The times they are a’changin’

If video games were influenced by their audiences, Pac-Man would’ve been about a drug user spending his time in dark rooms, listening to repetitive music, chased by his own hallucinations… Oh, wait.

Pop the pills, take the ride, start all over again, then you crash.

Pop the pills, take the ride, start all over again, then you crash.

All humor aside, an oft overlooked window into social health and societal development is the average video game. We’re able to tell a lot about the society it came from due to it being marketed to a specific subset of that society as well as being produced by members of that society. In this way we can look at the development of video game themes as a tentative indicator of our society’s advancement. I would call it social evolution but for the fact that people do not change all that much from cradle to grave; the world around us does.

Bioshock was released in 2007 and entered production as early as 2004, a time of relative economic stability. This translated into a game that looked back and reveled in art and industry in equal measure, bringing with it an old world art-deco flair with the groundbreaking notion that man could determine his own destiny without the involvement of an outside force, be it the hand of government or the hand of a deity. This was enlightened man, who boldly stood firm in the face of a difficult but ultimately bright future. How ironic that Bioshock’s city of Rapture should be brought down by greed and hubris, just as the American economy nosedived for the same reasons. Almost prophetic in its own fashion.

Bioshock: Infinite, if I may be allowed to harp on the same subject, follows in its predecessor’s footsteps by presenting a world undergoing a quiet revolution. On the outside, it’s all smiles and civil waves. But what no one at street level wants to admit is that it’s a world torn in half by the haves and the havenots, just as the margin between the wealthy and the poor in this country has never been greater. And, in a time when more and more bills are being pushed which seek to dissolve the divide between church and state, their society is a caricature example of what happens when religious fundamentalism is made into law without the spirit in which such beliefs are intended also being involved. It promotes obedience, racism, classism, sexism, religious extremism, and a system of institutionalized evil and corruption—problems you’ll find cluttering every headline recently with the advancement of technology, the opportunity for its abuse, and the failing infrastructure upon which the civil majority rely. In other words, you can’t survive without life’s necessities, but since you’re supplied with its luxuries, you won’t notice until it’s too late. That’s why every homeless man begging on the street corner has an iphone.

You’ll notice that the societal commentary behind these games promotes a lot of high-minded ideals. Even when it approaches some very sensitive subjects, it works to insulate you from them by allowing you to play as a character who is above and beyond these mundane problems that everyone but the story’s hero must deal with. But what we’re seeing now is a new form of social commentary espoused by nascently emerging browser games. They dispel the notion of being a hero and let you play as the average man, and the results are both eye-opening and depressing.

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About The Author

John Richard "Chrysophase" Albers
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John Richard Albers, an author, armchair psychologist, amateur historian, freelance, peacemaker, dragonslayer, warmaster, and part-time herald of the apocalypse, hunts ghosts when he isn't hunting crazy people. He holds dual bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and English Literature, is working toward a degree in parapsychology, and is acting CEO of Prior to Print Proofreading LLC, where he gets to torture editors instead of them torturing him for once.

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