Rules of the Game

By Vaughan Allen, 10 September 2000

Vaughan Allen on Steven Poole’s Trigger Happy – the Inner Life of Videogames

With the explosion of videogame culture likely to gather pace over the next few months with the launch of the PS2, it’s been remarkable to see the number of twenty- and thirty-something (mostly male) game addicts trying to get their explanations of addiction in first. Steven Poole, a self-confessed gamehead, almost succeeds.

Trigger Happy provides us with a first overview of the elements that differentiate videogaming from other media forms. Poole is especially at pains to divorce gaming from film, the most commonly used comparison. By analysing the nature of character, of perception (the book’s best chapter looks at the construction of space in the gaming world) and of ‘reality’, he attempts to carve out an individuated space that will allow gaming to be recognised as a true art form.

There are problems with his argument, however, and he does tend to protest too strongly. His analysis of cinema is trenchantly dismissive, asserting that gaming is superior thanks to the control it offers to the player, and to the physical nature of that interaction. But many of the advantages with which he endows gaming (the sense of zen achieved in the midst of a game, the constant need to ‘imagine oneself’ anew into the semiotic system of the game world) are also present in cinema. The cinematic apparatus (as theorised, for example, by Deleuze), where meaning is produced through the interaction of filmic text, spectator and the circumstances – physical, mental and emotional – in which they meet is a direct companion of the ‘inner life’ Poole presents as symptomatic of gaming’s uniqueness.

But this book is journalism rather than an academic tome, so it would be churlish to complain too much. As a first attempt to mark out the territories over which future discussion of the subject will range, Trigger Happy is immensely useful.

Vaughan Allen <v AT>

Trigger Happy – the Inner Life of Videogames // Steven Poole // Fourth Estate // £12.00 // 258 pages // ISBN 1841151203