Real Virtuality, or On the Whole Murky Affair of the Emotions

By Alex Kierkegaard / December 27, 2016

Videogame Culture: Volume II

Life is impoverished, it loses in interest, when the highest stake in the game of living, life itself, may not be risked. It becomes as shallow and empty as, let us say, an American flirtation.

Sigmund Freud

And there you have it. That answers a lot, doesn't it? But still not nearly enough, so let's get down to business and add all the stuff that's missing from the above quote, and which is absolutely necessary for us to understand if we are to grasp what the hell's going on with videogames: the greatest artform of all time, and indeed art itself.
   Why is it so hard for a game to make the player cry, compared to a novel or a movie? The answer to this question is the Holy Grail of videogame theory — if you grasp this, you've grasped almost everything.
   Surely videogames must be a lower artform, if indeed they are art at all, if they are having so much trouble exciting emotions that simpler artforms have been exciting for centuries. — This is the effeminate internet blogoroid and forumroid theory; the child-fagot neckbeard theory.
   But actually, making a player cry is very easy — trivially so, even, if you understand the mechanics of how sadness is generated (i.e. if you are not an internet blogoroid or forumroid who's spent his whole life online and has no real human experience to speak of outside the confines of his bedroom). Any videogame ever, no matter how bad, primitive or simple, can be turned into a tear-jerker with but a simple modification. Take Pong, for example. Have you seen The Deer Hunter? Just make Pong 2: The Pong Hunter, and hook up to it a gun pointed at the player's head. If he loses, the game pulls the trigger: and there you have it. I guarantee you that it will be the most harrowing experience ever for anyone who plays that game outside perhaps of Islamic State residents. No film or novel could compare with how such a game would make the player feel. So which artform is the "deeper", "more emotional" now, eh retards?
   This, I repeat, is no science fiction scenario or wishful thinking: any proper dev studio could set this feature up in their game in a matter of hours. So you want a game to make you cry, internet neckbeard? Here's the Sony CryShock 4, a gun controller that turns every game into a terrifying, harrowing life-and-death experience, only $39,99, including, for a limited time only, a voucher for $10 off a funeral at your local cemetery (valid only while empty burial plots last!)
   And don't give me any bullshit that a game with a gun attached to it is not a game: the CryShock's just another output device; a FORCE FEEDBACK device, in point of fact, which instead of giving you a mild shake, gives you a bullet to the face. A stronger kind of shake, in other words; a more FORCEFUL kind of shake. There are machines on sale that blow air into your face for use in racing games like OutRun, aren't there? Very well then, the CryShock blows a bullet. Gives a whole new meaning to the term "permadeath", doesn't it?
   It's worth repeating and emphasizing how ferociously emotional such an experience would be: you will never have cried so hard with an artwork as you would by playing Pong 2, in which you'd be a couple button presses from certain death for the entire duration of the game. No novel or movie could ever do this for you. A novel or a movie cannot be hooked up to a gun, because if they were they wouldn't be novels or movies any more, they'd be videogames! You'd need some kind of circuitry to be hooked up to the book or the film's playback device, with the appropriate sensors to determine when the reader or viewer reached the point where the gun should fire (since despite what internet neckbeards would have you believe, novels and movies are interactive too, otherwise they'd be reading and watching themselves, instead of needing you to turn their pages and to watch them), so what difference would there be between this setup and an actual videogame? You'd have your input and output devices (sensors and screens/speakers, or pages), and your central processing unit, so all that adding the gun thing to a novel or a movie would do is to transform it into a videogame with minimal interactivity, like a text adventure game or Dragon's Lair.
   So there you go, videogames win in the emotional stakes too, and by a HUGE margin. And not even future videogames, but videogames that already exist and that have existed for decades. The first videogame ever even, with this fairly simply hack, that could become a standard feature of all existing videogames at any moment we desired it to become so, IF WE WERE ACTUALLY RETARDED.
   To repeat, because this is an extremely important point that can't be stressed nearly enough: all the mechanical parts required to hook up the gun have been available since before the industrial revolution, and the code to make it work with your PC or console from the invention of digital computing, so videogames have been able to make a player cry more than any other artwork since the very first game: since Spacewar in 1962. It's not something we are working towards. It's not something we are hoping to achieve some day. It's something we could have had since the beginning of the artform — for over half a century now — and the only reason we don't have it is because WE DON'T FUCKING WANT IT, BECAUSE WE ARE NOT FUCKING RETARDED.
