Review of “Video Games and Computer Holding Power” by Sherry Turkle

Video Games and Computer Holding Power is an essay by Sherry Turkle in her book The Second Self published in 1984. In her essay, she focused on how the power of computer affects people’s psychological state through video games. Specifically, she compared video games to traditional, physical game experiences such as pinball, Dungeons and Dragons and Disneyland, to show how computers enhance the experience. she examined the influence of video game on both children and adults psychologically, by psychoanalysing several true players on their experience with the video game. She also analysed the video game addiction from a neutral standpoint.

Valuable insights can be derived through her analysis for both gamers and game designers to be more self-aware when consuming or developing the products.

The Background

The essay was written in 1984, after the golden age of arcade video games from 1978 to 1982, the rise of the personal computer and the infamous video game crash in 1983.

In 1978, a Japanese game called Space Invader and Atari’s Asteroid (Whittaker, 2004) caused the market shifting from pinball and amusement park to arcade (Citron, 1982). On the other side, the market for dedicated gaming console collapsed, replaced by programmable systems such as Fairchild Channel F, Atari’s VCS and Odyssey².

Space Invader (1978) by Taito
Asteroids (1979) by Atari
Atari 2600 (1977)

As the evolution of home computers in the late 1970s, hobbyists were allowed to program simple games using Apple, Commodore or Tandy. Those games were distributed with floppy disks, cassette tapes, and ROM cartridges in the early 1980s. At the same time, there was an outburst of home computers and video games. As a result, low-quality products flooded the market (Kleinfield, 1983) and led to the crash in 1983 and the fall of video game giant Atari.

Public opinion on video games

Despite the popularity, adults often held negative opinions on the video game. The mastery loop in games like Space Invader and Asteroid was so powerful while their roots were “aggressive, passionate, and eroticized”.

Turkle made the point that “Protest against video games carries a message about how people feel about computers in general.” At that time, computer invaded into people’s daily life as alien technology, as what is called now as the third industrial revolution. People “like new conveniences” but “do not know where we are.” And the change also “threaten a new kind of generation gap that feels deep and difficult to bridge.” So for those people, the video game is a subject that they can express their concerns.

The haters of video games often pointed video games as “mindless addiction”, and compared them to television. Turkle defined video games as “interactive computer microworld” to separate it from televisions. Video games require mastery and skills which are complex. “There is nothing mindless about video games”

Freedom of game design

As opposed to tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons or pinball, video games give more freedom in designing the game, since designers are no longer constrained by the physical production and distribution of the game. Codes can be written distributed much faster and more efficient.

Besides, it also allows the game “to become a more perfect expression of the player’s actions.” A video game is always the same, reacting instantaneously to the player’s input since all of the actions are in a virtual, programmed world. When the player plays the game, the physical machine and the physical player almost do not exist. While interacting with a pinball machine is like “a conversation”, interacting with a video game is more like “inhabiting someone  else’s mind.”

Simulated video game world

With access to the computer when they were born, the younger generation in the 1980s was in a culture “increasingly marked by the logic of simulation.” The aesthetic of rule-based video game could be more easily appreciated by those children.

Compared to Dungeons and Dragons, which allows personal role-playing, in the simulated video game world, one could only identify himself as one character with little to no impact on the world. However, in my opinion, with the emergence of open-world and sandbox genre. More and more games offer a way to break the boundary and more freedom in role-playing. Famous examples are EVE Online (2003), Minecraft (2011) and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011).

EVE Online (2003) by CCP Games, a sandbox MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game)

Nevertheless, people could be lost in this simulation due to “an altered ego”. People could “fall in love with the worlds they have constructed or with their performances in the worlds created for them by others.” This is often dangerous since it will affect the relationships with the real world.

The Future

Besides the inevitable improvement of computer graphics, Turkle summarized the future inventions of video games into two divisions. One was to offer a more complex world that is completely created by someone else.  The other was to let the player be the designer of his or her own game. She was positive on both side, as “both strategies are being pursued”.

Today, not only did we see quality games with a fixed world and linear storyline such as The Last of Us (2013), but also we had the almost completely dynamic and modifiable video game world such as Minecraft (2011). Both are enjoyable and have a great amount of audience.

The Last of Us (2013) by Naughty Dog
Minecraft (2011) by Mojang


Citron, A. (1982). The Rise And Fall Of Pinball. Pittsburgh Press.

Kleinfield, N. R. (1983). Video games industry comes down to earth. New York Times17.

Turkle, S. (2005). Video games and computer holding power.

Whittaker, J. (2004). The cyberspace handbook. Psychology Press.


Reflection on “Future World” exhibition at ArtScience Museum

Future World is a permanent interactive art gallery set at the ArtScience Museum in the Marina Bay Sand. It was created by teamLab, a group of “ultra-technologists” (interdisciplinary artists) based in Tokyo. Their mission is to fuse art, design, science and technology together, to explore the relationship between human and nature.  


