The Sociopolitical Ramifications Of Computer Gaming Essay
, Research Paper
Since the dawning of civilization, when the first humans walked the earth, games have played an integral part in human society. Humanity has always had a passion for pastimes and has accordingly created an immense number of methods for achieving diversion. From the game of Senet, an ancient Egyptian game of royal appeal (and perhaps even the primogenitor of modern backgammon) that was discovered in the tombs of pharaohs; Hnefatafl, a Norse precursor to chess; and Calculi, a Roman game that strikingly resembled a later game commonly known as ?checkers?; to modern electronic games that are nearly omnipresent in our current day and age, the human race has continually striven for new and improved ways of amusing itself. So it is no surprise that, with the inception of computers during the era of World War II, computer gaming would shortly follow.
And how quickly it did follow. Historians avidly speak about the principle of quickening, a phenomenon which, as time ticks on, causes the development of new things to hasten. The development of computer games is nothing if not subject to this theory. In the early beginning of computer gaming, games (as well as new gaming technology) were few and far between. In fact, four years elapsed from the time the first computer game by William A. Higinbotham called Tennis For Two (a name that would later evolve into Pong), was created, until the completion of the second computer game, Spacewar! created by a cadre of students from MIT. Today, hardly a day passes in which a new computer game is not released and the technology used to create games advances at an increasingly rapid pace.
However, in order to fully understand the phenomenon that is computer gaming, we must first understand the culture that gave rise to it?
The Days When Pinball Wizards Walked the Earth
The mists of gaming yore are thick and shroud much. The 1930s in America was a decade of challenges. The Great Depression wracked the vast majority of Americans and the stormy clouds of war were rumbling over in Europe. Fortunately for them, they had pinball.
The pinball machines of the 1930s were quite different from the machines that we know today. They required hardly any skill to play, and resembled the simple toy games played by present-day children in which a ball must be shot with a metallic pinball-like plunger and land in special holes around the playing space to score points. Over time, the machines added features such as the back board, allowing the players to see their scores, flippers, allowing players to actually control some of the movements of the ball, and lights, which really did not functionally do very much, but added a significantly greater degree of visual appeal to the pinball machines.
The Pinball Age would have further reaching influences than immediately apparent from looking at that rather unsightly box with flippers. One of the influences of pinball came in the late 1950s with a man by the name of William A. Higinbotham.
The Event the World had Waited a ?Pong? Time for?
In the years following World War II, computers began to flourish. Formerly relegated to such inglorious positions as missile trajectory calculators and cryptographers during WWII, computers gained a new appreciation in the years following the war. ARPAnet, the early precursor to the internet, was begun in 1957 by Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). This set the stage for the modern information revolution and paved the way for the incredibly popular (and horrifically addictive) multiplayer games that would sweep the world in later years). While the advent of personal computers was still decades in the future (IBM would release the first modern personal computer in 1983, the TRS-80), giant mainframes were the rule of the day, occupying entire rooms with their sheer computing bulk and affordable only by major universities, huge businesses, and government-funded research laboratories. It was in one such laboratory that the first computer game was developed.
William Higinbotham was a mild-mannered gentleman of 47 in 1958. Quick to laugh and even quicker to reach for a pack of smokes (he was a prodigious chain smoker), Higinbotham was a researcher at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and an aficionado of pinball. His job description also included the task of tour guide for the myriad tours that visited the lab for a look at what their tax dollars were up to. During his tenure as tour guide, Higinbotham realized that the events that transpired in the lab were of little interest to the people undertaking the tours. Wouldn?t it be interesting, he thought, if the tourists had some sort of contraption to interact with during the tour? something like a game that could demonstrate to them what the hardware was capable of? To this end, Higinbotham worked away at a device that would change the way computers were viewed. Despite the fact that the first digital computers were produced around this time, Higinbotham?s device was entirely analog, utilizing variable voltages to represent information instead of the on/off (i.e. 1s and 0s) pulses that digital used. The device was set up using an oscilloscope for a screen that represented a tennis court and two controller boxes (forerunners to the ?paddles? of the Atari 2600 that would appear quite a few years later) that housed knobs with which the players could change the angle of their shots and buttons to be pressed when the player wished to make a shot.