   Now, getting back to Freud up there at the top, let's try to understand what's really happening here. We have seen how, by following his advice, and allowing "the highest stake in the game of living, life itself" to be risked, we can turn all videogames ever from "shallow and empty" diversions into utterly unforgettable and absurdly emotional — perhaps even fatal — experiences, but there still remains the little question of how a novel or a movie can achieve this without the gun. THIS is the real million-dollar question.
   First off, novels or movies CANNOT achieve this level of emotional involvement, ever, period. Only an internet neckbeard who's never left his room and for whom Final Fantasy characters may as well be real would think that the fear of imminent death would provoke the same level of emotional response in a person as the fear of imminent death OF A FICTIONAL CHARACTER IN A NOVEL OR A MOVIE. We'll get back to this point and explore it more thoroughly later, but for the time being just realize that, whatever emotional involvement a novel or a movie can elicit in the reader or the viewer, it pales in comparison to what videogames can when their designers are given free reign as to the amount of force feedback they can employ. All other artforms lose by default in the emotional stakes, simply due to their lack of capacity for force feedback (among other things, that we will be exploring shortly in this essay and in future essays).
   The question then is not how primitive artforms can achieve the same level of emotional depth as a videogame, because they CAN'T. The question is how do primitive artforms manage to achieve any depth at all, given that they fail to heed Freud's admonition to place the reader's or viewer's life at risk, in order to become deep and meaningful experiences.
   And the answer is simple. They achieve it via the phenomenon of empathy. For the reader's or viewer's life may not be at risk while reading a novel or watching a movie, but THE PROTAGONIST'S IS (and if it's not the protagonist's life that is at risk directly, it is his dreams and goals or his general well-being, or those of his friends and family and so on). And it is by EMPATHIZING with the protagonist and his situation that the reader or the viewer come at last to feel A LITTLE of what the actor who PRETENDS to be the protagonist of the movie WOULD HAVE FELT IF HE WAS REAL.
   The key terms here are the ones I capitalized: "a little", "pretension", and "not real". The novel reader or movie viewer feel only A LITTLE of what the protagonist of the novel or the movie would feel if he actually existed. Empathy is an indirect mechanism of feeling, and therefore a VERY WEAK one. When you see Frank Castle's wife and children die in a Punisher comic book or movie you are not feeling the same magnitude of emotions you would feel if your own wife and children had just died. Compared to the force of the latter feeling, the former is so weak it's almost comedy.
   Moreover, the actor playing Frank Castle is not really Frank Castle, and therefore is not really feeling Frank Castle's feelings. He is merely PRETENDING to feel those feelings, an activity that adult people call "acting".
   If he does a good job of it, he helps the viewer forget for a few moments that this is all a big charade and not reality, and a distant, faint resemblance of the fictional character's pain is produced inside the viewer.
   If he does a bad job of it, it makes people laugh instead, as no one can find it in themselves to take the whole charade seriously.
   The entire enterprise, in other words, rests on the quality of the actor's job (and of course on the quality of the script, cinematography and a million other factors — but if the actor is your nine-year-old cousin, he will still tank everything no matter how much other talent and/or money the movie squanders).
   Empathy with the protagonist, therefore, is the mechanism via which primitive art works. But since in videogames YOU YOURSELF are the protagonist, you have no one to empathize with! Put another way, you have to EMPATHIZE WITH YOURSELF, which is merely a retarded, roundabout way of saying "TO FEEL"! (since "to empathize" means "to feel with someone else" — that's what the word means in Greek — so if you remove the "someone else", all you're left with is "to feel").
   In other words, there is no more indirect mechanism of feeling here; in videogames all feelings are direct, not mediated by actors (or by the reader imagining actors in his head via reading instructions in a novel, and so on) — AND THAT'S PRECISELY WHY THEY ARE SO STRONG. So you want to feel pain while playing a videogame? Very well, then: you'll have to be made to feel pain. The designer will have to find a way to hurt you.

