Video-games are our new national past-time.
Months spent in eager anticipation of the latest batch of next-gen consoles, and late night online showdowns pepper the streams of nostalgia within our generation’s collective memory. Who could forget the age-old censorship debate over whether or not video-games were emotionally desensitizing and socially damaging?
The criticisms didn’t pop out of a vacuum; many of the most popular video games are extremely violent, desensitizing, and addictive.
Freud said many of our base-drives and primal forces are either repressed or subtly sublimated into more socially-acceptable outlets (sports, corporate competition, war, etc.). Is this what fuels feverish addictions to pretend violence? And is emotional sublimation the only reason video-games are fun?
Many big-name game companies seem believe so. However, one luddite game developer from Upstate New York by the name of Jason Rohrer is challenging that notion.
Rohrer’s vision is to use video games as a therapeutic medium for artistic expression.
From a visual standpoint, his games are very simple. But, as anyone who has played Passage, can tell you, it doesn’t take flashy 21st century graphics to make a quality game. Emphasis is shifted from the visuals to the the story-line, which he believes can be just as captivating as any film or novel.
‘Passage’ follows a young boy down the corridors of time into adulthood. The pivotal decision is whether to keep his ‘freedom’ and avoid falling in love, but play a much harder game, or choosing to grow old and happy with his lover, while mindful of the inevitable end of paradise as death’s hideous face looms closer & closer with each step. The game is a meditation on transience, love, and the importance of cherishing the present moment.
Most of his games are like this. Simple RPG platformers that double as works of art containing meaning.
How different would the experience of growing up be for kids if more games were like this? Does turning mindless entertainment into art = snoozefest for million of overstimulated teens?
I don’t think so. A prime example of mainstream games already like this is Final Fantasy series. The timeless scene of Aries from FFVII dying at Sephiroth’s sword followed by the pain of Cloud’s unrequited love remains permanently etched into the memories of many gamers and retired players alike. For those short moments, pixelated polygons on a screen meant more and spoke louder to us than most movies or books. The memory stuck because we were there.
In there, literally. The self-identification with the character you’re playing as in a video game is powerful. For a few hours, their life is your life, their experiences are your experiences, and their lessons are yours.
This not only exacerbates the ill effects of violent games, but the potentials for good also blossom into fruition. How could games aid the coming of age process for millions of teens if they were deeper (ala FF, Passage), and left positive imprints? Could they help develop emotional & interpersonal intelligence, rather than reinforcing social anxiety and angst? The interactive quality of a game amplifies its possibilities as an art-form, potentially being more mentally and emotionally captivating than a movie or novel.
It can even become a therapeutic remedy to the pains of growing up and emotional callousness that develops as a defense in the more isolated regions of youth culture. If scenes of violence, degradation and escape only feed the insecurity and social awkwardness of adolescence, what would other types of role-play do to help?
Video-games, like all forms of technology, are objective and neutral by themselves. It is the mind behind it that assigns it use and gives it meaning and value. This is how high-technology operating out of a low ethical center of gravity can produce Nazi doctors and nuclear bombs, where high technology with a high center of ethical gravity can produce Appropriate Technology, Hexayurts, Solarchills and Starsights. And just as the mind behind the tech determines the type of impact it has, so does it determine the imprint left on the user.
You can put good ideas behind games and imprint the gamers psyche with good memories and positive experiences, or exacerbate the negative. Imagine a world where the escape of many had the power to heal. What would the world look like with more socially and emotionally intelligent teens? What would Art look like if games became a new mode of expression? How far-reaching is its ability to convey meaning and transmit experience and emotion by absorbing you IN the work?
What do you think?
Leave your thoughts in the comments section.