Video Game Culture: Are We In Reality or Simulation?

(10-Minute Read) Want to Read the Other Two Parts of the Series? Part One,  Here & Part Two,  Here.

According to Jean Baudrillard, the constant display of images in the media has not lead to an improvement of reality but rather a replacement of reality. In this way, Baudrillard argues that the representation of images has surpassed the very existence of reality; they have constructed a hyperreality in which there is no absolute truth but rather only deceptive simulacra imitating that a reality exists. Moreover, Baudrillard would not exactly support the theory that simulation and reality cannot be differentiated, rather, he would take the idea a step further and ask, What do you believe reality to be? Simulation is reality— there is no difference. Video games serve as another ‘window’ of sorts, in which an individual can make judgments about the values and true reality of society. While some technologies may present a strong case for creating simulations with a philosophical purpose, the immersive qualities of these technologies (video games) symbolize an overall deceptive quality with the use of means that encourage of conformity, groupthink, and self-deceit.

      “As simulacra, images precede the real to the extent that they invert the causal and logical order of the real and its reproduction.”[1] The reality of everyday life has been replaced by the immersive images present in the media. The reality that society believes itself to have formulated, is simply just a shared experience. Simulacrum has not only warped reality but has also completely annihilated it and convinced people that it is the truth. As a furtherance of media culture, video games have become the deus ex machina for those who do not want to accept the confines of their given realities.[2] For the individual who feels a desire for the taboo things in life, never fear, it is now possible to buy the Sims game, in which one can watch his or her characters wildly ravish ghosts! For the child who can’t seem to count to ten and whose parents might be too busy to help with extra schooling, there is now ABC Mouse for only $90 a year! The Sims and ABC Mouse are both types of simulations with two very different purposes, but they do share one thing in common: they are fun for the targeted audiences, and thus more real and influential, than the less-than-enjoyable alternatives also known as, tedious reading-a-novel and studying. Baudrillard states, “It is precisely when it appears most truthful, most faithful and most in conformity to reality that the image is most diabolical— and our technical images… it is in its resemblance… that the image is most immoral and most perverse.” [3] The realistic attributes that are conveyed within certain scenarios and character designs of video games are means by which players are able to make connections to experiences outside of gameplay. The very existence of these simulations makes it possible for gamers to conform to the ideology of a simpler, more enjoyable reality. Simulation encourages conformity. Simulation needs conformity in order to properly function and to influence culture. Simulation is the seduction that casually leads others to conform to a certain status quo. For example, take a popular game like Mario Kart. Players willingly and rationally can conform to the game’s story and all of its imaginary aspects. No one blinks twice at the idea that a giant evil monkey can drive a super speedy mobile and shoot bananas from the engine… but why? Further, why do simulations such as video games often disregard common aspects of realism (such as possessing a single life and no ability to re-spawn)? Baudrillard answers, “No more mirror of being and appearances, of the real and its concept; no more imaginary coextensivity: rather, genetic miniaturization is the dimension of simulation. The real is produced from miniaturized units…and with these, it can be reproduced an indefinite number of times. It no longer has to be rational, since it is no longer measured against some ideal or negative instance”.[4] Technology and simulation cannot be limited by the confines of reality. Simulation is meant to transcend reality— to create an even better reality. People conform because they want to conform. They conform because it is fun to conform to fantastical ideas of jumping on mushrooms and defeating evil monkeys. Simulation is a fantasy that is so ingrained into society that it is no longer regarded as a fantasy at all.

