If there’s any one trend to take away from a poll looking at gamers it’s that gamers don’t like to be told what to do with their lives. Again, they may describe themselves as liberal, but they do not like government policies that control individual life choices, like what products they can purchase or consume. Video games are all about making choices, right? That’s one mentality that does carry over in real life (unlike the fear that games make people more violent). Our polls show that many government bans on products or activities like caffeinated energy drinks or online gambling are already disliked by Americans, regardless of gaming habits. But for gamers, this dislike of nanny-style regulation is enhanced—upgraded if you will. For every single poll question where we asked whether the government should allow people to own, consume, or use certain products or services that are currently a focus of debate, gamers are more likely to say yes than non-gamers. In only one question did gamers support a government ban, for 3D-printed guns. But even then, 42 percent of gamers still supported allowing people to print them, compared to 26 percent of non-gamers.
Probably the biggest gap was the gamer support for allowing use of bitcoin as a currency—55 percent for gamers; 30 percent for non-gamers. This example is particularly interesting because a majority of gamers and non-gamers alike knew very little or nothing at all about bitcoin. But non-gamers appear more likely to call for government regulations or a ban on a product they’ve never heard of than gamers.
The irony of this is that, in video games especially, choice is rather structured by the severe restrictions than by freedom. In games like Final Fantasy we are distracted from how little choice we have (what other choice do we have than going forward or backwards, perhaps occasionally between one branch over another) by mere appearance of immersiveness, the phantasmagoric mise-en-scène made up of two-dimensional texture-maps absolutely inaccessible to players.
The issue also includes one of the most pointed political surveys about self-proclaimed gamers’ political leanings in recent memory. According to two Reason-Rupe polls conducted in December 2013 and April 2014, gamers are more likely to fall in line with libertarian beliefs, even if they don’t identify as libertarians.
When asked how they felt about government bans on purchases and certain regulations, gamers seemed more amenable to the free-market than non-gamers. Unsurprisingly, 82 percent of gamers favored being allowed to play violent games compared to just 54 percent of non-gamers. Gamers were also more likely to support the use of Bitcoin and of 3D-printed guns, and they favored laws legalizing marijuana. In every question about whether government should intervene in specific activities or products, gamers were opposed to the idea more frequently than non-gamers by a margin of at least 13 percent.
“We were most surprised by the idea that gamers, even though they identify as liberal and progressive regardless of their age group, were against government regulations of what people could do with their own bodies and their own lives,” story co-author Scott Shackford told Ars. “Also, if gamers didn’t know what something was, like Bitcoin, they were more inclined to say that the government should allow it, whereas for non-gamers, if they didn’t know what something was, they were inclined to say the government should regulate it.”
Scientists from Washington University have been struggling for the past decade to decipher the complex structure of a enzyme that exhibits AIDS-like behavior, and which might hold a critical role in building a cure for the disease. Gamers playing spatial game Foldit have managed to collectively determine the enzyme’s structure in ten days.
“Overall, there was a clear trend that intergroup bias displayed by males was more strongly affected by violent video game exposure (compared to females),” Greitemeyer concludes. “Inasmuch as males are more attracted to playing video games than females, this tendency is of special concern.”
The reasons for this link aren’t entirely clear, but previous research suggests a possible mechanism. Since the 1950s, psychologists have noticed that frustrated or unhappy people often “displace aggression onto stigmatized out-groups,” Greitemeyer writes. A 2012 study confirms that anger leads to increased ethnic bias among men.
Meanwhile, a variety of studies have found playing violent video can evoke feelings of anxiety, anger, and hostility . Greitemeyer argues this cumulative evidence suggests “the effects of violent video game play would be more pronounced” when one comes into in conflict with an outsider.
While it’s easy to identify the growth of state and corporate surveillance, it’s clear that trying to reverse it is uniquely difficult. The NSA, despite clearly overstepping its authority in recent years, still has the right court on its side, and then there’s the massive data-harvesting operations run by banks, search engines, social networks, shopping sites and local governments. We can fight particular aspects, but surveillance has become so pervasive it’s hard to see how any progress could be made against the whole. Most Americans are resigned to living under surveillance of one kind or another.
