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?