Publisher's Note

Publisher's Note
Play Life and Live Games

Alexander Macris | 16 Nov 2009 09:00
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The Escapist has two slogans, one official and the other informal. Our official slogan - which appears in our ads and signs - is "play life, live games." Our unofficial tagline, our mantra really, is "gaming uber alles:" gaming over everything.

The latter phrase derives from the title of our inaugural weekly issue, way back in July 2005. In issue 1, Gaming Uber Alles, we proudly declared that games were the most important content of the 21st century, in the way that television shows had been the most important content of the 20th century.

Over the years, we've gotten a lot of pushback on this sentiment, mostly from people who respond "no, no, it's the internet, and not just games, that's really the most important type of content of the 21st century."

But of course the internet is a medium for content, not a type of content. In casual conversation, people often make the mistake of confusing the medium for content with the content itself. Media are storage and transmission channels. Radio, newspapers, television, and the internet are media. For most of the 20th century, the medium and the content were indistinguishable; form was function. But nowadays, any type of content can be distributed via many types of media, so we need to distinguish between the two. You can read a novel as a hardcover book, you can listen to a novel on tape, or you can access a novel on your Kindle. The type of content is novel. The medium could be book, tape, or Kindle. The same thing is true of games. People confuse the form of a game - its engine - with gaming itself. Games are not game engines, and games are everywhere.

But let me go back for a second. What do I mean when I say that the television show was the definitive content of the 20th century? Consider how most people got their news: television shows. How most people watched major public events, like the Superbowl: television shows. What most people talked about at the water cooler: television shows.

For those of you in "Generation I," a television show was a type of content defined by linear, short-form visual and auditory narrative. A game, of course, is different: it's not linear, and it's not defined by narrative. It's defined by framed goal-directed interactivity. The framing is the "play ground" or magic circle, where gaming takes place. Interactivity without any frame isn't a game - unless you consider real life a game. Interactivity without goals is not a game; it's a toy or an interactive story. And goal-directed activity without interactivity is not a game, it's simply linear consumption.

Game designers in the audience might quibble with me over the exact definition of a game. But the core point is that, properly understood, a game is not just limited to its most visible medium, which is the 3D graphical engine. The 3D graphical engine has made the game, as a type of content, extremely powerful and ubiquitous, in the same way that broadcast TV made linear, short form visual narrative more powerful and ubiquitous than, say, Shakespeare's Globe Theater ever could. It's so powerful, that people often confuse the medium of 3D graphical engine with the concept of a game itself.

But the 3D graphical simulation is actually only the second most powerful medium for games. The most powerful medium for games is so ubiquitous within our culture now that people often fail to even realize they are even playing a game. I'm talking about, of course, games delivered through 2D text and graphics on the internet.

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