Saturday, February 19, 2011

Why have video games become such a phenomenon? (Creating a Game that Matters pt 2)

Play is natural to us. Consequently, games are natural to us. A game can be seen as a construct that allows us to play in very specific ways. So a game offers you “structured play”, so to speak. In the game there are rules- specific things that can and can’t be done. And in the game there is always a direction. There is ultimately always something that the game is moving you towards; something the game is always pointing to.

In these times, we have created many complex games. Our games have become so complex that they have, in fact, become worlds unto themselves. You can’t say that a game of tag is a world unto itself. Neither can this be said of chess, or checkers, or any other board game. I mean sure, you can create a world out of your imagination. You can imagine your troops storming into the territory of the opposing forces, attempting to capture (or kill) the king. But that would simply be your imagination, and your choice. If that kind of thing doesn’t interest you, it’s certainly not required. It’s certainly not forced upon you. But now, things have changed. Now the most dominant form of game involves created worlds. And now the created world has become the whole point; no longer simply a possibility or a choice.

A game can be seen as an optional world; an alternative to the world in which we are forced to live. Could the rise in the popularity of games have to do with an increased dissatisfaction with the world as it is? If we lived in a utopia, an absolutely perfect world, would we want to escape into alternate worlds? I don’t know, maybe we would. Maybe in a perfect world we would get bored and just simply need to experience something different every once in awhile. But if this hypothetical world were truly perfect, wouldn’t it be impossible for us to be bored?... Ok so lets adjust the question. If we lived in a world that was so perfect that even boredom wasn’t a possibility, would games still be desired?... I'll let the reader come-up with their own answer =).

Currently there are 2 things that most significantly separate the game world from the real world. One, we are separated from the game world by a screen. Unlike the real world, the game world does not surround us. We can’t move our physical bodies through the game world. And two, even if we were able to move through the game world, we would not be able to feel anything. If an enemy hits you, would you feel actual pain? Would you want to? Of course, most people wouldn’t, but I do think most people would want to feel some type of tactile sensation(s) if they could move through a virtual world. I think most would want to be able to touch a tree, or move a piece of furniture, or shake someone’s hand, and actually feel those sensations through their body. Problem is, the majority of games are really violent, and again, I assume most gamers wouldn’t want to experience intense pain as they're playing their games. So what to do? Allow only agreeable sensations? Allow only non-violent games to have sensations?

But there is a greater point to be considered. Aren’t we already living in the ultimate game? And as we create these artificial worlds, can it not be assumed that, one day, when we have become skilled and masterful enough, we will create a world in which everyone of us can actually live; a world in which we can move though, touch, taste, smell…feel pain; everything that can be experienced in this world already? The difference being that it would be a world that we have consciously chosen; not a world that has simply been given to us. So is that the real reason games are so popular? Because what we ultimately want is a world that we have chosen, and not a world that has been forced upon us?

So maybe the games we have now can be seen as early attempts at creating an actual world of our own making. Right now, we are as children, playing with these possibilities. Right now we like to play “bang bang, you’re dead”, and we like to ruffhouse and get into trouble. But we are just figuring things out. We are figuring out what we can do, and how we can do it.

As I see it, the rise of video games is an indicator that we are moving into a less physical, more mental world. A world that is more liquid, and not as static as the one that we have become accustomed to. It will be a world that we choose, and not one that we are simply slaves of. But how will the slaves handle their new found freedom? Once we move out of slavery, we will have lost our collective identities. And I am sure that there are many who would actually prefer to be slaves. There are those who would not know any other way to be. And there are those who, given total freedom, would no doubt destroy themselves. So, in our future there will be a great division. A choice as an individual will need to be made. Do I remain as I always have been? Or am I ready to take on a new identity? You can see it in the world now. Everything is dividing; everything is separating. People are taking sides. Either they want to cling to the old, or they are ready for something completely different. Either they want the structures to remain the same or they are ready for the structures to crumble.

Honestly I don’t think the path to greater freedom can be stopped. It has been repressed, but it cannot be stopped. And I don’t think any action needs to be taken to destroy any opposing forces. The natural course of things will sort it all out. Those who cannot handle rapid change will simply self-destruct. So there is a great fear there. And perhaps this is why video games are so often vilified and looked down upon. There are those who do not want people to have greater freedom, or to have the ability to choose the world that they live in. They do not want this because they know it will not be good for them. Their identities will be lost, and they will lose power over others. This must be very frightening to them.