It took three weeks of time to develop this game (compared with the 2-4 years that it takes modern development teams to create their games and the year and a half that it took the developers of Spacewar! to finish that game, but more on that later) and the assistance of Robert Dvorak, a coworker of Higinbotham?s, but in the end it all paid off. They revealed their finished product in the Brookhaven gymnasium during an open house of the lab in October of 1958 and it took off. People of high school age were especially interested in William Higinbotham?s new game, by now formally titled Tennis for Two, and people lined up from the day it was revealed to take part in the first computer game ever created.
The Space Race Was Nothing Compared to the American Spacewar!
If Higinbotham?s Tennis for Two is known as the first video game, then Spacewar!, a game developed by a determined cadre of MIT geeks, Wayne Witanen, J. Martin Graetz, and Steve Russell, who called themselves ?The Tech Model Railroad Club,? is the first real computer game. The difference between the two is a subtle one on first glance, but a difference that, in later years, would cause a large crevasse to appear between the aficionados of computer gaming and those of video gaming. Console games (games played through a system hooked up to a TV set, on one hand) are more often than not a test of quick twitch reflexes, while computer games (games played on a computer system entirely separate from a TV) often require a bit more thinking to be appreciated. This paper, for brevity?s sake, will not attempt to delve into this merry war between computers and consoles, however.
A product of years of inspiration from the likes of science fiction author Edward E. ?Doc? Smith and Toho (a Japanese movie company responsible for Godzilla and countless other cheesy old sci-fi movies), the groundwork for Spacewar! was laid in the early 60s over a period of a year or so in the apartment of the three MIT fellows. They would sit for hours on end, presenting to each other their ideas for movie versions of ?Doc? Smith?s sci-fi novels. While these ideas never made their way onto the silver screen, they did provide an excellent basis for Spacewar!. Once MIT invested in a shiny new PDP-1 computer, eschewing its clumsy TK-0 mainframe in favor of something more personal (and yet, a great deal more powerful), the Club had the medium on which it would make history.
A committee was formed with the intent of creating a game to run on the new computer. Of course, this committee consisted of the troika of the Railroad Club, but also added Alan Kotok, Peter Samson and Dan Edwards to be responsible for different aspects of the game. Kotok created a sine-cosine routine, Samson created a program to render a star field for the background called ?Expensive Planetarium,? while Edwards programmed the code for the gravity of the large sun that served as a focal point for the battles. Thus was assembled the very first development team in the history of computer gaming. Unlike with Higinbotham?s Tennis for Two, Spacewar! had an entire crew of people behind it providing various services to further the creation of their game. Instead of relying on a sole designer to create the entire program, the Spacewar! team could receive input from several different people and make adjustments according to their tastes and interests instead of being controlled by a single entity. This collaboration also allowed for an entirely new concept in gaming that still has not been perfected to this day: quality assurance.
The development team for Spacewar! spent hours on end playtesting their creation and perfecting it, something that Higinbotham could not do on his own. The result? A hugely successful, widely distributed free game that launched a billion dollar industry. The extensive ?research? (if one could call sitting around in an apartment, talking about science fiction research) that the group had undertaken over the years finally paid off. Spacewar! was debuted at the annual MIT open house in the spring of 1962 to tremendous success. Like with Tennis for Two, people lined up to get a chance to play the game and a scoring system had to be added to the program to limit peoples? time playing the game. Spacewar! eventually made it onto ARPAnet, the internet?s forefather, and found itself on the mainframes of countless other colleges and universities around the country. Quite a monumental feat for a program that was only 9k in size?
Of Text Parsers and Hungry Grues
The period of 1962 to 1972 in computer game history was relatively dry. Of course, that was around the time of the humongous arcade boom, but gaming on computers had entered a sort of dark age. Spacewar! was still around, circulating throughout the country on ARPAnet, but one can only blow up an opponent?s ship so many times without becoming bored of doing so. And so it was with computer games. The craze over Spacewar! had all but died out by the time that 1972 rolled around. But the nascent online community, teased by the success of Spacewar! on ARPAnet, was hungry for more.