Part II: To share not suffering... but joy

It is always as between Achilles and Homer: the one has the experience, the sensation, the other describes it. A true writer only bestows words on the emotions and experiences of others, he is an artist so as to divine much from the little he himself has felt. Artists are by no means men of great passion but they often pretend to be, in the unconscious feeling that their painted passions will seem more believable if their own life speaks for their experience in this field. One has only to let oneself go, to abandon self-control, to give rein to one's anger or desires: at once all the world cries: how passionate he is! But deep-rooted passion, passion which gnaws at the individual and often consumes him, is a thing of some consequence: he who experiences such passion certainly does not describe it in dramas, music or novels.

Friedrich Nietzsche

And that's where the gun comes in. It is of course a very direct and crude method (which is why it's so effective), but we can imagine other, perhaps subtler ones that achieve a similar effect. Sadness being, of course, the result of either loss or the fear of loss (of the player's life, in the case of the CryShock), what about the aspie in a Dota tournament who loses a million dollars in the final match and breaks down in curses and tears? But is he crying and cursing because of Dota, or the million dollars? Similarly, are you crying because of the quality of Pong 2, or because of the gun? And this is where my concept of "reality linking" comes in, and where we'll make a little detour to explore the concept of gambling, a different form of "gaming" the analysis of which will help shed a lot of light on our current subject.
   My father used to be a huge gambler when I was growing up, and I inevitably ended up becoming one myself by being exposed to gambling from a young age and falling in love with it (weak degenerates with no self-control would call it an "addiction"). And yet, even though he'd lose no opportunity to gamble whenever possible (primarily roulette in casinos in Greece and across Europe, but also illegal poker games on occasion), he would never play with friends and family the traditional game of black jack during holidays like New Year's Eve. "I love to play but I can't play without money, there's just no interest in it", he once told me. In other words, he doesn't really like the games, and only plays for the thrill of winning and losing, and the potential winnings. Which goes to show that even the simplest, stupidest game like roulette can become utterly fascinating and gripping if the stakes are high enough — if we "link" its outcome somehow to something "real", to something the player values in life outside the game (hence why I call this effect "reality-linking"). It's the same principle at work here that we used when we added the gun to Pong, just in a somewhat milder fashion.
   We should not let this effect, however, cloud our attempts to evaluate games on their own merits — i.e. without the confusing effects of this phenomenon. For if roulette — a pointless, stupid game on its own — becomes utterly fascinating and gripping via the addition of a money pot, StarCraft becomes even better, since StarCraft on its own is about a million times better game than roulette. And if StarCraft becomes even better with a money pot, Planetary Annihilation would become about a hundred times better, since PA is about a hundred times better than SC (that's what the difference between a 3-star and a 5-star game signifies: the scale is exponential; a one-star difference signifies a 10-times better game). In the same fashion, Pong would become great with permadeath (real permadeath, I mean), but PlanetSide 2 with permadeath and with all your childhood friends in your team would be Platoon in real life: it would be the experience of a lifetime. An experience worth risking death for, perhaps? Far-fetched, you might say, but it's not something unimaginable. Not to me and other philosophers, at least.

Baudrillard: "From having been a vital function, death will become a luxury, a diversion. In a future civilization from which death has been eliminated, future clones might, perhaps, afford themselves the luxury of death, and become mortals once again in simulation..."

