Jan 10, 2019 in Analysis

Game as Culture Essay

Entertainment Software Rating Board reveals astonishing statistics claiming that about 67% of US households play video games, with 40% of players being females aged 34 years on average, spending at least eight hours per week for this activity. Apart from that, 48% of parents play games with their children weekly and dive in this world of fictional reality (ESRB). Drawing upon these data, it is relevant to assert that the role of gaming in today’s rapidly evolving society is overwhelming. At the same time, community is concerned with “the stereotype of a gamer as glazed, incoherent teenage boy” (Shaw 407), being influenced by the information conveyed through the media. Indeed, the greater part of the global population tends to believe that games are directly linked to violence, aggression, and addiction to this activity, while it is hard to accept games as a culture. Nonetheless, Shaw, Consalvo, and Mäyrä argue that gaming is a shaped cultural domain capable to influence the minds, and not only in a negative way. Scholars underline the effects this specific culture may have on such paradigms of social life as “thinking,” “learning,” “gender,” bringing up children, and “war,” to list a few (Shaw 403). Therefore, a close examination of the elements of culture in relation to a game allows defining it as a culture, with both common and specific characteristics.

Definition of Culture vs. Game as a Culture

To start with, even the explanation of culture as a term enables one to trace its features in games. Following a definition by one of the cultural studies theorists R. Williams, culture in general is “the body of intellectual and imaginative work, in which, in a detailed way, human thought and experience are variously recorded” (qtd. in Shaw 405). Undoubtedly, this explanation of the concept can perfectly fit to an interpretation of a context set by a video game. To illustrate, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which has been analyzed in one of the previous assignments, may be considered as an example. Indeed, the setting which the player encounters, the language the heroes communicate with, their actions and interactions, among other issues, are presented with the tiniest details. Additionally, the implications of relations within a corporate entity directly embody recording of human thoughts and experience in a variety of ways, as it can be in the real life. On the other hand, it is impossible to disregard McGonigal asserting that current reality is broken. The greater part of the world community tends to reside beyond the borders of the real habitats, in a game dimension. The latter offers a person “the carefully designed pleasures,” “the thrilling challenges,” “the powerful social bonding,” “being designed from the bottom to make us happy” (McGonigal 5). Given the aforementioned example of Deus Ex, these characteristics of a generalized definition of culture as the embodiments of intellectual and imaginative work are evident in this game as well. For instance, the protagonist is encouraged to launch a quest for truth in order to disclose the corporation and its evil top management that disrupts the natural human evolution process. This aspect reveals a strong social connection, imposed by the game content on the gamer as well as a thrilling challenge the hero has to encounter to fulfill the justice mission. Therefore, gaming can be referred to as a cultural paradigm, based on the above rationale.

Rules in Culture and Gaming

Culture as a set of beliefs and customs is aimed at framing the lifestyles of the groups of people and defining their behavioral norms and attitudes, which differ from one culture to another. For example, Confucian traditions in China have set a standard that children have to take care of their parents and cherish them when they get older and find their opinion as the most respectful to consider. In contrast, Westerners tend to settle their elderly parents in care facilities. Similarly, none of the games exists without rules that guide its content and direct the behavior of the players in the framework it arranges. As a rule, the most popular models of arrangement of the game rule-abiding structure are connected with two dimensions. These include “emergence,” when the gamer must follow a little number of rules while developing a game in the way one wishes, and “progression,” when the player has to “perform a predefined set of actions to complete the game” (Juul 5).With regard to Deus Ex, this conception is somehow veiled. In particular, it seems like the main character has to follow the route developed by the game creators and to complete the tasks as detailed in the instructions. Also, the player gets to know how one can act to be capable to shoot, run, jump, etc. and which buttons on the keyboard should be pushed on. Namely, the rules are seemingly defined strictly. 

Nonetheless, the actions of the protagonist are motivated by the gamer, as he or she develops the strategy of the game itself, or rather its flow and the overall picture. Thus, the game chosen for an illustration shows the features of both emergence and progression games. This fact demonstrates how the game content has evolved in line with its standard organization per strictly identified types. The same characteristic is appropriate for the culture as a whole. Specifically, it is a process relevant for an interdisciplinary field, meaning that culture cannot be static and has to expand its borders and borrow enhancement tools from other spheres (Shaw 405). It follows that culture advances as well, and its forms, types, and structures constantly progress, absorbing knowledge and findings from other disciplines which sustain this transformation. Although “a proper way to play” is always predetermined in the game, it creates an impression that it is the gamer that creates it (Mäyrä). As a result, both culture and a game are guided by the rules, but these rules are frequently reshaped and updated, evidencing a capability of these two domains for enhancement and growth. Therefore, it can be concluded that a game can be boldly referred to as a “rule-based formal system” (Juul 6) since it combines features and allows room for expanding the borders of this system with individual-based implications and experiences, as it happens in culture in general. Again, this aspect of a similar evolution path reveals a linkage between culture as a whole and gaming as culture.