Out of this hunger came a game that would lend its name to an entire genre of games in years to come: Adventure. Or, as the program itself was called (as filenames in those days were limited to a maximum of 6 characters), ADVENT. This simple game, created in 1972 by Willie Crowther, turned out to be a mild success. But it was the expanded version, modified heavily by Don Woods, that caused a stir throughout ARPAnet.
A text-only game that relied on a piece of coding known as a ?parser? to interpret the commands of the player (Adventure?s particular parser was only capable of deciphering two word commands while later parsers were capable of understanding entire sentences), Adventure was quite a hit on ARPAnet and the genre of ?adventure? games that would follow derived their name from it. Unfortunately for the game, it suffered from a slew of frustrating puzzles that forced many of its users to resort to cracking into the code in order to beat the game. It was a nice start for the world of text-based games, but far from adequate. As is constant with human nature, people wanted more. Enter, in 1976, Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling.
Like many other game developers around this time, these four gentlemen that created Zork had an MIT education. They were avid Adventure players, as well as fanatics of the recently-released tabletop Dungeons & Dragons game, and wanted to merge the excitement and, well, adventure of Adventure with the character and the concept of an entire persistent, interactive world that D&D contained. Out of this union was created Zork, a text-based adventure game that had begun as a four room Adventure-clone, and ended up as one of the best loved computer games ever. Equally loved was the ravenous Grue, a large creature with big teeth that lurked in the basement of the ramshackle white house, which formed the centerpoint of Zork, and ate adventurers that loitered there too long. The saying ?It is dark. You are likely to be eaten by a Grue? exists to this day as one of the most repeated lines from any computer game (behind perhaps ?All your base are belong to us? from the poorly translated Japanese console game Zero Wing, but that saying is simply a passing fad in the gaming world these days).
Like Adventure and Spacewar! before it, Zork was distributed throughout ARPAnet to widespread success. A large community built around the game (calling itself the ?Great Underground Empire?), showering the developers with ideas on how to expand the game and what puzzles to include. The game eventually hit the megabyte mark and was translated from its original language to the Fortran language, a move that allowed the game to be played on a wide variety of different mainframe types beyond the PDP-10 (a descendant of Spacewar!?s PDP-1).
With graduation nearing, however, the four creators of Zork had a decision ahead of them: what they wanted to do with their lives. Realizing that they could profit from Zork, they considered several potential publishers for the game and made the decision to produce Zork for the newfangled personal computers that seemed to be sprouting up everywhere. One of these publishers was a young entrepreneur by the name of William ?Bill? Gates, Jr., a young Zork fan who was starting up a small company by the name of Microsoft. Alas, they decided against signing with the future software giant and opted to give the publishing rights to Personal Software, Inc. Zork was published in 1979, distributed in a plastic bag containing the manual for the game and a 5.25? floppy disk (remember those?) with the game itself. The four lads? sales gambit paid off and Zork became one of the first commercial successes of the computer gaming world.
Personal Software dropped the Zork product line shortly after the first installment of the series was released, leaving Infocom, the company that the four Zork-men of the apocalypse had created to develop Zork, to buy back the rights and publish the game on its own. This proved to be no setback for Infocom, and they released two sequels to Zork, aptly titled Zork 2 and Zork 3, in addition to many other text adventure games and became the foremost publisher of text adventures during the genre?s glory days.
MUD, Sweat, and Tears
The end of the 70s in the computing world brought with it the invention of a gaming principle still alive and kicking to these days. This principle was online gaming.
Near the end of the mainframe/terminal days, in 1979, a student at the University of Essex in the UK by the name of Roy Trubshaw developed a system with several compatriots that would enable a large number of users to interact with one another in an Adventure-like send up of the Dungeons & Dragons system. This system, or more correctly, paradigm, would later be christened ?MUD?, an acronym standing for ?Multi-User Dungeon? and a paradigm that would be applicable in later years to a large number of other persistent online worlds. Unlike traditional computer/role-playing games, however, MUDs did not have a set goal. Of course, they included the prerequisite quests, monsters, and treasure, but the focus was more on interacting with fellow players than completing a set goal such as save the kingdom or kill the villain. Says Trubshaw about the early days of meeting up with other users in the early MUDs (in an interview with GameSpy.com): ?Even without puzzles and a rubbish parser, the joy of meeting other people and seeing them arrive and leave, whilst just standing around was just indescribable (we were easily pleased).?