   Bottom line is that, regardless of how good (or bad) a game might be, reality-linking will make it even better, but though a rising tide raises all boats, the better boats will still remain better regardless of the level of the tide. You might think that none of this would matter if someone shoved a gun to your head and told you to play a fucking game, but if I was risking death I'd rather risk it over a good game, and get a better experience out of it, which would be especially important if there was a chance it'd be my last. Conversely, if some aspie keeps blabbing in your face about how awesome some stupid "esport" is, remember that 50v50v50v50 Planetary Annihilation would be thousands of times better if it became an esport, and the only reason that it won't is precisely because it's such an intrinsically superior game that aspies can't appreciate it.
   So, to leave behind this little detour and get back to our main subject, we've seen that videogames work by bridging the divide between art consumer (reader/viewer/player and so on) and protagonist: whereas in the primitive arts the distance between them is great and undeniable, in videogames, because of interactivity, the two become one, and the primary psychological mechanism of art's functioning goes from indirect feeling, called empathy, to direct feeling — to actually feeling everything yourself without the mediation of actors or even your own imagination — which is a far more immediate, and therefore powerful means of emotional connection, but for the same reason a lot more dangerous too.
   This is another extremely important point that no one else has ever touched on or even conceived, and we'll shortly understand why. Because it's time we understood that emotions triggered by videogames can be so powerful that they become DANGEROUS to the person who's experiencing them. Forumroids and blogoroids don't understand this, because they've spent their entire lives browsing the internet inside their rooms and haven't really experienced anything, but SADNESS IS DETRIMENTAL TO YOUR HEALTH. Even a little sobbing in the cinema can harm you, physically at least, despite (or perhaps because of) what psychological good it might do you, and there are countless studies that have proved it. The effects of sadness are disastrous to the human system — to any living organism even, and are not to be played with lightly. And it's precisely because effeminate neckbeards online haven't had a chance to experience real human emotions that they don't understand this. Maybe this is also why they are clamoring so much for simulations that give them the opportunity to feel them?
   And now they are asking for games to make you afraid or sad. It's like playing with a kitten, and enjoying the experience, and then thinking that lions are something fundamentally different than kittens because you can't play with them. "Lions are stone cold killers. They are sociopathic. Lions don't play." Well, actually, you CAN play with a lion — they definitely play between themselves, at least, just like cats do! — but it's insanely dangerous, and in all probability you'll get eaten.
   The question then is not whether or not videogames can excite powerful emotions, but whether or not we'd WANT them to. Simulation at this level has insane power. Like life (since that's what it's meant to simulate, after all), but in a sense even more, since life contains also countless mundane experiences that we'd never bother simulating, whereas art concentrates all its attention on the extreme ones. Videogames then can certainly be designed to offer you those life-and-death moments from the novels or the movies that you crave (themselves copied from a life you'll never live), but it will be REAL life and death this time. And even if you are merely tricked into thinking it is real death, while in fact it isn't, the shock to your system of THINKING that it's real will be exactly the same as if it WERE real. People can get heart palpitations from this shit. People can be hospitalized from this level of psychological trauma. It's not a joking matter.
   People can actually DIE of sadness, no bullet needed. Think of a mother seeing her only child dying. At the very least this experience will shave a few years off her life. Now think of tricking her into experiencing this feeling in a game. Obviously, if she's sitting at the computer and sees her digital child dying in an artfag game she won't feel anything if she's not retarded. She'll probably laugh about it and then play a real game. The only way you can get a player to take such a scenario seriously is if you trick him into thinking that the child is real, and really his own child. Remember: the actor in the movie is merely PRETENDING to believe that the dead child is his own, and that it's dead. And the only reason he is doing this is to TRICK you into EMPATHIZING with the character that he has been paid to IMPERSONATE. But none of that shit exists in a videogame. YOU are the "actor" in the videogame, and you have no one to act for because no one gives a shit about you and what you are doing. Obviously you can't act for yourself and trick your own self into believing in your impersonation unless you are schizophrenic, so the only way to make the scenario work artistically is for the game's designer to somehow trick you into believing that all this shit is real.
   And how could he achieve this? There are ways, and not all of them include sci-fi. The most obvious one, to hook you up to a machine and erase your memory of being hooked up, is indeed sci-fi, but there are simpler ones. Far simpler ones that could almost be used today. For example, a crew could break into your house at night Eternal Sunshine-style, and hook your brain up to the machine (or drug you in a bar, and so on). Then when you wake up, you are in the game and none the wiser. Or the Total Recall solution, in which you walk into a lab from which you've purchased your "virtual ride", and you are sedated and hooked up to the machine with your full knowledge, but the simulation is so seamlessly blended with the reality you experienced up to that point, that you can't tell the difference between them any more (in the newer Total Recall the cops broke in before the simulation had begun, apparently, but did they really? And how could you make sure? You can't, in which case you are forced to assume that they are real, since that would be your safest bet under the circumstances, and the game's on!)
   Bottom line is that the extreme emotions that the internet neckbeards are clamoring for are perfectly achievable in videogames — and in a far more extreme manner than the neckbeards themselves could ever have hoped for or imagined, even — but, as is only fitting, you'll have to go to some pretty extreme lengths yourself, as either a player or a designer, in order to achieve them. And the question now becomes — a question that no forumroid or blogoroid has so far managed to conceive — would you really want to?
   Maybe the internet shut-ins would, since this would be their only way of experiencing real human emotions, but for the rest of us? For me? I am not so sure. Videogames will eventually take "health warnings" to another level. A Total Recall-like James Bond videogame would be fine, since no one ever got depressed from driving fast cars and fucking sexy women. But a brain-jacked Total Recall-type Schindler's List? At the very least, I would limit such games to one a year or so. And even that may be too much. I am 38 years old, and I've had maybe three or four massive depressive experiences in my life (from one of which I still have cut marks on my wrists...), and though I've learned a lot from them (I am practically human BECAUSE of them), they have cost me dearly in terms of health. The heart palpitations I mentioned earlier? I actually have them, and have lived with them for over half a decade now. The last thing I need is to play a game that will exacerbate them. If I have any amount of emotional strength left inside me, I'd much prefer to spend it on a real event, rather than on a manufactured one.
   So this stuff is definitely possible, and even inevitable, given enough time, but the question we should be asking ourselves until that time comes is, "Do we really want to go there?" But of course there's no "we" since there is no "mankind" but a "multiplicity of inextricably intertwined ascending and descending life-processes". Huge tracts of the population will inevitably eventually invest all their efforts into shutting themselves up in Vanilla Sky-like and Matrix-like life-support machines in order to dream their perfect dreams and, for better or worse... to disappear.