Game as Experience

Apart from that, culture is closely connected with experience, which is both incorporation of experiences of previous generations and a particular multi-level experience of an individual as a consumer. In this regard, game is attributed with positive and negative connotations. Drawing upon the findings of different researchers summarized by Shaw, when a person dives into the whirl of gaming, one is likely to be challenged with obesity, especially with relation to children, or can potentially become obsessed with a game played (411). As a result, gaming is believed to be a dangerous experience. This perspective is warmed up with a negative positioning of such an activity in the media, which frequently de-advertise the game as a medium competing with other media. This aspect correlates game with the individuals who are isolated in the society as well as engendered, and thus, it is a culture of alienated people who are obsessed. 

On the contrary, such scholars as Johnson, Higgins, and Whitebread ascribe positive connotations to a game as an experience and assert that it can be a positive one, with favorable outcomes (qtd. in Shaw 411). On the one hand, the phenomenon under consideration is praised for its educative opportunities. This aspect refers not only to the content and context of the game but also an array of actions it entices to make. Indeed, the game allows an individual to improve one’s skills that are necessary to address the challenges created by the developers and learn in the process (Juul 5). With this characteristic of the analyzed item, games are specifically designed for an educative purpose, as it implies in different fields. Following this reasoning, they are believed to “encourage problem-solving skills and logical thinking,” “interactivity” (Shaw 411-412) and “motivate us effectively” (McGonigal 4).

Summarizing this point, it is necessary to emphasize that game is definitely experience-centric. To different degrees, it combines positive and negative experiences but aims to improve all the time. The same tendencies can be traced within ordinary culture in its entirety since it cannot be stressed that any set of beliefs of a specific group of individuals is based on absolutely positive features, or at least not all people perceive these certain attributes as positive. For instance, the centuries-old contradiction between Orient and Occident cultures can be taken as an example, since what is good for an Easterner seems weird for the Westerner, and vice versa. In any case, the game provides any individual with an opportunity of gaining experience similar to that which is relevant for culture as a whole.

Game Rhetoric 

Culture could not have existed without rhetoric, which is a specific characteristic allowing persuading individuals to adhere to the rules and norms of the set of beliefs and customs defined within a broader cultural context. Similarly, the game is presented as a cultural human activity since it persuades the gamer to act in a specified way, using different means. The cultural rhetoric of the game may comprise the atmospheres of “progress, fate, power, identity, the imaginary, the self, and frivolity, each of which orchestrates the play in different ways and for different ends under the same ostensible name” (Bogost 3). Namely, the game enhances and embodies procedurality in the same way that any culture does. This effect is achieved by different means, including words, sounds, visual images, and emotional appeals, to list a few. For example, Deus Ex can be referred to as an illustration again. As the story progresses with the player’s involvement, one is enticed to act accordingly, due to specified images with relation to different human senses. The hero is informed about a problem occurrence in a multiplied way. One sees a red light that is blinking in line with sounding alarm and worried people running around in a mess and confusion, with screams and horror.

At the same time, the game does not simply make the player follow the scenario developed by its creator. It evokes feelings and emotions, gets the one acquainted with a specific setting and its distinct traits, and overall “unpacks the particular rules of a particular game in a particular context” (Bogost 6). It provides the gamer with an actual culture-like experience and allows him or her to live within this culture, being guided by the practically invisible hints. Thus, a capability of the game as culture to entice actions and activities by rhetorical means is another common feature of the phenomenon in question that makes it possible to define the game as a cultural dimension.

Distinct Features of a Game as Culture

In addition to the features appropriate for culture as such, the game as a cultural dimension incorporates its specific characteristics. First and foremost, it is necessary to underline that the game is attractive to individuals as an exciting cultural experience due to the “paratext” that it offers (Mäyrä). This concept can be interpreted as a combination of means within a setting that define the game as particular, different from the others of this kind. It is embodied in multiple domains, such as the cover, table of contents, tutorials, images, general setting design, to list a few. The paratext concerns everything that may define a game as a game, and it is called to develop “a sense of gamers’ participation in the game culture” (Mäyrä).

Second, the characteristics created through paratext enable the game to manipulate the player by cheating as a distinct trait relevant for the game with a linkage to “the various activities and elements that surround games” (Mäyrä). Such an attribute can be regarded as central and one of the most attractive in the game culture. Given the example of Deus Ex, cheating is more than evident. For instance, when the character is shot once, he has an opportunity to continue the game several more times, as he has a number of lives. Moreover, completing particular tasks allows the gamer to gain additional values, tricks, and capabilities in order to continue fighting with the enemy and fulfilling one’s mission more effectively. This factor is relevant to the greater part of games, and it provokes the player for continuing gaming.


In accordance with the discussion, a close examination of the elements of culture in relation to a game allows defining it as a culture, with both common and specific characteristics. Regardless of the fact that social beliefs ascertain that the game is overwhelmed with negativism, it incorporates the majority of attributes appropriate for culture as a whole, which has been proved in the paper. For instance, game culture provides the gamer with learning experience and other experiences, similarly to the attributes relevant for culture in its entirety. At the same time, the game is based on cheating, though it is probably the primary trait that attracts consumers, since it motivates them to be engaged in a way the real world is incapable of.


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