Sunday September 26 2010

Why aren't games culturally acceptable?

There’s no broadcast media for games. Games don’t have an equivalent of the telly, the cinema, art galleries, radio.

As cultural objects, games are not akin to recorded music, film, paintings, stories. You can broadcast those because they’re fixed and well defined works of creation. You can see their whole, and judge them for it. But games are described by the personal experiences of individual players. And that’s something you can’t publish or transmit objectively on a mass scale.

Rather, games are the broadcast medium. Spot the odd one out in this list: Film, Art, Theatre, Literature, Games. It’s more like Film, Art, Theatre, Literature, World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto…

When you play a game you’re thinking about meta stuff: your virtual context and the space of possibilities open to you within it. Games are not works of art, they’re curated environments for you to explore. They’re guided tours through a swathe of experience. Games should be treated more as museums than exhibits. Games are culture in the same way the British Museum is culture. Games are not the Rosetta Stone.

So why aren’t games mainstream culture? I think it’s a question of scale and pervasiveness. Architecture is obvious and inhabitable, radio and TV are ubiquitous and consistent. The sense of mass collective and shared experience is tangible. You know the whole audience is watching the same play, you know millions of others are watching the same 10 O’Clock news headlines at the same time.

But gaming experiences are dissipated and polarised. You may have just had a great game of CTF with your 5 buddies, but someone else just sat through 10 minutes of tea bags to the face. You don’t really know, it’s not really visible. Should it be visible? Not all of it, but something should. And I don’t just mean visible to you, but visible in the world.

The mass experience of playing games will need to be far more visible before society can be culturally literate about games. But making games more visible doesn’t just mean injecting points and badges into the world that scream: “look at me and all I have achieved.” The experience of play needs to be translated into broadcast media. The stories created in games should be able to exist outside of them.

This is starting to happen with services like Bungie Pro that let you share your gameplay films online, but that feels more like transliteration than translation. And I’m not talking about machinima either, which is more about spectacle than a translation of play.

Maybe broadcasting play doesn’t make sense. Maybe games are just different, and that’s fine.

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