The concept of groupthink is applicable to the immersive aspects of video games.[5] Groupthink is a form of conformity which defeats the idea that a person should have the ability to be individually driven to act outside of the interests of the group. Groupthink embraces the idea that the value of the group is of greater value than that of the individual. Mainstream gaming is a groupthink in itself as game critics are allowed to decide which games are worthy of being bought and the games which are not valued by the mainstream, are not games worthy of acknowledgment. Gamers are further judged by the mainstream as to how many achievements they have unlocked within games. The very idea that there is a mainstream gaming industry is just another idea for the fact that the gaming industry is one big groupthink atmosphere. The idea that a gamer should feel a certain way, realize some message or complete a given task is another way to control the reality of that gamer by manipulating the gaming experience. There is no real individual within a video game, as the game makes all other aspects identical for its participants. Whyte states, “He will finally have engineered for himself that equilibrious society. Gelded into harmonious integration, he will be free from tensions and frustrations, content in the certainties of his special function, no longer tantalized by the sense of infinity. He will at last have become a complete bore”. [6] Choice cannot be a real concept within video games as there are no subjective options for a player to come up with his or her own solution to a problem. Ideas like, you either help the starving child or you don’t, completely simplify issues into a black and white, yes or no, concept. Video games will have people thinking about the same sociological issues in the same way, with the same restrictive game mechanics— and in doing so, will lead to no real solution at all.

Further, players do not actually succeed in achieving “individual” achievements within video games, rather, they are losing their identities to the mechanics of simulation. Baudrillard furthers this point when he states, “To begin to resemble the other, to take on their appearance, is to seduce them, since it is to make them enter the realm of metamorphosis despite themselves.” [7] This is the very function that video games serve. They transform reality into a fantasy world, but somehow also still provide restrictions on a gamer’s movement, choice, and perception. People lose their sense of self in video games because games are a completely different world with a variety of rules that a player must learn in order to function within the game realm properly. Reality is simply becoming a restructuring of the human experience. Even an artistic game such as Proteus purposely manipulates reality and embraces this change as it forces players to comply with its world, a world of magical nothingness. Players are encouraged to embrace a Pantheistic approach to existence in which the character essentially just is and does, “as a fundamental of the democratic process, as a means of self-expression and development, participation is abundantly desirable”.[8] The fact that players are forced in any way to confine themselves to the mechanics of the game, even despite the game being randomly configured in certain aspects (environment, scenes, etc.), places the gamer’s experiences into a set reality and essentially restricts the gamer’s freedom of self. Video games have become a form of virtual allegory for the social illusion that reality has become.

Perhaps simulation doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Perhaps simulation can be used as a technique to evoke a positive engineering of societal values. For example, in Shanghai, there is a simulator which attempts to bring a new perspective to the perception of death. Xinglai (“Awaken”), is an experience in which, “Participants choose to sacrifice themselves or another person, and [further attempt to] explain [their choice]. The visitors then vote on whose explanation is the worst, and that person is ‘killed’”.[9] Originally developed by hospice care workers, this experience is meant to give those who participate the ability to reflect on the true meaning of life and the challenges which are essential to realizing the purpose of life. Those who had the chance to participate were able to meditate on life and truly gain something meaningful from the experience. Perhaps in this way, simulation can act as a revolutionary idea that is meant to enhance reality and even recreate a better reality. Additionally, there are many video games which use simulation in order to increase the player’s sense of self-awareness and self-expression. Even seemingly simplistic games like that of Minecraft, allow for players to choose progressions such as movement and decision making. Players are able to create homes and a life, all in a pixelated virtual world. Just because a player is restricted to a game’s mechanics and design capabilities, does not mean that a game cannot serve a meaningful purpose and further fulfill that purpose. Take another look at Proteus and it becomes more than a restrictive fairytale, it becomes a tale of life and death without definition, without instruction. Though the player is sometimes restricted by his or her lack of knowledge, this very ignorance towards the games design elements serves as a social change in itself. Perhaps the restrictions placed within the game are to dissuade people from the c of groupthink and conformity. If you think that the end of the game is simply reincarnation, go ahead. If you think the ending is death, that’s all fine and dandy. These aspects of the game attempt to challenge the normalized concepts of reality. Perhaps recreating reality in this way, in order to positively upset the norm and change the way in which people attempt to perceive reality, is an optimistic way to approach the realization that reality is negatively influenced by technology. Maybe the answer is not to shine a light onto the black hole where reality currently resides, but alternatively to create an escape from the darkness by using technology as a positive form of social influence.

