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Fear of the games

by Loan Verneau

Games have always been present in our society, and in most mammal's social groups, for "younglings" to practice and experiment with real life subject in a safe environment called the game's magic circle. Within this circle, or space, it is common understanding that nothing will transpire into the "real" world. That is why it is not an issue to hunt down your best friend in Hide & Seek, or to crush your opponent in a game of Chess. Because, as is commonly said, it is just a game, you don't need to be afraid of the consequences for as long as you play along and follow the rules.

This setting as a learning tool has given to games a connotation of childish in western modern society, as adults were considered above the need the learn the very social basics communicated by most games of the time. Only Chess, and a few other revered intellectually challenging games were socially accepted as worth an adult's time. They quickly acquired a different status, a status of Intellectual sport, officially obtained by Chess in more recent years.

As presented in an unofficial theory by Joe Garlington, of Disney Imagineering, narration and play are two base component of human society from the earlier ages. In a society filled with narrative contents, including television, cinema and literature, and where games were considered either childish or intellectually challenging, it was inevitable that the huge gap created would be quickly filled. The arrival of video games, or arcades, was timed perfectly to play that role. Teenagers could challenge their skill, reflexes and even fake martial abilities by playing video games. The clip is a perfect example, with agility and nimbleness of play very well represented during close up of the fast hand movements on the arcade's buttons.

While these new games filled a gap in the social construct, they triggered very emotional reactions from more narrative medias like cinema and television, who considered it as a potential rival, as well as from western conservatism. While child's games violence and cruelty is viewed with acceptance, these same elements in arcades was seen with fear. The magic circle that protects the player from outside consequence from the game's actions was interpreted as an immersive corrupting influence that would isolate him and in the end "take him" away. In the film, the teenager hero is even absorbed by the game, eaten by the evil influence behind the screen. Many scenes portray the craziness and frenzy of play, including close up of his face sweating as he beats the final level. By definition, this fear of loss into the magic circle is based on the assumption it follows the player into the real world, as do the fictional adversaries in the clip.

Of corse, the main argument against arcades was the technology, very well represented by the at the time highly fashionable vectorized graphism. Fear of technology, of computers and of artificial intelligence is a common subject in narration of the second half of the twentieth century. But I would conclude that the clip focuses mostly on the game elements, presenting a western lack of understanding that games did not need to be childish or intellectually challenging, and that they could exist as entertainment like any other narrative media.

Nightmares "Bishop of Battle"

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The Bishop of Battle breaks out of the video game before the fabled thirteenth level.

from Nightmares (1983)
Creator: Joseph Sargent
Posted by Survey of Interactive Media