Category Archives: Video Games

Biopower (In)Action

I will admit that when I first read the word “biopower”, my mind immediately envisioned a scene similar to the Matrix as the camera pans across the sea of pods that the machines use to harness the power of humanity.  Now, upon discovering the meaning and applications of this term, I can say that it’s roughly the metaphoric equivalent of the aforementioned scene.

Biopower, to the uninitiated, is the practice of outsourcing development of a product to its user-base.  It was a term popularized by the French, social historian, Michel Foucault.  By his account, it is the harnessing of “life itself”.  Essentially, it is the greatest thing to ever happen commercially, socially, and in virtually every other field.baguette1

So far, you know that it means ‘making people do stuff’ and that is has some relation to a French guy.  Let’s get specific.  How about an example?  What does Tom love?  Halo.  So, for those Halo players out there, you’ll get this.  For everybody else, I’ll now shove Bungie’s holy grail down through your retinas.  Halo Reach comes with an updated version of an older feature called Forge, designed to allow users to modify their gameplay according to the built-in physics engine.  Through Forge, users can design their own maps for multiplayer use and, in the most extreme cases, create entirely new games.   An excellent example and application of forcing the Forge engine to it’s maximum, is Rooster Teeth’s Achievement Horse

Now that the Great Bungie Gods have been appeased, I can betray them and tell you why they included this feature:  Because it makes them immortal.  (Insert god-like sound effects)  This probably needs some explanation.  As I see it, there are four levels of game-life based off the type of game:Halo-_Reach_box_art

1.  Casual game – Tetris

2.  Storyboard game – Mario (let’s say Super Mario Bros.)

3.  Multiplayer game – Halo 2

4.  Open theatre game – Halo Reach/Minecraft/Sims

By the odd nature of human beings, those in the first category seem to explode in popularity and last forever.  However, due to the casual nature of the game (tautology fail), they’re often priced lowly (Angry Birds is $0.99, Halo Reach is $59.99).  Those in the second category are often dependent upon the franchise to determine how long the game will remain popular.  Despite this, their lives’ are inherently finite.  The third category routinely extends extends the life of those in the second category as it provides a further outlet for users that have completed and/or grown bored with the story.

But the focus of this piece is the games that fall into the fourth category.  These games have the ability to exist indefinitely, constantly upgraded by the users who enjoy them.  Realistically, they’ll be made obsolete by future versions of games in the same franchise or eventually be rendered unplayable as the consoles fall into disrepair. 

But the biopower feature has a greater effect than immortalizing a game.  In fact, that’s a terrible thing.  Game developers don’t want to build a game that people will purchase one copy of, they want to develop a game that explodes in purchases and that attaches customers to their franchise. 

So what benefit (spoilers: it’s economic), does this type of game provide for the developers?  It allows them to cut corners on design.  Okay, that’s not exactly fair.  It allows them to spend less time writing code for specific objects, layouts, etc.  By outsourcing design to the users, developers not only gain a creative base that shares their creations, they’re also able to produce the game faster and cut costs that would normally go to graphics design and writers. 

Case in point, Minecraft.  A game that has recently exploded in popularity, I can honestly say that I haven’t seen graphics that poor in almost a decade.  But does it matter?  No, not in the least.  Why?  Because people don’t care.  They don’t want to be able to see every blade of grass because it would destroy them.  This game awakens the obsessive-compulsive sectors that normally lie dormant within the general population.  And it drives mortal men to madness.  Well, maybe not madness necessarily, but it certainly opens a portal for a single man to entrap himself within his own dominion.  It does what Blizzard still can’t manage:  It mentally enslaves a single person. 

cthulhu spriteWhy am I telling you this?  Do I secretly hate Minecraft?  Am I sick of Bungie profiting off its customers?  Have I finally gone insane?!?  No.  I just think it’s a really interesting concept.  Selling a product that isn’t actually a product.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  It’s closer to selling the videogame equivalent of a colour-by-numbers drawing.  No, that analogy isn’t close enough.  Hmmm…  Okay, it’s the videogame version of a box of Legos.  You can construct virtually anything you can think of, but you’re limited by the amount of Legos you have and whether or not the object you have in mind utilizes non-Euclidian geometry. 

Well, that’s all for now.  For anybody who’s interested in learning more about this and the amazing economics of videogames, I would recommend reading Nick Dyer’s Games of Empire: Global Capitalism and Video Games.  (Biopower Play, the inspiration for this article, is chapter 5)

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