Friday, July 15

Why I Play Games

Cat and Girl and Boy on a Stick and Slither both address one of the Fundamental Issues of Philosophy this week: that gaping void in your heart that nothing -- not alcohol, not marriage, not shopping, not sleep, not even pain -- can fill. The sucking chest wound of powelessness and directionlessness and fear of the afterlife.

Yeah, that's why I play games.

The best way I've found to deal with the aforementioned Fundamental Issue is to escape it into a controllable, logical World System where brainpower and reflexes can combine in a mode of personal expression that integrates perfectly with The World. An expression of my will to power. (The print version of that article, available in the Good and Evil backissue of Maisonneuve, elaborates more clearly on Niezchean philosophy as it applies to games. You should find it and read it, because it's the best piece in the magazine.) OBA's view of what immersion is fits perfectly here; immersion is losing yourself in a game, immersion is becoming someone with a clear goal in a world that even by opposing it supports it, immersion is total focus on the task at hand.

That kind of immersion doesn't necessarily come from story games, either. PopCap's puzzle games and Tetris are great examples of games that support that kind of immersive experience. I can spend hours performing one of 5 to 10 basic, sub-1-second-duration operations, in the pursuit of a goal that is entirely and unabashedly abstract, and be totally focused on it. Come to think of it, neither the 'computer' nor the 'game' part of computer games are required for that kind of immersion; programming can be a similar experience if you're In The Zone, as can Chess or Checkers or any other of those classic brainpower games. Doing pure math, if my sources in academia are correct, can do that kind of thing.

Were I religiously inclined, I'd point out that one interpretation of the classic Latin phrase "laborare est orare", literally "work is prayer", is that total focus and immersion can be acheived in any task. And perhaps that's a more broadly applicable statement; perhaps the sublime feeling of control, of participation in and interaction with and manipulation of the world as an abstract symbol system is a good way to fill that void.

All I know is that it works for me.

[Postscript: Jeff dropped by and reminded me that he wrote a similar piece last March. I should have linked it in the article, but I didn't, so now I have.]


Jeff Freeman said...

I wrote something similar a while back, but for some reason people didn't think my source had a whole lot of credibility.

Probably too explody.

Fraxas said...

Thanks, Jeff. Wish I'd remembered it before you reminded me.