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Social Realism in Gaming (09 Dec 2004)
To find social realism in gaming one must follow the tell-tail traits of social critique and through them uncover the beginnings of a realist gaming aesthetic. To be sure, there is not a realist game yet like Bicycle Thief is to film, or Flaubert is to literature or Courbet is to painting. But there are games that begin to approximate the core aesthetic values of realism, and I will describe a few of them here. (Protorealism, not realism, might be a better title for these games.)

Forty years of electronic games have come and gone and only now does one see the emergence of social realism. State of Emergency (Figure 1), the riot game from Rockstar Games, has some of these protorealist qualities. The game co-opts the spirit of violent social upheaval, seen in events like the Rodney King rebellion in Los Angeles, California and transposes it into a participatory gaming environment. The game is rife with absurdities and excesses and in no way accurately depicts the brutal realities of urban violence. So in that sense it fails miserably at realism something like a NARC for the new millennium. But it also retains a realist core. While the game is more or less realistically rendered, its connection to realism is seen primarily in the representation of marginalized communities (disenfranchised youth, hackers, ethnic minorities and so on), but also in the narrative itself, a fantasy of unbridled, orgiastic anti-corporate rebellion. The game slices easily through the apathy found in much mass media today, instructing players to "smash the corporation" and then giving them the weapons to do so.
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