Marshall McLuhan suggested that electronic media–such as video games–act as extensions of the self “outside of our bodies” (qtd. in Berger 72). Berger asserts that, as such, the medium has auto-erotic qualities, including the phallic symbolism behind the use of “joy-sticks” (72). This joystick phallic concept is just as appropriate for the more common analog sticks of today’s home console controllers, and it is also indicative of the role of the controller’s development by the industry for consumers.
Joysticks were standard instruments in arcade machines during the ’90s when arcades were commonplace. However, most players no longer congregate in these public hubs to play socially for both competition and cooperation but instead play from their own homes using the Internet, a development that opens up the accessibility of social play to a wider, globalized audience, as well as a wholly new public sphere. This move of the player base from the public arcade to the domestic sphere is an evolution of an earlier move of players to the home console marked by the premiere of the dual-analog controller of the first PlayStation console, a console which was immensely popular upon its release in 1995.
If video games can be seen as auto-erotic devices as exemplified by the joystick as phallic device, then the simultaneous move of players from the arcade to the living room reveals a recession of public sexuality in place of private expression in the domestic sphere. The ’90s arcade craze was a carnivalization movement of communal gratification through both competitive and cooperative play. However, as players gravitated toward the home console, this public carnivalization began to recede, culminating in its expiry in the early ’00s when online play became popularized by such online multiplayer gaming and digital media delivery services as Xbox Live.
The dual-analog stick that was introduced with the first PlayStation console has become the desired utility for controllers on most modern consoles. Given the arcade joystick’s phallic symbolism and historic roots to public carnivalization in arcades, there is some significance to its continued proliferation and development within the continually growing video game industry and consumers’ desire for self-gratification. This notion is further reflected in nontraditional implementations of player control in such technologies as the Xbox Kinect, in which the whole body is incorporated as an agency-delivering device for the player.
These developments of new player controls follow McLuhan’s description of electronic media as extensions of the self. All the while, the video game industry continues to place greater means of self-gratification in the player through new control schemes. The development of the Oculus Rift, a virtual-reality headpiece, is further indication of the industry’s desire to deliver to the consumer new means of self-gratification. Pleasure–ultimately self-pleasure–, then, is an all-important determination of value for popular video games.
An argument can be made that the public simply transferred to a digital space rather than the physical space made available by arcades, but this preference for a digital over a physical space carries with it other questions about why such a space is preferred by the public and what factors influenced the public to make such a move (and whether or not and how influential the bourgeoisie’s role in such a move was and continues to be). This question also points to the need to understand a new economy in video game consumption in which consumers are affected by and how consumers resist that influence from the public digital spaces of their private domestic spheres instead of in the public market space, as well as how the relationship between public and private in the domestic sphere is defined between the consumer and his or her connection to the public digital space through digital environments at home.
Berger, Arthur A., ed. Making Sense of Media: Key Texts in Media and Cultural Studies. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2006. Print.