Do you still play old video games?

I'm going crazy, will you play along?

I'm going crazy, will you play along?

How computer games give us joy and relaxation

By Juliane Ungänz

Situation 1:

Ten o'clock in the evening in Germany. The blinds have been down all day. A humming sound from monitors and computers, occasionally a voice: “Jahhh!”, A painful “That couldn't be true!” Or an angry “Cheater, it's all cheater!” A person sits in front of the desk in a tense position crowded the monitor, the butt in the corner of his mouth and nervous twitching in his right eye. Next to it is the overflowing ashtray, a 2 liter bottle of Cola and a mountain of fast food packaging.

Situation 2:

Another place at ten. The moon throws a soft light into the room through the window. The woolly warm fire crackles in the fireplace and a person is sitting in an old leather club chair, leaning back and relaxing. On a small table there is a reading lamp, a cup of tea and a small plate with selected pastries.

The situations described are intended to represent prevailing opinions about computer games and reading, as they are also described by Steven Johnson in “Everything Bad is Good for You”. Despite the increasing number of computer gamers and the decreasing number of readers, PC games are viewed as less valuable. According to the “conventional” opinion, reading is considered sensible, computer games senseless. The situations I have described also correspond to this opinion. The entire environment of the player appears inharmonious, his diet unhealthy. Reading is equated with relaxation. So the problem lies in the image, with Johnson’s text attempting an image campaign for computer games. Reading books, on the other hand, is already enjoying a splendid reputation. This can also be seen in the fact that books are decorative items in our living space. We try to impress visitors with large bookcases filled with classics from world literature, from Tolstoj to Tolkien.

Despite all efforts to create an exterior design, no matter how beautiful, the computer is attributed to the study. Cabinets in which CD-ROMs and software packs are located impress only "connoisseurs". The general public still demands that cultural goods be heavy, dusty and made of paper.

In the course of Johnson's image campaign, McLuhan's idea of ​​a cultural reversal is presented: What if computers suddenly had the better image, were the primary information and entertainment medium, and books were new? The reasoning is based on the selection of negative aspects, which are exaggerated and exaggerated into a "worst-case scenario". Johnson does not fully agree with McLuhan's reasoning, but notes that it is not entirely wrong either.

McLuhan's comparison is not only exaggerated, it is also in no way related to the development of play and reading culture. Because the principle of playing didn't hit our culture like a meteorite.

Font and game have always existed side by side, and font has always had the better image. In AD 98, Publius Cornelius Tacitus describes in his work “De origine et situ Germanorum” (On the origin and customs of the Germanic peoples) the Germanic peoples as noble warriors who demonstrated great bravery in battle. However, if they did not fight, they would spend their time drinking unrestrainedly and playing. Even then, playing was considered a bad quality. Especially since the Teutons like to gamble away their wife and court, often their own freedom, when they play dice. Playing is often associated with a stake, while reading, on the other hand, I have nothing to lose.

At first, reading was reserved only for members of the Church and a few nobles. In addition, books were expensive. Reading becomes a privilege and books a luxury.

A reversal like the one McLuhan undertakes is therefore not only exaggerated, but also goes wrong in the assertion that computer games are not classified as dangerous because the new is always viewed with skepticism.

Johnson also recognizes, at least in part, the threadbare nature of McLuhan's argumentation and states that the game and the novel cannot be measured by the same criteria. He then tries to convince his readers that computer games are part of the constantly growing pop culture of our time and can have a positive influence on us.

Studies have shown an improvement in motor skills, especially hand coordination and memory, in computer gamers as opposed to non-computer gamers. And with games like SimCity, the children would learn to understand administrative principles that would make them fall asleep in the classroom. Complex processes take place in the head of the player, depending on the complexity of the computer game. He has to develop various strategies in order to decide on short-term and long-term actions. The end goal cannot be approached linearly, besides, it is important to “stay alive” and overcome various hurdles in order to get closer to the end goal. Johnson calls the mental act of organizing all the processes that are running at the same time “telescoping”. The computer game, however, has even more pitfalls. With every mistake it goes back to the beginning of the level or a secured checkpoint and a new strategy must be found immediately. The player tries out his actions until success is achieved. The rules of the game are also not known before playing. The player can only find out what he is allowed to and can do and what is impossible for him to try out. Johnson describes this process as "probing". "Telescoping" and "probing" are also what differentiated computer games from literature. While literature is interested in “what happens?”, The game is about “how does something happen?”. This makes the computer game more like a mathematical formula and encourages logical thinking. Instead of drowning in the flood of information that computer games can present, the player is just learning to cope with it. In order to fill the world with meaning on the screen, the player would create order. Playing becomes an enormous intellectual achievement. You don't play for the game, but for life.

One of the best-selling games in the last 10 years is "The Sims". There aren't even armies of aliens, kidnapped princesses or unsolved murders. The player does almost nothing, except wait and watch. The characters get their mail, talk to each other, watch TV or go to sleep. According to Johnson's thesis, the simultaneous storylines in the game would challenge me to the effect that I have to consider and coordinate a wide variety of things at the same time. Chris needs something to eat, Theo finally has to empty his mailbox and Lisa is supposed to flirt with Philipp. Oh dear, so much at once. But wait a minute. Aren't I doing exactly the same thing every day in the real world? I constantly have to move appointments and errands on my to-do list and initiate processes for my short-term and long-term goals. Fill the fridge, pay the bill, earn money, send applications, prepare essays for the deadline, maintain social contacts and so much more. If I can learn to deal with the flood of information in the real world, why should I play computer games? Perhaps such skills are required when playing on the screen, but the game is not necessary for their development.

Some claim that they try to escape the real world by playing computer games. Into the virtual world, where my actions can lead to death, but it doesn't matter, because I am reborn by simply pressing a button. Johnson contradicts the idea of ​​an escape from reality.