There is a strange thing I noticed about the behaviour of gamers ( a terrible word by the way), a behaviour that just seems to be unexplainable, just paradoxical. Or maybe it isn't as strange as I think, so let me explain first what the hell I'm even talking about.
Not so long ago I had one of those eye opening moments, you know these moments, where a lightning (metaphorically speaking) strucks you and suddenly you see things with different eyes. The trigger of this lightning was a writer called David Foster Wallace
- an american writer who gained first popularity in the year 1996 when he released his second novel Infinite Jest
, which is said to be one of the best books of the last century, and who saidly hanged himself about four years ago, because he was unable to defeat his depression from which he suffered for about half of his [short] life- I'm currently reading two of his books and I also gathered some informations about him. I discovered an unedited interview with him on youtube, that almost broke my heart, because he seems to was a very adorable and intellegent person. On a certain point in the interview he describes something you could call "existential loneliness" (I know this is becoming philosphical, but bear with me) and that changed my view on many things.
So what is this loneliness he talks about and what the hell has that do to with video games?
Well it's actually quite obvious, but worth thinking about for a moment, it's not the kind of loneliness where you are alone in a room, but the kind of loneliness that is present all the time. We can never know what the other person is thinking, our conscious minds are isolated from each other and there is no such thing as telepathic communication.
So really understanding each other is impossible, but we have methods to fight that loneliness, we can put ourselves in another person's shoes, we can show compassion, but then there is also literature, film etcetera. So now here comes the paradox I was talking about, playing video games is actually a pretty lonely activity and we have actually this fantasy to create games with perfect, dynamic AI that reacts to the actions of the player authentically in order to create non-linear, emergent storys. At first this sounds terrific and amazing, but think about it, this would turn playing video games into an even more lonely activity. We humans hate to be alone, it's just bad, it's against our nature, this is the paradox I was talking about. Why do gamers spent many many ours alone in front of their PC or console - espically teenagers like me (I speak out of my own experience) - instead of spending some time with an activity that is way less lonely? My only explanation for that would be escapism, we live in a difficult age of cynicism and material wealth (in Europe and the US) that only leads to inner emptiness.
"Wait!",you might say "What about the multiplayer games?! And isn't reading a book a pretty lonely thing as well?" Well, I wouldn't call these multiplayer games very social, they might offer escapism, but not much beyond that. The interactions between the players are mostly within the context of the game, that means conversations (for example) between players, especially when they are strangers, go mostly something like "Pwned you, you noob!" or "WTF is this shit?!" or "lol!" in short they are very superficial. I also blame that on the game design, 99% ( I know that this is an abutrary number) of the games out their are about things! You shoot things, you chase things, things chase you, you search things, it's always things, things, things! It never is about people, only things!
Chris Crawford, a game design legend, already made that point in his famous dragon speech at the GDC (which he founded) in the year 1992. That was twenty fucking years ago!
Yes it's true that it is required to be alone, when you want to read a book without any distractions. But the thing about books is that they put you in someone else's shoes, or in somone's head, you roughly experience what it's like to be another person, of course there are limits (you can only really describe the outlines...), but it can work quite well. That's something that video games right now are really failing at
, there are only a few that focus on player interaction or that put you in someone else's perspective and let you symphasise with them, again, because video games are mostly about things! But I believe that the interactive nature of video games hase some great potential for putting you in another human's perspective, though at the same time they don't, but that's a different issue.
But maybe my view is somewhat flawed,
because (more or less) great gaming communites came to existence over time, where people chat and debate about video games. Also big gaming conventions and festivals exist aswell, where people come together and talk.
But I think the problems with the AI-fantasy, the superficial player interaction and the fact that most games are just about things still hold up.
So that is the paradox, gamers (this word is so terrible...) almost seem to want to spent dozens and dozens of hours alone, while we actually don't like to be alone...
So these are just my thoughts, what are yours in regard to this issue? Am I just talking bullshit here or what?
Thanks for reading,
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