The scope of video games
Like other games, video games have a clearly defined goal and are bound by rules, but unlike other games, those rules are rarely fully and explicitly stated. Rules in board and card games are abstract; little to nothing indicates them to the player. Video games, however, are represented by virtual worlds that usually imply at least some of their rules. Their visual representation, or graphics, is one factor that distinguishes video games from other types of games. The other distinguishing factor is their algorithmic logic. If a game were governed by database computer logic, a DVD screen menu could qualify as a video game if someone decided to create rules for it. The algorithm is a program containing the set of procedures controlling the game's graphics and sound, the input and output engaging the players, and the behavior of the computer-controlled players within the game.
The commonalities between video games ends there. There is a bewildering variety of video games. The dissimilarities between Dance Dance Revolution, which requires players to physically input dance steps on a pressure-sensitive playmat, and a word puzzle game on a mobile phone, seem far more obvious than the similarities. Thus, the need for categorization into both genre and platform.
Like other media, video games are sorted according to genre, but unlike film or literature they are usually classified independent of their theme or setting. Instead, gameplay is the main criterion for categorizing games. An action game is an action game, regardless of whether it takes place in a fantasy world or outer space. Within game studies there are no universally accepted, formal definitions for game genres, some being more observed than others. For a comprehensive list, see video game genres.
The emergence, evolution, and success of video game genres depends on both technology and the congenital behavior of producers and consumers. Companies naturally want to minimize risk, and it is safer to imitate a successful platform game or shooter than to attempt something different and risk commercial and critical failure. Consumers, likewise, tend towards what they know, rather than chance wasting their time and money on something they know nothing about. Game genres develop as technology progresses but innovation is moderated by commercial constraints and by the conditioned opinions and expectations of players.
Though numerous, video game genres are rivaled in number by the systems, or platforms, that video games are available for, which include home consoles, personal computers, arcade boards, and handheld systems such as handheld game consoles, PDAs, and mobile phones. Each type of platform has advantages and disadvantages. Handheld systems offer portability at the expense of larger screen size and better graphics and sound. Arcades are generally technologically superior to consoles but they are not designed for home use. Personal computers may be extensively customized to suit the player's preferences, but cutting-edge computer hardware is expensive and the vast number of options can baffle inexperienced computer users.
Due to these advantages and disadvantages, some genres are better suited to one kind of machine than another. Real-time strategy (RTS) games, for example, are well suited to the PC because of the mouse. Historical advantages also explain why some genres flourished or continue to flourish on one kind of machine--for example, platformers on consoles, since computers did not smoothly scroll horizontally at the same time that the NES did. handhelds for short games like puzzle games.
Platform prominently factors into the question of scope. In 1958, William Higinbotham designed Tennis For Two, an electronic game which simulated a tennis match on an oscilloscope. Years later, his testimony was called upon during legal attempts to break the Magnavox video game patent obtained through their development of the Odyssey, the first home video game console. The court ruled that Tennis For Two did not use video signals and so did not qualify as a video game. As a result, every company that entered the video game market was forced to pay a settlement to Sanders Associates, the company that supplied Ralph Baer, the "Father of the Video Game," with a team to develop the Odyssey.
A history of video games
(should incorporate not only dates and inventions and trends, but also social and geopolitical contexts.)
- For a comprehensive history of video games, see History of video games
Magnavox may have enjoyed legal status as the creator of the first video game, but a less technical definition of of the medium includes a handful of older efforts, beginning with a patent for a "Cathode-ray Tube Amusement Device" filed in 1947. Although game enthusiasts, journalists, and historians disagree on what the first video game was, a clear contender for the title emerged in 1961 as MIT students Steve Russell, Martin Graetz, and Wayne Witaenem created Spacewar! on a DEC PDP-1 mini-computer.
