Are Video Games Making the Post-Literate Future? (Peter Cowan)

To say that video games are not only part of our post-literate future but to some extent creating it is to suggest something disquieting. It is bad enough that we humans will give up our novels and philosophical texts and abandon the quiet and dusty spaces of self-reflection that they afford but to give these things up to simulated frenetic play worlds seems more than one can bear.

Video games are an escape from the real world. At worst, they are destructive distractions from reality and at best constructive learning environments, yet at their core video games are just ‘play’. What if they signify something more profound, like early steps along an evolutionary path?

We can already read the signs that this might be true. Video gamers continue to refine and build realities that are more and more “real” in their physics. “Code hero” is teaching children the mathematics to code their own virtual worlds. Scientists are gamifying large scale science projects like Foldit to bring together science objectives and multiplayer gaming. If it hasn’t happened already then it is only a matter of time before we begin to connect these virtual worlds to the “internet of things” where a gesture in a simulated world unleashes some process in the physical world.

Video games are allowing us to become creators of worlds. This is nothing new. Bruce Chatwin (The Songlines, 1987) writes that that the “Songlines are ancestral trails along which Aboriginal people would travel and sing out the name of everything that crossed their path – birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes – and so sing the world into existence.” Through the mathematics of video games we are constructing virtual environments that are more and more instrumental and so singing the post-literate world into existence.

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