Maximalism of Gaming

Catherine Pushnaya 23 March 2022
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

20 years ago, computer games barely existed, and yet what I remember was vastly more ambitious than traditional art. In a 1998 game “McGee’s Alice” which I played as a kid, for example, I first encountered the visualisations of the best ancient myths: polymorphisms, talking animals, and boundless voids filled with either flowing colours or nothing at all. What kind of traditional art can ever make a human fly like that? No traditional art conceived glitching through a wall or falling under the world – except perhaps that one time when people believed in living on a giant turtle. Needless to say, my 5 year old brain was so impressed that I talked of nothing else for months. The flying books, the cosmic libraries, the violent enemies – my parents deleted the game from my computer.

I guess this is why I ended up developing games: I wanted to learn more about the intricate universes created for them. There are countless examples how game culture is leaking into other areas, from science fiction to series and even traditional paintings. The most prevalent examples of this culture are “Arcane” and “Love, Death, Robots” (don’t watch the second season, by the way). Games have created a craving for ever-changing, ever aspiring worlds with touching stories where we have a choice. We are no passive mortals of ancient paganism before: we can participate in the stories of gods like Kratos, or we can go through hell in Dante’s Inferno. Perhaps this maximalism of imagination is what prompted the ridiculous plots of modern fantasy fiction: a hero is always meant to save the whole world, nothing less. Thus, we end up with stories of teenagers who single-handedly take down governments of galactic empires while being completely clueless about their crushes. But these plots are not that meaningless: every teenager saves a universe on their computer nowadays. But, I mean, nothing else can impress a potential crush. I am definitely not speaking from experience…

I believe that this cultural maximalism is a first step towards becoming less passive in real life, too. If we can imagine the perfect world, with enormous conflicts and great power, then we can imagine how to make our own world right – and what we want of it in the future. Games, in fact, have created new standards for art: ancient art seems bleak in comparison, and so many modern artists adapt. Some clothing designers do not even bother with textiles anymore, creating their entire collections in 3D and selling them as virtual assets.

Of course, some game aspects lack realism. Dooming a whole universe to explode because of you is less daunting than hearing your parent pester you about your clothes. I suppose our amygdalae need more convincing that the virtual reality is important Рand however Meta tries to convince us of otherwise, it is not. And yet, the virtual reality is just as much our home as the real world Рwell, at least for me, I actually have no statistics about it. I would if I had spent less time in the virtual world.