Spacewar! was adapted by Nolan Bushnell, a fellow MIT regular, into Computer Space, one of the first commercial, coin-operated video games. The game flopped and Bushnell blamed his employer, Nutting Associates, for mismarketing the product. He quit Nutting Associates and founded a garage startup called Atari. "From this unlikely marriage—the computer lab and the carnival—the video game industry was born." Bushnell asked his company's first full-time engineer, Al Alcorn, to design a simple game of table tennis; they called it Pong. Bushnell and Alcorn installed it in a local bar, where it became an immediate success as a coin-operated game. Atari geared up to manufacture arcade consoles in volume, creating a new industry while also attracting competitors.
The first home console arrived in the bulky form of the grandiosely named Odyssey, a soundless, primitive machine powered by batteries and sold with translucent plastic overlays that players could place on their television screen to simulate color graphics. It was also sold with dice, poker chips, and score sheets to help keep score in the manner of a traditional board game.
The Odyssey sold 250,000 units worldwide; its sales, while respectable, were a fraction of the ballooning arcade market's earnings, buoyed by releases like Taito's Space Invaders and Atari's Asteroids. By the late 1970s, though, computer technology and programmer know-how had advanced to the point that home video games began approximating the features of arcade games. Fairchild Semiconductor's Video Entertainment System, released in 1976 and later called Channel F, was a first for home video game consoles in three ways: It used a microprocessor, it permitted computer-controlled characters, and its games were stored on removable media (cartridges) rather than the console itself. These revolutionary advances were popularized by one of Channel F's competitors, Atari's Video Computer System. As video games moved out of bars and arcades and into homes, their design shifted in response. Arcade games exist to consume quarters; their short levels and rapidly increasing difficulty levels are profitable design. Home video games, however, yield no additional revenue once in the hands of consumers; consumers choose home video games based on, among other measurable values, their potential hours of play, so games became longer and developed a narrative ending.
Early game conventions and genres, however, were most defined by technical constraints. Programmers for Atari's VCS had to write an entire game, complete with graphics, gameplay, sound effects, and all the scoring in four kilobytes, the data equivalent of two typewritten pages.Pitfall! designer David Crane remarked that "a lot of the game features then were not what you could think of, but what you could actually achieve." For example, players' avatars were often simple geometrical figures because the limited number of display pixels severely restricted smooth animation. No more than two such animated figures could share the same screen space, rendering the cartridge adaptation of the arcade smash hit Pac-Man nearly unplayable. The game's disastrous reception heralded the coming crash of the home video game market. By 1984, the media had declared video games a fad and computers, which began making headway in 1982 thanks to their expanding features and falling prices, completed their takeover of the market.
Computers like the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 offered equal gaming ability and since their simple design allowed games to take complete command of the hardware after power-on, they were nearly as simple to start playing with as consoles. Game designers took advantage of the greater flexibility of computers to explore new game genres, often inspired by complex paper-and-pencil role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons, various board games, and Crowther’s Adventure. Interactive fiction was a particularly successful format on personal computers. Other games—such as the King’s Quest series by Sierra On-Line (1983), military simulations and role-playing games published by Strategic Simulations Incorporated (founded in 1979), Richard Garriott’s Akalabeth/Ultima series (1979), and the sports and multimedia titles of Electronic Arts (founded in 1982)—extended the simulation and storytelling capacity of computer games. "The promotion and availability of cheap computers in the UK in the 1980s strongly influnced the growth of the PC games market and wider development industry there." (The business and culture of digital games 18)
Meanwhile, Atari's decline had opened the market to new competition. Namely, Nintendo. "The success of microelectronics, manga, and animated films in Japan provided an important foundation for Japan's digital games industry as well as important social legitimization." (The business and culture of digital games, p 18). (and so it was that Japan came into its own as a huge force for and exporter of video games..Japan exported its culture along with its video games) The home console market rebounded with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System and its flagship title, Super Mario Bros. Mario's phenomenal success is partly attributable to its smooth scrolling, courtesy of the Nintendo Entertainment System's picture processing unit. Its graphics exceeded the capabilities of personal computers. More important, Nintendo introduced battery-powered storage cartridges that enabled players to save games in progress. Games such as Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, as well as Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy series, fully exploited the ability to save games in progress; they used it to provide deeper game experiences, flexible character development, and complex interactive environments. These qualities encouraged comparisons between video games and other narrative media such as cinema.
