Sunday, 16 January 2011

The Games We Play

I have two sons (well, I don't 'have' them ... sometimes it seems like they 'have' me!) who like to play  Call of Duty on the XBox.

You may or may not be familiar with this game, (it's like all games really), but  in this one they pretend to be a character within the game that is being run by the xbox machine and played out on a tv screen. Furthermore the players interact, via a headset,  with other players who are also pretending to be other characters, but can be in different rooms anywhere in the world, providing they're hooked up to the interweb.

So,  at this very moment one of  my sons is playing COD and he's moving his character around murdering and pillaging willy nilly (and the morality of that don't even bear going into ;0).) AT the same time, he's 'talking' to a friend of his who is sitting in his bedroom down the road from us (but he could be on the other side of the world) moving his character around (apparently he's trying to 'nick' my son's sniper!).  This particular son gets very involved when he's playing this game ("What the hell, you just shot him clean in the face!" he says delightedly *shudder*).  He can get so involved, that he'll be shouting at the other characters, both the  screen characters, and the players who he's talking to over the headset, and it's clear that he's having a lot of fun.

Why do we love to play games? From Monopoly, to Poker, to Twister, to Dungeons and Dragons, to girls dressing up as Princesses and big girls dressing up as ... well, whatever pushes their buttons, to COD, to politics etcetera, etcetera...

I find this question fascinating for several reasons.

The vivality point of view sees it this way:

We think that the game-playing is an escape from reality.  In some way we are trying to shore up the belief that there is a 'me' who actually exists as an autonomous, controlling entity. i.e "This game I'm playing on the xbox isn't real, I can switch it off and walk away."  So by comparison, there's an assumption that the game we are playing of being a 'me' that CAN decide to switch off the xbox and walk away IS real, and THAT belief has to be very persuasive in order for it to be so convincing.  In playing a game, we are using it as a contrast to emphasis what is believed to be the truth ..... when in fact what it does is parodies it!  It points to the truth that just as in the game on the screen of a character being moved around and played, so the person that seems to be doing the playing is no different to the online character/fantasy.

Furthermore,  games make the players feel like they have some sense of control, of power.  And also that they can,  at any moment,  relinquish that control and power - just walk away - and it is that freedom that is part of the enjoyment.  Do we play games because we know deep down that we have no control, no power?  And if that's seen, well then ....... that's freedom?

And if we pull back and  look at living from the point of view of being a character that's being lived, then there is only the playing.  And the freedom comes from not even HAVING to choose whether to walk away or continue to play, because that decision can never be made by me/you, because there's  nothing that makes that decision.

Finally:  There's something particularly juicy and engrossing  about the game of annihilation.  All games, at the  ultimate level,  are about winning;  vanquishing the other players.  But  games like COD (and Angry Birds, which is my game of choice)  are specifically about trying to seek and destroy.   We play at annihilation - because to face the fact that life IS annihilation is too raw.

(And my son's just said "Oh, I'm quitting the game.  Because you keep killing me").  Ah, the irony of metaphor.    I'll leave that one hanging ......

Ultimately, though,  it's all just in the playing - even if some bastard down the road is nicking your sniper!

(Then again, I could be talking a load of auld vivality bollocks, and there's just a young kid sitting in his bedroom, pretending to blast the living daylights out of his friend... wink, wink)

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