Video Games: A (some-what-Political) History

Video Games have come a long way from the pinging sounds of Pong, and the graphics of Adventure, but they also have changed in their significance. Today video games are a billion dollar industry, with 25.1 billion dollars being spent by consumers on the industry in 2011. Games have come from being a way to pass time by bouncing a ball back and forth, to massive elaborate stories which entertain us in a more complex and engaging way.The development of the industry has lead to an increase in visual and audio appeal, along with political significance, and today gaming greets the world with an entirely different face than it did 40 years ago. Political ads fill games, and game companies are starting to embrace the growing political and economic nature of their gaming machines. 

Arguably, the first “video game” was created in 1958 and called Tennis for Two. The game was an attempt to make William Higinbotham’s research lab a more interesting place for the general public to visit.The game was played on an oscilloscope, controlled by two analog sticks. Visitors would come to play the game and appreciate the work done in the lab. Sure enough, the game was entertaining, but was it a real video game? what even is a video game? in 2005 a man named Nicolas Esposito realized the growing importance of video games in the world and defined video games as “a game which we play thanks to an audiovisual apparatus and which can be based on a story.” As simple as this definition is, it is important for research and classification, and we can use it to tell what is and is not a video game. Tennis for Two qualifies as a video game by this definition, and is seen as the spark that created the video game industry. 

As the years went by, Tennis for Two was replaced by more and more complex games that where taken out of labs and marketed to the public. From Mario to Sonic, and Zelda to scientific games, the games started to mature and develop visually. In 2011 the Smithsonian Museum of American Art decided to put out a display for video games entitled “The Art of Video Games.” Clearly something had changed in the last 40 years. Nowadays video games can be just as much art as entertainment, and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art has decided to show many games as representing just that fact.

Along side the aspect of visual art, games have developed their music to be a highlight of the unique gaming experience they offer. The first ever video game themed concert to feature a complete 4 movement symphony was met with outstanding success in it’s debut and continued to sell out in locations it toured to. Video game music has quite the audience, with several websites like this one having a specific category just for video game sound tracks. There are also thousands of web pages with remakes of some video game song.

Politically, video games jumped into view in 2008 when presidential candidate Barrack Obama put advertising in several games. This was the first time that games had been used as a political venue. More recently, Microsoft has created a politics portal, all for political material on the 2012 election.So far the portal has covered both parties national conventions, and the presidential debates. when asked about the new portal Fred Humphries, vice president of government affairs at Microsoft said “Technology has been a transformative force in politics during recent years.” This is no understatement. 

In 2005 a law was passed in California that bans the sale of violent video games to children without a parent. the law was actually challenged and sent all the way up to the supreme court, whom then struck down the law due to the first amendment freedom of expression. There was no stopping video games from becoming part of the political world now. Political caucuses for gaming where created in interest of protecting the successful industry, and a PAC was recently announced that would be used to lobby on behalf of major video game contributors.. Despite the caucus and PACs though, bills that seeks to limit the sale of violent video game, or limit the companies that make them continue to be introduced. In one particular case, the internet went on strike to keep a bill from being passed, SOPA, a bill that would directly effect computer video games. video games have indeed gotten themselves into the political world and are facing the benefits and repercussions that accompany. 

Video games have come a long way. Art styles and graphics have been improved vastly, and music has also been developed to a unique level. The development has driven legislation, court rulings, and political ads however, and we are forced to see that video games are becoming more and more politically significant. Perhaps 40 years from now people will be surprised at how little a role they play now, compared to the role they play in the future. 


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