The Future World exhibition is famous for its child-friendliness and playability, which is shown in the main area named as Future Park. However, despite the liveliness and noisiness of the children in Future Park, the exhibition also features several isolated rooms with quieter and more peaceful interactive artworks. Although I like the idea of the contrast between movement and stillness, noise and silence, the feeling of interactivity in the Future Park was much stronger than the other installations such as Four Seasons and Impermanent Life. 

Furthermore, the exhibition is heavily based on LED screens and light effects. I like the fact that the resultant visual (lively, vibrant and colourful scenery, the contrast of light and shadow) is good for photo taking and sharing on social media. However, as I was personally experiencing the artwork, I couldn’t help but feel the fakeness as a result of all the digital devices and pixelated sprites. It reminded me of the depicted “future world” in Blade Runner, where there is no tree or wild animal, and human creates the electronic versions of those animals to display their empathy and social status. 

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the sketch aquarium very much. I like the idea that people can create a virtual 3d aquarium together with the 2D sketches that show their personalities. In my opinion, it’s an interesting and intriguing social activity to play with. 

My favourite was the crystal universe. It shocked me with its other-worldly visual and sound effects. I was like the “stargate” scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Furthermore, the change and rhythm of light formation and movement, accompanied by the music, also create a sense of narrative value. 

Overall, although the exhibition was a bit short, it was definitely an interesting and mind-opening experience for me. 

-Xu Peisen, 10/10/19

Reflection on “Disappearance, Bar in the Gallery with Inter-Mission”

This audio-visual performance by Inter-Mission reimaging Lee Kang-so’s Disappearance, Bar in the Gallery in 1973 is quite an unexpectedly chaotic experience for me. It was set up in the staircase of National Gallery Singapore. Without any preliminary knowledge, this was my impression of the performance. A “coffee shop” was strangely set up at the entrance of the performance. Thinking it was the service of the gallery and feeling quite thirsty, I bought a drink from the shop. Several chairs and tables were placed in the middle of many digital devices and screens. The audience was casually sitting around the table. Because there were not enough chairs, some people stood around the stage while some sat on the stairs. However, the audio-visual atmosphere created by the performers was not so casual. The “DJ” at the centre of the stage was constantly producing a strange, echoing electronic noise through a loudspeaker. Cameras were everywhere. Realtime footages were blended with pre-recorded footages, and were displayed on the screens in completely random orders. Then one of the performers wearing the helmet (as shown in the picture) starts walking among the audience. I didn’t even realise the performance had started until people all stopped talking and kept watching the performer while he slowly walked around the room. Because the helmet blocked his vision, he could only use the echo device to avoid the obstacles. Without knowing any backstory of this performance, I felt quite uncomfortable as there were constant noise and no clear objective that I could fixate my eyes on.

The second performer used a recorder and a projector to project his face to different surfaces. He walked up the stairs, and gradually disappear from the main stage. The messages were still not very clear to me, and I started to look around the house to see what people were doing. What I saw was just people quietly taking videos and photos of the performer.

Apart from the confusion, the performance also gave me the feeling the aggressiveness from the audio and video signals. The performers sometimes came very close to the audience, echoing audio or projecting videos on their bodies. The covered eyes with two screens also to me symbolize the blindness of people in the digital age.

After talked with Prof Deja after the performance, I learnt that the performance tried to combine the 1973 installation with modern technologies. In the 1973 installation, Lee tried to convey the idea of although being physically present at the same place, people were in different places due to different mental states. This restaging modernized this idea using electronic devices. To me, it also had the idea that nowadays, people’s states of mind were controlled by the media.




An inspiring piece of interactive art: What remains of Edith Finch

What Remains of Edith Finch  is an adventure (walking simulator) video game developed by an American Studio called Giant Sparrow. It was published in 2017 and received exceptionally positive review from the audience. The game was inspired by another walking-simulator game published in 2013 named Gone Home, in which player as the protagonist goes back to her old house to discover the mysteries about her own family. However, What Remains of Edith Finch takes it to another level by its rich and intriguing story and innovative and emotional gameplay mechanics.

Story (Without spoiler)

There is a curse for the Finch’s family: all but one child of each generation die, leaving a sole child to continue the family. The great-great-grandfather of Edith Finch, Odin tried to escape the curse by moving away from Norway to America with his house and only daughter, Edie, and her family. However, he encountered storm near the shore of America. Odin sank with the house while Edie and her family get on the shore to build a new house. Believing that she had escaped the curse, she gave birth to many children. But the curse continued. The member of Finch’s family died one by one in the most unusual way.

Edith’s mother, Dawn, insisted to take Edith away from the house after her husband died. Edie stayed in the house and passed away on the next day at the age of 93. 6 years later, Dawn died of an unknown disease. Before she passed away, she gave Edith Finch the key to the old house.

