Why study New Games

by Bernard De Koven on January 3, 2013

In 2006, in the very first issue of Games and CultureFred Turner wrote an article called “Why Study New Games.” The article gives anyone who is exploring the relevance of New Games to everything else (like, for example, designing even newer games)(and also for example my oft-repeated claim that playing in public is a political act), will find some usefully tasty grist for the proverbially conceptual mill.

I’ve extracted some exemplary pith from this really valuable article. I highly recommend that you download the article in its thought-provoking entirety.

…New Gamers played in ways that were culturally “deep.” For them, games were not bounded regions apart from daily life but instead constituted a sort of cultural genre—a collection of practices, rules, and symbols that together, like a three-dimensional novel acted out in time, created rich social roles for players and audiences alike. The arrangement of players and observers on the field, the construction of rules (or the lack of them), the deployment of technologies and techniques in and around the space defined for play—for the New Gamers, to rearrange these elements was to rearrange the structure of society itself. In that sense, the New Gamers were not only playing but committing politics.

…In building New Games, the young adults of the late 1960s and early 1970s hoped to create a new set of rules and with them, a new way to live. If the games of the Cold War had presumed competition and enmity, New Games would foster cooperation and empathy. If the simulations of the defense planners had turned people into information, then New Games would return them to their bodies. If the games of Cold War military-industrial bureaucracy had been played in office towers and bunkers, New Games could be played among the flowers and hills. In their own minds, the New Gamers played together to practice a new cultural logic, a logic that they counterposed to what they believed to be the bureaucratic logic of Cold War military-industrial institutions.

…contemporary digital games, like the New Games of 30 years ago, matter in ways that have only a little to do with the moment of play. If, as the New Gamers suggested, games can be a sort of theater in which to try out new forms of society and culture, then we need to ask the following: What kinds of society can we imagine through our games today? What kinds of politics are we playing at? Moreover, if the cultural and social forces that flowed through the New Games continue to inhabit our collective play, then how should we think of our place in time? If neither we nor the New Gamers have entirely escaped the cultural gravity of the Cold War, then what are we doing with our computers?

What kind of history are we making?

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