Just a Game

I remember talking to a fellow freshman three-ish years ago while on a bus ride into town (I was in search of a TV, while he needed some kind of cord for his computer). He told me that he didn’t play video games any more. He outgrew them. This statement forced me to ask myself if there was something inherently childish about video games. Are they only for little kids? But adults of all ages play games, don’t they? But then, are they childish adults? What is different about my mind for not having given up playing Xbox or RTS (real time strategy) games?

As I write this, I have barely touched my Xbox in the past year and a half. I have limited myself considerably on the longtime love-of-my-adolescent life, Starcraft II. I have also not lost any interest in playing games. I have simply put myself into a position where I am forced to re-prioritize. Part of this is also due to age I think (which is different from saying I’ve learned from my mistakes). Somehow a 19-year old tricking himself into increasingly small time-windows for which to complete his assignments makes more sense than a twenty-one year old doing the same, especially when he has to wake up at 5:20am to get ready for practice. Would the nineteen year old have stuck with a sport requiring such commitment from its members? I don’t think so. He’d probably have quit after one year at the latest.

The way we as a society judge excessive behaviors is, although not entirely unproductive or pointless: not consistent with reality. If someone has the urge to do something that is unwise or unhealthy (and we all do at times), we blame their decision on an inability to restrain themselves. But the truth is he or she likely has a stronger impulse for that, possibly genetic. The act is still foolish (no matter how many times you say it, screaming “damn you genetics!” it is not going to relieve you of your responsibility to avoid eating ten cookies for a snack; something I did after lunch yesterday). The effects of exercising discipline and of having low impulses end up the same. It’s just the causes that differ.

But why would I (or anyone) like video games so much? I suspect that we can’t just point to a gene like we can for certain other kinds of impulses. Additionally, I think the kind of mind that needs such mental stimulation crosses ethnic/cultural barriers. In other words, like languages, they’re activities for which anyone in the world can develop addiction.

The first cause is the desire to escape the real world. Certainly lots of people have wanted to do this over history, some more intensely than others. Some are most ‘themselves’ when alone, free to delve into and live in other worlds. The more complex these worlds, the better the escape. I often think about music being great in relation to it’s power to follow the listener into his place of darkness and hopelessness, and then drag him out so that he feels a physiological sensation: reinvigorated and motivated to reshape the world according to his most grandiose dreams. I think this is also the birth of a whole lot of other categories as well: political nationalism, religion, conceptual art… It’s also almost exclusively the male mind. For example, of all the professional Starcraft II players, only one is female, and she’s transgender. That innate desire men have, to look at three-dimensional images and see and feel them turning around us, is fed by these games.

There is a disturbing trend of growing numbers of young men collecting and trading My Little Pony dolls (for those of you who have had the good fortune not to know what that is, it’s a TV-show targeted at little girls (and by extension the buying power of their parents)). According to my all-knowing-knowledge via the internet, these young men (called “Bronies”) number in the millions.

In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, protagonist/James Joyce alter-ego Stephen Dedalus reads Byron poems for fun while in school, which are not assigned to him. Would the Dedalus of 2014 have his creative genius repressed by video games and other toys? Is America full of people like this?

Furthermore, what is the connection between video games, art, and playing with dolls meant for young girls? Are we that emotionally soft? Are we that ill-prepared by our nature for the harsh world that waits around every corner? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this, and probably even more time avoiding the question.

And now I believe the answer is yes.

From what I’ve read of English poetry, there is a long Anglo-Saxon tradition of emotional inferiority, and pedestrianization of women. A lot of music and poetry composed by English and Scandinavians contribute to what I suspect is a tendency to pretend that the speaker’s spouse has been taken from him by death…even though the real reason is that he got dumped and now wants to aggrandize his suffering. It isn’t that he doesn’t have impulse control, but that his impulse toward despair is heightened, and thus his victory is that much greater if he overcomes it.

I guess the modern world is characterized principally by those little battles we have with ourselves. Don’t eat all that pizza. Don’t drink any more shots. Go to bed on time. Do the workout, and do it properly. Stay calm. Introduce yourself.

This is why freedom will destroy us. It passively acknowledges and accepts all our little flaws and indulgences, until our souls lie on the sand waiting to be swept away under the depths and sink as though they were never there.

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