Are video games the superior form of media?

We’ve all heard it from concerned parents and other authority figures: video games will rot your brain, incubate and/or encourage violent tendencies, and transform today’s youth into mindless couch potatoes. To truly cultivate the mind, we must devote our leisure time to reading literature, viewing critically acclaimed films, and visiting art galleries. But what exactly is our level of participation or interaction with these mediums? What body parts do we engage when we consume art, film, literature, and photographs versus video games?

In the opening chapter to Gaming: Essays of Algorithmic Culture, Alexander Galloway describes an upheaval in how we approach mass culture. There has been a shift from what used to be “primarily the domain of eyes and looking” to “that of muscles and doing, thumbs” (3). When we read a book or watch a movie, the act of consumption is simply that single act of reading/watching a physical object. However, when we play a video game, it is both us (the operators) and the video game itself (the machine) that are acting, usually simultaneously. Video games, Galloway asserts, are actions. They exist only when enacted (2).

Galloway further refines this declaration, describing four distinct types of gamic action: diegetic machine act (machine is on but operator is away, an ambient game state), nondiegetic operator act (acts of configuration, such as pushing pause), diegetic operator act (move acts and expressive acts of the operator inside the game world), and nondiegetic machine act (actions performed by the machine that are integral to the game but are not contained by the actual game “world”, such as “game over,” power-ups, etc.).

Do you think Galloway is making a value statement about video games as a medium? Is he simply objectively describing and classifying a new medium, or is he asserting some kind of superiority of video games over traditional mass culture? Does his classification of video games as an action (versus a physical, static object) imply a degree of separation from older forms of media?

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3 Responses to Are video games the superior form of media?

  1. Graham Piro says:

    Liz makes an interesting contrast between supposed “high culture” and video games, which are considered more debased and simplistic forms of media. But I think she makes an interesting point about the level of involvement an individual has with a work of art. Yes, we can stand and observe a painting or read a book. But video games offer deeper levels of involvement for the individual. I do think that the answer to the second question she asks, concerning the separation from older forms of media, is that Galloway does suggest that such a separation does exist. This does not necessarily make them a superior form of media, but it certainly does make the video game unique.

  2. Boya Lee says:

    I agree with Galloway that there is a significant difference between video games and other forms of media, namely that the audience is a participant in the form, but I do not think that he is putting video games on a pedestal. He would agree with me in saying that while video games do bring a wholly different experience to the table, this does not mean that they are in any way superior to other media forms. While one could point to the interactivity of video games as proof of superiority, it alone cannot gauge the quality of a media form. Other forms of media are undoubtedly better for certain purposes, such as reading the newspaper for information and listening to the radio in the car while driving. Video games cannot replicate these experiences (at least not yet), and their interactivity is actually detrimental in such scenarios.

    • Elizabeth Malatesta says:

      You raise an interesting point! I had not considered the purposes of different forms of media. I wonder if Galloway would argue that video games have a purpose – does music or art have a purpose either? It is easy to think of the purpose of newspapers, documentaries, and informational podcasts. But what about action films, romance novels, or modern art? Can different forms of media be “ranked” at all? By what metric should we evaluate them, if we can evaluate them at all?

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