The concept of MUDs took off and people began creating their own MUDs using a variety of different MUD languages. Also, other forms of MUDs began to spring up all over the place, taking on new acronyms of their own such as MUSH, MOO, MUCK, etc. So many different acronyms appeared that the online world began referring to what they had previously called MUDs as MU*s, sort of a catch all term for all persistent online worlds that fit the multiplayer Adventure- meets-D&D motif.
In the years since the creation of the MUD, there have been no real improvements on the basic structure. MUDs exist today in the same format in which they have existed in for the past two decades: find treasure (sometimes with other players), kill monsters, repeat. However, there have been inheritors of sorts to the MUD tradition. These inheritors have added graphics to their repertoire of features and have broadened their coding to allow for literally thousands of players to interact with one another in real time over even the slowest of connections. Games like Meridian 59, Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Asheron?s Call gained tremendous popularity in the late half of the 1990s and spawned a large variety of imitators as the century drew to a close.
These games became arguably the most popular games of all times, which poses the question: does the escapism provided by computer gaming beget an entirely new world in and of itself? Before MUDs and the later MMOPRPG, or Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game , revolution that caused large communities of people to come together and create worlds of their own, that extent of interaction between a group of people through gaming could only be had by discussing the game or, in the case of a video game machine, playing head to head with one other person in the same room. Now, someone in Paducah, KY can log onto EverQuest and play his gnomish paladin alongside a friend from Escondido, CA whom he has never met before in his life but with whom he feels a strange sort of companionship. Contrary to the widespread opinion that people are being alienated and separated from one another by technology, it is, through computer games, bringing people together. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of people in the world (much less, the country) are not connected to the internet, the way things are going, before long the entire world is going to have access to computers and, consequently, computer games.
As Sim-ple as 1, 2, 3
Will Wright was an aspiring young game designer in 1985. With a game already under his belt, albeit a game that next to no one remembers (Raid on Bungeling Bay, a 1984 release for the Commodore 64), Wright had always been fascinated with the inner workings of a city. Since he was a mere boy, he had played with blocks and immensely enjoyed the act of creating entire cities. And not simply for the purpose of destroying them later; he sincerely loved the act of constructing elaborate infrastructures from blocks and other household toys. So he reckoned that it would be a good idea to make a game that allowed players to do just this, but on a computer.
Not even he was prepared for what came after.
Released four years later, in 1989, SimCity became one of the most innovative and popular games ever. Selling over 5 million in the years since it has been released, SimCity was a game that just about everyone could enjoy. It was not overly violent, so parents did not lash out at it, and the concept of building whole cities appealed to a wide range of people, not matter the age, shape, color, gender, sexual orientation, etc of the player. It was just pure, city building fun. And the game did not have a goal that would allow the players to ?beat? the game, either. Of course, there were the scenarios that shipped with the game and allowed players who had gotten their fill of building a chance to take on the role of a city mayor in times of great crisis, but the main purpose of the game was to build. Or destroy, to some players. Will Wright, in creating SimCity, had insight enough to add a ?Disasters? menu to the game?s interface, thus allowing the players to explore and vent their darker natures by throwing horrible disasters at their hapless citizens.
The building that SimCity so emphasized was an inspiration to Maxis, the company that Will Wright had founded in creating the game. Maxis released prodigious amounts of add-ons to the original SimCity in the form of new cities that the players could lord over, new scenarios for them to solve, and eventually (when the technology became commonplace for the personal computer) a CD-ROM version of the game that added new sounds and videos to breathe life into the disasters that players could rain down upon their cities.
