On Context and Realism

In Alexander Galloway’s “Social Realism in Gaming,” Galloway claims that “it is because games are an active medium that realism in gaming rewires a special congruence between the social reality depicted in the game and the social reality known and lived by the gamer… if one is a realist game designer, the challenge is not only to capture the social realities of the downtrodden classes but also to inject the game back into the social milieu of available gamers where it rings true.”

Galloway’s article highlights the most unique feature of the game medium: namely, action, or the “problematic of correspondences.” Action serves as the primary axle around which the game spins, and players develop a special relationship with the medium that inherently involves their own active decisions. As such, Galloway argues, realism in the game faces different demands from other mediums such as film. Whereas the film merely has to portray reality realistically, the game must consider the social context of the gamer and provide a relevant reflection of his or her corresponding world.

While I understood the need for such an emphasis on context in the game medium, I also found it to be somewhat limiting. Galloway makes realism relative to the individual when he says that “a typical American youth playing Special Force is most likely not experiencing realism, where as realism is indeed possible for a young Palestinian gamer.” In film, it seems that the only reality of importance is that of the filmmaker; however, it appears that a game can only be defined as realist if it reflects on the direct social atmosphere of the gamer. My first problem with this is that context is not always social. Some realities are universal, and Galloway seems to dismiss the nuanced commentaries on widely shared experiences felt by groups that transcend social barriers. Moreover, Galloway seems to imply that realism is relative to the confines of the gamer’s social context, and that if it fails to fit the mold of this context, then it ceases to be realist. However, a reality removed from the world of the gamer can still maintain its realism; in fact, experiencing what may not feel real to one person may disorient him initially, but also expands his conception of reality to a broader scope not before considered. Maybe, then, an American youth playing Special Force is not experiencing realism in his direct cultural context, but may be experiencing another kind of realism that is universally relatable; and, if not, he can at least vicariously experience what is real to a young Palestinian across the world. If that does not suit Galloway’s definition of realism, it is nevertheless a valuable experience from which he can expand his view of the world.

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