How much autonomy does a video game player have? Unlike a viewer watching a movie or TV show, the gamer makes decisions with consequences for the unfolding story. He controls a character, and he determines how that figure moves through a virtual space. And yet he does this all within the parameters set out by the game's designers, which constrain his choices and often guide him, with a heavy or a light hand, to predetermined outcomes. There are new freedoms here, but there are new forms of manipulation too, and they interact in complicated, ever-shifting ways. Jesse Walker reviews The Democratic Surround, a smart and fascinating new history that explores the development of such freedoms and manipulations as our multimedia world blossomed.
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