you’ll find that both approaches are very similar. These thought practices are reinforced in video games and when applied to real world situations have the potential to be effective. I commend games for this, because without it, people might get rusty just playing a mindless game over and over. Before people pass judgment on the next person playing a video game, they need to realize that that person could be sharpening a knife in their head.
Like any new art form (Heavy Metal, Jazz, etc.) video games have had mountains of critics. People who criticize without empathy, people who criticize for the sake of their children, and it’s about time those people realize that their comments and squabbles are unfounded, and that video games are a staple of modern technology, art, and entertainment. You could watch the same movie a million times and all of the parts stay the same but video games have endless possibilities thanks to online play and a dedicated online service. Video games are constantly evolving just like any genre of art, just like us.