Like other computers, video game hardware technology has generally obeyed a laymen's formulation of Moore's Law: The capabilities of electronic devices--such as processing speed and memory capacity--improve at exponential rates every two years. Advances in hardware technology have led to roughly proportional increases in the representational power of video games. Increased representational power, in turn, has given rise to new genres and a third dimension. The 1993 release of Doom on personal computers was a breakthrough in 3D graphics, and Nintendo's Super Mario 64, released in 1996, became "the blueprint for navigating 3D space in video games." The faster graphics accelerators and improving CPU technology have resulted in ever-increasing levels of realism and complexity that characterize much of contemporary gaming.
The contemporary video game industry
Such complexity comes at a price: High-budget games' production costs can be greater than US$20 million and development teams larger than 100, with different studios for animation, sound, marketing, and so on. In the industry's infancy, however, programmers were individually responsible for creating every element of their games—the same person who created the concept was also responsible for the coding, the art, and even the sound effects. Hiroshi Yamauchi, former president of the world's largest video game manufacturer, Nintendo, established the distinction between game designer and game programmer when he asked a young artist named Shigeru Miyamoto to create an arcade game with the company's head engineer, Gunpei Yokoi. Their product, the absurdly titled Donkey Kong, was a stunning success. Not long after Donkey Kong's release, Masafumi Miyamoto (who bears no relation to Shigeru) founded Squaresoft on the premise that it would be more efficient to have graphic designers, programmers, and professional writers work together on common projects. Considering all of the elements that comprise a game--the graphics, the design, the sound, and so on--division of labor was a sensible, inevitable step.
Publication and distribution
As video games grew in popularity, division of labor necessarily expanded beyond their development and into their wider production process. The earliest video games were created and distributed on mainframe computers. As personal computer games went commercial, hobbyist game developers formed a cottage industry, selling their games by mail order or personal delivery. Richard Garriott, creator of the Ultima series of games, briefly distributed Ultima's predecessor Akalabeth himself on floppy disks stored in Ziploc bags until a software company bought the rights to it and published it in 1980. Two years later, Silicon Valley entrepreneuer Trip Hawkins founded Electronic Arts, a company whose raison d'être was to publish rather than develop video games. The conception of the video game publisher established the dominant model of game production.
Hardware manufacturer > Game developer > Publisher > Distributor > Retail > Consumer
Much like the book business, small, independent developers who are not owned by or affiliated with a publisher generally need a separate publisher (for funding) or distributor, yet big companies perform all of these functions in-house. Publishers expand the user base for their games by releasing them in different regions and for different platforms. The former is done through localization, or publishing games abroad; the latter, through porting, or rewriting games to run on different systems. Both processes are problematic. In localizing games, publishers must not only translate them but also adhere to legal or cultural norms; in porting games, they must account for differences in system attributes and architecture. To alleviate the burden of localizing and porting games, publishers often outsource those tasks to smaller developers suited for the job. And to simplify both development and porting, PC games, and, to a smaller but growing extent, console games, are usually built around a central piece of software known as a game engine.