Maxis applied the ?sim? motif to many other games, filling the early 90s with countless titles bearing the company insignia of Sim, including (but certainly not limited to) such flops as SimFarm, SimAnt, SimEarth, SimCopter, and SimTower. In the winter of 1993, though, Maxis returned to its roots with SimCity 2000. SimCity 2000 was nearly identical to the original SimCity, but a lot more detailed. It added the ability to provide piping to the Sims (Will Wright?s term used to denote the citizens of SimCity) as well as a more detailed perspective and dozens of new buildings. SimCity 2000, like its predecessor, also inspired expansion packs, including the Urban Renewal Kit which allowed Sim-heads to create new graphics for the buildings. A sequel to SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, was released in 1998, adding yet more features to the SimCity paradigm. A major expansion pack was released for SimCity 3000, entitled SimCity 3000: Unlimited, which added a terrain editor and more scenarios.
In early 2000, the first successful transition of the Sim name to a game that was not a derivative of SimCity was created, entitled The Sims. In The Sims, the simulation took a smaller scale. Instead of ruling large metropoli, players could take control of a family (or an entire neighborhood, even). Each of the family members would have their different wants that the player would have to take care of, and would interact amongst the family (and the world) in a semi-realistic fashion, forming both friendships and enmities with their fellow Sims. The Sims was a huge success, being named the best game of 2000 by a huge number of publications (and fans, who made it the best-selling game of the entire year). Naturally, as is the way of things with Maxis, an expansion pack, Livin? Large, followed that allowed the players to explore more ?alternative? career options with their Sims. Another expansion pack followed, House Party, which enabled a player?s Sims to host expansive parties. The Sims and its two expansion packs currently dominate the April 2001 incarnation of The New York Times? best sellers list for Windows/DOS games, coming in at #1 (House Party), #3 (The Sims), and #5 (Livin? Large).
Fragging for Goodness
History was made in 1992 when a then-unknown company by the name of id Software (id, as in Freud?s ego, super-ego, and id) based in Austin, TX, released a game by the name of Wolfenstein 3d by way of Apogee Software, a publisher that had, up until then, been known for it?s console-like side scrolling shooting games. The creators of the game, John Carmack and John Romero (who had not attended MIT?), were inspired to make the game by a game engine that they had programmed. The engine itself was a pseudo-3d, texture mapped piece of coding that would allow for 360? rotation and free movement throughout the levels of the game. The ?3d? surfaces in the game had images over them, unlike the textures of the arcade classic, Battlezone, which were simple transparent geometric shapes. While the game was a far cry from true 3d (later games would enter the realm of 3d), it was definitely a more three dimensional representation of reality than other games of its time, making it in a sense ?2?d.?
All they needed to make the idea a reality was a story for the player to follow and a world to roam about in. Their inspiration for the story and world was an old Apple II game by the name of Castle Wolfenstein. The game in question was a little-known side scrolling adventure game, so the rights to the name ?Wolfenstein? were easily (and relatively cheaply) procured by Wolfenstein 3d?s creators and appropriated to the title of Wolfenstein 3d to avoid confusion with the elder game, despite the fact that the game was not 3d at all. The result of this was a horrifically addictive game of ?shoot the Nazi? that begat an entire genre of computer games, First Person Shooters (FPSs), one of the most popular genres of game to this day.
Wolfenstein 3d (also known by the affectionate title of Wolf3d to its ever-rabid group of fans) was released in shareware format (an incredibly popular way of distributing games at the time reliant on teasing the consumer with one ?episode? of a game and requesting money for the other ?episodes?) and spread across the country, both on Bulletin Board Systems (which replaced ARPAnet in the mid-80s with the advent of modems as the pre-eminent way of disseminating information) and through its players giving one another copies of the shareware.
With Wolf3d, as with Zork a decade earlier, a large fan community sprang up and, for the first time in gaming history, the fans began adding on to the games. Of course, the first few downloadable modifications (called mods for short) to the game that fans created were rather simple and/or crude ones, such as replacing some of the images in the game with images of porn stars or changing the enemies to happy faces, but over time the mods became almost as complex as the game itself.
