Capitalist Hegemony at its Finest Alex Jackson Sarah Ciurysek Capitalist Hegemony at its Finest. By Alex Jackson Throughout time different societies have seen their respective take on pop culture. Pop culture is not simply a culture that has suddenly sprung from the ground in the last 20 years and wormed its way into text books, periodicals and university debates; it is a culture built around a defined group of ideas, perspectives and attitudes. Pop culture in its evolutionary path has seen many changes from Roman sculpture to Baroque paintings to post-war Abstract expressionism, all amounting to what we know today to be our pop culture.
However, the pop culture that we experience on a day-to-day basis in the 21st century is one unparalleled by the pop culture already seen and past. Today we are surrounded by the ever-expanding mass media. Since the invention of the Internet in the 1980’s, mass media has spread like wildfire and with it the furthering evolution of the 21st century’s pop culture. With the growth of mass media in our pop culture we see new trends and patterns. As we all know, North America was built on a firm foundation of capitalism. This capitalism is the foundation not only for businesses and corporations, but for our developing culture as well.
A growing notion and potential fear amidst this evolving foundation is the existence of capitalist hegemony. For one to understand this term one must know the definition of the two words individually. Mirriam Webster’s dictionary defines capitalism as ‘an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, prices, production and the distribution of goods…’ Hegemony, defined also by Webster’s dictionary is ‘the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group. In combination, the two represent a power exerting itself over a group in attempts to feed and control consumerism. Capitalist hegemony can be seen on the television, in advertisements, film and video games. The method by which capitalist hegemony is spread, that we will consider in this essay, is the video game. Video games contribute to the spread of capitalist hegemony in two ways: through the easily-accepted method of suggestion of consumerist narratives; and through the extremist method of exerting complacency on a populous.
From an early age, all of us have been bombarded with a consumer culture. We have been taught by mass media always to want, look for and buy the next big thing. Video games have taken up this torch in that easily-accepted, subtle way. There’s no need to tell a person to buy, the task is more indirect. Gamers play through a story, the narrative more often than not being all about consumerism of one form or another. As masked as the consumerist plot may be, it is more than likely there. Take for example a game such as Dead Space 2.
This game involves the main character Isaac Clarke fighting his way through the Sprawl in attempts to destroy a giant relic called the Marker, which is responsible for an alien infestation. At first glance, the story line of Dead Space 2 gives no evidence of capitalist tendencies; however the player need only kill one of the creatures in the game and pick up the loot to enter currency into the game. Money and power nodes allow the player to upgrade Isaac’s abilities and buy weapons and suits, and additional ammo and med packs.
The gamer thereby is subliminally being taught the values of capitalism, make money buy new things. In other approaches to video games the developers don’t go to such length to mask consumerism. In games such as Need for Speed Underground the player races for money so as to purchase upgrades for already purchased cars, and to buy new ones. In Digital Games and Cultural Studies by Garry Crawford and Jason Rutter, this point is explained: “Numerous games are based upon the principle of capital accumulation where the central aim and theme is to make more money to improve character’s avatar’s skills or possessions. (Crawford and Rutter) One might argue for sports-related games such as Madden NFL 12, or NHL 11 where the object of the game appears to be purely sport. Win a game, move to the next round is the essential plot; however, these video games have been sponsored by larger companies looking to get their name out to more consumers. Although the advertisements are small and only seen on the back boards of the field or ice rink where the game is staged, the information does go in. According to studies, advertisements need to be put in front of the viewer for an extended amount of time before he viewer picks up on it. What better place than a video game to expose a viewer to a continuous stream of advertisements. To add to the two previous methods of consumerism being pushed through video games, there remains a third methodology. Typically, a well received video game will be made into a series. The game that supersedes the one before it always promises to be bigger and better; better graphics, better sound, etc. This leaves the player wanting more and lusting for the next big chapter.
Many large game development companies such as EA games with Battlefield, and UBISOFT with Halo follow this trend and have met been with great success. Crawford and Rutter, in reference to the Birmingham School can be quoted as saying that, “the shared values and culture of a society are those based largely on dominant (that is, ruling class) values and ideologies. ” (Crawford and Rutter) If our dominant culture is founded on capitalism, then the governing values and ideologies have to be exerted via subcultures such as pop culture and the ways in which its groups communicate.
We have looked at the spread of consumerism via video games. This concept is easy to swallow because we see evidence of it everywhere we look. However, the second theory of how pop culture contributes to capitalist hegemony isn’t so easy to digest. As technology continues to advance and things such as social networking and portable communications grow, we begin to see a decrease in the need to go outside and meet people. The same goes for video games.
With the introduction to video games in the 1970’s we have seen the creation of a new kind of computer geek, the gamer. Gamers can spend extended amounts of time inside, staring at a screen. With the advancement of video game graphics, intriguing storylines and strategic challenges, it’s no wonder gamers would rather play video games than interact, play sports or become useful members of society. A sudden lack of community has sprung up in the midst of our new found technological enlightenment. Digital gaming could be seen (and has been seen by many) as a clear illustration of the individualization of society”. (Crawford and Rutter) People no longer need to come outside to communicate, to do activity or exercise. “The rate at which these games are flying off the shelves would suggest more football is being played on home computers than on local fields…” (O’Connor, 2002). The uprising of this new phenomenon is evidence of a growing complacency in our society. People needing to do less and less.
Looking at this from the viewpoint of a large capitalist corporation, it means profit; maintaining ‘the existing status quo [to] promote dominant capitalist values,’ (Crawford and Rutter) keep people inside, in front of a screen absorbing information that fuels their desire to buy. Stuart Hall suggests that “cultural products (such as television programmers, popular music and digital games) may be ‘encoded’ with dominant values, ideas and beliefs. ” (Hall, 1980) Albeit a little extreme, Hall is supported in an indirect way. John Hopson, a games researcher at Microsoft Games Studios holds a doctorate in behavioral and brain sciences.
Based on one of Hopson’s studies, a gamer can in essence be persuaded to produce a set of behaviors the developers want, “each contingency is an arrangement of time, activity, and reward, and there are an infinite number of ways these elements can be combined to produce the pattern of activity you want from players. ” (Hopson) Simply put, large corporations intend to subliminally brain wash us with messages of use to capitalist pursuits. These ideas are conceptual, large and potentially a bit fanciful, but the evidence supporting them is happening before our eyes.
People keep on buying based on information consumed through media portals including game consoles. The emergence of gamers and the diminishing need to go outside is a constant reminder that, although seemingly unrealistic, someone is using the right approach to acquire profit. Video games, among other methods, contribute to some form of capitalist hegemony whether intended or not. It would be frightening to know that a corporation would approach the market with such fervor as to send subliminal messaging through a game console. It’s surprising the very real effect of advertisement has on the consumer. -“Merriam-Webster. ” http://www. erriam-webster. com/. N. p. , 2011. Web. 14 Apr 2011. -Crawford, Garry, and Jason Rutter. “Digital Games and Cultural Studies. ” Sage Publications. (2006) -O’Connor, A. (2002) “Evan better than the real thing? ”, The Times, The Game Supplement, 9 December. Pp 2-3. -Hall, S. (1980) “Encoding/ decoding”, in S. Hall, D. Hobson, A Lowe and P. Willis (eds) Culture, Median, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Pp 215-43 -Hopson, John. “Behavioral Game Design. ” Gamasutra (2001): n. pag. Web. 14 Apr 2011. <http://www. gamasutra. com/view/feature/3085/behavioral_game_design. php>.