Recently, new market models have threatened to supplant the old one: namely, digital distribution, a term encompassing multiple business models. Retail services such as Direct2Drive and Download.com allow users to purchase and download large games online that would otherwise only be distributed on physical media, such as DVDs. Other services, such as GameTap, allow a subscription-based distribution model in which users pay a monthly fee to download and play as many games as they wish. In this way, the video game industry is on the verge of a fundamental restructure....(http://www.mcvuk.com/news/36665/Square-Enix-Consoles-set-for-extinction)
Video game manufacturers have sought to capture a wider market through not only simplified distribution, but also accessible design. Games like Guitar Hero and Wii Sports, designed to be unintimidating to the casual player or non-gamer, represent a recent industry-wide push to court untapped demographics. Such a lucrative market is bound to attract: The economic enticement of the video game industry has drawn some of the biggest companies in the world to join the fight in the so-called console wars. Often they are electronics companies (like Sony) or toymakers (like Bandai) or both (like Nintendo) since their R&D divisions are suited to video game hardware development.
Unlike other media players, video game hardware only runs proprietary software. A DVD can play on any DVD player, but a Nintendo game can only run on a Nintendo system. Nintendo could expand their user base by developing their games for other systems as well, but then consumers have less incentive to purchase a Nintendo system; hardware manufacturers recognize this dilemma and so insure--through internal game development or exclusivity deals with third-party publishers--that they have games available only for their system. The industry's manufacturers could collectively adopt a universal hardware standard and share the spoils, but the current market structure enables them to collect handsome royalties from game publishers. This is necessary because the video game industry has adopted the model of the razor business: Give away the razor to sell the blades. Sony will sell you a PlayStation 2 at a loss, in the hope that it will make a steep profit on the games.
Video games in public discourse
It is inevitable that video games, in their popularity, attract attention, especially their less-than-family-friendly aspects. "The first video games raised few cultural eyebrows--perhaps because so few people ever played them, or perhaps because their few pixels were so abstract that they left little emotional impact. But it wasn't long before this new form of entertainment raised suspicion. Video games entered into into [sic] America's culture wars in 1976; as we'll see below, Death Race--and its goal of running over tiny human-like figures--sounded the first alarm. For the following three decades, the concerns surrounding games have been remarkably consistent, with a few slight developments.
"Dmitri C. Williams has analyzed the representation of video games in major American news magazines. His results show that media discourse on video games is plagued with misconceptions and frequently vilifies the games themselves. These attacks have little to do with video games per se, Williams argues, but reflect basic conservative fears about new media, and even show the same historical progression of anxiety than [sic] other media before them have suffered: 'first were fears about negative displacement, then health, and then antisocial behaviors like aggression and violence.' He notes that 'at the same time as games were draving the ire of conservative society, they were also used as a means of reinforcing social norms and power relations. This was particularly evident for gender and age,' where women players and older players are ignored by the media, so that the picture they present is still tied to the negative image of the male antisocial teenager." (138)
understanding video games): "the history of media development shows an almost instinctive skepticism leveled at the new media of the era. It has been true of radio, true of movies and it has certainly been true of television..." (p. 132)
-Controversy/Cognitive/psychological/political effects of video games (could be included as cultural objects/phenom)/MMORPGs/cosplay (Death Race, Mortal Kombat, Doom, GTA III, GTA San Andreas (hot coffee mod), Manhunt -- alleged cause and effect relationship between murders and such; columbine and the boys playing doom; 'murder simulator' ), escapism; note that desensitization to violent images is one measured response--it may be why the military uses video games to train its fresh soldiers before they go to war.
The debate surrounds the influence of objectionable content on the social development of minors, with organisations such as the American Psychological Association concluding that video game violence increases childrens' aggression, a concern that prompted a further investigation by the Center for Disease Control in September 2006. Industry groups have responded by noting the responsibility of parents in governing their childrens' activities, while attempts in the United States to control the sale of objectionable games have generally been found unconstitutional. Video games, as they have risen in popularity, have come under criticism by parents groups, religious groups, politicians, and other groups for in-game depictions of crime, violence, drug use, sex, profanity and other activities and topics typically looked upon negatively in public perception. Some critics of video games declare that playing video games can negatively influence children's behavior and even influence children to commit crimes in mimicry of actions that they see in-game. Proponents of video games argue that this is not the case, and some say that video games are beneficial to child development. Some say that video games may play a large role in decreasing violence, through sublimation. Game addiction has become a major source of criticism for both PC games and console games alike, focusing on the potential for minors to be affected by violence and other objectionable content. Such criticism has prompted attempts to regulate the sale of certain video games to minors in various countries, although they have been unsuccessful in the United States. Video game addiction can have a negative influence on health and on social relations, and has lead to deaths as a result of extremely prolonged gameplay. The problem of addiction and its health risks seems to have grown with the recent rise of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs).
