Introduction to History of Video Games
Let’s try to understand distinctions between video games and all other arts. Video games imperatively born digital. But what is digital? To introduce our history of video games, we have to do a little lecture about that.
Information technology has, in a sense, incorporated all other arts. So we can read from a reader, listen music from a media player, see movies from a blu-ray. However the content of our digital media is analog: a sound, a voice, a person. Analog is an electrical signal, just a reproduction of reality. As well as digital, it’s not real, it is a replication precise enough to make us believe in it. Analog and digital have the same soul.
So what are the differences? What’re advantages of digital versus analog? Mainly the digital allows a kind of content manipulation. That revolution had serious repercussions and we can see consequences especially in music and film at least of latest 30 years.
Moreover, when we watch a film, listen a song or read a book, we can only observe the flow of events. The digital revolution allows for the first time, to interact directly with those events and manipulate them.
On watching a movie for the second time, same events happen in the exact same timeline. Video games, potentially, allow us to see things in not predetermined order which can lead to apparently unpredictable progressions.
Why apparently? These progressions are also unexpected? Just think about it for a moment to answer. The game is scheduled to already include inside of it those differences. Games move according to algorithms that, following established quite complex rules, can make us believe that are random.
From user point of view consequences are unexpected, but not from the point of view of the game. The same thing happens with cinema.
But this could change in coming decades. Video games have been one of the first practical applications of theories on artificial intelligence, which allow us to explore new and fascinating forms of possibility.
A disturbing consequence of computer science progress is prophesied by one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time, Isaac Asimov, who throughout his literary production worked about possibilities and consequences of historical and moral awareness of machines.
The same issues had already been considered by Descartes in first half of 1600. In “Discourse on the Method” (1637), Descartes elaborates a principle that will be the foundation of his thought: “cogito ergo sum“. I think, therefore I am.
British philosopher Thomas Hobbes, criticizing these Descartes’ thesis, asserted that human mind is nothing but a set of calculations performed by a brain, just like a computer. If a computer is able to perform so complex calculations, then this computer is no longer a machine, is a mind.
From these concepts, Alan Turing in 1950 develop a test that determines whether or not a machine is able to think. The test is based on the ability of the machine to exactly reproduce human cognitive functions.
But, if we could create an AI altogether superior to that human?
According to the theory of strong artificial intelligence, this machine would be able to overcome men in arts and sciences. Not only that, it may be able to produce the best works of music, literature, film and philosophy that the world has ever seen or inventing new forms of art.
If the digital world could be, or at least simulate to be, quite complex as the world that we are considering real, would not become itself as a real world?
Sure, we can perceive at once the diversity of machines compared to human beings, because they don’t have corporeality. But if they had? If machines will be able to reach a level of complexity at least to deceive our perception, those machines would not be exactly comparable to humans?
Many works are created starting from these digressions: movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Alien (1979), Terminator (1984), The Matrix (1999), Inception (2012) or Her (2013), as well video games like Fallout (1997), System Shock 2 (1999), Mass Effect (2007) or I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (1995), based upon Harlan Ellison’s short story of the same title (1967).
For Giacomo Leopardi, art is the refuge of the men from the unpredictable and nullifying nature of the world. While holding this definition, video games are art to deceive our perceptions effectively enough to allow us to find refuge in virtual worlds.
Cinema has many points in common with video games , but a game adds a powerful empathic component: interactivity. If the world with which we interact is quite credible, that world becomes real, maybe even better than reality.
From a philosophical point of view, a game is the extreme demonstration of the illusion of becoming of the world and, therefore, the highest possible expression of human creativity, being a man as will to power, to dominate and manipulate the world.
Simulating life, creating worlds that are result of creativity as only literature and cinema have been able to do, and allying with the powerful God of the XXI century (Technology) in its most subliminal expression: computer science, for the first time in history becomes possible, not only to hear and observe art, but touch it and interact with it; let it not only become part of us, but ourselves part of it.