Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Control of Video Games

America is all about freedom and subsequently control and power. There is no such thing as complete freedom and there never will be. Media is no exception. Television and film give us limited freedom. We can choose to watch a comedy movie instead of a horror, but generally we can't decide what the content of a movie or a television show will be.

In the past two decades video games have risen to the top tier of entertainment. Everyone I know has at least one gaming system and most Americans have computers which allow gameplay on the internet as well as PC games. Humans like to be in control or feel as if they are, even if it is a character in a video game. If I want to shoot someone just to take their money on Grand Theft Auto, I can. There are a few different results that can come from this, which were programmed into the game therefore giving me no control over, but how I have the character react to the consequences is up to me.

When I was little all I wanted to do was watch my sister and cousins play video games. When I was between the ages of about 4-10 I mostly watched them rather than play. I knew how to play and I would every once in awhile, but mostly I was too young to get very far. As I got older I wasn't as comfortable watching and I would irritate my sister by being a sort of "back-seat driver." I would tell her go over there or jump here. I was growing up and I wanted more control over what I was seeing. Needless to say, my sister and I are still avid video gamers now (as much as we can be on a limited budget and working our way through college).

Video games can be an escape into a world where we are something better than ourselves. Who wouldn't love to explode a gas station without consequences in Grand Theft Auto, kill hordes of zombies in Resident Evil, or create and live the perfect life in The Sims (PC version). I can see how easy it would be to get lost in these non-existant (and sometimes fantastical) worlds. Yes, there are limits to what a certain game is programmed to do and content is created by someone else, but there's a level of control in video games that's unavailable in other forms of media (and life itself). However, there are books and movies starting to profit off of the idea of audience control. Choose your own adventure books are a great example and Final Destination 3 on DVD follows the same sort of idea. The movie can be watched in it's intended progression and conclusion or you can click on the choose your path version on the DVD menu. In this version of the film there are places where it will stop and ask which way you would prefer to go or which action should be taken providing many different paths through the movie. While this is more time-consuming and expensive for the filmmakers (more scenes need to be made and a lot more editing needs to be done), it gives the audience control that they want and if you give the people what they want the profits will follow.

In video games we aren't just along for the ride (keeping our hands and feet in the vehicle at all times) we make the ride and navigate our way through it. So who knows where video games will lead us, maybe all movies will function like Final Destination 3. We'll just have to wait and see.

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