I just read an interesting article in The London Review of Books by John Lanchester about the culture and aesthetics of gaming, computer games that is. I must confess that I’m not much of a gamer myself. I kind of got stuck in the 80s with now vintage arcade games such as Pong and PacMan even though I hardly played any of them either. I recently played around with Katamari Damacy for a few minutes before I lost interest. However, I’m enough of a cultural omnivore to take an interest, so I know what people are talking about when they mention World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto IV, Super Mario, Resident Evil, Call of Duty and Fallout.
My problem with games is that I just can’t be bothered. I don’t feel any drive or desire to find the treasure, rescue the princess, reach a higher level, score points, escape from the dungeon or whatever the goal of any particular game is.
I know that this is how many people feel about literature, dance or theatre. What do I care about those characters? In first-person games you don’t see your character from the outside. What you see is what the character sees. Games are interactive, you’re not just sitting there watching or reading, you are actively participating in the unfolding story. Yeah well, except that the whole level of interaction doesn’t interest me. In many games essentially the character is just an extension of the number of possible mouse, keyboard, joystick etc. combinations the game allows.
I must say that I sometimes wonder why I’m reading this or that novel or why I paid to watch some actors or dancers making a lot of fuss on stage, but usually that means it isn’t a good novel or performance. “Good” novels, performances, installations etc. engage me both intellectually and emotionally. They expand my imagination, my view of the world, my thinking and my life. Part of my definition of a “good” work of art is that it sets my thoughts adrift. By contrast, in games the goal and the tools have been set out in advance and your thoughts are not left to wander, in which case the game would soon be over.
As a matter of fact, I’m not much of a games person at all. I did occasionally play some games as a child and I learned how to play chess when I was at school. But I guess the whole concept of scoring points or indeed winning doesn’t appeal to me. It’s all part of the grand metaphysical illusion that we like to hold onto. Myths, stories and science create order in the sea of constant change that is reality. Games too create structure by reducing the universe to a playing field, a set of rules and a simple goal. But after the game is over life goes on. And instead of living happily ever after they slaved away behind their computer until their retirement.