As the only one left in the family, the protagonist, Edith Finch, went back to her old family house. She explored the abandoned house room by room and uncover the reason and beautiful stories behind each death. (Partly excerpted from Wikipedia)

The overall theme of the stories are “the unnatural death”. However, from the narrator’s perspective, these death stories do not seem terrifying or sorrow. They are mixed or covered with other emotions such as bravery, taste of fame, dream come true, love or happiness. It can echo with audience with similar experiences.


The game uses an innovative way to combine narrative and gameplay: the floating text caption. As player explores a certain environmental object, the narrator will “explain” the meaning in the background, and caption will appear in game as 3D words. This serves multiple function. Firstly, it lets the player focus on the “right” object. Secondly, it leads the player hand in hand when he is exploring the house. Finally, player can sometimes interact with these words physically, resulting in unexpected visual effects.

Besides this, each story has its unique and out-of-the-box gameplay mechanic. For example, in the first story, player will read a diary of a 10-year-old girl named Molly Finch. Then player will become Molly to experience the story. Molly was so hungry at one night and her mother didn’t let her go out of the room. So she ate every edible things in her room. However, the story didn’t just stop here. After she ate everything, she was still hungry. She then saw a bird outside the window. She opened the window and “suddenly become a cat”.

She caught and ate the bird and then became an owl; ate the rabbit and became a shark; ate the seal and became a monster. Finally as a monster she went back to her room and saw herself sleeping on the bed.

The story never explicitly explains the reason for the death of Molly Finch. However, it successfully settles the mysterious and slightly creepy atmosphere for the game. Besides, it also shaped a child character with wild imagination, making the death less sorrow and more intriguing.

Another example is my favourite story in the game, the story of Lewis Finch. Lewis Finch worked in a fish cannery factory. His only job was to grab fish and cut down their head. Because of the boredom of his job, he started to develop an imagination of himself being a character in video game. As for the gameplay, player needs to use mouse the move the fish and arrow keys to control the character in his imagination.

His imagination grew stronger and stronger. At first it was a 2D black and white game. He was the lovable prince of the kingdom. Then it became 3D, and then first person. That’s when he realised it was all in his imagination. He was still in the factory, doing the most mundane job in the world. In the end, he made the decision to let his imagination completely took over himself. He walked up the stairs in his imaginary, prepared to be crowned by the queen. When he bowed down his head, the knife came down. He ended his own life.

The mechanic suits the story perfectly. Together they effectively conveyed the emotion of immersed in one’s illusion. Besides, the transformation of his imagination from 2D to 3D, then to highly realistic 3D FPS, also echoes with the development of video game industry.


The game was critically acclaimed and won several important awards including Best Narrative in The Game Awards 2017 and Best Narrative in Game Developer Choice Awards 2018.

Final Word

This was the game that inspired me to start my own game development journey. Although I have played a lot of other excellent video games through out the year, and many of them have great ideas, longer play time, and are more entertaining, What Remains of Edith Finch is the one I will always come back to. It is like an old house, strange and familiar at the same time. There is just too much of it, like a smile with too many teeth.

Final Project

My Final work is inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. I’m particularly interested in the last few scene of the masterpiece.

The man stayed in the space station for the rest of his life until he passed away. I love the decoration in the room, which is clean and a combination of traditional style and technology. I wanted to create this emptiness in the space station in my first draft of the final. So I originally wanted to paint five pictures showing a day in space station, using only blue white and black. But the downside is the theme is a bit flat.

So I changed my mind to completely constructing my own story of a spaceman. So here comes the first draft of the second picture of my final.It is referred to this painting.

I want to place a window showing the beautiful space. I later found it so important in composition that I keep enlarging the window size  and in final draft, I made it a French window.

I did some research on the hibernation pod. I want to keep it simple. I also want to let the audience know there is someone just came out of the pod without drawing the man. So I tried to make the smoky effect around the pod. Then I also added two more repeating pod to emphasize on this point.

My last picture is quite a happy coincidence. At first I was really confused on how to paint a expression with brush, then I decided to experiment with some fast dry brush stoke above the base color. It works! And it surprisingly worked well on reflection.

Week 6-7 Textures Box

Our theme is the adventure of a lonely child. We intentionally used unrealistic groovy color scheme under the texture. The warmness of pink and the aggressive orange pops up from the cooler base color purple. They represent the wild imagination of the child. However, with the character hidden in the darkest area of the box and blended into the background of the painting, we wanted to show the loneliness that the character is feeling.

Week 3 Colour

I forgot to take my own picture so I can only use these photos to show my work on this week. Mines are the one right below the angry sign in the first photo, the one in the top left corner in the second and the third, and the one with purple background in the last one. The lesson I learnt from here is contrast color can be used to express strong emotion and the less contrast color scheme can be used to create a peaceful or low-spirit environment.