The Aging of Gaming

Written by Tasley a fellow gamer, and Doone – Edited by Doone

Is there an analog for gaming history to human history? I’m tempted to start looking for a neolithic revolution of video gaming, but somehow that seems wrong. Maybe I should just reach for the dusty tomes on the days when universities owned all the games.

We can all read the Wikipedia page on gaming history and/or catch up on the well written video series by The Gaming Historian over at Retroware TV, so we can skip over detailed accountings of each event significant to gaming in this article.

So let’s assume you clicked those links above and got at least a cursory reading of where video games come from. Actually, you’re a real gamer right? So you should just magically know this already. Except gaming today is played by people who always had them around. It’s like growing up when TV was already invented and well established and seeing it as an archaic device which can’t even keep up with your new smartphone. That’s what gaming is for most gamers these days. And that there shows us just how old gaming is …and also how different it is from how it used to be.

There was a time when video gaming was a very niche, white, male, and middle class thing. No one owned computers so the first gamers were playing games at work! HA! Imagine that today …how many meetings have you been in, silently ducking into a corner of the table while tapping away furiously at a game on your phone? It seems not much has changed in that regard.

What’s different now, though, is accessibility. Games are EVERYWHERE. It’s scary. It’s like everything is being turned into a running joke via video games. It’s like …peak hedonism, if we may. Gamification is teaching us that we ought not take anything seriously. In order to do that we consume games on every topic imaginable with a strong emphasis on violence. This isn’t a debate on how games create murderers, but it’s important to point out the ways in which companies use gamification these days to sell us things we’d ordinarily find repulsive. It’s like, if they just make a game out of a serious topic it’s some how less serious, something we can be cool about and regard as No Big Deal. Happens all the time? Prevalent on every corner? Hey, it’s like games are trying to send the message that if you just “level up” in your life you’ll overcome and things will be better and you’ll win recognition as one who has triumphed over the evils of the world. Or something like that.

It’s not clear why we need to gamify homelessness. Not sure at all why we gamify rape. What in the world are we trying to achieve by gamifying war? And what are games supposed to be doing anyway? There was a time when our fascination with games was their ability to work up our imaginations make our brain cells sizzle with delight as we solved strategic problems. Now games hold importance as devices to teach us things without having to actually experience them. However, the lesson is more potent when there’s a realistic chance that the thing we’re doing in the game can actually happen to us. In this sense, games broaden our imaginations about the possibilities, while also being able to show us the horrors of actions we might previously believed to be benign. Still, that depends on developers actually getting consequences right and being brave enough to show us the various ways in which those things harm others. In the cases of poverty and violence, it means less focus on glory and more on the realities of how and why these things happen.

If we look at gaming for what it is we’ll see it’s just really elegant and fascinating equation design. Games are translating the rhythms of our daily life into algorithms, mathematical expressions of how things work, how they happen, and how we can mechanize our daily activities. Just think about that for a second: Games are basically well designed loops which predict and encourage human behavior in order to actualize the game. You can’t play Super Mario without jumping, thumping gumbas, and banging your head on boxes. But why would someone feel compelled to keep doing that? There’s an equation for that. What about the more complex games like Baldur’s Gate? It’s like swordsmanship can be refined down into simple arithmetic. Having strength gives you the power to carry and swing a sword while some dexterity increases your skill at manipulating it. How hard you hit that monster relies on a simple formula that calculates just how much force is required by a character of your skill to lop his head off in one stroke. Just an equation.

Of course this is a simplification. There’s way more calculus and trigonometry and logic involved in programing our most complex games. The ones with the AI that’s spookily responsive, like say an old favorite, Dragon Age. The computer knows you’re there and there’s a lot of thought that goes into making the computer recognize human activity …AND RESPOND TO IT! Math, math everywhere.

So gaming is essentially a history of how developers are getting better at mapping out human interaction through equations. Who says math is useless?

As gaming ages, it becomes easier to see it for what it is: algorithms for human behavior, experience generators. Games are one of the most important developments on the road t human progress. For the first time, we can learn about the consequences of our actions without killing living things. That is, of course, the other edge of the sword: consequences are important to training our morals. As we age with our newfound technology, we will have to be conscious of developing ways of maintaining our humanity and reverence for life.