Archive for April, 2009

Everything You Always Wanted

April 12th, 2009 No comments

Humans are a fanciful sort. We look at a person we find attractive, and we fantasize about them. We dream about far off days when we have more money, a bigger house, and a better life. We think how great it would be “if I could only get that”. Which is probably why we spend so much time in video games, and why it’s likely to get more complicated the more real they get.

I do like video games a lot, and believe they’re part of a normal, healthy existence. They provide entertainment, social interaction, and sometimes even comfort. That being said, there’s a lot to draw people into virtual spaces that the real world just doesn’t have. In the early history of video gaming, this wasn’t necessarily true: You were the plumber, trying to save your girlfriend from a big monkey. You were the race car driver, trying to win the cup. It wasn’t much more complicated than this.

Then, somewhere along the line, stories got more involved, and there was more to empathize with. Almost as soon as they could, people started making computer games about roleplaying games (D&D, in particular), which gave people avenues to connect with their characters more. When you have a say in what the character is like, it’s very easy to begin to associate with him. Maybe you don’t want to be the plumber saving Daisy. Maybe you want to be the knight, vanquishing the dragon. Maybe you want to be the rogue, slipping in to a dungeon to plunder ancient treasure. Maybe you want to be the wizard, toying with cosmic forces that threaten his sanity. These games became ways for us to become other people.

It’s no surprise. It’s intensely gratifying to dream about what isn’t, but it’s even better to have a taste of what it’s like. As games progress, and change, the level of freedom we have to interact with that world grows. Role-playing games are one way to feel like you are what you are not, but sandbox games like GTA, Bully, and hell, even Spider-Man are experiences in the life of another person. I can’t tell you how much fun it is to just swing around New York, really God damned fast. I don’t even have to beat up the bad guys, just give me the web swinging. Simulation games are an even more dramatic way of being something we are not. Flight simulators were very popular in the mid 90′s, and Maxis continues to be a big name in the industry. I needn’t remind you of The Sims or Spore, but I think I will.

I imagine that these levels of interaction, these second skins, will only become less and less of a figurative term the more we delve into interactive technologies and virtual spaces. Second Life is probably the best relevant example of this, creating a virtual economy that actually makes money (or doesn’t), but the Matrix provides an excellent film example of what could be our future, and what true geek would I be without mentioning the Holodeck?

When we consider that, on the internet, we can be whatever we want to be, it can become frightening to some and exciting to others to think of the future. People have been very interested in the past few decades about how technology will change the human experience, and I think games should be no exception to that kind of speculation. The question becomes less of “what do we want to do?” and more “who do we want to be?” How does being someone (or something) else change who we intrinsically are? I think the answer, like all good daydreams, is that it doesn’t. I don’t stop being me simply because I play a level 80 Druid, or pretend to be a werewolf, or daydream about a sexual partner. My own personality has influenced those choices, and those dreams. It is important not to lose yourself in the fantasy of course, but the risk of losing ones self is not an excuse to lose ones dreams.

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