But today’s mainstream video games offer a different narrative, one that’s both more comforting and exciting. (Resignation, after all, doesn’t make for a very exciting game.) From The Sims 3 to Grand Theft Auto V, which was released last week, mainstream games have turned voyeuristic surveillance into an active part of play, a mechanism through which players infer plot details, distinguish good guys from bad guys, and make assumptions about the emotional lives of the characters they’re controlling. These games create a fictional pretext that allows the player, who would otherwise be subject to these incursions in the real world, to act them out against others in a virtual world—a sort of salve for, or at least temporary respite from, the everyday hum of modern surveillance.
The Chinese military-themed computer game Glorious Mission Online will release an update on August 1 featuring new content focused around the Diaoyu Islands. Players will be able to fight against Japanese opponents on island maps, and the update will also usher in new weapons, character outfits, and the chance to battle on the Liaoning, the first aircraft carrier commissioned for the People’s Liberation Army.
"The drive from Tucson, Arizona, to Las Vegas, Nevada, takes approximately eight hours when travelling in a vehicle whose top speed is forty-five miles per hour. In Desert Bus, an unreleased video game from 1995 conceived by the American illusionists and entertainers Penn Jillette and Teller, players must complete that journey in real time."
In the sixteenth section of Baudelaire’s Spleen de Paris, “L’Horaloge’ , we come upon a conception of time which can be compared to that of the gambler.
Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project
Thus the psychoanalyst knows better than anyone else that the pint is to figure out [entendre] to which “part” of this discourse the significant term is relegated, and this is how he proceeds in the best of cases: he takes the description of an everyday event as a fable addressed as a word to the wide, a long prosopopeia as a direct interjection, and, contrariwise, a simple slip of the tongue as a highly complex statement, and even the rest of a silence as the whole lyrical development it stands in for.
It is, therefore, a propitious punctuation that gives meaning to the subject’s discourse. This is why the ending of the session—which current technique makes into an interruption that is determiend purely by the clock and, as such, takes no account of the thread of the subject’s discourse—plays the part of a scansion which has the full value of an intervention by the analyst that is designed to precipitate concluding moments. Thus we must free the ending from its routine framework and employ it for all the useful aims of analytic technique.
Jacques Lacan, The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis
Et si quelque importun venait me déranger pendant que mon regard repose sur ce délicieux cadran, si quelque Génie malhonnête et intolérant, quelque Démon du contretemps venait me dire: “Que regardes-tu là avec tant de soin? Que cherches-tu dans les yeux de cet être? Y vois-tu l’heure, mortel prodigue et fainéant?” je répondrais sans hésiter: “Oui, je vois l’heure; il est l’Eternité!”
The Chinese can tell the time by looking in the eyes of a cat.
One day a missionary, while walking in the suburbs of Nankin, found that he had forgotten his watch, and asked a little boy what the time was. The gutter-snipe of the Flowery Kingdom hesitated at first, then, recollecting himself, he replied, “I will find out for you.” A minute later he reappeared, holding in his arms a fine big cat, and looking, as the saying is, in the white of its eyes, he unhesitatingly affirmed, “It is just a little before noon.” This turned out to be the case
As to me, if I bend over towards my beautiful Feline, so well named, who is at once the glory of her sex, the pride of my heart, and the incense of my spirit, whether it be night, or whether it be day, in broad daylight or thick darkness, in the abyss of her adorable eyes I always read the hour most clearly. This hour is always the same; vast, solemn, wide as space, without division into minutes or seconds; a motionless hour which is not marked on clocks, and yet is light as a sign, swift as a glance. And if some importunate person were to come and disturb me while my gaze rests on this delicious dial, if some false and intolerant spirit, some demon of unlucky accident, were to come and say to me, “What are you looking at with such intensity? What do you seek in the eyes of this being? Do you see there the time? Ah, spendthrift and do-nothing mortal!” I should reply unhesitatingly “Yes, I see the time; it is eternity.”
Now, Madam, is not that a really meritorious madrigal, and as pompous as yourself? In good sooth, I have taken so much pleasure in embroidering this pretentious piece of galantry that I shall ask you for nothing in return.
