For my Interactive 2 reading assignment I will be tackling Sherry Turkle’s Video Games and Computer Holding Power.
Video Games and Computer Holding Power (henceforth abbreviated as VG&CHP) was written in 1984, a nascent time in video games. To pampered millennials such as we, raised on the likes of Fortnite and Minecraft, the venerable pioneers of video games like Pong and Space Invaders are becoming increasingly dated pop-culture references with little resemblance to their modern descendants. It was thus surprising to me that VG&CHP made some impressively astute observations about the nature of video games which ring as true in 2019 as they did thirty-five years ago.
In Turkle’s essay, she identifies something she calls “computer holding power” as the key factor separating video games from other forms of media. In 2019 we call this concept “immersion.” Indeed, interactive media is unique in its power to enrapture the audience and draw them into its world — a power which Turkle likens to the story of Narcissus enraptured with his reflection. Improvements in processing power and audiovisual fidelity have enabled modern video game developers to create truly immersive storytelling experiences: games like The Last of Us or Life is Strange are essentially what Turkle imagined when she wrote of “an interactive Gone with the Wind.” In her essay, Turkle describes other concepts that are now key to the video game industry, such as flow, systems, game mechanics, and the motivating factor of achievements or high scores.
Yet one thing Turkle could not have foreseen was the interplay of the digital world with the real world. In VG&CHP, video games are described as miniature worlds that are wholly disconnected from the real world: a little microcosm or Zen garden, if you will, that players are projected into and enraptured by. This model of computer gaming held true for a while, until a new phenomenon developed around 1990: multiplayer games. Now, games such as Street Fighter and Doom could not only be solitary pursuits, but also shared experiences, fostering entire cooperative and competitive communities around them.
World of Warcraft showed the world that games could not only connect entire communities of players, but bleed over into the real world and become a sort of global cyberspace. Ingress and its successor Pokémon Go brought augmented reality to the masses, creating a video game experience that was intrinsically linked to the real world rather than divorced from it. Today the mere act of playing a video game has become a real-world social activity: the advent of gaming-focused social networks in Steam and Xbox Live, and streaming services such as Twitch, mean that your movements in cyberspace can be broadcasted to people across the globe and become part of their video game experience.
In such a world of interconnectivity, are we still in danger of losing ourselves in a world that has no connection to reality, as Turkle posited: like Narcissus unable to look away from his reflection? The idea is inconceivable to me considering how young gamers are increasingly connecting through digital means, using online video games like Fortnite and Minecraft as bridges to traverse time and space in the real world. Today’s video game addicts are less likely to be obsessed with chasing a high score than with keeping up with friends and joining in activities to increase their online prestige. It seems to me that we are in danger of being lost in a world that has too much connectivity — lost in a perfect version of reality that never sleeps.