Games in Recession

“I think that’s one reason why football is so popular again – it’s a game which the citizen can focus on, where the rules are defined. Unlike his life. The citizen is becoming a pawn in a game where nobody knows the rules, where everybody consequently doubts that there are rules at all, and where the vocabulary has been diminished to such an extent that nobody is even sure what the game is all about.”
— Andrew Eldritch
Why do we play games?
China Mieville (Fantasy and Revolution): The problem with escapism is that when you read or write a book society is in the chair with you. You can’t escape your history or your culture. So the idea that because fantasy books aren’t about the real world they therefore ‘escape’ is ridiculous. Fantasy is still written and read through the filters of social reality. Precisely because you read and write books with society in your head, the ‘escape’ that Tolkien and others aspire to is doomed to fail. In fact, it’s precisely those kind of escapist books that take the real world for granted which are most shackled to thinly veiled and highly ideological versions of that world. The problem with most genre fantasy is that it’s not nearly fantastic enough. It’s escapist, but it can’t escape.
Agree? Disagree?
Scott Barber, competitive wargamer: “I play to have fun. I do not play to escape from my life. I LOVE my life. Gaming is part of that life, not some separate pocket dimension full of freaks and mutants. You mutants exist and I love all of you as well. When I am playing I often forget about other stuff as I concentrate on the game. That may seem like escapism to some of you but to me it is simply paying attention to the task at hand. It must really suck for the escapists when they go back to their miserable lives. … For me it’s a game about fictitious elves, dragons, good guys, bad guys and other stuff that should not be shared with your boss. You play the game in the real world with and against your chosen opponent.”
the distaste for ‘fluff’ among competitive players of games > self-esteem > gaming as lifestyle choice. Rise of the hardcore player and the rules lawyer.
CASE STUDY – Warhammer
Origins as a ‘between work and the pub’ game (Priestly)
big boxes for kids in the early 90s
now plagued by argument, imprecision, disputes – and a move away from the surprisingly nuanced politics of the background world toward finding an excuse for everyone to be at war with each other ALL THE TIME and justify all-comers any-matchup play
move away from the gamesmaster towards players as definitive of their own experience
“…non-confrontational Eurogames with wooden blocks and the thinnest of themes pasted on afterwards such as being a carrot farmer in Amish Pennsylvania or a town planner in 17th century Lille or similar nonsense”
— Owen Cooper
> sense of overcoming obstacles/cheating the system > rewarding or evading player skill?
Can you play a game without confrontation?
Crawford’s eliminations
three conflicts
all of which as potential motives may be true and all of which fit (at least partly) into an economic model
Darko Suvin in Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (1979) says that SF is characterised by ‘cognitive estrangement’–it operates according to a rationalist/scientific mindset, but it involves estrangement from the here and now so that it can extrapolate creatively. Fantasy, in contrast, he used to argue was ‘a genre committed to the imposition of anti-cognitive laws into the empirical environment…a sub-literature of mystification.’
MARXISM AND MYSTIFICATION – Berger and the deflection of insight onto trivial things
“Mystification is the process of explaining away what might otherwise be evident.” – of obscuring the social processes in which work, art, games, people are embedded, with airy blather and buzzwords and mysticism. When a complex social reality is overwritten with a straightforward good/evil opposition, even if it is done in the cause of allegory, that is mystification.
“Fear of the present leads to mystification of the past. The past is not for living in: it is a well of conclusions from which we draw in order to act. Cultural mystification of the past entails a double loss. Works of art are made unnecessarily remote, and the past offers us fewer conclusions to complete in action.”
mystification is a policy of the powerful to prevent the powerless catching sight of the machinery of power and thus a legitimate route out of their powerlessness.
1970s post-hippy burnout running into Nixon Republicanism
manifest destiny
racism against orcs? cf. accusations levelled against Tolkien by Mieville, Moorcock and others
race/class/level taxonomy – the system quantifies your place in a society
original endgame – feudal land ownership
investment of time, money and effort creates the expectation of reward
games that feel like work – achievements, grind, unlockable content, daily quest – you KNOW what I’m talking about – WoW, EVE
social networks plus Diablo II, arguably the most addictive thing ever devised by man
Facebook games – straw poll, how many of those are fantasies of work and working? the less employed people feel, the more games they play?
WWII games, FPS games – power fantasy – forward or back to times when the conflict is clear, when there are enemies to vanquish, and you’re not trapped at the mercy of impersonal forces
high cost of games – retail therapy?
So what’s the solution?
Games that don’t mystify the past…

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