Watch, Don’t Touch

It’s rather safe to say that video games are a visual medium first and foremost. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I consider myself substantially a visual person, as well. In fact, so much so that I find it sometimes frustrating to, say, watch a movie, as my concentration gears constantly towards the mere visuals of the film on the expense of the story, motives, and characters. Consequently, I don’t have a problem to go see a movie with a razor thin plot, as long as the visual department delivers.

Besides being significantly visual entities, video games are, by definition, a highly interactive medium, too, and to be able to give justice for video games is to play one. While video games are primarily meant to be played with, I for one have always found also pleasure in just watching someone else to play, or a game to play by itself, like in arcades.

The reason for this may stem from the period in my early childhood (long before the Internet era) when my prime source of novel video game experiences was my big brother, who understandably wasn’t all that excited about me continuously hanging out in his room, let alone playing with his computer. So, when I did was allowed to stay and observe from aside him playing, the moments were pure luxury to me. And I can’t count the number of times when I was blown away by some new game, sitting in a chair, trying to contain my excitement.

I believe this was a phase in my life when I learned, not to play with, but to watch video games, due to the limited access to them. There was like a force field between the games and me, which must have made them even more mysterious and intriguing to me. Later on, when I bought a gaming system of my own and started to follow the industry by myself, at least part of the magic was irreversibly lost. The force field was gone so now I could squeeze every bit out of the games I had in my possession, making them efficiently more mundane and less exciting in the process (which resonates with something I wrote earlier).

All in all, the most fascinating video games to me have always been indeed the ones that I have had a restricted access to, and I think it got to do with something Walter Benjamin called in a 1936 essay the Aura of a Work of Art. According to Benjamin, an object loses its charm when it’s mechanically reproduced and thus becomes more accessible to the audience.

In the era of instant access to everything the humanity has ever produced, we could use some of that big brother mentality (in a non-1984 sense) to keep artifacts more mysterious and thus exceedingly fascinating again.