It has occurred to me for a while now that people tend to drift over time from less to more positive stimulation. We used to eat food off the ground which we gathered, guided by our tastes. Then, we started to manipulate those taste sensations by manipulating the food we put in our mouths. Now, with the chemistry of cooking, we balance individual flavors like salty, sweet, and umami, in order to create pleasing psychological sensations: positive stimulations.
Our entertainment has evolved over time. We began with spoken stories, passed through word of mouth, to books which allowed for the convenience of being spatially and temporally removed from the story teller. We had plays, which came after story telling, in which we added visual immersion to our entertainment. Then came movies, again allowing spatial and temporal separation from the source: the actors and stage. Then came TV, which allows for a consistent stream of cinematic stimulation. Now we have video games, which allow for unprecedented levels of immersion as we interact with an environment created for us, and in many different ways as we’ve talked about this semester. Even within each category, evolution occurs. Fiction books came about, for the longest time only non-fiction books (and traditional tales/myths) were written, which allowed the transcendence of reality for further stimulation of the mind. New technology in filming allows for better sound and picture quality. Each step allows new positive stimulation both physical (auditory, visual, etc.) and mental (escapism, imaginative, cathartically-pleasing stories, etc.) and so we push our technology and our creative abilities to further the creation of this stimuli.
But with the escapism of entertainment, that which allows us to not take part in our daily strife of finding food, water, shelter, and mates, has come the fear of their being too much of it. When fiction books were becoming a “thing” there was worry that children/persons who spent time reading them were wasting time that they could be reading educational books. We’ve all had the experience of our parents kicking us off the TV and telling us to either go outside or read a book (ironically).
Which leads us to video games: the first medium which totally robs us of our own senses, and places us in someone else’s. You don’t play a character in a book or movie, but in a video game, we describe the experience as “playing” someone else. I am no longer me, worried about getting a job, but I am someone else, who may indeed have a similar task ahead of them, but because we work with the assumption that such a task in conquerable, and allows use to go about it in ways we cannot in the real world (sadly I can’t caste spells in an interview,) and we do so with minimal physical effort on our part (sit at keyboard and stare,) we are more inclined to escape to the far cooler world of the game than stay in “reality.”
Like I said, the concern of neglecting for the fantastical has always existed, but they seem more acute when we can imagine games like OASIS from Ready Player One, or the Matrix from The Matrix in which immersion is near total, making realty but a shadow of a possible existence. What stops us from choosing the fake over the “real.” In stories with virtual realities, our main character always exits the fake reality, Neo fighting against the Matrix, Wade choosing reality instead of OASIS at the end of the book, thus choosing the real over the fake. But, I’ve never heard a convincing argument as to why one should choose the real over the fake, except for a visceral “reality is better.” Even The Matrix just grazes over the question. Why does Neo fight for reality? Why does Wade choose the real world over OASIS? What stops our fat, gluttenous selves from choosing the imaginative, highly stimulating world of virtual reality over benign, beige reality? It’s not often people prefer an apple to an apple pie.