Since their birth as a science-fair curiosity at Brookhaven National Laboratory in the late 1950s, video games have moved inexorably towards higher and more central cultural ground, much like film did in the first half of the 20th century.
Games were confined at first to the lowbrow carnival of the arcade, but they soon spread to the middlebrow sphere of the living room, overran this private space, and burst out and upwards into the public spheres of art and academia. With prestigious universities like NYU and USC now offering graduate-level programs in game design, and major museums like MoMA, MAD, and SF MoMA beginning to acquire games and curate game exhibitions, preserving the early history of the medium appears more important than ever. But what exactly does it mean to preserve a digital game?
The answer is surprisingly simple: It means, first and foremost, preserving a record of how it was played and what it meant to its player community. Ensuring continued access to a playable version of the game through maintenance of the original hardware or emulation is less important—if it matters at all.
That, at least, was the provocative argument Henry Lowood made at Pressing Restart, which recently brought preservationists, teachers, academics, and curators together at the NYU Poly MAGNET center for a day of “community discussions on video game preservation.” Lowood is no contrarian whippersnapper; as a curator at the Stanford Libraries, he has been professionally involved in game preservation efforts for well over a decade. Continue reading “History and video games”
Movies and books have long been used to advocate for causes, such as climate change or breast cancer. As video games become more mainstream, advocates are beginning to see how this art form can be a new way to reach out and get people engaged in a cause.
Take Half the Sky, a book about the struggles of women and girls in the developing world. Teacher and mom
Suzy Kosh read it in her book group. When she heard there was a Facebook game based on it, she checked it out, and her 6-year-old son noticed.
“He got on my lap, and I started explaining it to him, and then he was so intrigued that we kept playing,” she says. “You were going and helping people and saving people, and he was really interested in doing that.”
The game puts the player in the shoes of Radhika, a poor woman in India who lives on a farm. As Kosh plays with Dylan on her lap, Radhika’s goat gives birth.
“Remember what happens when they have a baby?” Kosh asks Dylan. “How does that help everybody in the community?”
In 1999 Jackson Katz headlined a documentary that powerfully revealed the mask of masculinity, a pretense of stoicism and readiness for violence that many men feel compelled to put on, at least part of the time, reports Sociological Images today: “The film, Tough Guise: Violence, Manhood, and American Culture, became a staple in classes on gender across the country.
“Today marks the release of Tough Guise 2 and SocImages was given the honor of debuting an exclusive clip from the new film. In the segment below, Katz explains that men aren’t naturally violent but, instead, often learn how to be so. Focusing on socialization, however, threatens to make invisible the socialization agents. In other words, Katz argues, men don’t just learn to be more violent than they otherwise would be, they are actively taught.
“He begins with the fact that the video game and film industries both take money from companies that make firearms to feature their products. The U.S. military then uses the video game Call of Duty for recruitment and training. It’s no use arguing whether the media, the military, or the gun industry are responsible for rates of violence, he observes, since they’re in cahoots. These extreme examples intersect with the everyday, mundane lessons about the importance of being “real men” that boys and men receive from the media and their peers, parents, coaches, and more.
“This update of the original will tell the compelling story about manhood and violence to a new generation and remind older ones of the ongoing crisis of masculinity in America.”
Playing certain types of video games can boost a person’s flexible thinking skills, according to a new study.
The findings could lead to new treatments for people with brain injuries or conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the researchers suggest, as reported today in WebMD.
“Previous research has demonstrated that action video games . . . can speed up decision making, but the current work finds that real-time strategy games can promote our ability to think on the fly and learn from past mistakes,” said Dr. Brian Glass, of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences at Queen Mary University of London.
“For the study, researchers looked at 72 women who typically played video games for less than two hours a week. The study authors couldn’t find any male gamers who spent so little time playing video games. Two-thirds of the participants played either basic or more complex versions of a real-time strategy game called “StarCraft,” a fast-paced game where players have to create and organize armies to battle an enemy. One-third of the participants played a life simulation game called “The Sims,” which does not rely on using memory or tactical skills.
“The volunteers played the games for 40 hours over six to eight weeks and underwent tests of their “cognitive flexibility.” This refers to a person’s ability to adapt and switch between tasks, and think about multiple ideas at a given time to solve problems, the British researchers explained. Continue reading “Video games help the brain”
The world of video games has a long history of damsels in distress. It’s the go-to framework for endless heroic adventures where fabulous male heroes journey to save [insert female captured by villain here].
One of the earliest of these is the classic tale of a plucky, mustachioed plumber on a vertical, girder-climbing quest to save his lady Pauline from the barrel-throwing primate Donkey Kong, reports NPR today. ” It was the game that would set the stage for a long series of Mario adventures where his princess would continue to be captured and wind up “in another castle.” Continue reading “Revising video games to empower girls”
MOMA in New York as always saved a spot for design, and by extension, popular culture.Video games, as their name suggests, combine the ancient human practice of formal play with moving pictures, a younger form, reports today’s New York times. “But the unsatisfying name we are saddled with for this medium — itself approaching middle age, if you date its history to the first home console in 1972 and apply the rule that middle age begins when you are older than every current Major League Baseball player — doesn’t capture the essence of video games.
