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The Pequod
Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

Games Like Television Like Games

Friday, August 08, 2014

Keith Stuart has written a perceptive article on how EA Sports' Fifa series of video games has developed increasingly like-like degrees of realism. The new 2015 iteration promises faithfully to model every Premiership ground, right down to capturing the unique noise and chants of crowds over the audio commentary, with camera angles and replays that reflect the positions of television cameras in the actual stadia. As Stuart points out:
Just as Sky exploded into football coverage in the early nineties bringing video game-like stats, sound effects and visuals, video games have met the television industry half-way. A match in Fifa 15 will begin with a stadium fly-over cam, the Premiership theme tune, the players lining up to shake hands, the commentators gabbing on about the meaning and important of it all. You can click through it all, but gamers are encouraged to feel a part of the “theatre”.
In this way, what is being emulated in the Fifa series is not simply the sport, but the narrative of the sport as disseminated via television. It is a good point, and one that we can extrapolate to other games as well, which do not render the original experience but the experience as already rendered through other media. Think, for example, of the cinematic quality of Call of Duty, which takes its cue not from war itself but from movies like Saving Private Ryan. What is aimed for here is not a pure realism, but a realism of the simulacra. Like Baudrillard's Disneyland, the mimicry of the event supersedes the original in its presentation and quality.

However, perhaps the more interesting observation to take forwards, which Stuart only glances at in the quote above, is that the traffic is two-way. Games do not just take their inspiration from television and cinema, but the latter media also draw on the theatricality of games. Thus both Sky and BT Sport's football shows increasingly invite viewer interactivity, through social media, live betting, and smartphone apps. Digital television allows the viewer to choose his or her camera angle, including following one particular player closely through a match, not unlike the experience of the simulation. Even the conservative Match of the Day has a three-dimensional replay mode, whereby commentators can spin around a virtual image of the live action, much like replays in Fifa. Whilst we still tend to conceptualise games as a sub-culture, the influence of games on our most popular sport and a mainstream media reminds that the ludic cannot be boxed off from other narrative methods.

As Matt Hayler observed in a brilliant conference paper recently, technologies change the types of aesthetic that it is possible for us to conceptualise. He cited the case of "robot" break dance (witness footballer Peter Crouch, or better still this example), a performance whose semiotics would make no sense in a culture without robots and mechanical devices; similarly, this light dance evokes early video games, the film Tron, and our ability to discriminate a continuous performance despite lights flickering on and off, to which video technologies such as fast-forward have attuned us (indeed, after his paper I mentioned the example of Martin Amis's Time's Arrow, whose backward narration would not be conceptualisable before the era of the video recorder rewind). Tracing this thread, then, I think one can make the case that it is not simply that video games have sought to emulate television-style commentaries, but that the presentation of sports on television is designed increasingly to resemble a video game.

Of course, unlike the video game, we do not actually have control of a televised game. The game-style of contemporary sports commentary is designed to enhance the illusion that will sustain all football fans over the coming season: the belief that by shouting loudly at the television they can actually influence the action.

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Posted by Alistair at 6:18 am


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