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Safety Representations of Capitalism in The Sims   
03:26pm 12/10/2004
  From Video Games and the (De)Skilling of Labor., by Rob Wilkie:
"The Sims, to name only one example, has become one of the highest selling computer games of all time because of the way in which it substitutes capitalism's real relations of exploitation with the virtual community of cross-class consumption in cyber-space.

The game consists of either choosing a single "sim" or "sim family" from the pre-built options offered in the game, or creating one entirely from scratch, and assisting them in navigating their "everyday life". In doing so, the player seems to determine virtually every aspect of the sim's life, and thus is responsible for whether or not their sim becomes "successful". ... All problems, according to the narrative of the game, are "solved" by increasing one's level of consumption.

The popularity of The Sims, despite its essentially "routine" narrative of the drudgery of daily existence in capitalism, speaks less of its "creativity" than it does of the way in which it structures a view of the world that reproduces as natural the daily existence of life under capitalism, and thus provides the most soothing way of spending one's leisure time away from work.

Rather than challenge any aspect of the organization of the capitalist working day—in which the ability to "freely" consume is determined by the exploitation of millions of working people—the game reproduces in minute detail as "fact" the way in which all necessities under capitalism, including leisure activities necessary in preparation for going to work again, are transformed into commodities for exchange and are made available only to those who can afford them regardless of need.

While violent games such as Grand Theft Auto III have drawn a lot of attention because of the way in which they seemingly promote an anti-social response to the contradictions of capitalist society while ultimately advocating the logic of the free, enterprising individual for hire that is the essential ideology of wage-labor, games like The Sims appear neutral because of the way in which they reproduce the "immediacy" of the working day while erasing the fact that capitalism is not natural, nor inevitable. It is a system built upon exploitation that is historical and thus transformable.

The "neutrality" of cultural practices such as playing video games always works in the interests of the ruling class because of the way in which it reproduces the existing social relations without question. Like all of capitalist culture ... video games operate through the ideology of "choice" as a means of obscuring the hidden exploitation of labor that exists in all commodities in order to reassure an alienated working class that their alienation can only be understood on the terms established by the market and can be solved only by increased consumption: it is not the exploitation of wage-labor that creates inequality, it is the inability to work hard and manage one's resources effectively.

In reality, the idea that the market can solve all social problems is the means by which owners continue their at times hidden, at times well publicized, but always continuing assault on working people by turning all socially produced resources into avenues for accumulating private profits. And it is the logic that the capitalist market is the only effective means of organizing social life that is today being used to justify the privatization of social services such as health care and education."
04:49pm 09/06/2004
  From Zen and the Art of Tetris, by Liam Jordan:
The ultimate goal of Tetris is to move your blocks, as they fall to the bottom of your rectangle, to increase the number of complete lines you make. Each of these completed lines is like a personal achievement, and these lines add to your score--a number which you can put your name next to when the game is over.

Some people would prefer to have no rectangle at all and would let the blocks fall wherever they may, but most of us would argue that such a philosophy would make line-building very hard. Often there have been arguments between existentialist and capitalist Tetris players. The existentialists do not score very high but have much more interesting block formations. The capitalists get a higher score but, eventually, make mistakes.
05:44am 07/04/2004
  From ClockworkGrue's I'm Not A Socialist, I Swear: Power and Respect in the Game Industry:
Jason Rubin wants to see publishers market the developers behind a game, both the studios and the individuals, along with the game itself. This harkens back to the early days of third-party developers, when Activision and Electronic Arts would put developer bios, like you'd find on the back inside flap of a hardcover book, in their manuals or on their boxes. It also might remind some of us of the heady days when John Romero promised to "make you his bitch" with Daikatana.

Rubin externalizes of one of the age-old forms of self-conflict: hubris versus timidity. "How can I maintain the respect that I am due without blinding myself to my own inadequaces?" Rubin provides examples of times when his publisher failed to show him due respect (this is, of course, subjective, but I'll continue for the sake of argument), and his solution is to introduce name-recognition, celebrity, into the equation. Unfortunately, celebrity does not solve the problem, it simply changes its nature. In other words, Rubin is asking for a redistribution of power, not that power be used fairly.
06:44pm 19/03/2004
  From Player, Attack Thyself by Clive Thompson:
But after a while, the fantasy element fades, and all you're left with is gameplay. When I play Battlefield 1942, I'll actually lose track of whether I'm technically supposed to be Soviet, German, or American. I'm too busy blowing the crap out of the guys in differently colored uniforms.

This leads to a surprising facet of game psychology: Really hard-core gamers often look past the cultural "content" of a game. They're mostly worried about a more prosaic concern, which is whether the game is fun. The geopolitics of a game melt away as players, like philosophers musing on their favorite platonic solid, ponder gameplay in the abstract.

