Gaming: The Doorway to a New Age

Written by Peter Doveston

Niko Belic. Don't mock his gloves.

The world is one of pure and stark reality. Inescapable pains, unavoidable troubles. It is not a place where we necessarily want to be ourselves. In response to this fact, man created an anaesthetic to life in the forms of entertainment, literature, music and television.  Most recently and, most potently, the virtual world of gaming has become man’s new anaesthetic. In the crack of a box and the slide of a disc anyone becomes transported, transformed.  Be it into Niko Belic, the ice cold killer with the desert dry humour or a Chinese warrior slashing through waves of enemies for ultimate salvation. In such games the skinniest teenager and the fattest single father find their own salvation; they too can now perform a roundhouse kick, or join the armed forces or even fly a helicopter! We transport ourselves away from the terrace houses, the cramped, dingy living rooms, to worlds of beauty and danger. The best aspect of such experiences is that no one, no matter what they do, can get hurt (unless you’re an idiot playing a Wii).

Why would anyone seek to condemn gaming? The anti-gaming community’s main criticisms concern themselves with violence. Whilst agreeing with what is said in the above paragraph, they also believe that the violence within certain games can affect the way we behave in reality. The constant playing of violent games (particularly by younger children) incites them to act violently towards fellow members of society. Unfortunately, in this case, the old cliché is the best counter-argument: all things in moderation.  I would accept that gaming does have, in a small way, power over us. Submitting to this power without a pause leads to inevitable behavioural problems. However, I would also propose that cheese, in a small way, has power over us; its incredible taste when melted on toast or when sprinkled on pasta is to die for. Similarly to gaming, if one submits to this power too often then lactose related behavioural problems will surely follow – man cannot live on cheese alone. So, to propose that gaming should be restricted or banned because it affects our behaviour is ridiculous; simultaneously one would also have to propose a restriction on cheese, kites, the bank, traffic cones, and search engines. We do not need all these restrictions, so why in the anti-gaming community does gaming stand out as an exception?

Again, violence crops up. The anti-gamer will propose that gaming is different, firstly because there is a possibility we harm others (not just ourselves, as in the cheese example); secondly because there is a physical aspect to gaming that is not replicated in any other form of entertainment. The former argument is nonsensical when put against its violent siblings, to ban gaming because we may harm others means also we must ban: small children from play fighting, alcohol (I don’t think there has been a Saturday night in the past 50 years where someone has not got hurt) and cigarettes. Some of the anti-gaming community will jump up in celebratory triumph; why not ban all those things? I for one would like to give the human race more credit; I believe we are capable of handling these pleasures without it resulting in mass murder. Someone may, now and again, get a bloody nose, but better a few droplets of blood than the arch-fascist state the anti-gamers are proposing. The world would become mundane and (to be blunt) the suicide rates would shoot up. Man would have lost his anaesthetics, man would die.

For the latter argument regarding the physical aspect to gaming, I am going to tread the beaten path. Violence is part of life, in some ways it is horrific; genocide, war, disease. However, does violence not, in a small way, provide the essence of the life, the necessary counterpart of life (how can there be light if there is no darkness?). When I was young the thrill of shooting down a hill on my bike at breakneck speed came from the fact that at any moment I could crash to an ugly death. This thrill-lust is inbuilt into human behaviour. Agreed, there are wet blankets out there, having met a few you cannot help but think they are missing something, that they don’t know what they are doing, they don’t know they are living. To quote Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear: “When does one feel most alive? When one is an inch away from death.”  Gaming gives man his thrill within the comfort of his own living room; it allows his primeval juices to boil in safety. To some, taking away any real sense of danger is boring, in my view, the racing heart after killing hundred upon hundred of Nazi Zombies is quite enough (at least be going on with). The anti-gamer does not realise that man now has at his disposal a peace-making thrill, a fun and communal activity, even, to some degree, an educational tool in gaming.

The anti-gamer may respond that such thrills are already present in much better forms i.e. literature. I enjoy reading; it certainly holds a very valuable place within the fabric of humanity. Yet I would put it on the same level as gaming in terms of entertainment. Literature can be incredibly violent; one need only read Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks or even the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien. Similarly to gaming this has an effect on us; while reading such novels, I replay in my head the violence that is occurring in the book. If the anti-gamer is to condemn gaming for such an effect then why not literature also?  Literature should not be put on a platform reigning down on other forms of entertainment; it is, after all, primarily only entertainment. The existentialists of the world will note that literature has an ability to tell us about ourselves, records the path of human history. I don’t understand why such a thing cannot be said of gaming also? Gaming teaches us about ourselves, primarily that we have potential to be incredibly violent, secondly that we have an inexhaustible ability to place ourselves in any context we wish.  Via gaming I can imagine myself to be in the American west during the 1800s, or World War 2, or even on a completely different planet. To this effect gaming is very similar to literature. In this light, the anti-gamer cannot simultaneously condemn gaming and literature, they either have to condemn both or neither.

Gaming provides us with a rich tapestry of possibilities. It hits a primeval chord within us. It teaches us, affects us, and changes us. It is a fantastic invention of the modern age. It allows man to be anything he desires for an hour or two. The warning word that applies to everything universally is moderation. Otherwise go nuts!

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  1. Richie richie says:

    A decent read and I agree that gaming arguably puts you more directly into any imagined world than a book or film does. That said, I no longer feel the need to defend gaming. It’s a more respectable way to pass the time thay, say, watching X-Factor, supporting Chelsea, attending KT Tunstall gigs or stamp collecting. So fuck it.

  2. Peter says:

    Thank you, my real aim was to try and place gaming alongside literature as an emotive art (as well as immense fun). It turned into a replica argument with older relatives.

  3. Lorna Lorna says:

    I very much enjoyed this piece and there is a great deal of food for thought here. I agree, I think gaming certainly fills a need, or a desire for release and if that is removed, there would be more problems created than solved. I agree with you Peter, that literature is placed on a high pedestal, while being some of the most violent, debauched, and incendiary stuff that people can be exposed to. While GTA may kick up a shit storm, I don’t see it as being marginally comparable to say, The Bible, in terms of effect or destructive impact. Any child can go into a library and hire Lord of the Flies, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, etc. but it is viewed as literature, and therefore acceptable – yet if and when children access games with anywhere close to that content, there is hell to pay.

    Gaming, like it or not is a medium that is here to stay and which has a lot of value. Some of the stories on games have been far more absorbing than many books I have read, the characters far more engaging than those on prime TV shows… if only people could see it for the valuable thing that it is. Great article.

  4. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    There are, unfortunately, too few people out there who have the ability to see gaming in the same light as any other art form. It could be argued that with literature, how vivid an act is depicted is down to how powerful the imagination is of the person doing the reading. If they lack imagination, then the scene would be heavily under-saturated and perhaps even mundane whereas a strong imagination could create something fantastically vivid. With gaming, as with movies, no imagination is required because all of the imagery is handled at source. That COULD be the argument for those who frown upon gaming.

    What about the news though? We see so much violence from one day to the next, sometimes very graphic, such as the woman being hanged in Iraq… although I may have my country wrong. That wasn’t merely described, that was shown to the point where her corpse was suspended… lifeless and silent. When it’s news, and it’s real, it isn’t viewed upon as being harsh but when it’s mere polygons and pixels than it is somehow a terrible thing.

    It’ll likely never change. Haters will hate. As long as we know ourselves why we game, and that it doesn’t turn us into rabid killers, then let them think what they like.

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