Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Allure of Video Games

I originally wrote this piece on my Philosophy Blog, but I feel like it deserves a place here as well as the ideas behind it haven't changed. Enjoy.

           Video Games have been getting attention lately. This attention will probably spike up too since E3 is around the corner. This event is considered one of the biggest video game conferences of the year. Also, details surrounding the successors of two popular consoles are expected to be given. So what makes video games so popular?
           While visiting another country, I asked a female college student how she plays. She told me how she does not spend money on the hobby and plays for maybe three hours a week of Dance Dance Revolution or Mario Kart. However, her motivations were just as important. When I asked her why she played games and the language barrier got in the way, she wrote on my paper the words “Reality Escape.”
            In my own experience, the phrase “escape from reality” addresses many issues. It can deal with boredom, stress, or depression. For example, when I was writing a research paper, I would feel the urge to go and play my Nintendo 3DS instead when I could not think of anything to write. Then after I had relaxed a little, I would return to writing. Similarly, in an interview with a Japanese student, she mentioned video games were something pleasant to do on the train rides. It is not uncommon to see Japanese people of all ages playing some sort of game in their commutes; In Tokyo, I saw a businessman playing Dragon Quest on a Nintendo 3DS.
           In that same discussion, she discussed how the games would be set in various places, from mythological to historical. While this relates to the idea of “Reality escape,” it also links to the idea of experience. Each game provides a certain experience for players to enjoy. Similar to my previous interviewee, she likes Dance Dance Revolution and music games. In contrast, she also enjoys action games like Monster Hunter. When I talked to one of my “hardcore gaming” friends in America, he said, “Maybe the biggest reason they are so much fun is they allow me to experience a lot of different things without as much investment.” This perhaps plays into why gamers look forward to “new games.” Games help fill the desire for new experiences, especially when bored. However, one game can only provide a certain amount of “new experience” before the gamer needs something else.
          What sort of experiences could make games appealing? One explanation would be dreams. Dreams are the aspirations of an individual. They encourage and drive a person to do many things. However, we, as humans, have a variety of desires and passions. Games allow us to tap into each and every one of them, even the ones that are impossible. In a video game, I can be Superman. I can fly through Metropolis. Of course, a video game is therefore a safer way of living that dream for a five-year-old than the top bunk bed and a towel for a cape.
          How do games provide these “experiences”? They borrow techniques from other mediums. Most games have art and strive to make it appealing. They contain music to help substantiate the experience and create a mood. They also have narrative and some have fantastic stories. Looking at these elements, there is nothing different between video games and movies. However, there is one and that is the level of immersion.
          Whether or not people think about this, the aspect of controlling a character as if it was you is very important. My Japanese source from before mentioned in her interview that she “can play video games like I am in the video game.” This helps enforce the escape from reality. Whether are on a train or in the living room with nothing to do, games provide an “alternative you” to control. The player is able to make choices or perform actions as if it was them. Movies allow the audience to see the world created, but they need to work hard in order to have the audience feel involved. By giving the player some control, games are easier to become immersed.
           Of course, all of this is not to take away from games’ initial and source of appeal. Games are made to be enjoyed. All of these qualities and more are taken into account with the purpose of determining how fun is a particular game.  If games were not enjoyable, then there probably would not be any games. However, the popularity of something like the Wii for families help cement the idea that many people will buy and play something that they might consider fun
The term “fun” comes into play more when discussing the two major groups of gamers; Casual and Hardcore. I asked my gaming friend, who served as a president for a “Game Club” in college, about what he considered to be the difference between these two terms. His response was “the reasons people play. Casual people are more interested in experiencing the games and having fun. A hardcore gamer likes to put their skills to the test and wants challenging game play.” This challenge that players seek in their games can be related to how some members of a sports team practice very hard, simply to be the best.
            While there are these two groups of players, it is important to remember that the titles cover mainly the two polar sides. Many players find themselves in the middle. In my interviews with the Japanese student and an American counterpart, both described themselves as not really being a part of either camp. They would talk about how they play a little more than “casual” gamers, but not to the extent of or as competitive as “hardcore.”  
             So why do people play video games? Are they dreamers? Do they desire competition? Or maybe they just want some fun instead of being bored on a train? There is no single answer to those questions. Gamers are part of a global race called “humans,” in which everyone is unique and possess different tastes. As a result, any of the reasons given or not or combination of any could explain the mass appeal of video games. Thus, perhaps the main reason for the love of games is there are many reasons.
Game On,
N. D. Moharo

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