We're accustomed to thinking that a piece of entertainment is nothing but its cultural content. A movie or TV show is just what you see on the screen. But a game is also about play, and play is invisible. That's why outsiders are often puzzled by the success of games that would appear to be nothing but screamingly offensive content. They can't see the play.
05:21pm 07/03/2004
  From Spector of a Thief, an interview with Warren Spector conducted by Christian Nutt of Gamespy:
GameSpy: With Deus Ex, especially, the choices you had to make with the two factions -- there were shades of gray. Whereas a lot of games now are offering a good versus evil thing. Do you think that's a little too artificial?

Spector: Yeah, that's a really interesting thing. I think about that a lot these days.

GameSpy: That's how I feel.

Spector: I have been told repeatedly that shades of gray and moral ambiguity are bad things in games, and if I want to sell a lot of copies I need to be more black and white and simplify the conflict. Not necessarily simplify the gameplay. It's a defensible position. I just find myself resisting it. I ... I mean the obvious -- you're talking about Knights of the Old Republic, I mean, clearly.

GameSpy: Fine, I am.

Spector: Right. And Knights of the Old Republic is a very Deus Ex-like game, and it's a ton of fun. And I think part of the appeal of the game is -- part of the appeal -- is light side / dark side, which is woven into the fabric of George Lucas' fiction, but that's the part of the game I like the least.

GameSpy: They're doing that with Jade Empire, too.

Spector: If what you want to do is sell a lot of copies of a game, you're probably better off giving people points, in essence, and telling them "you're doing good, you're doing good, you're doing good" or "you're doing good (because you're evil), you're doing good (because you're evil), you're doing good (because you're evil)." As opposed to the Deus Ex thing, and it's always been the Thief thing too. It's not about points or where you are on a line, it's about who you are as a person. It's so much more about the player in Deus Ex and Thief, and I love that. You don't know if your next action is going to make you "evil" or "good." It's just going to make you feel something about yourself.

GameSpy: The feedback is from you, not from a flashing light in the game.

Spector: Exactly, exactly. And I know which way I prefer, but I'm not sure that's the secret to success.
12:25am 06/03/2004
  From The Curse of Monkey Island:
Flying Welshman: I am the Flying Welshman. I have been trapped for so very long in the mist. Oh, how I hate mist!

Guybrush Threepwood: Really? I think mist is pretty.

Flying Welshman: Well, SURE mist is pretty. But egad, is it dull.
     Read 3 - Post
01:04am 29/02/2004
  Salon.com reader Rodkangyil Danjuma in response to Jane Pinckard's Videogaming and Its Discontents:
But I think you need a new definition of "geeky." Dance Dance Revolution can be exceedingly entertaining, not to mention calisthenic. But there is just about no activity more geeky that you can perform in front of a television next to mouthing the lines of a Star Trek episode. In order to enjoy the game, one has to get over the inherent self-consciousness that arises from jumping around on a pad painted with a silhouette of a John Travolta disco pose while the announcer calls out "Fabulous! I won't forget your Dancing!"
12:54am 29/02/2004
  Ever since people started complaining, I promised myself I'd update this more frequently. So from now on, I shall lower my anal retentive tendencies and quit being too picky about which quotes go in here. That means at least a new quote every week, promise.  
11:48am 13/01/2004
  Ernest Adams, in an interview at AdventureGamers:
...you made a comment about how in Sonic it appears that the player is Sonic, but after some inactivity the avatar on the screen will actually wave at the player. I thought that was really interesting because it really applies to adventure games. There is a character on the screen who sometimes has his own will, you as a player are there, and some games also have a narrator voice. Sometimes you can even hear the designer speak through the character, when it says "I can't go there yet."

I observed this peculiar relationship between the character and the avatar a long time ago because there was a transition at the very beginning. Games like the original adventure Colossal Cave and Deadline, and some of those early Infocom games, assumed that it was really you and you had no personality. Also in Myst, you know, if you looked in the mirror there was nothing to see because it didn't know anything about you. The difficulty with that is that the world does not know how to react to you because it doesn't know who you are. Once you start getting an avatar to represent you then that person has a character, an appearance, an age and sex, and all kinds of other things. And so the world reacts to them in a way we recognize. That introduces a sort of peculiar ambiguity of are you "them" or are you "with them".
     Read 5 - Post
10:17pm 08/10/2003
  Why self-important gaming armchair academes are missing the point:
There's getting to be a lot more formal academic study of games, with academic projects such as Serious Games and attempts by Doug Church, Noah Falstein and others to lay out specific elements of game design in The 400 Project and others. How formal can you get before over-pontification sets in? And how far into documenting game design have we, as an industry, got?

Well, there's already a great deal of nonsense floating around. Some of the people approaching games from the field of semiotics leave me utterly baffled, and there are a bunch of new media people who seem intent on defining games in terms that have nothing to do with games. Some of them flatly deny the importance of interactivity. So we've already got plenty of academic bull flooding the airwaves. Fortunately, we also have plenty of interesting and useful academic work being done. The problem is not with academics; it's with the refusal of some academics to take games on their own terms, and their insistence on viewing games through old microscopes.
---From Power Balancing: An Interview with Chris Crawford