Mass Phenomena Computer Games

Massenphänomen Computerspiele: Soziale, kulturelle und wirtschaftliche Aspekte

(Computer Games as Mass Phenomenon: Social, Cultural and Economic Aspects)

By Jeffrey Wimmer

UVK Verlagsgesellschaft, 2013. ISBN: 978-3867640886

The major premise of this book is that since so many computer games are now networked, it is worthwhile studying them not merely as a form of entertainment but rather as a form of mass communication. Jeffrey Wimmer argues that the growth in popularity of computer games has resulted in a situation where they have come to form a significant element of people’s increasingly online interaction with the world. These games are therefore a complement to social media and other leisure-time and/or professional uses of digital media. This is particularly true of the younger generation and therefore means that computer games must be seen as a significant factor in young people’s socialisation. It is no longer a question of whether computer games influence people’s social behaviour but how. Naturally, this has led to some concerns, principally with regard to computer game addiction and the depiction of violence.

Starting with a look at the works of Huizinga and Caillois, Wimmer follows their impact on the study of computer games. Much of the book is then devoted to exploring communication studies approaches to studying modern computer games. In the later parts of the book, Wimmer also presents an insight into the commercial setting in which computer games are made and marketed and looks at serious games and their potential for learning. Of particular interest here are the uses of computer games to reach young people, at a time when many other forms of communication seem to have little or no impact in this regard. Finally, Wimmer covers issues in computer-game research that are particular to Germany, where research in this field is apparently not yet valued as highly as it is elsewhere.

Computer game worlds, such as in World of Warcraft, allow users to act and gain experiences in a virtual world in which they have no actual physical presence. However, the effects which this interaction and gaining of experience have on an individual are not limited to those times spent in the virtual world, but impact on that person more generally. This impact on their socialisation and any changes to their identity are carried through to real life. Networked games, in particular, contain elements of social activity and interactive communication that will then also shape an individual’s experience of everyday life. This can be intensified where players join groups of other players in clans or guilds for regular gaming, but also potentially for other forms of regular shared social activity. Such gamers may, therefore, communicate not just about in-game activities, but can also go on to discuss homework, exam preparation, university choices, career options, etc. They should be regarded as a communication community in the widest sense, and the online world as part of real-life, just with its own very specific technological features. Wimmer emphasises that much prior research has focussed heavily on particularly noticeable types of players, such as modders, or those for whom it is embedded in a style of youth culture complemented with matching apparel, slang, music, etc. It is argued that such approaches do not pay sufficient attention to the silent majority of gamers, who do not necessarily display readily identifiable features, such as T-shirts, convention attendance, or a YouTube channel.

This is an introductory text aimed at readers with a background in media and communication studies, who have little knowledge of computer games. Readers who already possess a solid background in computer game studies are unlikely to find anything new here. The main body of the book is supplemented at the end with a large number of support sections, including: a glossary, list of abbreviations, list of journals specialising in (computer) gaming, links to websites, and – perhaps most usefully for a first-time researcher in this field – an annotated bibliography of a selected set of key texts.

Chris Jones