Tensions Run High

One might argue that the value in books lies in tension. Tension between characters, tension between themes, even tension between the written words and the message they deliver. I love books because of this tension; it evokes feeling and promotes thought on behalf of the reader.

I am not a “gamer”; Video games have never been my preferred medium of entertainment. But, Galloway’s essay made me think – perhaps gamers find value in video games because of the same tension which lends books their value to me. First of all, and most obviously, there lies a tension within the imaginary world of the game between the objective of the player and the obstacles in her way; In order to “win” the game, she must overcome a certain set of hurdles. Then there lies a tension between the narrative of the game and functions which, while still inside the game, lie slightly apart from its narrative (power-ups, HUDs, and so on). On the one hand, these serve as a reminder to the player that the game is not reality, but on the other hand they enhance the game, add depth and breadth to its world, making it, one could argue, more real. Finally, the world outside the game constantly struggles against the world inside the game. Galloway cites in his essay interruptions caused to the game because of loss of connection or hardware failure. In these instances, the player is yanked out of virtual reality and into, well, reality.

All these forces acting in opposition to one another, pulling the player in multiple directions, disallowing her from slipping into complacency: that is what I imagine makes video games worthwhile.

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3 Responses to Tensions Run High

  1. Jack Braumuller says:

    I agree with you, that video games are intriguing or “worthwhile,” and I think your analysis of the different levels of interaction between the player and the system is accurate. The storyline in a video game combined with its goal oriented systematic progression produces the “tension” or the intrigue from players.

    However, I think that there is more to the intrigue of video games than just this tension. As a long-time user of video game consoles, the true reason many people go back to the game is not for the novelty of using the remote and interacting with a storyline. People continue to play because it allows them to escape their reality for brief moments, similar to what occurs when reading a book. I think Boya’s blog post from this week lends itself to this idea.

  2. May Teng says:

    I think that any media form involves tension, simply due to the distinct separation between media and the reality that it reflects upon if nothing else. The video game, Galloway’s essay made me realize, does this especially well. So I think you’re right when you say that video games instigate a certain tension between the world of the game and the external world; Galloway makes that clear with his four part diagram (p. 17) that separate “operator // machine” and “digetic // non-digetic.” There exists tension within the interaction of these components of the video game that pull the operator into the world of the machine and intertwine the digetic and non-digetic. You’re definitely right when you point out the magical interaction between operator and machine, one that pulls the operator in as the sole actant while remaining a separate world of its own.

  3. James Vermylen says:

    I think you make an interesting point about tension in video games and I agree. Tension definitely lends itself to keeping players connected to the game, but like Jack I believe there is much more at work in making a video game truly addicting. I think another component to it is the control players have over the characters and the storyline. Some games grant more freedom than others and most follow at least a loose storyline, but players influence the game, too. I think that this ability to alter and decide when and how a story progresses is truly what keeps people playing the same game for months if not years.

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