Computer Centres attracting gamers

Nov 14, 2002, vol. 25, no. 6
By Stuart Colcleugh



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Video-game giants like Nintendo and Microsoft are spending mega-millions to develop the perfect gaming console for future home entertainment centres.

But Laureano Ralón (left), an SFU communication undergraduate and co-op researcher with the new media innovation centre (NewMIC) at Harbour Centre, says they may be missing an important media trend emerging well outside the home: multiplayer computer gaming centres.

In the last few years, hundreds of gaming centres have popped up across North America, including more than a dozen in the Lower Mainland, bringing once-isolated gamers together face-to-face. The centres provide the space, equipment and software to play popular multiplayer titles over a LAN (local area network) or the Internet.

Their emergence suggests, “Many people are rejecting the individualism and isolation entailed in home entertainment,” says Ralón, who recently spent six months applying Marshall McLuhan's theory of re-tribalization to a study of local gaming centres and the evolution of video games.

McLuhan, the late Canadian media theorist who coined the term global village in the 60s, believed that historical shifts are linked to media changes, says Ralón. McLuhan outlined three distinct stages of media development - oral, literary and electronic - that resulted in three phases of social evolution - tribalization, de-tribalization and re-tribalization.

Using this model, says Ralón, gaming centres can be interpreted as part of an evolution from the video arcades of the 70s and 80s (tribalization, with stand-alone machines in a collective setting) to personal computer games in the late 80s and 90s (de-tribalization, with a total lack of connectivity), to the Internet and gaming centres today (re-tribalization, with multiplayer games played in cyberspace, in a communal setting).

And why is all this important? “Well, McLuhan says when society changes so do games,” explains Ralón. “So, in a wider context, these gaming centres may be an indication that society is moving toward re-tribalization, to a stage in which we have mediated communication and interpersonal communication and physical co-presence and virtuality.”

Ralón's findings, which are summarized in his article Testing the Nerve at www.game-research.com/ make for interesting reading - especially from a native Argentinean who will complete his B.A. in only three years this winter and who couldn't speak a word of English when he came to Canada four years ago.

“I've come a long way in a short time,” he agrees with only the hint of a Spanish accent, adding, “I am the marvelous product of the Canadian education system.”

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