Zerogamer: what are games and simulations really about?

Furtherfield are holding an exhibition, Zero Gamer, as part of the London Games Festival this week. I havent been yet, but the catalogue notes make a very succinct statement about the nature of simulation.

According to Axel Stockburger,
“there exist no neutral simulation systems and …. every virtual universe necessarily maintains sets of rules that are submerged in ideological foundations. In other words, simulations are produced according to basic assumptions and with specific goals that are in most cases not transparent for the player. To give an example, the decision of Sim Citys designers to demand a certain amount of police stations in a given city in order to support a healthy urban environment is not up for discussion and it is literally part of the fabric of the games world. Every gameworld also projects a specific worldview. The recent discussion surrounding the use of first person shooter online games as propaganda vehicles (such as for example the immensely successful U.S. military entertainment complex product Americas Army in opposition to its Palestinian counterpart game UnderSiege) highlights this issue very well.”

(The BBC said of UnderSiege that
“The game is very popular among young Arabs and has already attracted Israeli criticism.
“The Arab street is very charged. They believe they cant do anything to help their brothers in Palestine,” Radwan Qasmiyya, member of the programming and designing team says.
“So I think they are playing because they feel that they can feel the experience of young Palestinian people living in Jerusalem”.”
Americas Army has a similar set of ideological assumptions – similar in extent if not in content! )

This is more than a political point. Every simulation makes a large number of assumptions and. as Stockburger says, “they do not readily give away how they are constructed.” Even if a simulation is open source and its assumptions can be established and understood, it still takes time and specialised knowledge to do this, and most simulation users cant and wouldnt bother.

The zerogamer exhibition “invites players, developers and critics who aim higher to stop playing for a bit, enter the discursive platform it provides, and reflect on the current situation. This break is necessary to be able to focus on those issues surrounding games that open novel perspectives on contemporary culture.” Im looking forward to going.

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