We play video games for our own reasons: because they’re fun, because we’re bored, because we’re procrastinating, because we need something to occupy our time until an event occurs. However, some of us play games as a way to escape our daily stresses, or to break away from reality itself. In this sense, video games act as opiates, taking our mind off of the circumstances that we don’t wish to face. When I use the term “opiate” I’m referencing sociologist Karl Marx’s “opium of the masses” quote, explaining how humans have forms of self-releases to cope with their struggles or, in his words, a “sigh of the oppressed creature.” Although his quote is about religion being the “sigh” for some people, I believe this concept could also apply to how some view video games. The way Wade views the Oasis in the novel Ready Player One is a good example of this perception. He uses his life in the game world to replace his crappy real life as a poor, trailer park resident. Everyone needs that one form of escape in their lives to make them forget about some of the ordeals they’re going through. Video games can be that perfect escape, however, what happens when the very game we’re playing is a representation or simulation of the slice of life that we are so desperately trying to avoid?
I personally can’t handle scary games, and I try to avoid playing them…When I say “scary,” I don’t mean games containing zombies, monsters, ghosts, or other entities that are actually meant to be frightening. To me, a “scary” game is one that mirrors the dark, depressing aspects of life in order to bring awareness to the issue. Games that set their main topics to real-life problems such as disease, violent social issues, animal cruelty, slavery, domestic violence, or death are just a few examples of topics that we tend to turn away from. Sure these sorts of games are meant to educate the player, but if we play games for enjoyment and mental stress relief, why remind us that gruesome situations like these continue to exist outside of the virtual world? We don’t want to think about how bad the economy is getting, or how the earth is becoming more unsustainable every day. We just want to play.
As we discussed in class, Artgames tends to be the video game genre that introduces these dark concepts as a way of making the player think about the matters that people face in real life and what messages the player should learn from them. This form of interactive media uses a combination of visual graphics and story-like concepts to lead the player into a world different from their own, yet relatively the same. They force the player to take on the role of the main sprite or character by controlling their actions throughout gameplay. As soon as you hop into the character’s position, whether it is the boots of a soldier or the lab coat of a scientist, you are responsible for the game’s outcome. This gives the player a non-transferable god-like power that sets the game world into motion. Although the player can use this power to make the entity move in any direction they choose, they are still forced to remain within the confines of the game’s programming rules; whether it be directional limitations or unavoidable interactions with other sprites. These restrictions could represent how certain real-life situations are inescapable. The difference between these sorts of art games and other video games is the fact that their main plots and mechanics focus less on gameplay and revolve more around teaching the player a lesson. And what better way to learn a bit about the effects of depression than through procedure. It is important to note that these games can only take us SO far when explaining a real ordeal. A game can mimic depression to get people thinking, but NOTHING is comparable to the real condition.
I want to make it clear that not all art games are depressing ones. In fact, there are many out there that center on positive ideas or aesthetic beauty, such as “Super Mario Clouds” which is the original Super Mario game with every element removed except for the clouds. Another one is a quick game called “Good Fortune” which explains how just simply praying without doing any other action wont get you anywhere. If you seek fortune, you have to earn it. (I’m in no way a stabbing at religion! This game is still a Christian concept saying that God wont help you until he sees that you’re attempting to do things for yourself first.) Okay, so if optimistic games like these exist, why do we continue to play the gloomier ones that force us into undesirable situations? Honestly, I don’t know this answer. I think it’s up to personal preference or curiosity about aspects of the world.
As I said before, we use video games to put our minds at ease and to send us into worlds where the only real issues are deciding what ammo to use to kill off the other players. This is not all gamers; in fact there may be some who play games for the sole purpose of entertainment. Still, I have personally met individuals like Wade who wish that they could remain in a game world for the rest of their lives. A world much better than their own.
RelevantSideNote: I use video games to make me forget about the fact that I’m going to have a gazillion loans to pay off when I graduate……ugh.
http://www.kongregate.com/games/TerryCavanagh/dont-look-back http://www.kongregate.com/games/LemmiBeans/one-chance http://playspent.org/ http://gambit.mit.edu/loadgame/summer2010/elude_play.php