National Cinemas/ National Game Cultures pt.2

Part 2 of my musings about national cinemas compared to national game cultures Now if one looks into the Australian game industry one will find nothing of the above. It is squarely caught in an internationalist logic and its funding mechanisms strictly adhere to a logic of economic rationalism (as in being orientated towards enabling exports). "Film is an industry in a Western mega culture, and Australia is simply part of it; ideals of originality, independence and authenticity are sentimental anachronisms, inappropriate to the combinatoire of industrial cinema" (ibid.: 227). Just replace film with games. Australian-produced games are simply international games - no more, no less. Australian films are made interchangeable and universal with those of other countries (mainly the US and the UK). There are no games which situate Australians in their own history of foreground the diversity of its identities. Of course the main reason for this is that the Australian market is too small for distinctively Australia content (however defined), especially in a time of multi-million budgets.

But then again if the distinctiveness of the game industry is considered one will find that there is no such thing as an explicit national game culture in the Western world (in the sense as there is a national cinema, even though France might be on to something). It is a thoroughly international industry, a prime example of a globalised, post-fordistic field which hardly knows any localism. The double problematisation O'Regan is talking about never existed for the game industry; instead the utility of the market itself is the conferrer of value (something that is especially true for Australia, it imitates the game counterpart of Hollywood products and, for the most part, is successful doing so: something that is very much appreciated by several agents and also the main reason why there are support programs for the industry – which will probably become more important in the future if Australia wants to continue to play in this league).

On the other hand it has to pointed out that there is something akin to national cinemas in the sense of prestige minorstream content opposed to the dominant industry patterns - indie games. But these also operate in a supranational space and a rarely concerned with the foregrounding of diverse identities, minority agendas or cultural nationalist projects (the exception to the rule: serious games). These games though are attached to larger aesthetic movements – (post)modernity and various avant-garde or whatever. Not surprisingly such games find their greatest assertion of value in the festival circuit or and critical discourses of games in specialised blogs. Although, similar to the cinema, these games' relationship to the mainstream is not as clear cut as it seems, as for example they are often distributed by via the platforms of the big three console manufactures (Xbox Live, Wiiware, Playstation Network) making for a fuzziness similar to the cinema; albeit again on a supranational level.

Australian Flag

In this connection one also has to consider the peculiar nature of games. They aren't a narrative medium which makes them not particularly suited for projects of nation building. This is a point that has been discussed excessively ("Can games tell stories?"). Only so much: The main thing that distinguishes games from other media forms is that they by definition incorporate rules – without rules there is no game. Rules in videogames basically translate into algorithms, the very core of the medium.

The problem here is: How do you fit Australianess into algorithms? So the whole underlying system of a game, its very core and its main characteristic is not suited for the agenda of a national cinema/ game culture. Of course one can counter here that this approach does not take the meta-text of games (other media, social influences etc- basically they fact that the representations in a game don't exist in a vacuum) into account -certainly a valid point. Chess is still the same game, no matter if you play it with tokens made out of clay or tokens that resemble your family members and are made out of pure gold, albeit this difference might indeed influence the way you play the game. Accordingly the representational level of game certainly does have an impact; it matters if Australia is aptly represented on a visual (audio) level due to all the connotations we carry around with us and representations alone can tell us a lot about the state of the game world (see degenerated environment of Bioshock for example). These points alone make for a long argument...

Considering that games more and more take up the role of a key medium, this issue might become problematic in the long run. Stories after all always passed from medium to the next (think of ferry tales for example, which made it from book to film), a transition that does not work as seamlessly as it did before with the growing dominance of videogames.

If games want to be taken seriously and the industry wants to become a self respecting endeavour it will have to deal with some of these issues though: A national game culture that is not only consciously different to and critical of the mainstream but also engaged in some national projects like a national cinema: situating people in their own history, being a vehicle for a common culture and a civic ideology, facilitating a set of common understandings and aspirations, sentiments and ideas that bind the population in their homeland and help to manage the external relations of a sovereign national culture – this would be an important, albeit difficult, step for games, but certainly one towards crucial recognition.

(As pointed out the idea of a sovereign national culture becomes more and more questioned under the influence of multiculturalist agendas with films consequently foregrounding fractured relations inside a nation. Nevertheless, these experiences, this situation of a constantly emerging nation, can also serve as a national constant: "The continual questioning of who we really are is the essence of Australian nationalism. It produces the reflective space of distance, of removal, creating the alienation which we ascribe to ourselves as the secret truth constitutive of our identity" (Lattas quoted by O'Regan, 1993: 93)).