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Games as a database

Manovitch believes that comparing a game to a database is useful because it shows how the user begins to conform to the interface or, more accurately, conform her thinking to the computer’s model. This is described as “the projection of a computer onto culture itself.” With the dawn of augmented reality, and the increasing efforts to informationalize the environment Manovitch is not far off. Yet, conforming our understanding of the world to a model which itself came from the world seems somewhat backward. No doubt there is an interaction between interface and our way of thinking.  However this interaction is better understood as a dialogue than a projection.

Games are not databases and are often narratives, yet they resemble databases in that the primary goal is to discover the games underlying algorithm which is the key to success. Manovitch describes the interaction between the computer and the user as a continuous loop where the user seeks to build a mental model of the computer model (3). This process is best evident in what has been described as a sandbox game like Spore where some critics view the games as lacking a coherent narrative.  Spore:

Spore itself has been criticized as not a game but a tool to build a game. Will Wright, the creator of Spore, responds to these “criticisms” by agreeing: “For these players, games are not just entertainment but a vehicle for self-expression.” http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.04/wright.html

However, as a player of Spore I could not fully divorce myself from the traditional linear narrative of game-play.  While I made a conscious effort to discover the algorithm which would lead me to success it was less an effort to express myself and much more an effort to see the end, to win, to complete the game in a way that simply runs counter to the idea of a game as a database. Manovitch sees these kinds of games as demonstrative of the databases dominance over our way of thinking, and yet even in the most expansive database-like games, the very quest to win may demonstrate an underlying inability or unwillingness in the user to surrender.

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