I mainly post fake tabletop games and sports rather than video games. Fiction that describes tabletop games usually focuses on imagining game mechanics, inter-player dynamics, and other issues of interest to game designers. Descriptions of video games, on the other hand, typically take the form of in-game narrative. Fiction writers take video games as imaginary worlds that chiefly serve as settings for stories. And they often function as a convenient frame around fantastical elements in a story that is otherwise striving for psychological/science fictional/or other forms of realism.
That said, I’m posting this trailer for the 1993 b-movie Arcade because it has awesomely terrible early 90s game graphics and a somehow inevitable appearance by John de Lancie (Star Trek’s Q), but also because it touches on some of the core fantasies around “immersion” that have re-emerged recently with the rise of the Oculus Rift (and technologically-driven hyper-realist AAA game styles more generally). This fantasy of a dissolving barrier between the game and real worlds manifests in a lot of today’s rhetoric around game (and other computer) interfaces. Beyond the Oculus Rift and the new rise of VR, this fantasy is widespread in the technology industry at the moment from Microsoft’s rhetoric of Natural User Interface (or “NUI”, their paradigm for how to use the Kinect) to the discourse around touch interfaces, voice interfaces like Siri, and even Google’s modifications to its search query parsing.
This fantasy of immersion is different from the typical fictional use of game worlds as simply story settings. Fantasies of immersion propose that the purpose of game design is to place you into a fictional context so thoroughly that it achieves some kind of parity with reality. This is the opposite of the framework that says that game design is about the construction of obstacles for the player — the “Golf is a good walk ruined” school.
Ironically, the cliches of storytelling mean that it’s typical for movies like Arcade to start with the fantasy of immersion (all the promise of the shiny graphics, head-mounted displays, and power gloves) and then, as the Evil Computer comes alive and menaces the characters, to evolve into something that looks a lot more like a real game: a series of obstacles placed between a player and a goal, requiring increasing skill and imposing increasing stakes, with story as the flimsiest armature holding up a ingenious mechanical contraption.