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Loading the Dice: The Challenge of Serious Videogames (09 Dec 2004)
Increased academic attention to games has led to discussion of the potential of the videogame as a new medium for critical creative expression. Interestingly, it appears that much of the debate surrounding the possible evolution of videogames is founded upon the notion that they might offer the type of “serious” content/experience that is contained within traditional narrative forms such as books or film. In suggesting that videogames are as valid a communicative medium as film, designer Ralph Koster would appear to share the views of media theorist Henry Jenkins (2003) and others (Kennedy, 2003, Kreimeier, 2000, Squire, 2001b) who have suggested that the cultural significance of the game medium is far from clear. Certainly, videogames seem able to represent extremely “serious” subject matter, serious enough to merit a disproportionate amount of “hypodermic” research into the effects of violent representations within games (Ivory, 2001). However, inasmuch as videogames deal with issues of power, violence, mystery, deceit and death, they have, apparently, been unable to convey the emotional depth with which we might associate such topics in other media forms. If the current state of videogames is compared to a highly charged action film, a murder mystery, a fantasy epic or even an informative documentary (if we take the case of SimCity (1989) then where are the significant works of social critique such as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men or Orwell’s 1984? While it has been claimed that this seemingly unfulfilled potential is largely due to the relative infancy of the medium (Koster, 1999, Costikyan, 1998, Squire, 2001a) , some game researchers have suggested that there are fundamental differences between the structure of games and other media which might prohibit the medium from dealing with sophisticated human issues (Juul, 2001, Frasca, 2000). Where to some critics any potential within videogames beyond established genres is merely “a romantic vision” (Egenfeldt-Nielsen in Smith, 2003)as Koster suggests “the fact that most games are merely entertainment does not mean that this is all they are deemed to be. (Koster, 1999). If videogames offer a new medium with unique structural traits that delineate them from other interactive and non-interactive media, where are we to turn for insight into how these structures might be able to effectively engage players in more significant issues?
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