Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Digital Play

Digital Play: The Interaction of Technology, Culture, and Marketing

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 376
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Digital Play
    Book Description:

    In a marketplace that demands perpetual upgrades, the survival of interactive play ultimately depends on the adroit management of negotiations between game producers and youthful consumers of this new medium. The authors suggest a model of expansion that encompasses technological innovation, game design, and marketing practices. Their case study of video gaming exposes fundamental tensions between the opposing forces of continuity and change in the information economy: between the play culture of gaming and the spectator culture of television, the dynamism of interactive media and the increasingly homogeneous mass-mediated cultural marketplace, and emerging flexible post-Fordist management strategies and the surviving techniques of mass-mediated marketing. Digital Play suggests a future not of democratizing wired capitalism but instead of continuing tensions between "access to" and "enclosure in" technological innovation, between inertia and diversity in popular culture markets, and between commodification and free play in the cultural industries.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7106-8
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. 1 Paradox Lost: Faith and Possibility in the “Information Age”
    (pp. 3-26)

    Is it wicked chance or synchronicity that madeTitanicone of the blockbuster movies of the twentieth century? That great ship was‚ after all‚ not just an impregnable vessel but a much-heralded communication medium symbolizing all that was progressive in an era of industrialization in which the conquest of space and time had become essential to the expansionary economies of trade and the global circulation of knowledge and people. So much so that the accelerating speed of travel became the obsession of its builders‚ who bragged about their superior engines as much as about the scale and opulence of their...


    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 27-29)

      To propose a theoretical perspective within which to analyze interactive gaming, we draw on the conceptual toolkit of communication studies. This is a complicated undertaking, not least because communication studies is a tradition comprising many streams of thought. From the various streams we see especially valuable resources for analysing interactive gaming in media theory, political economy of communication, and cultural studies. They are helpful in taking up our task because writers in each field have debated the impact of communication media on social, cultural, and economic life. In our view, a critical media analysis of interactive gaming requires a supple...

    • 2 Media Analysis in the High-Intensity Marketplace: The Three Circuits of Interactivity
      (pp. 30-59)

      How should we analyze video and computer game play? As a technological experience‚ created by digital programs‚ user-machine interfaces‚ and telecommunications networks? As a market transaction in which we consume digital commodities produced for profit by corporate media empires? Or as a cultural text that offers players immersion in riveting stories full of fantastic characters‚ bizarre environments‚ and gripping narrative choices?

      To construct a theoretical perspective for a critical media analysis of the interactive game we must begin by pooling and evaluating existing intellectual resources. Communication studies has long been occupied by debates on “mass” and “new” media‚ trying to...

    • 3 An Ideal Commodity? The Interactive Game in Post-Fordist/Postmodern/Promotional Capitalism
      (pp. 60-78)

      We have presented a model of the technological‚ cultural‚ and marketing forces that mutually constitute the experience of interactive play. The previous chapter reviewed some of the theoretical influences on our thinking. Now we shall say more about the broader set of historical circumstances in which the three circuits are situated. For the way the circuits interact with one another is‚ remembering Raymond Williams‚ both “an intention and an effect of a particular social order.”¹ We have to set this model in motion by providing some account of the dramatic social changes that have occurred in all three spheres since...


    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 79-83)

      The story of the emergence of interactive play and of its uncertain crisis-filled transformation into one of the premier industries of digital globalized capital is both exciting and revelatory. Historical perspective is vital to critical understanding. We strongly agree with Williams that it is impossible to diagnose the cultural impact of a new medium until the specific institutional circumstances of its development are understood. Moreover, critical media analysis requires historical perspective in order to argue against the deterministic view that technology “is a self-acting force which creates new ways of life.”¹

      Historical perspective also prevents us from isolating a media...

    • 4 Origins of an Industry: Cold Warriors‚ Hackers‚ and Suits 1960—1984
      (pp. 84-108)

      In 1962‚ as President Kennedy confronted the Soviets over the missiles in Cuba‚ Americans stared apprehensively into the night sky for the signs of atomic attack‚ then turned their gaze back to science fiction films on the screens of drive-in cinemas. Rocket fins sprouted on everything from Cadillacs to hotdog wrappers. Technological development was a source of both dread and distraction. In this ambiguous context of nuclear angst and consumer confidence‚ a prototype video game saw the light of day.Spacewarwas a serendipitous digital doodle. It enabled two players to steer vapour-trailing rocketships and fire torpedoes at each other...

    • 5 Electronic Frontiers: Branding the “Nintendo Generation” 1985—1990
      (pp. 109-127)

      The revival of the North American market was the achievement of a company whose name has become practically synonymous with video games: Nintendo. No other corporation has so firmly put its stamp on the interactive gaming business; very few have as decisively altered the domestic and cultural habits of millions of children and families. In a series of bold gambles‚ Nintendo brought the video game back from the verge of extinction and then drove it to a new pinnacle of popularity and profitability. The phrase “Nintendo kids” designates an entire generation familiar with console and joystick.¹ The company did it...

