In the last three years the gaming industry has made an incredible amount of money. In fact, studies show that every year they make almost double the combined profit of music and film. With this rise in popularity we have seen an explosion in the number of games produced and a considerable increase in the quality of said games. So why do we not talk more about games?
Now, I’m not saying that you and a friend don’t discuss FIFA over a drink or none of us occasionally chat about Pokémon Go or enjoy a round of Marion Kart, I’m talking about academic discussion and a deep analysis of why a game operates the way it does. Whilst views on this subject are slowly changing, it is not uncommon to see games treated as a form of entertainment and little else. Just as film theory was initially shunned during the mid-twentieth century, game theory is balancing between art form and pastime, study-worthy and the opposite. Several books have been written on the subject and plenty of published articles consider how we should study gaming in an appropriate way.
But why does this discussion need to happen? Because games are a unique experience with incredible potential. No other visual art has the opportunity for viewer interaction and immersible narratives quite like videogames. Just like a good film or book, they can offer a deep connection to characters, but unlike any other format, they force the gamer to take control of their fate. You cannot play a game passively; whereas you can focus in and out of film, a game requires hands-on attention even from the most experienced of players. They are also much longer than any film or TV series (your average AAA game sports at least 50 hours of main storyline) so the potential for character development, world building, and narrative movement are massive. Red Dead Redemption II for example has over 500 000 lines of dialogue and took eight years to develop, God of War (2016) deals seriously with ideas of bereavement and toxic masculinity, and don’t get me started on how Neil Druckmann proved how games could be with the flawless and heart breaking story running through The Last of Us.
The truth is that games are only going to get more popular, particularly with further developments in VR, so sceptics are going to have to accept that the day of gaming being reserved for spotty youths spending days holed up in their bedrooms is over. Research not only into how videogames work, but also analysis of narrative structure and contextual influence are key if we are going to make videogame study a serious academic specialty and further develop their potential.