The world's a screwy place where, at times, nothing feels certain, and hope itself can be extinguished by the grim realities of necessity. Even in countries where we should feel blessed with wealth, something as trivial as a parking ticket can take us down a notch, and big scary things loom in the distance - illness, financial peril, unemployment. Perhaps that's why gaming, now, more than ever, brings us comfort.
Publishers have taken to calling gaming "recession proof" - but for us, it's more than that, it's bleak proof. When Wall Street took a tumble yesterday, it was not a hard fall for me. The realities of the global credit situation have been carved in the numbers crammed down the throat of every business student for some time - few digested them for anything more than spewing out good grades on tests, but I, as a confessed poor student, was forced to chew them for quite a bit longer. Failures are carved more prominently than successes in the frown lines of memory - so in many ways I am best at what I do worst. In that way, I have been forced to see a great deal of sadness in life.
A significant person to me, a woman (though that in anything other than a physical sense is meaningless) if you must know, recently left the hospital after spending a summer in surgeries. Spending three months visiting intensive care, seeing the mechanization of human suffering, changes how you view the world. I lost fear - both of death, and of loneliness. I began to realize the pleasanter meaning of "do not resuscitate" - and in time the selfishness of such a gesture. Death is an inherently selfish act - perhaps even to this day this is why the permanent death of a player controlled character remains such a rarity.
In all of those months, I never stopped gaming. I would give up an hour or two of sleep, and of course time with her came before electronic past times, as did work and school, but gaming was the glue that helped hold together a tilted world. Even now, if game sales are any indication, families continue to buy games, gamers are going online to visit their friends, and the trips to a virtual fantasy world have not stopped.
But why? Are we all addicts? Do we plug in to a cheap crack, one we can buy a few times a year and ingest obsessively? Perhaps a small margin are - but for the rest of us, what is the appeal? Why do we keep playing Mario? Why are we logged on LIVE? Why does the World of Warcraft offer more comfort that the real world?
They are simpler worlds, smaller worlds, where much is familiar, we have more control, our friends are there, and our access is controlled. The idea has been suggested that the world is changing faster than ever. For me, I think, the reality is simply that information is spreading faster than ever. And there is a difference. Are our worries any different than those of a world hundreds of years ago? War, hunger, illness, employment, morality, love? No - they were same - simply the scope of troubles we have encountered has grown. If a tree falls in Denmark, it make a sound heard 'round the world, and yet our sense of agitation and fear remains the same as always - one not built to handle the rigors of bearing the hardship of a world.
We have been asked by reality to become gods - to accept a near omnipotence in terms of global awareness, in exchange for nothing. In the world of gaming, however, we gain the ability to solve those problems. We are given tools to communicate with our friends. We are given world populated with people who want to help us, problems can be solved, doors open, and answers remain. In the real world where we are given filled in maps, books of known species, and an ever-shifting Wikipedia answer to every question, the gaming world hands us a galaxy and says "explore and enjoy".
We live in strange times, a time when higher education no longer means "study free from the consequences of practicality" but instead "study under the guidance of standards and practices". We are no longer free to learn in the institutions designed for the task - instead we must grind for grades, accumulating the "As" or "1s" or "5.0s" (whatever your institution may be) that mean promotion and (so we are taught) eventual employment. We spend the ages of 5 to 22 under the thumb of educators more concerned about our well-scoring than our well-being, and life after that lost in some fog where we are supposed to be the saviours of the old generation - the scientists, doctors, and engineers who will apply band-aids to their mistakes.
Is it any wonder that Mario is so successful? Not simply for the simplicity, but for the simple joy. Mario is an everyman, a plumber, who joyfully takes to his task of exploring a strange world to rescue his beloved. His optimism towards his lot in life, and his joy at exploring the unknownhearken back to a time when there were woods left to explore, and when we felt like it was worthwhile doing so.
At heart, I speculate this is the joy of child bearing, to see the world through the eyes of someone who has not grown jaded towards it. A child lets us once again experience the wonder of an unexplored field.
The appeal of gaming has been dissected before, and to be honest, perhaps it is intentional. Perhaps Cliff creates a game to capture the rugged manhood he can never act out in the modern world. Pokemon is known to be a replacement for the bug-filled forests the creators enjoyed in their childhoods - now replaced with sprawling Japanese cities filled with more dangers than wonders. The critics may say "there are too many of them" - but that to is the appeal. No matter how many years go by, there will always be Pokemon, there will always be Pikachu.
But what does it all mean? Nothing, perhaps, or maybe everything. Is gaming the glue that can reconstruct our shattered world? Can videogames be enough to bring us together, to build the new standard? I would like that to be so, but they are just glue - we must choose what we build with it. But... what remains is hope. No matter how bad things are, no matter how scary the world becomes - there is a constant, there is a chance, and so long as imagination is alive, we can build something new.
The storytellers of the electronic age have become the bards of the Middle Age, providing not escape, but wonder. And that it why gaming is a recession proof industry. Not because we consume, but because we dream.