Why do we play video games?

Model Propaganda

I haven’t read Chomsky’s Propaganda Model, but I know that there’s more to escapism than avoiding the whole of the situation. The word “escapism” basically means to indulge in fantasy in attempt to retreat from daily life. Just because we don’t currently let ourselves become absorbed in fantastic productions all the time doesn’t mean that we’re no longer escapism.

Games that offer a “realistic” world or mirror the issues of everyday life still offer an escape from the much harsher realities. Specifically, the games offer some form of agency. While many games make you merely a soldier, in the long run you’re the soldier who wins in the end. Mario fights against totalitarianism? OK, but at least he stands a chance and gets to directly overthrow the dictator. Video games offer the ultimate in escapist fantasy – power that we lack in real life.

The author, Simon Ferrari (really?), states that this is more a form of catharsis than a mere escape, and he uses the classical definition of “catharsis” to support his point. I come from a psychology-based background, so I always have to ask, “Where’s your evidence?” The suggestion he makes is that the people are subconsciously playing these games to work out their issues and cleanse themselves of these emotions they have about things. That works in a theoretically sense, but the real-world application is sorely lacking. That’s like saying a teenager abused by her parents might come to terms with things after watching Natural Born Killers. It doesn’t quite work out that way.

What bothers me most about the argument presented by Ferrari is that he assumes why everyone plays games and what goes on in their heads. Given the fact that aspects of the real world are often reflected in our games, we’re never truly escaping and perhaps we long to stay grounded in some aspect of reality in order to work through it. That’s what I’m getting out of the article. Video games are not some mindless escape. Perhaps, then, Tetris is a game for people with OCPD who are working toward vindication for their overzealous fixation on organization. Perhaps Ikaruga is a model for working toward harmony between African Americans and Caucasians.

And I don’t buy it. Not without data. Not without asking gamers why they play games. Not without examining the lives of gamers and the kinds of video game worlds with which they deal. I’m not going to go ahead myself and assume why people play games. I know that I myself am escaping into fantasy worlds, oftentimes forgetting about the here-and-now. My mind isn’t preoccupied with the war or the war on terrorism. I spend much more time thinking of the poor economy and the lack of community harmony in regard to the same-sex marriage and adoption issues.

Then again, I’ve been playing quite a bit of Fallout lately, where after the world’s devastation the people currently use old bottle caps as currency. I’ve also been playing Chrono Trigger, and the new translation features Ayla suggesting that she may appreciate women. That’s the economy and sexuality right there! Bear in mind that you can always find these things if you do a little digging.

I’m interested in seeing where Ferrari’s argument goes from here. He has stated that it’s just the beginning of something larger as he transitions from film to video games. People on Kotaku and in the comments section of his blog article may have been a bit too harsh in regard to his opining. I understand his criticism and appreciate his thoughts.

I just disagree. A lot.

About Gospel X

Media commentator who tries not to waste time - and often fails

Posted on December 1, 2008, in culture, video games. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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