I am a realistic person. I do not expect everyone to read my degree dissertation from head to toe at some point, entitled “Videogames and Communication: A Semiotic Study of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Bioshock”. So today, I want to develop briefly the second and central hypothesis of the analysis I conducted with my partner, Rodrigo.
If videogames can be considered as Mass Media, then we agree that they contain messages. I’m not talking about hidden messages or an underlying text to brainwash the users, but about simple messages. Texts. Statements.
From here, our hypothesis was to demonstrate that videogames include values. And, with those values as starting points, they produce value judgments.
For our hypothesis, it was necessary to explain the definition of “value” we used, the one formulated by Professor Roberto Von Sprecher from the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (National University of Córdoba):
“By Values we understand some general position-takings, basic assumptions about what ought to be and what ought not to be of men in society, about men and the world. Values work as a guiding background of how to act, Values provide us with a criteria that we put into action when we are faced with situations that allow more than one resolution, to decide a course of action “.
“Position-taking”, “guiding background of how to act” and “criteria” are the keywords in this definition.
Additionaly, I want to bring the Act of Language definition proposed by Patrick Charaudeau: the result of two activities, production and interpretation. In the case of values that are included or may be included in videogames, I think it’s safe to say that the fact of identifying them depends exclusively on the individual analysis of each player.
In other words, it depends on how each user reads the text or message proposed by the game. Each player will be able to find different values.
Some positions may be more obvious; other criteria may depend on the background of each user and his own experience, of his own life lessons. That is, the interpretation conditions that are put into play when interacting with the video game.
I’m going to give you three examples of videogames that have clear positions in certain situations that would allow more than one resolution and/or decision.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare — “The Good and the Bad”
CoD4 is a first person shooter that focuses on current war conflicts, set in 2011 and that seeks to emulate the problems of terrorism and war in the Middle East.
If they played this title in Story Mode, you may have memories of charismatic characters like Gaz, Price and the main character who offers us his eyes to perceive history, Soap.
At the beginning of this story, Allied soldiers must rescue an informant trapped in Russian territory. As the quest begins, Gaz asks a question that pretends to be comical and funny, but that’s actually saturated with the value judgments this game performs:
“Are these the good Russians or the bad Russians?”
In this game, the values we detect are manifested by opposition and contrast. This distinction between “good and bad” happens constantly, suggesting that the actions of the first group are correct, while those of the second group are unjustified and immoral.
From this, we can deduce that the videogame has a root distinction between good and evil. And in turn it makes it clear who are on the good side and who on the evil side.
The behavior of each character is deeply linked to being “good” or being “bad”: those who are located in the faction of “the good guys” show attitudes and values of comradeship, heroism and, precisely, the call of duty.
Meanwhile, “the bad guys” behave in opposite ways, seeking revenge, showing cowardice and disinterest to their peers. There are no nuances, there are no gray areas. There is no “bad guy” who acts honestly, because his intentions and actions are based on doing evil.
I promised in the title to be concise with each example, so for now take all this as the push that starts the domino effect, and if you look closely at this game, you will instantly notice all I’m saying.
Bioshock — State vs Market
Oh, Bioshock. A jewel in the world of Videogames. I will not hide that I’m fascinated by this franchise and I assure you that you won’t waste your time if you decide to play it. Set in a fictitious underwater city during the year 1960, it brings us a masterpiece with steampunk, cyberpunk, biopunk and noir film elements.
In this work, we can identify two central and opposite forces: on the one hand, the character of Andrew Ryan embodies values that are related to the power of the State, while Frank Fontaine personalizes the position taking of the Market.
The State appears as the maximum normative order of a society, which elaborates and coercively imposes on the population said order (according to the author Gallino, Luciano). And this is exactly what Ryan does with the inhabitants of Rapture, the underwater city of the video game.
The Market, on the other hand, is generally understood as a mechanism of exchange and distribution of goods and services, something that Fontaine’s character seeks to dominate and control.
And who are left in the middle? The members of society, those who suffer the coercion of the State and the manipulations of the Market. And here we come, as gamers, participating in a game of morality in which our decisions can be altruistic or individualistic.
The decisions each player makes, also hand in hand with the concept of good and evil, affect the outcome and development of the story. However, this distinction between good and evil is implicit. This is due to a certain historical social conditioning, at least of our western society, in which altruism is associated with good and individualism with evil.
Meanwhile, in Bioshock the State and the Market destroy each other, and as collateral damage they destroy society. The player has to choose if he wants to contribute to this destruction or if he wants to save what can still be saved.
This video game is a clear example of the interactivity between the user and the plot. The value judgments and the player’s position takings come into direct contact with the value system proposed by the game.
What Assassin’s Creed and Candy Crush force you to say
Although this was not part of the Thesis, we included it among our conclusions because it was very amusing for us. I have to admit, it’s a small detail that I find very entertaining.
Have you ever thought about the words that videogames put in our mouths? Phrases that we never imagined saying in our lives, I guarantee that.
Take the case of Assassin’s Creed. In our Western educational system, strongly influenced by the Christian heritage, we are taught in history lessons that the Templars were heroes during the Crusades. This is the configuration with which we are programmed: “the Templars were Heroes”.
But Assassin’s Creed toys with our conditioning, since the Templars are the main antagonists of the plot. And each time our character comes across a Templar who complicates everything, the game makes us insult these mythical knights despite all the literature we have read boasting them.
However, the true agents of everything that’s wrong in the world -allow me exaggerate for a fact- are the creators of Candy Crush. Because never, ever in my life and even in my darkest nightmares, I imagined that someone would dare to say: “Damn these chocolates!”