However, Baudrillard might disregard this optimism as mere ignorance, “Our desire is rather for something which no longer takes place on a human scale, for some anterior or ulterior mystery: what will the earth be like when we are no longer on it? in a word, we dream of our disappearance, and of being the world in its inhuman purity (which is precisely not the state of nature)”.[10] To believe that simulation still has a purpose for the betterment of society is a lost cause as simulation is just a way for an individual to deceive oneself. Simulation is no longer a means used to provide a sense of unity among subjects, but rather symbolizes the monotony that has taken over the concept of reality. Society can no longer escape the images engrained deep into its very existence. Even those games and simulations which aim to promote social justice rely on the monotony of harmful images to create their point. This War of Mine needs the existence of unjustified warfare harming helpless civilians in order to be successful and meaningful, and it also needed games such as Call of Duty to characterize the mainstream gaming industry so that it could create a backlash of realism. Otherwise, This War of Mine would have been just another action packed game without any real purpose but pure entertainment, “The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra — it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire, but our own…the desert of the real itself”.[11] Reality is now just another symbol of the simulacrum. Reality is thought of by the simulacrum which convinces people that reality exists. The reality of the human experience is just that of social engineering and the manipulation of images.[12] In other words, reality first influenced society to create simulations to reflect true experience, but eventually this lead to the existence of a society that has a necessity for simulation, thus giving the concept of reality over to simulation. All that is left a dark truth: there is no chance at finding what was once the reality, as it has been replaced with mere imagery.

       “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.”[13] In this way, the immersive quality of video games surpasses reality and ultimately has reconditioned individuals to experience a new reality. Thus, individuals are given no option but to conform to deceptive ideologies of groupthink, as the theory of art renders hopeless. For art without a reality consists only of a secret and continuous implosion.[14]

This is Part Three– the final Article of the Series. 

Author: R. Lederman. Spring 2016. Please cite Author and website when using any of the produced works. Thank you.

Copyright 2016-Present.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. “The Evil Demon of Images.” The Evil Demon of Images / Jean Baudrillard. N.S.W., Australia: Power Institute of Fine Arts, U of Sydney, 1987. 478-87. Print.

Baudrillard, Jean. ”Simulacra and Simulations.” Ed. Mark Poster. Stanford University Press, 1988. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.

Starr, Michelle. “Death Simulator Lets You Experience What It’s like to Be Cremated.” CNET. CNET, 6 Apr. 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.

Whyte, William H., Jr. “Groupthink, (Fortune 1952).” Fortune. Fortune Magazine, 22 July 2012. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.

[1] Baudrillard, 478.

[2] William Whyte Jr., Groupthink, 1952. via Fortune Magazine Archives

[3] Baudrillard, 478.

[4] Baudrillard Simulacra and Simulations, 1988. via Stanford University Press

[5] In his 1952, Fortune Magazine Article, William H. Whyte, Jr., coined the term Groupthink.

[6] Whyte, 1952.

[7] Baudrillard, 479.

[8] Whyte, 1952.

[9] Article by Michelle Starr via [When the participant ‘dies’, he or she travels through on a conveyor belt through a ‘crematorium’ and then experiences rebirth through a latex womb.]

[10]Baudrillard, 483.

[11]Baudrillard, 1988. via Stanford University Press

[12]“The path to salvation, social engineers explain, lies in a trained elite that will benevolently manipulate us into group harmony. And whos to be the elite? Social engineers modestly clear their throats. ‘Theyre not rebels; theyll be social technicians for a better society,’’”(Whyte, 1952).

[13]Baudrillard,1988. via Stanford University Press

[14]Baudrillard, 481.


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