The games you don't play

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Whenever anybody wants to mount an argument about what makes video games so uniquely special and precious versus other media in the world, they note that games are interactive, they let the player do, be or have things, they respond to that player's wishes in a fashion that static, passive ol' books and films cannot.

But there are plenty of games about idleness; games that play themselves. In an essay on the early history of what he terms "idle games", Zoya Street examines games like 2002's Progress Quest, designed specifically for inactivity, and the conflicted messages about capitalism they often contain:

This genre therefore seems to have a remarkably ambivalent relationship to capital. On the one hand, the content of these games is critical of capitalism and mainstream games culture, highlighting a sense of ennui with systems that seem to keep turning inevitably, regardless of the actions of the individual. On the other hand, players’ fascination with the spectacle of watching the system turn and desire for optimisation generates two things that are extremely valuable to Kongregate: long-term attention that they can sell to advertisers, and a hunger for accelerated progress that is satisfied through the sale of virtual goods that temporarily provide a boost to the system’s yield.

Read the whole article (and other interesting pieces) in the Memory Insufficient zine.

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