In this essay I intend to discuss the idea of the anti social, corrupted gamer, and the impact that videogames are thought to have on young people. I intend to argue against this myth, discussing the positive sides of videogames and the many ways in which they can be seen as social activities, on both small and large scales. I will use a number of examples to demonstrate this but will focus mainly on the random surrounding many videogames and how associated activities are inherently social by nature. I will discuss the ways in which games are designed to be social and the ways in which those that are not are also utilized and made social by its players. I will focus however, on the Online cultures and communities that surround gaming and gamers, the production of fan texts in various forms as well as the creation of walkthroughs and guides and the ways that they are used, as well as a brief discussion of online game forums. I will use all of these examples to argue against the stereotype that videogames are a fundamentally solitary activity.
‘We demand that teachers provide our children with reading skills; we expect the schools to fill them with a love of books; and yet at home we let them slump in front of the consoles. We get on with our hedonistic 21st-century lives while in some other room the nippers are bleeping and zapping in speechless rapture, their passive faces washed in explosions and gore. They sit for so long that their souls seem to have been sucked down the cathode ray tube. They become like blinking lizards, motionless, absorbed, only the twitching of their hands showing they are still conscious. These machines teach them nothing. They stimulate no ratiocination, discovery or feat of memory — though some of them may cunningly pretend to be educational.’ (Johnson, 2006: Online).
The above quote graphically summarizes a wide spread view that is prevalent in today’s society. What Boris Johnson is doing here is discussing his misinformed view of videogames as anti social, solitary, mind numbing forms of entertainment that both detract and alienate people form society and culture. Newman illustrates the contradiction here; highlighting Johnson’s statement that videogames make their players being in a ‘near deathly passivity’ and the fact that videogames’ most defining feature is in fact their interactivity (Newman, 2008: p4). As Newman states ‘Videogames have not enjoyed an easy ride in the popular press which has long concerned itself with the negative influences of their representations and consequences of play’ (Newman, 2008: p4). Another example of an influential figure criticizing games can be seen in Prince Charles statement that ‘one of the greatest battles we face today… is to persuade our children away from computer Games’ (2001: Online). There is a vast amount of debate surrounding the impact of videogames on people’s lives, especially those of young people. As Facer states ‘these debates draw on different theoretical perspectives…some have a psychological focus…others more sociological…’ (Facer, 2003: p4). One of the key concerns regarding videogames relates to young people ‘serious criticism is leveled at the influence of the medium on children’s school relations’ (Jessen in Newman, 2005: p49).
One of the most common misconceptions surrounding videogames is the notion that they are a solitary activity, promoting anti-social behavior and attitudes. For example, as Newman states ‘the overwhelming majority of videogames ‘effects’ studies focus on the lone player and take little or no account of the presence, let alone the influence, of either simultaneous collaborative play or the social contexts that surround and support videogames’ (Newman, 2004: p145). Perhaps the result of influence from other media studies, focusing on film or magazines, these videogames studies tend to direct their attention to the text rather than its audience and this could be seen as the reason for the misunderstandings surrounding the uses and effects of videogames. Whatever the reasoning, it is true that ‘for many commentators, it appears that videogames are imbued with a quite insidious potency. The power of videogames seems such that players are prohibited from incorporating them into their lives in a balanced or controllable manner…engagement with videogames brings about inevitable harm, we must note an equal and somewhat patronizing unwillingness to acknowledge any sophistication in players’ use of media’ (Newman, 2005: p49). It could be argued that this is the reasoning behind the specific concerns regarding young people.
There are a number of games that do, at first glance, appear to be intended for single player use, such as Tombraider, Grand Theft Auto and Metal Gear Solid, all of which seem to be designed for the use of one person, as Newman explains, ‘the interactive potential of these games appears to be limited by the single joystick command, literally prohibiting the input of more than one player’ (2004: p145). The seemingly anti social nature of certain games has been utilized by the condemners of videogames, who highlight the notion of games as solitary as a negative thing, while, as Newman argues, they praise other solitary activities such as journal writing or reading (2004: 146). Jessen also discusses this and says that ‘it is a common assumption that computer games lead to children becoming socially isolated, all in their separate rooms where they engage in their lone struggle in the artificial universes of the games. In other words, the computer destroys social relations and playing’ (1995: p6). However the detractors of videogames go further than this saying that they are ‘responsible for solitary experiences, but for isolating one too…they not only appeal to loners, but actually create them’ (Newman, 2004: p146). Newman goes on to explain that this is the reason behind the widespread misconception that videogames players and fans are reclusive anti social outsiders, both unable and unwilling to interact with other people and society (Newman, 2004: p146).
