The intersection of gaming and guilt

Paul Raven @ 28-08-2009

Wii Fit water bottlesOver at The Guardian, Keith Stuart finds himself distressed by the rise of computer games that focus on physical fitness; his concern is that the whole appeal of computer games has always been the ability to live vicariously as someone other than yourself, and that this development suggests that body fascism is finally invading the game-space. [image by imjoshdotcom]

I understand the physical fitness potential of this procedure, but there are concerns about what this means for the future integration of virtual and physical identities. In the past we’ve been able to entirely separate the two – it’s the fundamental appeal behind online environments such as Second Life. Gaming has always been sort of transcendental – the player’s ability to perform stunning acrobatic leaps in Prince of Persia, or devastating roundhouse kicks in Tekken, has only ever been about hand-eye coordination, about skill. One notable exception was the very first Street Fighter arcade game, now largely overlooked and dismissed by gamers, which required you to punch large pads as hard as possible to pull off moves. It was inexact and clumsy and it created a higher physical baseline for protagonists.

But then fast-forward 20 years, to the unveiling of Microsoft’s Project Natal motion-capture system for the Xbox 360. The demos were all about people pulling off kicks and punches in their living rooms to create similar movements on screen. Going even further, Mylo, the virtual boy emulator created by the British studio Lionhead, will watch and read the player’s facial expressions, with the onscreen character reacting accordingly.

It feels like a strange ontological breach. Watch a gamer in action: it’s a totally unselfconscious activity. Bodies go limp, faces are twisted in weird contortions or slackened in hangdog wonder. Some read this negatively, equating it with the mindless consumption of junk TV – and now it seems even games publishers are developing guilt. And guilt is the emotion that often arises when bodies are scrutinised, especially among the demographic that buys fitness games. Sure there are health benefits to the increasing physicalisation of entertainment software, but there is also the underlying taint of pop-culture body fascism.

I can see where he’s going with this, but I think the point is overstated; rather than developing guilt, I think games designers are in fact responding to an increased demand for ways of making exercise fun. Where the line between wanting to be more healthy and obsessing over your physical persona is drawn is, I suspect, largely an individual matter; I’m absolutely positive that gaming will never develop a significant fraction of the coercive power of television.

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4 Responses to “The intersection of gaming and guilt”

  1. Dave says:

    There is absolutely no danger that body-free games will disappear. The hand-held controller model is just too good, and too strong. It just doesn’t matter if some games put us back in our bodies. People will now have the option to play Wii Fit, or a Natal game, just as they’ve always had the option to hit the basketball court. Both are activities that demand some physical consciousness; neither is mandatory.

    And can we get over the habit of calling things we don’t like “fascism”?

  2. Darkflame says:

    Games dont have to serve any other purpose then to entertain. Too many artforms try to justify their existence by other ways, always undersaleing the core idea that people need to enjoy themselfs.

    That said, excercise is mind-blowly tedious and I think will be replaced almost completely by computer games, and one day AR and VR simulations.
    Why job around a random road when you can run away from a hoard of Zombies?
    Games can make everything more fun, and are infinitely adaptable to suit tastes.
    Personally I cant wait to use realistic sword motions in a Zelda game. To increase the connection between me and the characters world. Excercise/health benefits are purely a side effect of the increased immersion and enjoyment.

  3. Khannea Suntzu says:

    I am not worried in the least. Market forces, remember?

    Plus, the analysis in this post completely and criminally ignores the realm of virtual sexual acrobatics – a growth industry that can do with some widespread addiction – and game-porn. I can easily see first emergence, and mere years after, widespread acceptance of a “clitoral hero” type play device and all in all, it would be healthy and not … d’urrrr… “fascist”.

  4. Kriss says:

    It’s none of these reasons, its just a simple manifestation of the fact that selling people something that will improve them is easier than selling them something that’s just for fun. If this product happens to be fun, well that’s just an unfortunate side effect that the purchaser will learn to live with.

    I give you proof that this has always been the case through the medium of you tube videos
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IfCdNrRNS4g

    PS the first SF control was pulled because it simply took too much maintenance to keep it working. Maintenance is a big problem with any physical exertion in arcade games.

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