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At first glance, video games appear to be nothing more than an unusually complex and intricate waste of time. Many non-gamers regard those who spend hours playing games such as Bioshock, Half-Life 2, and Portal as lethargic and unproductive. Yet when looked at from afar, video games are a fascinating mode of entertainment whereby enormous amounts of time and resources are consumed in both their production and enjoyment. There must be something more than the over-simplified view of video games as escapist vices.

Galloway uses the metaphor of the Balinese cockfight to draw striking parallels between the greater social dynamics that surround an empirically tribal ritual and the resounding shockwaves created by some of the modernity’s most influential games. Take Bioshock, a video game that, when taken at face value, is no more than a first-person shooter set in a dystopian underwater civilization. The gamer aimlessly wanders through creepy corridors in search for their next objective – what may appear to be a waste of time to the average spectator.

Yet, what happens when one delves deeper into a game like Bioshock? The dystopian surroundings strike an unnerving chord with the some very disturbing contemporary anxieties. Immersed in a world that bears a striking resemblance to the lost city of Atlantis, the gamer engages with a number of issues ranging from genetic modification to totalitarian dictatorship. Orwellian parallels are ever-apparent when looking at this digital dystopia; indeed, Bioshock starts to look less like a game and more like a political commentary.

None of these comparisons would be possible without the enormous emphasis on narrative quality evident in games like Bioshock. Today, many games are unsuccessful due to vast oversights in their story-telling department. In essence, to play a video game in the 21st century is to engage in a new and dynamic form of narrativity. Thus, video games as a new form of mass media gain the privilege towards social commentary. Just play Half-Life 2 and you will see what I mean.