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From Mass Audience to Massive Multiplayer: How Multiplayer Games Create New Media Politics

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In this article we will propose a framework for massive multiplayer games giving the players a raise of consciousness in understanding politics and society. We will set the mass media politics up against new media politics as they emerge from the use of massive multiplayer games. Starting with a brief history of mass media and their politics we will show parallels between mass media understanding and development on one hand and the development and understanding of massive multiplayer games on the other, showing how a new media politics of multiplayer games is on the rise. We may have to rethink a grand new media politics. We take the opposite approach to Gonzalo Frasca’s arguing that gameplay, virtuality, immersion, and fantasy are contrary to political game-design. Our argument is that the four mentioned topics are necessary for any kind of games. And especially for games which should give rise to a political consciousness. Giving the player the possibility to immerse himself into the game will make it possible for him to experience and work with political issues. The catharsis through immersion shows the player how different political or tactical strategies are working. The problem is how to transfer the ideas of the game to the real world. For us the solution is found in massive multiplayer games because these kinds of games give rise to a new kind of sociability through the gameplay. And gameplay is important, because lack of gameplay will become lack of players. And without other players there will be no transfer of the inherent ideology of the game. On the other hand it is likewise important to stress that these ideologies are not directly transferable and may be used by players in counterproductive ways or as playground for fantastic, thoughtful and artistic experiments. Even so, there will be some kind of transferral, enabling the player to see society with a new understanding. Typically, the transferral of knowledge from game to real world will be found in the social surroundings of the game. A multiplayer game on the Internet will, when successful, start chatrooms (maybe as part of the game itself), discussion-groups, and similar social activities. It is in participating in this social groups, the players can receive and give the knowledge from the game to reality. We will look at the following games in particular, giving an analysis by looking at the gameplay and the political ideologies behind, and the reception of the game in the real world: Nationstates, a multiplayer game based on a book, giving the player the possibility to outlive any ambition concerning ruling a nation. The game is based on a strict rule set, but this can be traversed by the players, giving raise not only to a consciousness on politics and tactics, but on the rules of the game itself. Thus showing how ideology limits the player’s freedom of choice and action. According to David Nieborg, America’s Army shows how games may be seen as both advergame, propagame, edugame, and as test bed ‘n’ tool. This multiplayer game is a new kind of propaganda for the armed forces. Certainly, America’s Army is maybe the best example of how the new multiplayer media politics has already become a part of everyday life – at least in the post-industrialised countries of the world. Civilization, SimCity and The Sims are games of simulation, and these simulations are built on ideology. Civilization and SimCity are both games of totalitarian control. But more than that in Civilization different political ideologies cause different outcomes as regard to game success or failure based on the economic basis of society. This analysis may as well be implied for SimCity too, signifying the importance of game ideology. These norms and values are programmed into the video game system. Likewise, The Sims as a game of life control puts forward an ideology of consumerism, ruling the success criteria in the game as getting a good education in order to get a good job in order to get impressive things in order to get friends and family. The Sims is indirectly telling the player what is meant by a successful life. And even though players may choose counter strategies to this kind of life, while playing with the value system of The Sims, the ethics of a good life still stands unchallenged without any opposition within the game. Simple Internet games like Frasca’s Kabul Kaboom and New York Defender illustrate how political content may be composed in different ways in the political underground. Kabul Kaboom is a game response to the war in Afghanistan, suggesting a no win situation. On the other hand New York Defender uses satire in order to express the tragedy of the September 11 terrorist attack in 2001. We need to understand and compare these dissimilar strategies on how to present political consciousness-raising. Our analysis of these games will show how different games will give raise to different levels of consciousness in transferring ideas from game to reality. And how the complete involvement in video games (aka. immersion) poses new questions and gives new answers for the media politics of the 21st century.
Contact: Lars Konzack, multimedia, Aalborg University.,
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