The significance of the temporal element in the intoxication of the gambler has been noticed before this by Gourdon, as well as by Anatole France. But these two writers see only the meaning time has for the gambler’s pleasure in his winnings, which, quickly acquired and quickly surrendered, multiply themselves a hundredfold in his imagination through the numberless possibilities of expenditure remaining open and, above all, through the one real possibility of wager, of mise en jeu. What meaning the factor of time might have for the process of gambling itself is at issue in neither Gourdon nor France. And the pastime of gambling is, in fact, a singular matter. A game passes the time more quickly as chance comes to light more absolutely in it, as the number of combinations encountered in the course of play (of coups) is smaller and their sequence shorter. In other words, the greater the component of chance in a game, the more speedily it elapses. This state of affairs becomes decisive in the disposition of what comprises the authentic “intoxication” of the gambler. Such intoxication depends on the peculiar capacity of the game to provoke presence of mind through the fact that, in rapid succession, it brings to the fore constellations which work—each one wholly independent of the others—to summon up in every instance a thoroughly new, original reaction from the gambler. This fact is mirrored in the tendency of gamblers to place their bets, whenever possible, at the very last moment—the moment, moreover, when only enough room remains for a purely reflexive move. Such reflexive behavior on the part of the gambler rules out an “interpretation” of chance. The gambler’s reaction to chance is more like that of the knee to the hammer in the patellar reflex. [012a,2]
Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project
Gambling is the infernal counterpart to the music of the heavenly hosts. [010a,6]
A particularly intriguing aspect of modern multiline slot machines involves the capability of players to bet on more than one line at a time. Consider for example a player who bets 10 cents on each of nine lines, for a total wager of 90 cents per spin. When they spin and lose their entire wager, the machine goes into a state of quiet in both the visual and auditory domain. When they spin and win more than their wager (e.g., they wager 90 cents and win $1.80), they receive both visual and auditory feedback (e.g., the winning symbols animate and the pay line is highlighted, and credits are counted up with a rolling sound. Thus, there is a stark contrast between winning outcomes filled with ‘celebratory’ win-related feedback, and losing outcomes characterized by a state of quiet. On a substantial proportion of spins, however, the payback is less than the spin wager (e.g., the player bets 90 cents, and wins 40 cents back on one of the lines). Despite the fact that the player actually loses money on this spin, (e.g., in the example above they lose 50 cents) the machine highlights the “win” with animated symbols and celebratory songs. These outcomes have been referred to as losses disguised as wins or LDWs (Dixon et al. 2010; Jensen et al. 2013; Harrigan et al. 2012). In modern slot machines, there are counters that clearly show the total spin wager, and other counters that show how much the player won on a given spin. Despite this information, novice slot machine players tend to ignore the information on these counters and focus on the exciting elements of the games (the animated symbols and celebratory songs) to inform them if they have won or lost. Indeed, the majority of novice players when exposed to LDWs indicate that these were winning spins, even though they lost money on these outcomes (Jensen et al. 2013). Furthermore, after a playing session, if players are asked to estimate on how many spins they won more than they wagered, players tend to markedly overestimate the number of wins (the LDW overestimation effect), likely because they either misinterpret LDWs as wins, or because they conflate LDWs and wins in memory.
In sum, the auditory feedback that accompanies slot machine outcomes may make for a more exciting playing experience (Loba et al. 2001), but may also serve as a secondary reinforcer that could in part underlie the arousal responses that may make slots so addictive. In addition, they may also serve as an important part of the disguise in LDWs.
More fundamental than this, though, is the very particular worldview that animates all the SimCity games. The world Wright gives his players is one defined by a constant flickering interplay between progress and equilibrium, a gentle utopia of possibility. Decay is never a real threat. His cities never die, and if left to their own devices they pretty much go on as they were. The closest thing to failure is a genial sort of rut, an inability to make the city grow and progress the way you’d like; excepting perhaps the aftermath of a nuclear power plant melting down, there’s never an irreversible collapse. Without extreme, juvenile levels of incompetence, you can’t fail to make or maintain a city, you merely fail to make that city great. It’s a commonplace that many urban planners found their vocation in childhood games of SimCity—and this at least rings true, for the game is nothing if not inspirational. Its world is infinitely soothing, its consistent message one of safety, surmountable challenge, hope, and stability.
The appeal of such fictional peace does have its limits, as it turns out. One can begin to suspect that all thriving cities look pretty much the same, that even the most successful equilibrium is simply boring. The popularity of “disasters”—the calamities, ranging from fires and airplane crashes to, in the more baroque later versions, locust swarms and U.F.O. attacks, that the player can purposely inflict on his city, or allow to occur randomly—bespeaks this creeping boredom. But it points as well to a desire to demonstrate the strength and elasticity of the world’s stability. These disasters are designed to be manageable. There is a never an unfixable problem, never a ruin that can’t be cleared and rebuilt. It is an almost comically American vision, a pure product of the Reagan dream: zero history, infinite future.