A “Capitalistic Bird” I Say

I guess most people can say that they’ve heard of the old saying on how art can imitate life, correct? Well the same can be said for books, films and video games since they’re all forms of art in the end. Or at least that’s definitely the vibe I got from these readings: for an introduction into the world of gaming itself, it’s somewhat surprising to start it off with talks of the economy, political satire and a lot of things that I personally don’t think much about on the rare occasions I play a video game.

The first reading, by Nick Dyer-Whitheford and Greig de Peuter, is exactly that: they use two very different games that seemingly imitate different aspects of life. The first game, “Second Life”, is very much an online virtual world where your Avatar just goes about and lives out a normal life (something like Sims if you will). Here, actual currency can be used to buy gaming currency, which allows the player to buy a house, a car, etc. As the reading mentions, this game is very much about having the players be “…class-divided, property-owning, commodity-exchanging, currency-trading, net- working, energy-consuming subjects of a comprehensively capitalist order1, all of which is based on those who’re willing to spend the extra money on game content, and those who’re simply content on playing the game with limited expenses (if none whatsoever). In a way, this reminds of gaming downloadable content (or DLC), where players are rewarded with more content if they’re wiling to pay (personally, I’d prefer the games to be released as a whole, and not get 80% of the game released when it comes out, bit I digress).

The second game, “America’s Army”, is a first person shooter, which apparently is being used by the U.S. Army as a means of gaining interest from American citizens to join the army: to give them somewhat of a firsthand experience. Again, this is where the whole “art imitates life” coms into play: I understand how “America’s Army” could be intriguing to some, giving them an experience over something that is dangerously unknown (not to mention being safer than going into the army itself), but why would “Second Life” be so mesmerizing for some?

It’s life, just sped up: granted you can’t really own and fly a spaceship in real life, but still a game that demands your money in return for the satisfaction of owning something virtual…seems odd. And the fact that we live in a world that’s currently trying to have us all be equal, it’s funny to think that this game promotes the idea of owning more than others: I guess some it would be just to play a game at its fullest, but for others I’m certain it’d be more bragging rights. And how does that make others feel to see players get more out of a game than others? I guess in that sense, it does make sense to talk about capitalism, as both games are basically meant to draw you in some way or another. And the subjects are representations of real-life concerns. But it’s still such a weird start.

And personally, it’s odd to try and relate both games, we’ve had to play for this week, to any of these readings. What do “Flappy Bird” and “To Build a Better Mouse Trap” have to do with politics or the economy? The only thing I can get is the reading by Mattie Brice, which specifically talks about “Flappy Bird” and how it was quickly hated for being impossible, only to then become extremely popular after it was removed. And suddenly everybody was trying to gain off that game’s success by creating his or her own versions of the same game. Now that I can understand: companies following popular trends to make a quick buck isn’t anything new, as we’ve seen that happen to genres that become popular for a while (be it with other games like “Grand Theft Auto” or “Elder Scrolls”, or even books and movies like “Lord of the Rings” or the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”). And when a trend is being followed, as Brice points out, we get clones, less-impressive rip-offs, etc. We even see direct “theft” if you will from “Flappy Bird”: “A quick google image search of Jonathan Blow’s Braid can not only reveal that the indie darling also uses green pipes, but also uses analogues, very obvious references, to Mario’s enemies, mechanics, and story line.2 But other than that, it’s somewhat difficult to make connections to these readings.

Nevertheless they’re interesting reads and the games were just as interesting (interesting but not all fun). I will say that while I may not have gotten far in “Flappy Bird” (highest score being 4), I still had fun going back to try and try again. “To Build a Better Mouse Trap” on the other hand…was confusing and not that very fun, and I ended up giving up on it after a while. I guess that could go back to economical aspects, on how games are produced in factories, where all the workers are kind of like drones (much like how the reading discusses how young Chinese children “…leave villages to work in effectively indentured compounds run by Japanese, Taiwanese, and U.S. businesses in the south to build computers used for games3). Or how much of said products built by Chinese people end up coming back to their landfills when our past games become modern trash (I did love how Toby Miller’s reading mentioned subjects that were actually familiar to me: “We all recall that millions of cartridges of Atari’s game adaptation of E.T. The Extraterrestrial were buried in a New Mexico landfill, broken up by a heavy roller, and covered in concrete to consign them to history. Today, Sony’s PlayStation consoles are illegal in many countries (not the United States) because of the deadly levels of cadmium contained in their cables”4. But otherwise, the connections between readings and games are a bit too vague here.

1 Nick Dyer-Witheford, Greig de Peuter. “Games of Empire”, Electronics Mediation, Volume 29, Minnesota, 2009

2 Brice, Mattie. “Our Flappy Dystopia”, Alternate Ending, 2014

3, 4 Miller, Toby. “Gaming for Beginners”, Games & Culture, Volume 1, Sage Publications, California, 2006

 

 

William Forward

 

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A “Capitalistic Bird” I Say

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