Monday, June 7, 2010

"When games invade real life"

I've been trying to find events and conferences that are relevant to my topic. It's been hard to find exactly what I'm looking for but I found something relevant on TED : a talk from a conference called "When games invade real life" by Jesse Schell. The talk is mainly from a video game designer's perspective. Some of the things Schell discusses support the ideas I've been working on. Games that that connect with reality have been  highly successful in recent months compared to those of a more traditional style of gaming. One example is the surprisingly overwhelming success of the Wii platform, with "Wii Fit" in particular, which involves real physical activity. Also Facebook-based games have been incredibly lucrative. There are more Farmville users now than Twitter accounts. Games like this integrate one's real-life friends into the gameplay. They also can involve using real-life money to pay for digital products or to get digital "points". The philosophy of gaming is spilling over into real life experiences: Fantasy Football, which depends on real-life sports gameplay; and geocaching, a GPS-based treasure hunt with a physical "treasure box". The idea of accruing "points" for accomplishing specific objectives has also spilled over into marketing in many ways. Schell predicts a future where this concept

The talk also stressed that marketing "authenticity" is the most successful strategy in selling all kinds of products.
The talk mentioned Avatar, which I have previously discussed, and how it, being the most successful movie ever, focuses on the question of technology and how it can effect reality, or facilitate a "real" experience. 

What does all this evidence suggest? That it's becoming less true that people turn to the digital as a form of escapism, as the traditional view of video gaming has held. Maybe it's worth exploring how fantasy in literature need not be about escapism either. Much of magical realism, as utilized by Borges, supports this. Fantasy elements (or digital elements, in our experience) are just a part of daily life. I just had a thought: Maybe this attitude accounts for the popularity of the fantasy literature that is most successful today: "Harry Potter" and "Twilight". Unlike traditional fantasy, these stories occur in modern day settings that are connected with the real world and reflect modern issues. Is this a new development in popular culture that has been facilitated partly by modern digital culture? Or is the not-so-escapist (not to say these books are entirely un-escapist) approach something that has traditionally been successful in mainstream culture?


  1. Chris! Really great blog post!!!

    I just commented on Heather's blog and want to comment in a similar way on your comment that "The philosophy of gaming is spilling over into real life experiences" particularly pushing the idea that video games are used as a form to create an new identity in real life, instead of the "real life" creating a new identity online.

    My example: Columbine high school massacre. The families are suing some video game companies, claiming they are responsible for making the boys into killers.

    What will happen if Wii comes out with their planned "Resident Evil" games ( and people start not just thinking and using a remote control to kill someone, but they have the chain saw and actually go through the motions (the thought truly sickens me!)?

    We suddenly have a world where our physical bodies act out what our avatars do and we really do see a world where the philosophy of gaming is spilling over into real life experiences. Perhaps we don't need to escape any more because the digital world and "real" world become one and the same, with the digital world even dictating what we do in our real world! Scary thought!

  2. I'm glad that Becca posted qualifying examples of games in real life, because what I'm offering is more the flip side of the coin. There is an article by Henry Jenkins (who Dr. Burton has referred to a few times) about new media literacy, in which he talks about the importance of "play" in modern educational settings, as well as "simulation." He uses a lot of examples of kids using video games to learn in the classroom setting, amongst other new media stuff.

    Here is the link:

    and you might look specifically at p. 10, where Jenkins explains that many kids these days have a "second life" through new media/video games that offer them ways to connect with the world that they might otherwise feel disconnected from.

    Also, p. 15, where Jenkins says that "Games such as SimLife teach players to think in an active way about complex phenomena
    (some of them ‘real life,’ some of them not) as dynamic, evolving systems. But they also
    encourage people to get used to manipulating a system whose core assumptions they do
    not see and which may or may not be ‘true’

    Finally, p 23 refers to a game designer who talks about how "In some sense, a game is nothing but a set of problems.We’re actually selling people problems
    for 40 bucks a pop....And the more interesting games in my opinion are the ones that
    have a larger solution space. In other words, there’s not one specific way to solve a puzzle,
    but, in fact, there’s an infinite range of solutions. ....The game world becomes an external
    artifact of their internal representation of the problem space."

    p. 25 talks about simulation.