And you thought you played games to have fun — Steven Poole has a lengthy essay trying to prove you wrong. We’re working — working for the (video game) man, man. I must confess that even if we’re on a literal or figurative rat race when it comes to ‘working’ in games (I am, after all, a passionate fan of the Harvest Moon series, which is unabashedly obvious about the necessity of work), I still find much of it fun. Still, despite the wet blanket overtones, Poole’s essay is thoughtful and makes some interesting point. Is it really just about following orders?:
The characters we call “bosses” in videogames are the large monsters we have to defeat at the end of a level, but everywhere there are more insidious types of bosses, who better resemble micromanaging employers. The videogame designer often exerts his authority through a non-playable character, an ostensibly loveable sidekick who will bombard the player with increasingly heavy hints about what has to be done next. It’s not a suggestion; it is an order. We have all had the experience of arriving in an new area in a role-playing game, only to be greeted by a character who refuses to help us in our quest until we have collected the five pieces of her arbitrary amulet. Everywhere you go, you are told what to do.
Of course a comprehensible goal-oriented structure is a useful thing, to stop a videogame becoming a sprawling mess of undermotivated wandering and backtracking. But while the just-following-orders structure works acceptably in military-themed games such as Splinter Cell, which after all do pretend to be more or less “realistic” representations of the job of a counter-terrorist or special forces agent, where a commander delivers objectives and the soldier finds ways to implement them, the idea seems more rebarbative the further one strays from quasi-simulation into pure fantasy.
Certainly there are games that replicate ‘the mechanized work process’ (they don’t call it ‘grinding’ for nothing), but it seems to me that the key is whether or not it feels like work. And, unlike real-life work, if I get tired of the daily (game) grind, I can switch of the console or click ‘close window.’
Working for the Man: Against the Employment Paradigm in Videogames [Steven Poole via GameSetWatch]