Gazing too long into the abyss
Every so often, we hear stories about some poor sap whos completely lost themselves in their favorite video game. These players forsake all human contact, hygiene, and sometimes even food just so they can stay nestled in front of the warm glow of a screen, wrapped in the loving arms of a virtual world. We hear about them, and we sadly shake our heads. We wonder why they dont go out into the world to have real experiences? Why dont they try to find real happiness in this friendly, friendly world?
But what if theyre the ones who have it all figured out? Maybe youve noticed, but the real world isnt exactly the happiest of places. Our world is full of sadness, full of death, full of suffering. Our world is riddled with flaws. If you stop to think about it, there are a lot of ways that many video games provide a more satisfying existence than the real world could ever offer.
7. All problems have an obvious solution
Game logic is nice, isnt it? Every problem you will ever encounter can be solved. Usually, that solution comes packaged in a neat brass casing. Evil Russian Terrorist threatening to destabilize the world economy? Shoot him. Two-dozen armed henchmen standing between you and the Evil Russian Terrorist? Shoot them. Dozens of unarmed civilians blocking your way? You know what to do. Sometimes, just to change things up, youll have to open a door--better shoot the hinges on it. Don't worry, they'll be glowing.
The world outside isnt quite so simple. Most of the big problems out there simply dont have any good solution--no way to send everybody home happy. Some rabble-rouser in the Middle East is destabilizing the region? Invading his country and forcibly deposing him only leaves a power vacuum, and the hardships inflicted on the citizenry quickly turns them against you. Want to develop a cure for cancer? Too bad--cancers have such widely varied causes that its doubtful that there will ever be a simple cure. Reality can be a major bummer.
6. You are important
Games thrive on drama, so its no surprise that the player-character tends to be at the center of the action. Not only that: player-characters tend to be the most important people in the entire universe. Who stops the Reapers if Commander Shepard takes the day off? Nobody, thats who. If Shepard sleeps in, all sentient life is eviscerated. Shepards life has meaning. Without Shepard, the universe will--quite literally--end. Shepard is a somebody. You? Well, you're a nobody. It's okay--we all are.
If you're lucky, you're just a tiny cog in a vast machine--essentially meaningless outside of the other (equally meaningless) cogs you directly touch. Nothing you do will ever change the turning of the wheel--the Reapers will come whether you do your part or not. If you dropped off the Earth, odds are the machine will just keep turning like you were never even there at all. Wow, that got a little dark, didn't it. Um, well kitties!
5. You know who wants to hurt you
Game designers put a ton of effort into making sure you know, and can immediately recognize, who the bad guys are. Theyre big scary monsters shambling at you in the dark. Theyre hungry wolves leaping out of the forest. Theyre terrorists or mercenaries hired to topple your government. Theyre on the Red Team, the bitterest of your Blue Teams rivals. Whoever "they" are, theyre nothing like you--in fact, theyre sworn to bring down all the good, noble things you stand for.
In reality, the people out to get you are never so obvious about it, are they? Sure, theres the guy who mugs you occasionally, but more often than not, the people out to do you harm are the people youve known and trusted for years. Your bank manager pressured you to borrow heavily to buy a house you couldnt really afford. That old gossip three cubicles down has been telling your boss how lazy you are behind your back. Your mom keeps trying to scare off your significant other whenever theyre alone together. Why? Who knows? Some people do it for profit, others just like to watch you squirm. Makes you wish all the bad people were easier to spot and avoid, doesnt it?
4. All problems are external
Look at you, sitting there. Youre probably pretty great--maybe you could be the next Stephen Hawking, the next John Coltrane! Put in the effort and you could be fantastic, but instead of reaching out and seizing that greatness, youre sitting there reading this miserable list. Theres no locked door or room full of homicidal zombies between you and your goals--theres just you. You might be a bad enough dude to save the president--but itll have to wait until this Mythbusters marathon is over. This is the episode where they blow up the concrete truck, after all, and there's no way you're missing that.
Then again, in the magical land of gaming, youre never lazy, are you? The only thing keeping you away from the solution to all of your problems is a locked door. Or a puzzle. Or a few dozen Bad Guys. You never have to stop and think about whether you are the cause of the problems, because of course you arent. You didnt lock the door. You didnt give the Bad Guys a crate of Kalashnikovs. You didnt get drunk and then cry yourself to sleep on your friends couch because your mom scared off your significant other. It was all the games fault, right?
3. Right and Wrong are very clearly defined
Out in the real world, its almost impossible to make an entirely "right" choice, or to find a "good" person. With any action you take, youre almost certain to upset somebody. Run into a burning house to save a puppy, and youll come out to find a mother demanding to know why you didnt save her child trapped in the next room. Out here, good people commit evil deeds, and evil organizations can be full of good people--even the Nazis loved their children . Itd be nice if things were simpler, wouldnt it?
Never fear! Most video games are adept at distilling all moral qualms down into a simple good/evil binary. You want to be a good person? You will be the greatest of saints; a paragon of righteousness and virtue. Or you could be a genocidal maniac, hell-bent on destroying the universe--and even then, the game will treat you as a hero, rewarding you with points and items and every other affirmation it can bestow.
2. Hard work pays off
Remember that time that JRPG boss smoked you because you rushed through the dungeon too fast? Of course you do; everybody did it. Fortunately, theres an easy solution: you dove back down to the dungeon and you worked your ass off to gain levels. The hours of grinding through bats and skeletons are tedious, sure, but it's all worth it when you climb the castle and stomp that boss back to the Stone Age. It was never really in doubt, was it? So long as you put in the effort to gain levels, youd beat the boss and save the magical kingdom of Blarneyton.
Not so much in real life. You probably worked your butt off back in school, only to find out that all the work you put in means diddly when you can't get a job. Those of you with jobs probably didn't get that promotion or raise you were going for--your boss says the company is "tightening its belt." Oh! Or maybe you're overqualified. You've bled and wept and strained and struggled just for the chance to reach out and take the Prize... but it turns out the Prize never existed in the first place. You spent all the time to save Blarneyton from a fire only to have the plague come through and wipe the place out anyways.
1. You are a good person
The protagonist of the archetypal video game is a Good Person trying to do the Right Thing. Sure, sometimes they start out fighting for the wrong team, but sooner or later theyll figure it out. Player-characters are framed in the most positive light imaginable--theyre liberators, never occupiers. Freedom fighters, never terrorists. Player-characters generally dont lie, except in service of a greater good. Theyll endure endless hardships in the name of Truth, Justice, and the American Way. One imagines that they sleep with the same innocent ease as newborn babies.
Itd be nice if that were so in our world, wouldn't it? In real life, people are only as good as we think we have to be. We lie, when it suits us. We cheat, when we need to. We steal, when we are forced to do without. Well tell ourselves its not really harming anybody. Well say its in service of ideals like Justice or Truth. But as we lie staring at the ceiling at 3am, we cant hide from the niggling little idea that maybe--just maybe--we arent even the "hero" in our own stories.