Over at Los Angeles Review Of Books (LARB) Elliot Murphy, who is completing a PhD in neurolinguistics at University College London has had an epic and fascinating essay published regarding computer games and politics : Always a Lighthouse: Video Games and Radical Politics . This is a long and rather riveting read. Whereas the essay is largely about games and the narrative they portray, Second Life does get a mention :
But while many games traffic in radicalization, and often revive the trope of “evil corporate” antagonists, most are themselves more corporate than ever. Owned as they are by multinational conglomerates, it is of little surprise that video games have merged with other corporate forms of entertainment. The X-Men have their games, Max Payne has his film, and World of Warcraft has its novels. Universities and businesses also regard the virtual world of Second Life (celebrating the economic interactions and institutional structures of corporate capitalism) as a “fun” platform from which students and employers can “socialize” and host meetings, while companies like Apple and Nissan flood its poorly textured streets with electrifying logos and adverts. These and other franchises promote the core tenets of neoliberalism: privatization, deregulation, commodification, and a celebration of personal profit. Other games like Saints Row and Need for Speed buttress a consumerist culture, often exulting in greed and self-indulgence.
At first glance this looks a bit heavy and deep and yet the article points out that the power of video games and by extension virtual worlds, we see this in the introduction to the essay :
VIDEO GAMES, as Robert Cassar recently noted in his Games and Culture essay “Gramsci and Games,” are often “sophisticated texts that can represent not just ideas but entire worlds, which invite players to explore them.” Video games contain a unique combination of expressive dimensions, including audiovisual language and narrative along with their distinctive ludic and interactive elements. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, in their essay “The Play of Imagination” also for Games and Culture, make the crucial point that through these elements, games can introduce novel pedagogical practices that differ from other interactive and educational media.
As I said, the essay is a long one and I suspect that people on the left and right will find issues with it. The author definitely seems to lean left and for point of clarity, so do I personally, although I don’t generally engage much with politics in virtual worlds or games. This doesn’t mean that I don’t see the potential for politics playing a large part in video game and virtual world culture, especially as the medium grows. We are seeing this today in many online debates about where the computer gaming industry in particular should be heading.