Another case of "The book

Another case of "The book was more fun than the movie because the color was better" --

April 6, 2002

Realism May Be Taking the Fun Out of Games


n games, reality can seem beside the point. Carved boards, decorated cards, dotted cubes and colored pebbles become instruments of war. The fate of a bouncing spheroid determines one's fortunes. The more artificial an object is, the more arbitrary the restrictions are on its movements, the simpler the rules governing the play, the more powerful a game seems to become. A game establishes its own world.

Yet over the last two decades, the evolution of video games has involved a quest for the opposite. One of the major goals of video game systems has been to simulate the real, to create images so lifelike, and movements so natural that there is no sense of artifice. There really is a haunted house being explored, a football team arrayed on a field, a car racing at 150 miles an hour through a city street. In the early years of arcade games, invaders from space were squiggly white doodles arranged in rows, threatening a player with oblivion. Now they can speak, gush green blood and wield advanced weaponry.

These are the two poles of the video game, still evident in the latest systems. But however different in character, the games share important preoccupations. The classic board game or card game begins with the rules; then comes the play. In video games the play begins and only gradually do the rules emerge. Finding the rules is part of the game.

What powers do they provide and what do they forbid? Can those rules be violated at all? And is everything revealed or can something be found by testing those limits? The spirit of violation is built into the video game; so is a demand for submission.

In this struggle, technology is an emblem of both the game's limits and its promises; it helps determine what can and cannot be done. And game designers ? like game players ? keep exploring those boundaries. But through every gaming generation, no matter what the technology, the player is still the classic adolescent: at once uncertain and arrogant, proud and disgusted, resenting the demands being made and, finally, cherishing the ability to master them.

Posted by Jay Cross at April 6, 2002 07:30 PM | TrackBack

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