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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Column: Game shame

What used to be simply dots moving on a screen and eventually a few shapes and colors has grown into a vicious spectacle of lights, sounds and interactions between a person and a TV. Video games have come a long way, picking up wary travelers for their greatest adventures, and leaving many behind to view at a distance.

For how far the game has come, being a gamer is still shameful to an extent. Of course, gaming is not entirely the mind-numbing experience it used to be — it has merit, it has great potential that it reaches on many occasions, and it is a growing art form.

So what creates this metaphorical distance from the general public and the video game that makes this art form difficult to understand?

It turns out this distance is proportional to that of hands from the controller.

I made a mistake once that can be incorrectly construed as a relationship blunder. Upon a visit from my girlfriend I fell into the trap that many a young gamer (because they finally have girlfriends!) will stumble across: playing a game with my girlfriend in the room.

It seems obvious now why she was mad at me. What it must have looked like to her was me playing a game while I was supposed to be entertaining her. It seemed as if I was ignoring her for the sake of the game, but that was hardly my intention. I don’t think my mistake was simply playing the game in her presence, but failing to realize the function of video games as art.

I honestly wanted her to see the game. I personally thought it was beautiful and wondered why she couldn’t look at it as I had hoped she would — not as me playing a game, but as me showcasing a work of art. What I then realized was she couldn’t see it the way I did, because she did not experience it as I did.

As a spectator she was put at a distance. It wasn’t measurable as the distance between her and the TV — we were the same distance from the TV. Her distance was a world apart, because video games are not meant to be seen, they’re meant to be played.

Most gamers can probably share a similar experience — a friend of theirs comes over while they’re in the middle of an interactive experience, and the friend is forced to watch them play. Gaming shame is partly the result of the solitary nature of games. The friend is made uncomfortable by their lack of involvement and by the fact that the gamer couldn’t care less at that moment — he or she is alone in another world created by the experience.

It’s only afterward that they can understand that they might as well have invited their friend over to watch porn and masturbate. It would have been a similar level of discomfort.

Visit a museum or a movie theater with a friend, and both of you can look at a painting or swap criticism and jokes at the expense of a movie. It can be a shared experience. The single-player campaign of a video game is an entirely different realm of art. No matter how cinematic a game experience may get, the art of a game is not simply how a story unfolds but how your interaction with that world unfolds the story.

Video games have an understandably strong bias toward the player, not the observer. Whether or not developers want to bridge the gap between observer and player, the unique experience is the result of a game’s design to be played, not witnessed.

My wish was that I could introduce someone to the beauty of video game art, but the quality of this particular art is that it must be interacted with. It’s difficult to convince someone of the legitimacy of such a time-consuming art.

And video games certainly aren’t for everyone, just like going to a museum doesn’t appeal to a lot of people. I believe it would do both sides of the discussion some good to think about each other’s experience with video games and be mindful of what is necessary to the experience. There is no need to hide your enthusiasm for a game, but there’s also no excuse to strain your relationship for the sake of a game.

That being said, buy a second controller already and play some co-op.

NICK FREDERICI wants to experience art with you via Black Ops 2, send your gamertag to nrfred@ucdavis.edu.

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