"But I want to make them bolder, more persevering, simpler, gayer. I want to teach them what is understood by so few today, least of all by these preachers of pity: to share not suffering but joy."

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Part III: The Uncanny Valley of Interactivity

By the way, I started out by trying to explain to you why it's so hard for games to make the player cry. I showed you that it's not hard at all, as long as you are willing to go to some extreme measures, such as placing the player's life in danger, and so on. But it's worth mentioning that, throughout this discussion, I have assumed that we are talking about well-adjusted, emotionally mature adults. Because if we aren't, things change a great deal. After all, neckbearded weeaboos cry with Final Fantasy or Metal Gear Solid games all the time. So you don't really need to do anything special to get them bawling: any random animu schlock will do. And that is understandable enough; after all, wanna know who cries all the time for no reason? Babies. In other words, the easier it is for you to cry, the weaker and more emotionally immature you are (women are another good, if less extreme, example). Those who say (inc. journalists), therefore, that they cried or "were emotional" all the time with the latest "indie" shitpieces may as well be advertising that they are retards (in the journalists' case usually liars — they claim they cried to pander to their internet neckbeard audience, otherwise they'd be crying every day with the neverending flood of "indie" garbage that they are forced to slog through all the time). But none of that concerns us in the context of this essay, because we are discussing the emotional responses of proper people here, not those of newborns or of retards. Young mothers and psychotherapists can deal with the latter demographics; I lack the maternal instincts and the training.
   What's extremely interesting, however, to get back to our subject, and try to understand things at an even deeper level, is that it's easier to believe in the reality of what your TV is showing, than in that of your computer game, even though the latter is, undoubtedly, a far more immersive medium than the former. Of course no one believes that the actors are actually inside the TV, but movies have attained such a level of lifelikeness (for lack of a better word) that they seem more realistic than the news: than actual reality recorded by a camera. So even though we know that the actors are not inside the TV, the illusion weaved by a great film is so realistic that we almost feel as if these things have actually happened in some other corner of the planet, and were somehow recorded by someone, and we are merely watching them now at a later time — which is also the attraction of the "found footage" genre pioneered by The Blair Witch Project. In a sense, we treat ALL great movies as "found footage" (which is why, by the way, the found footage genre is superfluous and shit. It merely restricts the director's means of expression in terms of cinematography and so on, without providing any benefits to the illusion). Good movies pull us in and engross us to such an extent, that these actors seem to us to act more lifelike than the people we know in real life. People believe more in Friends than in their real friends. Your real friends don't seem like friends anymore after you've been watching Friends for a while (this is what Baudrillard meant by "hyperreality", the more real than the real; not a virtual reality like The Matrix's, which was the Wachowskis' misinterpretation of his work, but the reality in which real people act like the characters in Friends because they deem their fake behavior more natural and realistic than that of their real friends).
   You can see, by the way, how mentally unstable and stunted people would be affected far more by such art than healthy mature people, and that's what's happened when you hear of someone sending letters to the producers of a TV show asking about what's happening to the characters between episodes as if they were real, or crying about their fate on YouTube and so on. If we are talking about very young children, some of this is excusable, but past a certain point whoever acts this way is mentally, at least, still a child, and that's precisely what it means to be retarded, i.e. "behind"; behind the adults who have mentally and emotionally matured. I remember crying to my parents in the '80s after watching The Omen films, and agonizing over days about what could be done to save them from the Antichrist's apocalypse, but I was a fucking eight-year-old. I obviously don't act this way anymore, but a small part of the population does, and they tend to be very vocal on the internet, and are thus over-represented on it, because that's where they spend all of their time.
   In contrast, then, to a child in a great movie with an expert cast portrayed by a convincing actor, it is impossible to be taken in by the illusion of a child in a videogame, ironically, precisely because the digital child responds to our input. This is the uncanny valley, not of animation, but of INTERACTIVITY. The closer we get to perfect simulation, the less immersive it actually seems to be. And traditional videogame conventions such as selectable difficulty levels and saved games (more on which later) merely compound the problem. The only solution is hardcore: the very LAST step to perfect simulation — total identification with the avatar, by messing with the player's ability to tell the difference — whereby the uncanny valley is definitively crossed and we at last arrive... at the promised land: perfect simulation.