What these notions imply is lack of sophistication and agency of videogames players, they suggest that these people are merely seduced by computers and videogames consoles, advocating claims that gaming is an addictive and destructive habit. This is evident in Turkle’s work, where she suggests that ‘the seductive qualities of computers and games can be found at their presentation of ordered, rule governed and ultimately controllable spaces that place the user or player in a central masterful role…videogames attract the narcissist in adolescence and play upon the deviance of their development…’ (in Newman, 2004: p147), however, these ideas also work when applied to any other form of game.
However, it is not just videogames that are being criticized for their effect on young people, various other forms of media are also being condemned, ‘ambivalence regarding the potentially isolating impact of the media is very salient for some parents…children and young people are becoming isolated and addicted through excessive media use’ (Livingstone, 2002: p140-1). Livingstone also elaborates, explaining that ‘popular concerns about the media frame the adult judgment of the value of being alone, neglecting considerations of privacy, for now that bedrooms contain screen entertainment media, what was once seen as broadly positive – the child alone, lost in a book, losing track of the hours in a fantasy world - is seen as worrying. As a culture we do not think that the child alone, absorbed in a computer game…is making valuable use of their time’ (Livingstone, 2002: p142). Interestingly, what Livingstone seems to be suggesting is tat even if videogames, and indeed other forms of media entertainment were solitary activities, it should not necessarily be assumed that this is a negative thing.
The idea of solitary and reclusive gamers, and the notion of videogames being an alternative to social interaction raise important questions, and it is important to query these suggestions. There are a number of ways in which gaming can be seen as inherently social, countering the aforementioned arguments. Newman discusses a number of ways in which games can be seen as social rather than solitary activities, mentioning a number of games that are specifically designed to be multiplayer, such as racing games, or one on one fighting games such as Mortal Kombat, which he says ‘are designed, first and foremost, as multiplayer experiences and often present comparatively weak single player options’ (2004: p149). There are also FPS (first person shooter) games, such as Quake III or Unreal Tournament that inherently prioritize multiplayer modes ‘almost to the exclusion of single player features’ (Newman, 2004: p150).
Technology has also had a role to play in the increasing ease of multiplayer gaming, the introduction of split screen technology and multiple controller ports becoming standard on most consoles (four is average) and other such advances have had a huge impact on gaming. However, even when looking at specifically single player games it is arguable that it is still a multiplayer experience. ‘a more sensitive understanding of the ways in which these videogames are actually played, the way these texts are used reveals (that)…even ostensibly single player games are frequently played by more than one person…players make take turns- perhaps taking responsibility for one turn or life…’ (Newman, 2004: p152). Another way in which single player games can be played by more than one person is through a second person acting as an advisor, maybe reading maps, or tactics and helping the controller in this way, this could be applied to games such as Tomb Raider where the game itself is limited to one person actually controlling the on screen avatar. Another example of the social aspects of gaming can be seen in the recent emergence of online gaming, and MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) where hundreds of people are simultaneously playing within a single online environment, within which social interaction is necessitated by the game’s structure and design, and is present in the game in a number of different forms.
It could be argued that origins of videogames lie in arcade playing, Saxe discusses this, and states that ‘on many occasions, at a particularly popular arcade game such as Virtua Fighter or Mortal Kombat, participants (players, spectators) from diverse racial and age backgrounds are all gathered together, sometimes in very cramped quarters, around the same video screen. On this level, the screen play provides an anonymous opportunity for shared play space among individuals who might not normally participate in shared activities’ (Saxe 1994 in Newman, 2004: p149). Saxes study showed that players discussed important social networks that surrounded gaming, as well as resulting from it, they also suggested that these were ‘supportive and non confrontational’ (Newman, 2004: p149). One demonstration of this can be seen in the various online communities and culture that surround games and their fans. This exists in a number of different forms, including forums, fan sites, fan art, fan fiction, walk throughs, FAQs (frequently asked questions), game guides among others.
Brooker discusses the online social and cultural communities that surround fandom in relation to Star Wars. He discusses a particular case wherein a female fan was unable to define, or even admit her passion for the films, until she found an online community of female Star Wars fans, she says that ‘it adds validation…I’m not alone, I’m not a freak’ (in Brooker, 2002: p xv) Brooker continues to state that ‘the internet enabled many fans to take their first step into a larger world, and … online communication …links and unites so many of the various fan communities’ (2002: p xv). Brooker discusses another case study who after a long description of his Star Wars obsession, describes his interaction with an online community ‘I have… over 100 action figures grouped by film and relation to the ‘expanding universe’, in my bathroom is a Naboo space battle shower curtain…I get on my computer where I have a Battle Droid for my wallpaper, and a glowing lightsaber mouse cursor, I have a C3PO mouse and a Boba fett mouse pad. I then go online where I chat and hang out with friends I have made on the various Star Wars message boards…’ (Brooker, 2002: p2).
