Video Games and Computer Holding Power

I so love this essay. As Jim points out, it’s unusually clear-eyed and fair-minded, and cuts the chase: at issue here is the human imagination itself. As Sherry notes, not only does Turkle have a superior first name, she even spells it correctly. Sherry also very beautifully connects video games with reading. While Sherry chooses reading for her full-scale immersion, the connection does point out both the enduring narrative aspects of gaming as well as the essential truth that we humans yearn for connected and connecting experiences of symbol-sharing and symbol-manipulation. In other words, stories, art, and creativity, those places where (what a sentence from Turkle–talk about nuggets!) “nothing is arbitrary and everything is possible.” And as Paige acutely observes, what’s at stake here is nothing less than mimesis itself, which means language, consciousness, community, civilization.

No pressure!

I think about my own relation to gaming, which began early in graduate school when pinball gave way to Stargate and Joust (ah, homecoming time at the Turkle essay) and others with exotic names I can’t quite remember anymore. Many quarters and much procrastination later, I gave it all up for stereos, computers, and movies. All with their own gamelike components, to be sure. And Jerome Bruner observes that all concepts have a gamelike structure, so I’m still well-implicated.

But the hard-core gaming experience went to my children, particularly to my son Ian, now 20 years old. That’s another story.

For now, I just want to register two nuggets from the Turkle essay. The first is on p. 510, and I was alerted to its peculiarly powerful resonance by a student in my first-year seminar. When she brought it up in class yesterday, I could feel the world going into freeze-frame, and then starting up again with much more vivid colors:

Video games allow Marty to feel swept away and in control, to have complete power and yet lose himself in somethign outside. The games combine a feeling of omnipotence and possession, they are a place for manipulation and surrender.

Nothing like a wash of oxymorons to get my pulses beating faster. And of course the word “possession” makes me flash onto one of my favorite books of all time.

The other nugget is one I’ve used in many presentations, and it too beautifully gets at that quality both Sherry T. and Sherry M. are thinking about, that realm where nothing is arbitrary and everything is possible–turned up to 11:

Recall Matthew, the five-year-old who was frightened by the idea that a computer program could go on forever–frightened and also fascinated. Things that give a sense of contact with the infinite are held apart as privileged. They become charged with emotion. They are often imbued with religious feeling. The feeling can be evoked by a sunset, a mountain, the sea. It can be evoked by mathematical experiences, the idea of the infinite sequence of decimals of pi, the sight of two mirrors reflecting each other.

I get such a case of the shivers at this point, recalling another favorite from another author with a great first name: “All art aspires to the condition of music.”

Bring it on.

3 thoughts on “Video Games and Computer Holding Power

  1. Have I ever told you how it was reading _Possession_ as a junior in High School that made me want to study literature in college?

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