A wager built on sand

by Paul William Tenny

Came across a post by Steve Gaynor this afternoon via Penny Arcade, whereby Gaynor wagers that video games won't be any more culturally ingrained or introspective as films and books have been 50 years from now, or pretty much ever. I don't believe in betting generally because it's the essential definition of risk without mitigation, which is obviously never really a good idea. That aside, I believe this wager is crafted too narrowly and therefore is weighted too heavily in favor of the person proposing it.

I could make all sorts of analogies here, but I'll just cut to the chase. To say that video games won't be as culturally ingrained as films and books at any point in time is to compare them as separate yet equal classes, ignoring the fact that video games are in fact a derivative of a much larger class that is far more influential to our culture, so much so that it actually defines in many ways the human race.
It sounds heady, but consider that video games are simply games played electronically. On a computer, a console, or a hand held device, we're still talking about games generally. If you want to talk about video games specifically, then you might as well talk about a television miniseries specifically, or the horror genre. If you are going to compare something to films and television as a medium of entertainment or of art, then you have to be that general all around to that comparison to have any meaning.

If you take it to that level, then you could say that games have been with us all throughout history. I think you would be hard pressed to think of a single film or television show that invades our culture as much as chess has. You can go almost anywhere on the planet, perhaps other than 3rd world countries, and find people that at least have heard of, and have some concept of chess as a board game. Chess dates back to the 6th century, apparently inspired by games of war, but doesn't come close to artifacts discovered in Jordan that are over 4,500 years old that appear to be the first known board game.

Saying that the cultural influence of video games is less than that of films and books is to ignore our rich history that is, in many ways, entirely based on games and related competitive activity. Professional sports isn't that much different, where people are still playing games thousands of years later in so many different ways. You could say many of the same things in defense of comics. Are they not simply a creative derivative of written literature? Are people going to argue that the worldwide web isn't as influential as books are, even though they are -- evolutionarily speaking -- exactly the same thing?

And I actually agree with Gaynor that video games probably won't be as influential as films and books have been, but that's like saying that curling won't have the same influence on our culture as the written word. How can you possibly compare the two when, within their own classes, they aren't even on the same level?

I like the debate, and there's certainly room to explore here. The financial success of Halo has been an impressive leap forward for video games, but if you want to compare the two, you're really talking about games in general, to films in general. That's actually a pretty damn good fight, even though cinema hasn't been around nearly as long as (at least board games), theater has. Virtually everything we enrich our lives with descends in one way or another from the art of the ancient world.
in Film, Games, Television


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    Well said. While no definitive answers to this kind of wager can be settled upon, it's a valid thing to discuss and ponder.

    Video games have evolved. AT THEIR BEST, the creators of the games aspire to bring the kind of storytelling they've been inspired by, to the games they create. And that inspiration has been from literature, film and television, and any number of places -- but books and films high among them. That might be a new element that video games bring to the "gaming table" -- perhaps not.

    They might never reach the height of the long-term cultural influence of books, and to a lesser degree, film -- but I do think video games continue to incorporate more and more of that cultural influence themselves. And that's a good thing.
    nice post.I feel video games will create more cultural influences and it will be continued in the future.The books are more influential than video games in long term.

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