One of the many ways that fans use the Internet to enhance their enjoyment of specific games is to create and use walkthroughs. ‘within the gamer and development communities walkthroughs are among the most contentious of all gaming texts…walkthroughs may be thought of as ‘virtual tour guides’ that help gamers towards success. Although they are actually s good deal more complex and varied in their aspirations and intentions, at the simplest possible level, walkthroughs may be understood as texts that offer advice and guidance on completing specific videogame’ (Newman, 2008: p22). What walkthroughs essentially provide is a step-by-step guide through a videogame, detailing all the intricacies and secrets as well as the more fundamental aspects, or as Consalvo notes ‘walkthroughs are detailed guides to how a player should play a game sequentially to find all of the hidden bonuses and surprises, how to avoid certain death, and how to advance past difficult puzzles or trouble spots to best play and win the game’ (in Newman, 2008: p29). Creating a walkthrough is a lengthy process involving a vast amount of work and knowledge about the game, ‘most of these walkthroughs are dozens of pages in length, with minute detail levels of detail included. Gamers must play a game multiple times to find and record all of this information, and then must spend additional time writing and organizing it for presentation on a web page. Although results can vary by fan, the level of work involved and the dedication to the activity, wh9ihc is usually not paid, can be tremendous’ (in Newman, 2008: p34). An example of a walkthrough of Kingdom Hearts can be seen below:
BOSS FIGHT: Darkside (Opening Dream)
Stats | HP: 240
This boss shouldn't give you too much trouble, but it doesn't matter if you die, as this is just a dream, after all (or is it... oooooh). Darkside isn't very agile, and you will be able to anticipate his attacks most definitely.
Attack 1: Summon Heartless
Darkside's first attack isn't direct. He shoves his hand into the ground to summon Heartless. This gives you an advantage. You can easily attack the submerged hand from here, and you can kill the smaller creatures for HP orbs. Also, if you're good, climb up onto his hand and walk along his arm. You will get 2 tech points every time you hit Darkside's head.
Attack 2: Energy Blast This attack IS direct, and much more deadly than attack #1. Darkside releases charged energy that hones in on your position. If you feel inexperienced, and want to conserve HP, keep moving, and you ought to be able to dodge the blasts. If you feel lucky enough, stand your ground and deflect the energy back at Darkside by swinging your weapon at just the right moment. You will get Tech points for this, and it takes a good chunk of his HP away, especially if you hit him with multiple blasts. Try to lock onto his head before you try this to maximize the amount of Tech points you get. (ElectroSpecter, 2008: Online)
There have been numerous debates about why walkthroughs are so popular and why the exist at all, Tavares for example thinks that they are merely the result of inadequate games, and that they ‘help you when the game is poor such that you get stuck somewhere. I think in a perfectly designed game you would never even consider looking at an FAQ (frequently asked question) or walkthrough because you’d never get stuck. It would find a way to subtly lead you where you needed to be lead such that you felt you were always making progress’ (Tavares, in Newman, 2008: p 24). What Tavares is arguing is that if the games were designed in the manner he believes that they should be, there would be no need to any outside advice or aid as the game would never lead you to that level of frustration and defeat.
San, however, takes a different stance and argues that the games are specifically designed so that they necessitate the walkthroughs and FAQ’s in regards to the ‘normal’ player, saying that game designer cater more for the intense gamer and in some cases the critics. ‘Game designers often design games to please ‘hardcore gamers’ or worse, reviewers- who are generally not considered ‘the mass market’. They are a select few who can complete any game, no matter how difficult, and solve any puzzle, no matter how arcane. Most people however, can play the first level or two…and then they get stuck…and risk losing patience with the game and putting it back in its box out of frustration. And it’s for those people that walkthroughs and FAQ’s are ideal. If it helps them along in the difficult spots a little so that they don’t get so frustrated as to quit the game entirely, then that’s a good thing’ (San, in Newman, 2008: p24). So there are various opinions of walkthroughs and the abilities and intentions of the game designers, it has also been suggested that since the game developers also create game guides and walkthrough that are available to purchase, it is in their interest financially to make them necessary Newman discusses this and says ‘veteran videogame designer Noah Falstein hints at a commercial imperative in noting that the publication of walkthroughs in ‘Official Strategy Guide’ has become part of the wider business of financially exploiting a game or franchise’ (Newman, 2008: p23).
