Remember books? Remember their smell? The way they made you think and question stuff? Well, you really should dear reader. The times are desperate and knowledge can indeed make you powerful, kind, beautiful and heroic. And since, dear reader, I know how much you like games, let me present you with the key that will help you understand what they are all about: Games of Empire - Global Capitalism and Video Games by Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter. It apparently is a book and smells lovely. You can and quite frankly should order it from the University of Minnesota Press, though I'll admit to ordering my copy from Amazon. Anyway, here's the UMP link.
Unlike most gaming books I've read so far Games of Empire is neither a game creation guide, nor a retro gaming essay, though it admittedly does cover most of video gaming's history, yet in a way you've definitely not been accustomed to. Instead of finding some sort of childish glee in the birth of Mario and Space War the authors prefer to look at the nation-bombing military complex that allowed for the first video games to be created, being especially interested in pointing out the obvious antithesis of the joys of playing and being creative to the ultimate horror that is war. Unless of course war is slowly being turned into a plaything or games -like, say, America's Army- are used as recruitment tools, which also happens to be a subject Games of Empire isn't afraid to tackle.
Then again, this is a book that tries to completely lift the fetishistic veil covering the games industry, tackling everything from the militaristic propaganda of Full Spectrum Warrior and the racist/sexist overtones of most mainstream games, to the underpaid people working in the industry or even the wars the production of consumer electronics has fueled. Yes, the wars. The interesting little stories about money laundering via Second Life and the informal economies of gold farming aren't left out either.
History and shocking facts aside and despite the book's fascination with Negri's not particularly impressive imperial theory, Games of Empire does manage to come up with an extraordinary -impressively, quite entertaining too- critique of video games. It shows how a World of Warcraft player is indeed both a consumer and a producer of value, discusses the representations of actual space and spatial relations in games (mostly GTA IV) and even helps us hope that indie and radical games can fight the good fight, while avoiding any kind of conservative moral hysterics. Games of Empire is an eye-opener. And you too dear reader have to read it.
Here's the back of the book blurb to further intrigue you:
Video games have become an integral part of global media culture, rivaling Hollywood in revenue and influence. No longer confined to a subculture of adolescent males, video games today are played by adults around the world while also serving as major sites of corporate exploitation and military recruitment. In Games of Empire , Nick Dyer-Witheford and Greig de Peuter offer a radical political intrigue of such video games and virtual environments as Second Life, World of Warcraft, and Grand Theft Auto, analyzing them as the exemplary media of Empire, the twenty-first-century hypercapitalist complex theorized by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. The authors trace the ascent of virtual gaming, assess its impact on creators and players alike, and delineate the relationships between games and reality, body and avatar, screen and street. rejecting both moral panic and glib enthusiasm, Games of Empire demonstrates how virtual games crystallize the cultural, political, and economic forces of global capital, while also providing a means of resisting them.
Oh, and fuck off banal internet-man. Video games are not just games.
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