Control in Games

Tof Eklund recently wrote a thoughtful review of Flotilla, a space battle strategy game, for Play This Thing. We previously met Eklund at the Futures of Digital Studies conference a few months ago where he gave a fascinating presentation on “computer board games.”

The review is pretty straightforward until the endm when a passing comment caught my attention and served as a useful reminder of what drives us to games:

Flotilla has a few rough spots, and isn't going to satisfy anyone's fantasies of acquisition or control, but that's part of what makes it enjoyable as a game.

Fantasies of acquisition and control. How much of that do we actually see in games? The more I thought about it, the more this seemed the central driving focus behind entire genres: “God games” like Sim City, real-time strategy game, games in which you care for an animal or creature (e.g. Nintendogs, Pokemon). These games seem to be everywhere.

The pleasure of other genres (like the RPG or platformer) doesn’t depend entirely upon a sense of control (except for games where the pleasure comes from interacting and manipulating the world, e.g. the Grand Theft Auto series), but there’s certainly a case to be made that most video games fulfill a drive for mastery and domination.