Monday, November 05, 2001

I have been reading about high/low culture, while at the same time thinking about Mark Bernstein's interesting questions about what games can teach us about life. His house-rules don't permit metaphors or the speech of silence, etc: and he wants to know what games teach.

While that is an interesting little game, I find several flaws in assuming that games can teach as literature does.
I think the most important flaw is that a game is not a story. What we learn of games don't necessarily compare to what we learn from stories. Games range over a wider specter: from games of luck to games of mimicry. To ask what 20 years of computer games have taught us about the relationship between a son and his weak-minded father is like asking what football teaches us of how to bake. Baking for the players have taught me quite a lot about it - but the game itself did not. Does that mean we can disregard what we learn from football? Apart from the physical advantages of exercise;learning to think strategically, to act as a team, to follow and submit to rules, to be creative within these rules and with certain limitations - these are things we learn from games and which are very important... but they don't apply directly to a plotline or a specific event or discovery. Literature can make us understand these things, it can give us the theoretical knowledge of them, it can make us feel as if we know them - but we can't act upon literature, not even hypertext literature.

We can act on and within a game, it can let us take responsibility for a team and let us win or lose, not just feel that we control a team and feel that we win or lose. Even if it's still within the realm of make-belief: there is no real-life consequence to what happens in the game, the game-achievement is a lot more active and has more of a consequence than the feeling of having achieved something.

Next follows the question if the real value of literature rests in posing the major questions in life? The value of certain books is that they pose and occasionally answer such questions, yes. The value of these books and their answers is not an objective value: what is a "learning experience" changes with fashion and the shift in focus of society. Isn't it an error to expect games which are very closely tied to the genre-fiction to give learning-experiences which don't belong in that genre? The power-fantasy as Mark Bernstein calls the LBA I plot is a lot more common in science fiction and fantasy than the introspective self-discovery better suited to... well, a different genre. When did I last read of an irredeemably weak father and his student son? I think Mark Bernstein and I read very different books...

And if so: is this a weakness in computer games? Do they have to be defended because they are not supplying the answers which "high literature" does? Personally I don't think so. I have found that the players I interview have very different reasons for using computer games, reasons which includes learning, but doesn't exclude reading books and learning other things from other sources. At this time and date I find that learning what computer-games teach their users is more important than learning whether or not they teach the same things as the media we already have. Yes, those are two different things: the one opens up for new discovery, the other confirms (or not) what we already know. Which of course, can be important... but not as much fun. Which is pretty important, when we talk of games!

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