Where Do We Go?

I start with this video because one, I love this artist, and two, because of the variety this rap covers. Despite the fact that this is presented as a “summary of gaming” over the past 40 years (as of 2014), this video hardly scratches the surface of gaming as a whole. But where do we actually start with summarizing gaming as a whole?

Dan Bull’s song hits on some of the most iconic and memorable entries, that is certain. The song is definitely more marketable that way, since more people can relate. But how would someone else go back and encompassing gaming? Like literature, gaming jumps across genres freely. Within story genre, games also have mechanical genres, based on how the game is played. And then you add stylistic labels, and age ratings, and so on and so on until you have the mess that is categorizing video games, much like their novel counterparts.

So, with all that said, where would we start? What genre are we classifying games in? Is it based on their stories? Or do we base it on how they’re played? What kind of studies do we use stylistic choices for? Because all of this important thinking about how to put gaming into a timeline. Particularly, it’s important for deciding what was the “first of its kind” in a genre.

Since games, like novels, are so diverse, it’s difficult to say. Is a game the “first of its kind” because it was the first fantasy game or because it was the first text-based adventure game? And that’s when I feel like the timelines would get incredibly complicated, because it would come down to personal opinions. And presenting games based on those biases completely changes how we would view games. Generally speaking, “first of its kind” games have a kind of prestige. They’re games every gamer needs to play because it was a basis for games to come after, and to understand the evolution of gaming, it is important to play those games. But how in that spectrum do we decide what is the first of its kind? Because the game we chose to be the “first of its kind” will get that prestige, and the other game may disappear into obscurity because it wasn’t, according to our classifications.

I think that’s a huge problem with timelines. Because visuals are so useful, but what visuals we use to make our timeline out of shape so much. The expression is “History is told from the side of the victor,” and that’s true for a lot of reasons. For my argument, what we chose to be important and to be reprinted into our visualizations of history over and over again, becomes important in the eyes of the majority. And unless we find a way to just have an infinite spectrum understandable by the human mind, that’s always going to be an issue of visual representations.

I mean, there is a reason those games were in Dan Bull’s rap. They are important to our gaming history as it is. For a lot of good reasons, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been equally good games that failed because of these games’ success. We chose the success of these games, and therefore we’ve populated a certain timeline of games that are important. So how do we represent everything else equally?

One thought on “Where Do We Go?”

  1. You mention the ways categorizing games is problematic, and it is rather fascinating that we tend to classify game genres based on mechanics rather than tones and themes as in other media. I would posit that figuring out how to classify games is much more complicated than classifying literature. Literature does similarly define mechanical genres such as the novel, the short story, poetry, drama, etc., but these distinctions tend to appear more solid and are fewer. Would it help to solidify genre distinctions in games? Would it help to add thematic genre distinctions? I’m not sure. But on any axis of representation, some voices will be privileged while others are silenced. It’s important to be conscious of where that’s happening and equalize the playing field as much as possible.


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