Newman discusses the various pleasures that can be gained from creating and using walkthrough and guides ‘for some gamers, at least part of the pleasure of the videogame is found in the transformation of their play into the walkthrough and formalization of their knowledge and expertise into a guide for other gamers’ (Newman, 2008: p24), what Newman seems to be suggesting is that the creating and using of these things is in fact a social activity, based on a sharing of knowledge. Newman continues to say that ‘walkthroughs and game guides are texts located within social contexts and it is important to understand both their production and consumption in these terms’ (Newman, 2008: p24). Walkthroughs and other online activities surrounding gaming culture can be discussed as being social for a number of reasons, most significantly it should be noted that these activities would not work if they involved only individuals. Forums are based on a post and a series of responses that develop into a discussion of a particular topic, walkthroughs are created for the benefit of others, fan fiction/films and art are all posted on the Internet with the intention that they are seen by other fans. If the producer of a fan text makes that text available on the Internet it is so that it can be shared and enjoyed. ‘Walkthroughs and game guides are squarely situated within the community of fellow walkthrough writers and a constituency of gamers whose love and interest in these games motivate the production, sharing and development of these texts and the sustenance of titles superseded by the marketplace’ (Newman, 2008: p25).
Fan fiction, films and art are another way in which gamers interact with one another via the Internet. Game creators often encourage thins and even run competitions where people can submit such work. Brooker also talks about this in relation to his discussion of Star Wars fandom, he describes it as ‘a creative departure that stays within a recognizable framework, and experiment that sticks to accepted rules, a filling in of gaps within the official narrative’ (Brooker, 2002: p173). Brooker also acknowledges the social aspects inherent in the culture on online fandom, quoting one fan film maker who says ‘I do feel that fan film makers are part of a cooperative and supportive community…we pool ideas, and often pool talents, bringing people in on projects to allow for more expertise, we often make quite a few friends’ (in Brooker, 2002: p173-34). As Jenkins notes ‘these social interactions also influence the stories that are written and the ways they relate to the original programs. If any fan has the potential to make a major contribution to the development of fan literature…most choose to build upon rather than reject or ignore fan traditions’ (Jenkins, 1992: P160).
An example of fan art (Forlenza, UD: Online)
While Brooker focuses on fan film Newman discusses fan art, saying that ‘fan art takes variety of forms and often involves relocating characters in new locales and applying different aesthetic treatments…videogame fan art appears to provide a space where women players can redefine characters…’ (Newman, 2004: p160) this relates back to Brooker’s case study involving the female Star Wars fan discussed earlier, in both cases the online fan communities provide validation and opportunities. It can also be noted that fan fiction and art also require a level of detail and attention similar to that which is involved in creating walkthroughs and guides.
Throughout this essay the various ways in which videogames can be seen as a social activity have been explored, with particular emphasis on the expansive online cultures and communities that surround gaming and gamers. In response and defiance to the stereotypical and commonplace view that videogames are an anti social and solitary activity, effecting young people especially, we have seen that ‘videogames can, themselves, be social in nature, encouraging interaction, teamwork and adversarial combat. Moreover, and frequently overlooked by researchers, videogame exist within a wider computer culture. Furthermore, the ways in which players use and absorb gaming into their cultural lives and social networks demonstrate that the popular perception of gaming as a solitary activity is difficult to sustain. As such, social spaces exist both within and around videogames’ (Newman, 2004: p162).
· Brooker, W (2002) Using the Force, Continuum International Publishing, New York
· ElectroSpecter, (2008) Kingdom Hearts Walkthrough and FAQ’s, [Online] Available from: http://www.gamefaqs.com/console/ps2/file/516587/19404 (Acessed 22/05/08)
· Facer. K. et al (2003) Screenplay: Children and Computing in the Home, Routledge Falmer, London
· Forlenza, S (UD) Fan Art [Online] Available from: http://images.mmosite.com/photo/2007/12/12/ss551f7Y5URsTnL.jpg (accessed 20/05/08)
· Harrison, L (2001) Prince Charles urges kids to ditch computer games for books: One does not approve of Lara [online] Available from: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2001/07/23/prince_charles_urges_kids/ (accessed 14/05/08)
· Jenkins, H (1992) Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, Routledge, London
· Jessen, C (1995) Children’s Computer Culture [Online] Available from: http://www.hum.sdu.dk/center/kultur/buE/article.html
· Johnson, B. (2006) The writing is on the wall – computer games rot the brain, [Online] Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2006/12/28/do2801.xml (Accessed 13/05/08)
· Livingstone, S (2002) Young People and New Media, Sage, London
· Newman, J. (2004) Videogames, Routledge, London.
· Newman, J (2005) Playing With Videogames, in ‘Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New media Technologies’ 11: 48, Sage
· Newman, J. (2008) Playing with Videogames. London: Routledge [seen in manuscript form]