The success of Wolf3d spurred id Software to create a sequel to the game the following year, entitled Spear of Destiny, which served as more of an extended expansion pack to the game than a sequel of any real sort. Also released in 1993 by the very same team was a game in the tradition of Wolf3d by the name of Doom. Unlike Wolf3d, however, Doom had a multiplayer (or ?deathmatch? as it was christened by the developers) element to it enabling players to hook up over modem or serial connection and either blow each other away (?frag? was the term used for that action, and used to this day in current FPSs) or team up to mop up the corridors of Doom?s base on the moon with excessive firepower.
Computer Games Meet the Parents
A game like Doom, which involved viscerally satisfying romps through abandoned bases while mowing down row after row of enemies, could not go unnoticed by parent groups for long. For the first few years, FPSs remained relatively unmolested by parental intervention. Indeed, many of the people who played the original Doom and some of its early successors were adults no longer under the jurisdiction of their parents, while many of the younger crowd cut their teeth on the less complex offerings from Nintendo and Sega to be played on consoles manufactured by said companies. With the computer game industry becoming a more and more popular (not to mention profitable) industry, the audiences that played computer games were getting younger and younger.
1993 saw the attack by U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn) on video games. In particular, he targeted games such as Mortal Kombat, a console fighting game in which a hardly-realistic amount of pixilated blood spilled forth from the onscreen characters, and the aforementioned Doom. Lieberman lobbied long and hard against the computer game industry and convinced the government to adapt a ratings system like that which governed motion pictures, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB), in 1994. As if a ratings board for computer games were not enough, Lieberman continued to rail against games and the ?digital poison? that they provided to children throughout the country and published numerous articles and press releases detailing his continued pursuit of a most un-constitutional ban on computer games (many of which can be found on his website at http://www.senate.gov/member/ct/lieberman/general/ ).
For years after the lobbying by Lieberman, various parents? groups had joined the witch hunt against computer games, ever-desiring a scapegoat to blame their parenting on, in my opinion. However, the first large-scale attack on the FPS genre, and on the computer game industry as a whole, was spurred on by the April 20, 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO. According to many sources, the two killers had been avid fans of Doom and had played it extensively in their small group of friends. While this shooting was most definitely a tragedy by any standard, it was not necessarily the fault of the computer game industry alone. The two killers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, had easy access to firearms and were raised in family situations that left them to fend for themselves most of the time and learn from TV and computer games. Nevertheless, a lawsuit was filed by the parents of the murdered students against 25 different companies (most of them responsible for the creation of ?violent? games, but a surprising number had nothing to do with the computer game industry) two years after the shootings, in 2001, for $5 billion dollars in punitive damages. At the time of this writing, the legal business of the lawsuit still remains to be sorted out, but it looks as if the families have little to no case against the companies, claiming that games published by the companies had a direct effect on the gunmen to shoot up their school. Another indication of the lack of a case against the game companies is the fact that this lawsuit strongly resembles a lawsuit filed by the same lawyer over another school shooting in Paducah, KY, also blaming computer games for violence amongst students. That lawsuit was dismissed by the court on account of the lack of evidence that the lawyer had, foreshadowing what will (one would hope) happen with the current suit.
An interesting footnote to that story, and a large indication of the kinds of communities games like Doom build, is the fact that after Stomped.com announced the intention of the families to sue, their message board for the news article was flooded with postings from literally hundreds of fans all decrying the actions of the parents and professing support for the game companies in their upcoming battle (http://www.stomped.com/shared/nsystem/read_archived_comment.php?news_id=17575&location=1 has the story and the subsequent messages). Such support, posted so quickly, is an indication of the dedication that drives many gamers to prop up their favorite game company in times of need and the kinds of communities that exist on the internet (and beyond) based around the concept of computer gaming. Something to think about.