   It doesn't matter if the child looks perfect. It almost doesn't even matter if it responds perfectly either; the mere fact that the child is responding to you AT ALL prevents the illusion from working at the same level as the movie's. In the movie, as I've explained, there is always the chance that the people and events depicted are real and have simply somehow been recorded and are being viewed by you at a later time. In the novel (and especially the first-person novel, the FPN), there is always the chance that the author did indeed have these experiences and wrote them down for others to read. But if the illusion is responding to you at the precise moment when you decide to sit down on your computer, there is not the slightest chance that anything in it is real. You see, it is YOU who is preventing the illusion from assuming the force of reality, and until you yourself have become entirely convinced of the reality of YOUR OWN ILLUSION (which is to say until the fusion between you and your avatar has become so complete that you can no longer tell the difference between them), the stronger, deeper emotions inside you have no chance of being aroused — AND WITH GOOD REASON, as we've seen, because they are dangerous. Remember: the emotions, and especially the stronger, more extreme ones, were evolved in order to serve you in times of extreme need. It is part of their utility that they include measures and failsafes against being aroused for no good reason (measures and failsafes which have failed to be developed in emotionally retarded and stunted people...) And mucking about with an artwork in your spare time IS NOT A GOOD REASON to arouse powerful emotions that come with huge physical health costs.
   And thus we arrive at the last piece of the puzzle of interactive simulation, and by far the most important one: the protagonist. I.e. YOU. It is YOU who is holding back the illusion from "closing", from achieving complete integrity and internal consistency. It is YOU who will not play by the rules and fucking treat that child as if it's your own. Game designers have long known how impossibly hard it is to make the player act in any kind of reasonable manner in their games; how the players will do every stupid thing they can think of apart from what they are supposed to do. Non-interactive arts may be weaker, but at least they regularly achieve perfect integrity, and that's why their effect can often be superior to interactive art, which is far more powerful, but in which the most important piece of the puzzle — you — refuses to cooperate and play his part properly. I am not saying that you are doing anything wrong either. It's not like you have a CHOICE of whether or not to believe the illusion. This incapacity has been well pointed out by Nietzsche. You can't say "I will believe this". You either believe something or you don't. Belief is not a choice; you can't make yourself believe something. Belief must come from elsewhere... in this case, by the game's designer forcing it on you. Yes, the director of an interactive artwork has to go THAT far to achieve the maximum effect he can achieve: beyond even your consent (which is why the players of the most immersive artwork ever regularly ask themselves, "Why are we even here?" You are here because the Director brought you as he needs you to complete his game, the one in which He is the star and you're an extra — wink wink — as in the ultimate game star and director — or player and director, if you prefer this terminology — have become one).
   Bottom line is that you can't behave towards your on-screen child as if it is your child, if you don't believe that it's your child. Any attempt of yours to approach such a behavior would be acting, in which case you DISTANCE yourself from the protagonist, by PRETENDING to be him, instead of simply BEING him, as you are supposed to in an interactive work, and THAT'S what causes the uncanny valley of interactive simulation.
   In contrast, behaving towards your on-screen car as if it is your car is a whole lot easier (because it's far simpler and far less emotionally demanding), with no acting on your part required or extreme directorial measures, and that's why racing games and the like are more immersive (=more enjoyable) than anything that works — or TRIES to work, unsuccessfully — on a deeper psychological level. If you want a game that works on a deeper level with any degree of success, you'll have to be prepared, as a player, to immerse yourself deeper into the game... with all the drawbacks and dangers to yourself, on top of the technical/technological difficulties, that we've seen that such an immersion would entail. Hooking up a loaded gun that's pointed at your head is the easy way to achieve this, in the context of a simple game that simulates some sort of life-and-death struggle, but if you want any kind of more complex drama, the only option would be complete and total — perfect — simulation.