In his best-selling 2005 book, Everything Bad is Good For You, Stephen Johnson argues that the contemporary video game is good: Indeed, video games are not games in the sense of those pastimes—like Monopoly or gin rummy or chess—which most of us grew up with. They don’t have a set of unambiguous rules that have to be learned and then followed during the course of play. This is why many of us find modern video games baffling: we’re not used to being in a situation where we have to figure out what to do. We think we only have to learn how to press the buttons faster. But these games withhold critical information from the player. Players have to explore and sort through hypotheses in order to make sense of the game’s environment, which is why a modern video game can take forty hours to complete. Far from being engines of instant gratification, as they are often described, video games are actually, Johnson writes, “all about delayed gratification—sometimes so long delayed that you wonder if the gratification is ever going to show.” (http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/05/16/050516crbo_books)
"video games...continue to slide into the mainstream....[but] they are consistently considered to be: unsophisticated in their form; problematic in their content; the cause of health problems--from obesity to addiction; and inculcated in amorphous cultural fears--like the seemingly ever-present scourge of anti-social, aggressive teenagers." (134)
More genuine analyses of games are conducted in a small but growing field known as game studies. "Early studies of games were...often...part of a wider 'moral panic' about videogame and their alleged influences or 'effects', especially on children." (p. 3, Tomb Raiders and Space Invader) Even as academia has broadened to include, among other things, the study of comic books, game studies have been largely ignored. Only recently has it emerged as a discrete discipline. As such, "much of the current academic work relies on approaches and findings provided by and rooted in other academic fields." (p. 313, video game theory reader 2); Without formal definitions to reference, hobbyists framed the intricacies of video games in their own terms, awkward compound constructions like "real-time," "side-scrolling," and "gameplay." Their ubiquity has forced scholars to belatedly adopt the vocabulary for the nascent field of game studies.
game studies is also inherently a multidisciplinary field, so scholars approach games from widely different paradigms, usually their specialty: sociology, psychology, neurology, economics, ludology, gender studies, and so on.
"Many writings on video games, especially earlier ones, attempt to connect video games to other media, seeing elements shared between them....there are, of course, many formal properties, organizational strategies, and elements of other media that are found in some video games but which are not in any way essential to the medium. He points out that, "at the same time, however, the video game is unlike any media to come before it, being the first to combine real-time game play with a navigable, onscreen diegetic space; the first to feature avatars and player-controlled surrogates that could influence onscreen events; and the first to require hand-eye coordination skills (except for pinball, which was more limited and not as complicated). Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) are the first persistent (twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week) worlds, and the first instance of individualized mediated experiences within a mass audience (each player's experience is unique despite the large number of simultaneous participants). And, apart from computer programming out of which it grew, the video game was the first truly algorithmic medium.
