“Like other forms of media, computer games can work to build up, maintain, or reject what players (among others) believe about a wide range of subjects, from the constitution of truth and goodness to understandings of social mores and global politics. Like poetry, fiction, journalism, and film, computer games can work work to maintain the status quo, celebrate liberation, tolerate enslavement, and conjure feelings of hope and despair, assent and dissident, clarity and confusion. They can play equally well on emotion and rationality, pervade radical discourse and common sense alike, and exist comfortably at all points along a semiotic continuum that spans the idiosyncratic to the universal. In short, a good deal of the work of computer games is that they are always making and managing meanings, sometimes by demonstration and sometimes through interpretation. Such work is always simultaneously, then, the work of power negotiation.”
–Ken S. McAllister
In Game Work: Language, Power, and Computer Game Culture, Ken S. McAllister examines video games as a cultural phenomenon. He compares his method to Kenneth Burke’s dramatistic pentad, setting out to examine agents, functions, influences, manifestations, and transformative locales, a sort of “grammar of gameworks” (1). At the start of the book, McAllister examines the “computer game complex,” reviewing such issues as the cultural impact of violence in video games and games themselves as mass culture.
In discussing games as mass culture, he indicates the importance of power dynamics and the idea that these mass cultural influences are produced by a small number of people with a disproportionately large impact on the cultural landscape (11). Their pervasive appeal also makes them a form of mass media, able to effect real world action by affecting the perceptions and opinions of players (13).
In reviewing games as a “psychophysiological” force, McAllister negotiates conflicting scholarly and scientific conclusions about the “good and bad” impact of games on their players thusly: “the computer game complex is dialectical, a complex and ever-changing system constructed out of innumerable relationships among people, things, and symbols, all of which are in turn connected to other vast dialectical systems: the entertainment industry, the high-tech business, capitalism, articulations of democracy and freedom, and so on” (16).
He goes on to review computer games as economic (18) and instructional (24) forces, which includes the idea (reminiscent of Raph Koster) that computer games are always teaching something.