Wanting to experience firsthand the effects of violent computer gaming for myself, I decided to make a sojourn to the Nova Tech Committee?s overnight in April of this year. An avid gamer myself, I had yet to see how others react to violent gaming, especially when pitted against their peers in small spaces, spurred on by the intense rush of caffeine and adrenaline. The results were pretty much what I had thought they would be in the first place: they had almost no effect on the violence levels of the individuals in the long term, though the short term violence of the subjects increased by quite a bit. For periods of 10 minutes to 2 hours after the game was played (the lesser amounts of time for the less intense sessions and the greater amounts for the more intense sessions), the subjects acted quite aggressively towards their peers. They would shout and swear and one subject began to practice pretend acts of violence on several of the other subjects in the form of martial arts attacks. This aggression was mainly directed towards the members of the opposing team (as the subjects mostly played team games of various FPSs), but occasionally the subjects on the same team would begin shouting at one and other, usually happening when that team had lost. The conclusion of my case study was a rather simple one: in healthy adolescents between the ages of 15 and 17, computer gaming does not cause significant long-term increases in violence, though it does certainly influence short-term aggressive behavior. However, this is no indication of what gaming can cause in individuals either under the age of 15, or individuals who are not sound of mind. The subjects that I studied had been involved with computer gaming for years prior to my studying of them and showed no ill effects at the hands of gaming aside from less-than-perfect posture, poor eating habits, and a lack of physical fitness in some subjects.
An End of Sorts?
All this information, and history, about computer games is all well and good, but how does it relate to and effect the history of America? As the history of computer games is a rather short one, it is a wonder that they have had an effect at all on American history. But they had several effects, with more on the way.
The first effect that they had was the effect of the simulator. As evidenced by the accuracy (and popularity) of the Sim family of games, computer games provide an efficient way for groups to simulate activities that would prove either too risky or too costly to perform in real life. Examples of activities that may not be feasibly tested in real life are activities such as flying a plane, performing a complex medical operation, staging a large military campaign, and maneuvering a space craft. Until the advent of the computer game, simulating events such as these was either not an option, or a feat that would require costly equipment and an amount of time that the testers, more often than not, didn?t have.
The 1984 movie ?WarGames? provided a good look at one way the United States government could conceivably utilize gaming to simulate real world events. While a machine as advanced as the WOPR (an acronym for War Operations Plan and Response, the computer that Matthew Broderick?s character hacks to play a game of ?global thermonuclear war?) probably did not exist in the 1980s, the US government did indeed have computers capable of simulating an actual global nuclear conflict, though these machines were not linked to the actual warheads as WOPR was in the movie.
Another effect on history that computer games have had is the effect of causing the government and other groups to re-examine where they stand in relation to the Constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression. Many computer games, like movies or music, have tested the devotion of politicians to the First Amendment by pushing the envelope. Games such as Postal, a game in which the player plays the part of a psychotic postal clerk and contains an excessive amount of pointless violence, and Carmageddon, a game that involves the running over of pedestrians by the player?s car-bound onscreen avatar, push the envelope of violence in games far enough to make even the most liberal of First Amendment supporters call for censorship. The excess of violence in these computer games has, much like Socrates in ancient Greece, created a sort of ?gadfly? effect on politicians and others who would feign Constitutionality to test how far they would stretch to defend of one of America?s most hallowed doctrines.
The third and final effect of computer gaming is the community that it builds. This effect is one of the more recent effects in the history of computer gaming, but it is shaping up to be one of the more important effects of computer gaming. Already, people are creating entire organizations around their favorite computer games, whether they are clans for First Person Shooters, guilds for MMORPGs, or even just groups of friends that get together on a semi-regular basis to game (such as the Nova Tech Committee). Since the first MUD was created in 1979, computer games have been changing the ways that people relate to one and other and interact, in America and in the rest of the world. If the current trends in the popularity of online games are any indication, the interaction provided by these games will only continue to grow and improve in quality, making it both easier and more gratifying to link up with friends and play online. Soon, we may even have whole virtual worlds like the one proposed in Neal Stephenson?s novel, ?Snow Crash?, accommodating billions of people in the same world all living out their virtual lives as if they were their real lives. The possibilities are endless?
PCGamer Magazine, July 1997-June 1999
Computer Gaming World Magazine, November 1997, May 2001
New York Times, Monday, May 28, 2001
Zork (Computer Game)
Doom (Computer Game)
Wolfenstein 3d (Computer Game)
SimCity (Computer Game)
Lady’s Cage MUSH (online roleplaying world)