Games Are Real
I’ve noticed a certain attitude towards games in regards to the fact that they’re not real, so therefore they must not add much value to our lives or the world. I’ve been around non-gamers joking about how some people need to get a life and stop playing. In some cases it almost seems like a fear as if games and computers are taking over real life. Even amongst those of us that do play, we can still receive those doubts that our time might have been better spent productively – yes I do actually feel guilty for it sometimes. This is an attitude that I don’t see as much elsewhere – such as films, books and art – even though they’re arguably no more real than a game (perhaps the fact that gaming has often been portrayed as an addiction doesn’t help.) Fantasy fiction has previously struggled to earn the same respect as other genres mind. As somebody who is interested in game design, I prefer to think that all of my time has been well spent. I can also say for sure that I feel I’ve gained a lot from games, and that was partly why I wanted to learn how to build my own. Just because something isn’t real, it doesn’t mean we can’t be inspired by it or that it can’t hold any real value to us.
For a very long time humans have passed on knowledge and ideas through the telling of stories, and games could be seen as another way to allow us to do that. The concepts within them are still put together by people who’ll have been inspired by very real experiences, just like a writer might use their own lives to help shape their words or an artist puts meaning onto a canvas. I personally feel that because books, films and games… etc… are human creations they are therefore a massive part of who we are. As I explore their work I sometimes feel like I’m connecting with the creators themselves. The skills, knowledge and ideals that I can take away from them can also be applied to real life.
Games do, undeniably, require a real component to work… us the player. Interaction opens up a whole new world of possibilities; Sometimes the mechanics themselves are designed to enforce an idea or the player’s perspective is manipulated to great affect. I love how they allow me to explore decisions that I otherwise couldn’t in real life. I can play through the same scenarios again and again to learn how consequences work in regards to my choices. There are very few moments in life where we get that chance to try again or explore roles. We could consider that the game is just a platform in which to express ourselves, and by adding our personality we’re partly making it our own – this train of thought reminds me of the book ‘You‘ by Austin Grossman. Watching Let’s Plays fascinates me because of how differently each person will approach the same situation.
Something that I would love to learn more about is how emotionally engaged we really are with games. While we’re playing a game the feelings we have are still real to us. I’ve heard stories of how players have formed a bond with their characters. I can even admit to forming my own attachments to characters and possessions within a game. I read in the book ‘The Bedside Book Of Psychology‘ by Christian Jarrett & Joannah Ginsburg, that the Milgram electric shock experiment was re-created using a virtual character and some of the results suggested that the participants were responding to it as if it was real. I also did my dissertation on ethics in video games in which I attempted to re-create the train dilemma as in-game choices. I didn’t get to thoroughly test the idea, but the concept is an interesting one that I’d like to explore further one day. There were very few sources about this at the time, but I did find a really interesting book called ‘Ethics And Game Design: Teaching Values Through Play’ by Karen Schrier and David Gibson. How much value our virtual possessions have or how accountable we are for in-game behaviour is still a fuzzy area.
This was a brief summary of why I think it might not always matter how real an experience is for us to form a real connection to it. I have many happy memories of the games I grew up with and they invoke some pretty strong emotions in me. I don’t doubt that they have influenced the person I have become. Are our thoughts, emotions and social interactions any less real just because they happen within a game space? Is what we take away from the experience any less real?
Games will never be a replacement for real life, but it’s a possibbility that they could complement it. Having a little guilt-free play in our lives is also good for us.