Understanding video games:, p. 7: "As the computer has offered up its sublime powers--capable of the impartial processing of even the most complex of rules and simultaneous, dynamic presentation of sound and graphics--new game forms seem more akin to living, breathing worlds than to Backgammon or Poker."
the author (understanding video games, chp 6." adheres to Huizinga's perspective and suggests that video games should be seen as informing and reflecting culture...and not just as empty entertainment." (146) -- for example, spacewar! in 1962; Or, for example, the differences between Japanese-developed games and Western-developed games. INCLUDES Censorship...America's problem with nudity...Japan's acceptance of blackface..."...the Chinese government [banned] the game Hearts of Iron I and II for "distorting history and damaging China's sovereignty and territorial integrity," due to the game's depiction of Tibet as an independent state." (140) OR: Ultima Online, a sociological petri dish: "Ultima’s appeal is clearly that of an escapist fantasy, yet the most striking feature of the game’s brief history is its perversely recurrent social realism." For example, "The kingdom [of Britannia], which is stuck somewhere between the sixth and the twelfth centuries, has a single unit of currency, a gold piece that looks a little like a biscuit. A network of servers is supposed to keep track of all the gold, just as it keeps track of everything else on the island, but in late 1997 bands of counterfeiters found a bug that allowed them to reproduce gold pieces more or less at will. The fantastic wealth they produced for themselves was, of course, entirely imaginary, and yet it led, in textbook fashion, to hyperinflation. At the worst point in the crisis, Britannia’s monetary system virtually collapsed, and players all over the kingdom were reduced to bartering." (http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2001/05/28/010528fa_FACT)
Questions of the usefulness of formally studying games often lead to another: Are video games art? The question "is at once meaningless--since it merely depends on our definition of art--and of exceeding practical importance, as the answer has consequences for everything from the establishment (and relative importance) of academic departments, to the government's regulation of the video game industry (by for example censuring content through ratings), to the cultural obligations of that industry, that will conceivably develop in different ways if it is a part of the establishment or if it is denied legitimacy. " (134)"
"Many of us -- scholars and gamers alike -- have argued that games are underrated as an art form, and that games only lose out in comparison to other arts because the criteria are not suited for their particular qualities. Such arguments...tend to underline the arbitrariness of distinctions between art and non-art, and expose the unfairness of denying the status of art to a form of expression just because it provides entertainment and aspires to a mass market." (134)
Games are categorized as pop culture, not high culture. A game's components are undoubtedly art: Its graphics are art; its music is art. But the composite is not art. it may not be art, but there's art in it.
(understanding video games, p 132) "A strong visual (rather than written) basis usually does not help, for instance, as this hints that the medium may be one for the illiterate. In addition, relying on serial formats -- as opposed to self-contained finished "works" -- also clashes generally with classical Western perceptions of culturally worthwhile pursuits (or "art")....Another important factor is the perceived intentions of the producers. Media that are seen as primarily market-driven fare poorly in the quest for acceptance as good taste. Meanwhile, we believe that "art" is not (or not only) driven by such worldly motives."
The difference from film, books, etc.--it's not passive entertainment. Roger Ebert (and Salman Rushdie?) argued that games cannot be art *because* they're not passive.
Game studies are partly consumed by the question of whether video games are art.
It is precisely this contention that rankles many game enthusiasts, or gamers. Gamers have established a subculture that has been supported by and expanded through the Internet. There now exist thousands of online discussion forums dedicated to video games. Like members of many other subcultures, gamers have developed and use their own jargon, with an especial fondness for initializing the names of games, platforms, and genres. These forums almost always include a board for "off-topic discussion," or anything not directly related to video games.
Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft are inherently social endeavors because cooperation is necessary to progress. As Tom Chatfield writes in Prospect, "[the game] Eve Online involves players ganging together to build spaceships. One of the first of the largest class of such ships took a consortium of around 22 guilds—just under 4,000 players in total—eight months to complete, a task that involved complexities of training, materials, role allocation and management that would put many companies to shame."
- An exception to this rule is the survival horror genre. The term does entail certain gameplay features, but it is primarily concerned with aesthetics.
- Computer Space is often mistakenly referred to as the first commercial video game, but Galaxy Game preceded it by two months.
- The video game crash of 1983 is sometimes, although less frequently, referred to as the video game crash of 1984 because the effects were most apparent in the year following the crash.
- For a survey of different disciplines' application in and relation to the study of video games, see The Video Game Theory Reader 2.