Friday, February 21, 2014

Awesome Attributes of Videogames

I'm taking a Literature of Awe class this semester, and so I've been looking a lot at how videogames can inspire awe. This is the first of a series of posts I've done for that class.

Looking toward my wunderkammer and coming out of my tutorial interview with Dr. Burton, I've come up with my own preliminary list of what aspects of videogames most often inspire awe. I'm following in the footsteps of +Amber Z here with her great similar post on the elements of awe.

1. Technology
The most obvious source of awe from videogames is the advanced technology. Believe it or not, "realistic graphics!" has been a marketing buzz phrase in videogames since at least the 80s, when games looked like this:

In every phase of videogames' development and (short) history, they've been specifically designed to wow people with what new "magic" computers can do. In fact, the impetus for the creation of what many call the first videogame, Spacewar!, was an attempt to find a way to get people to appreciate the giant computer systems in the basement of MIT. People didn't really understand what computer were for, but videogames helped them realize they were at least useful for something.

And so, every step of computer advancement has been quickly met with a new videogame to show it off. That's how we get this:

2. Art
The art and design of videogames is often meant to inspire awe. The new medium to work with has pushed artists to new limits apart from the graphical capabilities. This is easy to see in videogame concept art (art done before work on the game begins to help solidify a look and feel for the team). Check out these examples:
Batman: Arkham City

Bioshock Infinite
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
3. Skill
If you didn't know, videogames are a sport now. By law. Videogames have bred their own kind of unbelievable skill that--IF you understand what's going on--can totally blow you away. Here's an easy one to understand: beating Super Mario 3 in 11 minutes:

Speed runs are actually a huge and growing eSport in and of themselves, being one of the most popular genres on, a super rapidly growing videogame live-streaming service where people go to watch other people play videogames (didn't think that was a thing? It's a thing.)

Here's one that's harder to understand, but is a good example to show you just how technical these skills get, and how amazing talented these guys really are. This clip is from Starcraft IIand all you need to know is these guys are controlling every single little blue marine at once:

4. Scope
Games today are mind-blowing because they are huge and hugely detailed. In Grand Theft Auto V, for instance, cars make the cool down tink-tink sound when you turn them off, women get creeped out if you walk too closely behind them for too long as a male character, your shoes make squeak and slosh if they're wet, you can set the settings on your in-game cell phone such as vibrate or ring, others characters will tell you off for calling you back so quickly if you call immediately after finishing a conversation, and one of the main characters Michael will say things you actually just did in the game when he goes to talk to his shrink. Plus, It's an entirely explorable and interactive recreation of not just Los Angeles, but the entire county of San Andreas where you can buy property and stocks, play tennis, go skydiving, go scuba diving, and much, much more.

On top of that, the world of Minecraft, the hugely popular block-building game, is over 9 million times the size of Earth, meaning its practically infinite and may never be completely filled (though if anyone would do it, its Minecraft players.)

5. Participation
Perhaps the most mind-boggling part of vidoegames of all is just how much people play them. It is impossible to get your head around just how much videogame playing is going on in the world.
  • Check out this infographic on League of Legends, the most popular computer game in the world right now with well over 70 million registered users. 
  • Consider that players have spent a collective 6 million years of man-hours playing World of Warcraft, and its wiki is 10% the size of all of the real Wikipedia combined.
  • Just look at this, the entire world of Games of Thrones remade brick by brick inMinecraft, with hundreds of people helping and contractors, subcontractors, and quality controllers organizing the whole thing:
Full article on Wired

These are just my preliminary categories in which videogames inspire the most awe, or aspects that are most often leveraged to try and inspire awe over videogames.

Can you think of any others?

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