To be continued...

Videogame Culture: Volume I


Men of Great Genius

The Stupidest Word in Videogames
Arcade Culture
In the Name of Consistency
Reviewing Ports and Compilations
Sequel: The Videogame
No More "Parodies"
On "Values" for "Monies"
Can Games "be Art?", and other Childish Nonsense
Message my Ass
On Role-playing Games
The RPG Conundrum
The Nuts and Bolts are as Important as the Ones and Zeros
The Videogame News Racket
Does Anyone Hate Anything Anymore?
Non-games are for Non-gamers
Casual Reviews are for Casual Gamers
Mini-games are for Mini-gamers
On Complexity, Depth and Skill
The Second Stupidest Word in Videogames
On New Games Journalism
Leave Ranking to the Experts
Beyond the Videogame News Racket
How Good Exactly is Perfect?
Cocksucking Videogameland
Basic Instincts
On "Emergent" Game Behavior and other Miracles
On Insects and their Laws
The Simulacrum is True
A Gamer's Guide to the Internet: Prologue
Hardware Porn: Prologue
A Brief History of Cutscenes
On Action and Reaction
On "Pluralism"
The Myth of Independence
On Mane Streems and Niches
On Why I Am The Best Videogame Player In The World
On Why Scoring Sucks And Those Who Defend It Are Aspies
On the Relative Irrelevance of "Balance"
Bad Try, So No Cigar
Reviewing Textures
On Narrative Delusions