    • 6 Mortal Kombats: Console Wars and Computer Revolutions, 1990—1995
      (pp. 128-150)

      For some five years‚ Nintendo’s command of the home video game business seemed unassailable. But in the early 1990s a challenger armed with faster technology‚ riskier games‚ and more aggressive marketing appeared. The contest between Sega and Nintendo revolutionized video gaming‚ propelling new extremes of technical innovation‚ marketing intensity‚ and cultural audacity and opening the way for other contenders. The suddenly competitive interactive entertainment market of the mid-1990s was often compared to one of the era’s most controversial games‚Mortal Kombat, in which a group of martial arts experts strive to finish their adversaries with gruesome “fatality moves.” In the...

    • 7 Age of Empires: Sony and Microsoft, 1995—2001
      (pp. 151-168)

      In the mid-1990s the interactive game industry’s position within the circuits of digital capitalism was radically transformed. Since the crash of Atari, the business had made an extraordinary recovery. The console wars had galvanized video gaming‚ and computer play was on the rise. But interactive entertainment still remained a distinct and rather specialized sector of the post-Fordist economy. It was ruled by a cluster of companies that had made – or lost – their names and fortunes in the field of digital play. Pundits and theorists of the digital business still often overlooked the sector‚ perhaps because of a lingering suspicion that...

    • 8 The New Cyber-City: The Interactive Game Industry in the New Millennium
      (pp. 169-192)

      The filmThe Matrixto which Kutaragi refers is a fable about a takeover of the planet by a monstrous techno-entity that sucks dry the physical and mental energies of human beings while enveloping them in a world of deceptive simulations. The prospect he offers sounds a little less appealing‚ perhaps‚ than he intends. Nonetheless‚ the possibility that interactive games might serve as a gateway to a comprehensively networked world of virtual entertainment and services is certainly a key element today in making them one of digital capital’s most avidly observed‚ fastest-growing‚ and hottest new media industries. In this chapter...


    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 193-196)

      Our analysis reflects critically on digital play as a cultural industry and cultural practice wrought within the contradictory dynamics of today’s mediated markets. The interactive game business, like all of digital capitalism’s cultural industries, is characterized by paradox, tension, and uncertainty. We reiterate a point made earlier: to define the interactive game as an “ideal” post-Fordist commodity is not to say that it presents a problem-free profit opportunity for business but, on the contrary, to emphasize how it crystallizes within itself both the dreams and nightmares of information capitalism. It is precisely because video and computer gaming show us how...

    • 9 Workers and Warez: Labour and Piracy in the Global Game Market
      (pp. 197-217)

      When we purchase a video or computer game we probably do not think about how it arrived on the store shelf. But our copy ofZeldaorStarcraftdid not spring into being ready-made. It is the outcome of a production process‚ of the combined labour of hundreds of people. That we forget about this is a telling example of what Marx called “the fetishism of commodities” – the tendency for the market to present us with goods as if they arrived by magic‚ hiding the mental and manual toil that goes into their making.

      This process touches all commodities‚ be...

    • 10 Pocket Monsters: Marketing in the Perpetual Upgrade Marketplace
      (pp. 218-245)

      “Gotta catch them all!” declares the campaign slogan that exhorts the child-consumers ofPokémon‚ the most successful of all current video game products‚ not only to acquire all two hundred and fifty variants of the game’s mutant monsters but to pursue them across a range of media‚ running from wireless-connected mobile game devices to home consoles to collectible cards‚ television shows, films, books, comics, and toys. Whether or not players are triumphant in their hunt‚ it is a quest that will certainly be worthwhile for the owners and licensees of thePokémoncommodity. By 2001 the cumulative amount generated by...

    • 11 Designing Militarized Masculinity: Violence‚ Gender‚ and the Bias of Game Experience
      (pp. 246-268)

      In July 2000 the Canadian province of British Columbia slapped an x-rating on the computer gameSoldier of Fortune‚ making it in theory purchasable only by adults.¹Soldier of Fortunewas one of a new crop of first-person shooters that includedRainbow SixRogue Spear,SWAT‚ andCounter-Strike, games broadly similar toDoomandQuakebut much more realistic. Premised on scenarios of anti-terrorist or mercenary operations‚ these games emulate the tactics of small-group urban warfare. Opponents are not demonic monsters but plausible-looking humans‚ on whom the effects of high velocity and automatic weaponry are demonstrated with extraordinary verisimilitude. In...

    • 12 Sim Capital
      (pp. 269-293)

      The interactive gaming industry’s first big hit of the new millennium wasThe Sims, released in February of 2000 . It was the latest in the highly successful Sim series‚ launched by the developer Maxis in 1989 withSimCity, an urban planning scenario that became one of the bestselling games ever, and continued with such titles asSimLife,SimEarth,SimFarm,SimCopter, andSimAnt, as well asSimCity 2000and3000. These are what are popularly referred to as “God games‚” in which the player oversees the development of an entire city or civilization from a near-deific vantage point.The Sims‚...

  9. Coda: Paradox Regained
    (pp. 294-298)

    Digital games are interactive mediapar excellencebecause their entertainment value arises from the loop between the player and the game‚ as the human attempts by the movement of the joystick or keyboard or mouse to outperform the program against and within which he or she‚ with or without networked coplayers‚ competes. This interactive feedback cycle is often represented as a dramatic emancipatory improvement over traditional one-way media and passive audiences – a step up in cultural creativity‚ technological empowerment, and consumer sovereignty. In the view of the digerati and silicon futurists‚ video and computer games herald a brave new world...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 299-330)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 331-356)
  12. Index
    (pp. 357-368)