[iDC] game culture (?) (!) (%#@)

Andreas Schiffler aschiffler at ferzkopp.net
Wed Jun 20 11:39:21 EDT 2007

matteo bittanti wrote:
> If so, I'd be happy to lead a conversation on everything you wanted to 
> know about digital gaming but never dared to ask. Is there anything in 
> particular that you'd like to discuss? Feel free to shoot - let's play!

Everything? Now that is an offer one cannot refuse! :-)

I am at the beginning of some research into the area of game physics 
(that is, the simulation of physics in video games). [Trebor will know 
this topic, as he is in the same research group.]

The research is somewhat motivated by several observations:

Physics has an interesting split personality in that it is viewed as 
very fundamental in the sciences with a lot of 'prestige' (Einstein is a 
folk-hero), but at the same time Physics seems to be largely rejected as 
a discussion topic by non-science educated folks. As soon as it gets a 
bit more detailed and mathematical, most people will react try to avoid 
Physics. The current state of physics education (low number of 
graduates, etc.) confirms this.

Games on the other hand are well on the way (if not already there) to 
become the most used, most influential, most profitable entertainment 
medium. Therefore one can safely assume that they exert a significant 
influence on our culture. This trend which will continue in the years to 
come, especially as graphics capabilities reach photorealistic levels.

Game Physics is an element in video games that was always present and is 
even at the root of games (SpaceWar, the first video game was a physics 
simulation). It is becoming even more common due to the 3D and immersive 
nature of todays video games, because it makes games 'playable'. 
Generally it is a very important aspect of games since it is directly 
linked to the interactivity and 'feel' of the gameworld, but as a topic 
of game theoretical analysis, it is often overlooked.

As for some specific questions, I am currently interested in a 
discussion on how games affect the relationship we have with the real 
world. Obviously there are social implications to video game play as we 
can see from the whole "violence in games" debate. In relationship to 
Physics, I am looking at more fundamental changes in how we construct 
truths: Does video game physics create a form of "folk physics" (my 
immediate answer would be yes) and does that change the way we think or 
even act? For readers unfamiliar with video games, think of the 'Movie 
Physics' - which todays games largely adopt - such as the engine roar of 
a space ship flying by the camera (... this should be silent in vacuum).

So in some sense, the question extends the common "does it matter that 
movies have pseudo physics?" discussed extensively on site like 
http://www.intuitor.com/moviephysics/ to "does it matter when video 
games have pseudo physics?" (and believe me they do!). Why don't game 
developers try harder and game players expect more?

If one looks critically at mass media today, are we not creating a whole 
new "church of entertainment" especially with video games, where - at 
least as far as physical simulations are concerned - the scientific 
method and precision becomes irrelevant or at best secondary over the 
goal of implementing the next, better implementation of a game as 'VR 
drug' or 'consentual hallucinations' as W. Gibson puts it?

Could the trend we see in the popularity for 'documentaries' - 
especially ones with a scientific slant such as 'An Inconvenient Truth' 
be extended to mainstream video games? Personally I feel sad to see that 
Physics is typically reduced to animating ragdoll-enemies, 
chaingun-bullets and flamethrower-particles ... so why not extend game 
physics to include more quantum-mechanics? Maybe this would allow us to 
bridge the gap between game-cultures and science-cultures.


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