On the Genealogy of "Art Games": A Polemic


Historia abscondita

First Essay: The Absurd Circularity of the Pseudo-Art Game
Second Essay: The Evolving Artforms and their Parasites
Third Essay: The Message of the Medium


Videogame Culture: Volume II

There Can Be Only One

Following Nietzsche

On Set Theory and the Bastardization Process
Against the "Metagame"
On Meta- and Mini-gaming
R.I.P., Nintendo: An Introduction to the Tree of Gaming
Why Versus Multiplayer Games Are Worse Games Than JRPGs
The Downside to Playing Games with Icy and His Friends
On Why Bigger Has Always Been Better, And Why It Always Will Be
Real Virtuality, or On the Whole Murky Affair of the Emotions
The Motion-Sensing Dead End
What Is Wrong With Sports Games
Aesthetics and Mechanics and the Grand Unified Theory
The Console Wars Are Over
Why Steam Curation Algorithms Are Doomed To Eternal Failure
The Myth of Accessibility
Why Science Fiction Is The Ultimate Videogame Theme
The Myth of Toxicity
Why The Best Games Also Have The Best Graphics
How to Deal with Backlogs
Why I Don't Bother With Card Games
VR Is Stalling For No Reason
On Nerd Psychology and The Ultimate Goal of Videogames
Against Retro
How Art Works
Defining Cutscenes
Designing An MMORPG That Doesn't Suck, or The True Episodic Gaming
The Death of Discussion
How To Not Use Genres Like A Retard
How Devs Like Naughty Dog and Sucker Punch are Holding Gaming to Ransom
Bugs my Ass
Why You Should Play More Games
The Joy of Good Criticism
King of the Nerds
The Complete Package
The Supreme Criterion
How Consoles Went From Awesome To Necessary Evil
Interactivity Isn't Optional
Understanding the Crowdfunding "Revolution"
Ideas vs. Coding
The Inevitable Death and Improbable Resurrection of Variety Games
"Indie" Syndrome is Artistic Down Syndrome
How Hardcore Gamers Can Remain Sane & Healthy
On the Creative Bankruptcy of Goal-less Game Design, or Creativity my Ass
Why Gitting Gud at Videogames is for Losers
Why the Highest Artform Attracts the Lowest Lifeforms

ORDER NOW (Ships Autumn 2020)

Videogame Culture: Volume III

Quantum of Game Design
The Ultimate Singleplayer vs. Multiplayer Essay
On the Worthlessness of Game Academics
The Art of Cover Art, or How To Judge A Game By Its Cover
On Genre and the Tree of Gaming
On Difficulty, Fun, and the Impossibility of Playing to Lose
On Journalism's Irrelevance
On the Worthlessness of Game Academics
On "Indies" and "Dependies", or The "Indie" Game Conundrum
An Insomniac's Guide to Great Games
Dungeon Crawling
Notes on the Arcade Culture
Shooting Love
Defining Cutscenes
To Save, or not to Save, That is the Question
Why Old-timers Hate Handhelds
On Grinding
The Truth About Emulation
On Videogame Forums
A Matter of Tradition
How Hard is your Core? (or, The New Casuals)
The Third Stupidest Word in Videogames
Industry, Shmindustry
On Game Guides
Retrogression & Decadence
The Fourth Stupidest Word in Videogames
The Console and the End of Videogame Hardware
Who Really Killed Adventure Games
Western Videogame Art Design and the Cult of the Grotesque
The Myth of Innovation
Videogames & Simulation
Responsibility my Ass
Medium, Shmedium
Pressing Buttons
The Cinematic Videogame
Acquiring Taste
A History of Violence
The Mise-en-Jeu
The New Games Criticism
Confessions of a Game Reviewer

COMING SOON (Ships Autumn 2020)

See Also

Videogame Art