Video Gaming and Video Gaming

Posted: January 19, 2010 by Broadpaw in Games and the Media, Uncategorized

While I envision people ignorant of the depth and diversity of video games enthusiastically expressing, “It’s about time,” when reacting to the headline from the Chicago Tribune’s “Local News” section (26 November 2009) covering one of Chicago’s western suburbs — “Lisle Bans Video Gaming” — it indicates to me that one part of the problem for those weary of the (stale) argument that video games will be the death of our future (current?) generation has to do merely with language, with word choice: “video gaming” in that headline actually means gambling.  When “gaming” is coupled with “commission,” I think there no misunderstanding.  Coupling the term with “video,” however, can lead to some confusion.  The article mentions Illinois’s “Video Gaming Act” which “provides local governments the option of passing an ordinance prohibiting video gaming within the corporate limits of the municipality” (3).  It is not until the last two lines of the article (which is admittedly short, I’d be remiss if I did not point out) that gambling is actually mentioned.  Before that, it’s always “video gaming.” Troublesome.  The article represents a contemporary reminder that, while now rather inaccurate, there is a (perhaps unfortunate) link between “gaming” as video game studies folks know it and “gambling,” evoking the “pay-out” machines of the 1930s [which, as Steven L. Kent reports in The Ultimate History of Video Games, “combined pinball and gambling” (5)].  That history still rears its ugly head every now and again it seems; and I suppose that makes it not quite history just yet.

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  1. Twitchdoctor says:

    I keep forgetting about that earlier history of gaming, so thanks for the reminder. That historical legacy also seems to make it easier for people’s minds to equate videogaming with things like addiction and a general moral (not to mention physical) dissipation. However it is not entirely an ugly history, perhaps just a more convoluted one? The primary site for what grew into modern videogaming was, after all, the arcade, which itself has a long, turbulent, fascinating history going back in a recognizably similar form to the nineteenth-century, and then before that spreading out into the world of the fairground, the circus, and the carnival. Gambling was often explicitly part of the arcade; or the arcade might be a necessary adjunct to gambling (think about the history of the boardwalk at Atlantic City, for example). You can still see that earlier arcade history shaping the way the public and gamers themselves approach games today. In the arcade, early videogames took their place besides other “games of skill” that were, of course, usually rigged. Gamers’ readiness to believe that particular games “don’t play fair” isn’t just due to the limited imaginations and programming abilities of the development team, its part of a larger historical and cultural expectation that “games” (in both the videogaming and gambling varieties) are rigged. But I think the gambling influence is still very evident in the way that many players approach games: they “play the stats” (calculating every possible damage increase for a weapon or absorption point for a piece of armor (EVE is exemplary in this regard because your ability to win can often come down to a very tiny percentage difference in a stat between you and an enemy) with all the enthusiasm and maniacal dedication of gamblers trying to figure out ho to beat the house.

    The point about the influence and language is a good one when taken more generally. For example, I’ve struggled to figure out what to call the more inclusive category of games. Computer games is too specific, videogaming seems more open but in many quarters applies only to consoles, digital games looks promising but excludes many ancestors of today’s games (Pong, pinball, etc.). So for the moment I’ve settled on the not-not-very-satisfactory-but-better-than-nothing “electronic games.”

    • Broadpaw says:

      A convoluted history — precisely. I appreciate that: convoluted is much better than ugly, especially as contemporary games (even of the non-gambling varieties) can be extremely addictive, and not always in an ugly way (nor is gambling, I should mention, always “ugly,” lest I make the same mistake that I criticized others making in my previous post). The association (between gaming and gaming, if you follow me) has only become “ugly,” as it is too often inaccurate or discussed uncritically (hence, convoluted). Spot on.

      As for more inclusive game categories and language to describe them, “Electronic games” certainly does the job. As you clearly indicate, the inclusiveness is helpful, especially as it includes contemporary games’ ancestors, while simultaneously accommodating handhelds and their predecessors — games such as Simon of the late 1970s. Still excluded are pinball games of the non-electronic varieties, but so be it. “Digital games” is more exclusive (a “problem” that you mention), even while it’s a term that I have used often; but the phrase now strikes me as having (perhaps) undesired connotations (when we think, anyway, of the digits at the end of our hands, and the stimulation they’re capable of producing. The phrase “digital games” has elicited chuckles from my students on occasion; when I inquired, one students mentioned that it was a phrase published widely in newspapers for a time about a series of incidents involving a teacher, students, and a horrible scandal at a high school . . .). So, where does that leave us? “Ludological Objects and Activities?”

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