Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Nuts and Bolts of Play

Image from PopMatters
This week on PopMatters, I talk about cross-generational Cards Against Humanity.

Explaining the rules and getting people used to the game's mechanical flow turned out to be a much bigger hurdle than its raunchy content. It reminded me of trying to introduce someone to video games: just getting people used to moving around, reading menus, and pressing the corret keys can be a challenge. It's hard to foster a deeper appreciation of games as an artistic medium when simply interesting with one requires hours of practice.

Here I stray into speculative territory, but I think there's something's to it. If X-Men has taught me anything, it's that people fear what they don't understand. Video game content may be shocking, but I think it's the lack of control that makes people uneasy. The moral panics over games like Mortal Kombat and Doom, were largely fostered by people who never played them. It's not that playing video games desensitizes you to violence, it's that playing them affords a feeling of control. Once people have agency, they can explore the systems, see how they relate to the artistic content, and attain a sense of ownership that turns something that was overwhelming into something that is enjoyable.

There was a brief window during the last console cycle where it seemed like the steep hill towards this agency could be flattened out. Unfortunately, motion control efforts flailed, both literally an figuratively. The accessibility of Wii Sports never got much traction in more traditional or thematically driven games. A glut of poorly-made shovel wear drowned out the few potential contenders. Now it seems like Sony and Microsoft have ceded this ground: the Move is dead in the water and the Kinect's most hyped feature is that it can be used as a TV remote. My parents bought a Wii; there's really no video game related reason for them to buy another console.

It would be assume that the reason for this is because the new consoles are so focused on shooters, sci-fi, or nerdy high fantasy. However, remember we're talking about the exact same folks that introduced me to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings. The barrier isn't thematic or artistic; it's mechanical.

No comments:

Post a Comment