Gonzalo Frasca responds in turn

Gonzalo Frasca responds in turn

2004-01-08

“Critical videogames”: moving beyond the non sequiter of now, Gonzalo Frasca projects a future in which the phrase would make sense.

My article is just a very condensed version of my “Videogames of the Oppressed” dissertation, which is available at www.ludology.org. I believe that many of the issues and questions that Eric Zimmerman raised in his thorough analysis are answered in the full text of my thesis.

I am fully aware that any method, including Boal’s or my own, carries ideological baggage. Zimmerman finds that my method is not ideologically neutral: I never claimed it was. Actually, I thought I made my agenda quite clear: my main goal is to foster critical thinking among players and that obviously makes me a manipulator - along with most artists and educators. Indeed, games such as Pac-Man carry their own bias. However, I would be more careful about assigning particular cultural meanings to games. Classic videogames are usually fairly simple systems and, because of this, they are open for different interpretations. Actually, unlike what happens with traditional representation, game interpretation requires an additional step: players need to create a mental model of the system. This is why interpretations may not only vary from culture to culture but also depend on the expertise of the player and how much time and effort she spends “figuring out” the mechanics of the simulation.

Certainly, there are plenty of tools for creating and modifying commercial games. As Mizuko Ito points out on her response, there is a big community of players that enjoy tinkering with code, mods and skins. I agree with her that this is a community that has the characteristics needed by the game environments that I envision. Definitely, some of the tools that hackers have created in order to modify The Sims ’ gameplay could be used for my goals. However, this does not mean, as Zimmerman claims, that the problem might be already solved. In my article I did not only propose a technique that targets education and therapy, but I also gave hints on how to develop commercial games that encourage critical attitudes. The vast majority of videogame authors are simply interested in entertaining their players. There is nothing wrong with this, just like there is nothing wrong with most Hollywood movies. Yet, some authors may want to entertain while meeting the terms of their political, philosophical or religious agenda.

Simulations can be misleading: while they give a certain amount of freedom to their players, they are always under the control of an author who decides which rules will govern the model. Mods and hacks certainly could help to develop “videogames of the oppressed” but the top-down approach is also needed. We will not see critical videogames until major games are developed by biased authors that understand that fun is not the only thing that can be conveyed through this medium.

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