“The defining feature of video games is interaction, the three-way conversation among designer, machine and player. “Applied Design,” a new installation at the Museum of Modern Art — and an important one because it is the first time the museum has displayed the 14 video games it acquired in November — attempts to isolate this relationship. The games on view, from Pac-Man toCanabalt, are naked, without their packaging or other nostalgic trappings. There are no arcade cabinets on view, no outmoded consoles or computers to gawk at.
“Instead, each game is austerely contained on a screen set against a gray wall, with a joystick or other controller resting on a spare platform beneath it. The installation is “an experiment to isolate the experience of the interaction itself,” said Paola Antonelli, the senior curator of the museum’s department of architecture and design, comparing her decontextualized approach with Philip Johnson’s in his 1934 “Machine Art” exhibition at MoMA, which set things like propeller blades against white museum walls.
“This philosophy is markedly different from the one that motivated the Museum of the Moving Image’s “Spacewar!” show, which closed Sunday. That exhibition, which presented a more focused argument, refused to separate the interactive experience of playing a game from the object it first appeared in. An iPad game would be played on an iPad, and Space Invaders and its ilk were on view, and playable, in their original stand-up cabinets.
Until cooler heads prevail, for the time being we will be living through a war-of-positions on game violence. Despite the absence of empirical evidence linking media violence and real world “effects,” a moral panic atmosphere is rising throughout the U.S. But as this recent essay by Steve Benen points out, nations where people play plenty of violent video games don’t seem to share America’s predilection for mass shootings. Reproduced below is an except from Benen’s article as it appeared on maddowblog.
“Plenty of officials, including folks like Joe Lieberman, have been arguing for years that violent games desensitizes young people to violence and contributes to a larger corrosive effect on the culture.
This is terrible news for video game makers – but they brought it on themselves. Apparently, Electronic Arts and other developers of some of the most violent shooter games employ a form of product placement in which the “real” guns depicted can be found through links to gun manufacturers from within the games themselves.
“Among the video game giant’s marketing partners on the Web site were the McMillan Group, the maker of a high-powered sniper’s rifle, and Magpul, which sells high-capacity magazines and other accessories for assault-style weapons,” reports a front-page story in the Christmas Day edition of the New York Times Continue reading “Top games link to gun makers”
Here is the scenario: An invisible menacing force is trying to get you, everywhere you go. A malevolent secret organization wants to take over the world by sneaking into your mind. Walk too near the wrong trash can or tree, and it could zap your brain. And by the way, it already has possessed loads of the people around you, even your most trusted friends.
“The world around you is not what it seems,” the promotion for Google’s new Ingress phone game says, “It’s happening all around you. They aren’t coming. They are already here.”
Game news website CNETdescribes Ingress like this: “Ingress begins with a series of training missions designed to orient new players. Quickly it introduces you to its quirky lexicon. Around town you will find various “portals”; the point of Ingress (at least so far) is to control them. To control portals you have to “hack” them, which is akin to a check-in on Facebook or Foursquare. Hacking portals rewards you with various items, the most important of which are portal keys and resonators. Portal keys allow you to link portals together; resonators power them up and can protect them from being stolen from your rivals. Linking three portals together creates a “field,” which is more powerful than a portal, and is apparently essential for world domination.
“The game takes the form of a free mobile app, now available on the Google Play store for Androiddevices. It is the second product from Niantic Labs, a startup accelerator within Google. Niantic is run by John Hanke, the former head of product management for Google’s “Geo” division, which includes Maps, Earth and Local, among other divisions. Niantic’s first project was Field Trip, an Android app for discovering the world around you. Released in September, Field Trip sends notifications to a smartphone whenever a person passes an area of possible interest — a landmark, a park, a highly rated restaurant. In my use, it’s been a fun way of exploring new cities and unfamiliar neighborhoods.
Let’s not forget that the recent election was largely won on the strength of one cell phone and an obscure media outlet. While this hasn’t gotten much retrospective attention, the now-famous “47-percent” video probably would not have been made or widely circulated even a few years ago.
The recent ubiquity of camera-equipped mobile phones is changing political communication through a new popular documentary practice, primarily among young users. For some time it has been known that cell phones have enabled uprisings, flash mobs, and other forms of social activism, just as phones have also helped disaster communication and the containment of disease epidemics around the world.
And let’s not forget Mother Jones, a name unknown to most Americans till this year, which took the 47-percent video to the net and made it go viral. While hardly a tiny magazine, Mother Jones was reaching less than 100,000 readers in the 1990s until it launched an online format. Continue reading “Small is powerful”