Virtual as Reality

Culture, Technology — By on April 1, 2009 at 12:43 pm

My friend, Dave, and I have been debating whether video games will soon become the “common text” of our culture. I initially rejected the idea because I felt that games are just that, games. They aren’t meant to be taken seriously like books. Dave pushed back and after some good conversation, I am reconsidering my position. I’m 24, most of my friends are gamers to one degree or another. Already we’ve noticed that we will reference something from a video game to help us illustrate a point just like people once referenced the story of David and Goliath to illustrate somebody’s beating an opponent against incredible odds. So all this has me thinking, what are the implications of “virtual reality” guiding our understanding of real life? Should Christian creatives start telling stories through video games?
Then I saw this video and was horrified. While I am puzzling over video games as an education tool and as a culture’s common text, some of our society’s brightest people are applauding the idea that virtual reality is virtually reality.

So what is reality? What counts as “experience”? Am I the only one who thinks these people are crazy? If you agree with them, tell me why. ‘

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  • Ryan

    I’m glad you are starting a conversation about this! I am one of those Christian creatives about to make a move into the medium of games. I can only speak from my experience as to the capacity of the medium as a story-telling and life-enriching art form.
    It can be hard to come by a game worth playing seriously, and when one does, it is even harder to find a community of players that are interested in serious dialogue about the game. Add to that that many people (including myself!) are simply terrible at playing games. I don’t mean that they are inept with a controller or incapable of staying alive. I mean to say that we have been poorly conditioned by second-rate gaming experiences to shut our minds and imaginations off when we play. You wouldn’t recommend a book or a stage show to friends who were poor readers or audiences; neither would I recommend certain games.
    I’m not convinced that immersive video games are much different from fantasy novels in terms of their encouraging participants of virtual reality. The best video games still rely on imagination and abstraction, qualities that Dave Perry’s student believed was a thing of old arcade games. I found the student’s video well-produced, but awfully theatrical. I haven’t met a soul who has truly confused virtual experiences for a natural ones, except when they were being annoyingly rhetorical. I have met people though who have used games to contemplate human ideas, relationships, histories, and futures.
    Bioshock, Fallout 3, Braid, and Portal are four recent examples of games I’ve found worth experiencing. I blogged about one of them here: If games do become the common “text,” we will without a doubt need to become better “readers” and promote deeper discussions. What do you think?