Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How I Accumulated Years of Useless Experience

My not-so-illustrious CV ought to include vast experience as a truck driver, a counter-terrorism agent, fighter pilot, multiple title-winning soccer team player-manager, alien-invasion repeller, professional wrestler and victorious commander of medieval armies. I have also moonlighted as a gambler, assassin, illegal street racer, armed carjacker, and crime lord; all these I should list under "Hobbies" in the relevant section of my humble CV. And I have the high scores and save game files to prove it. 

I speak of the computer games I've played, which allowed me to "live a different life," so to speak. Yet for all my experience, I do not qualify to be called a Hardcore Gamer. It puzzles me how much vicarious role-playing one must endure before the title is earned. Consider; I was there grappling with keyboards when Dangerous Dave and Super Mario were competing for supremacy; I saw 3D games evolve into a big deal right before my eyes. Extended periods of my high school weekends were devoted to multiplayer games with and against fellow obsessed gamers. We often skipped meals playing. Yet I still don't qualify for hardcore.

Games are but one symptom in the epidemic of immersive entertainment. They are so immersive that one will spend hours, days, on a game they don't even like, just to prove that they can best the computer. Even the most straight-laced upstanding member of society will not challenge a game's morality or inspect it too closely while playing. Once the objective is stated as "kill the target" and the target is indicated as a blip on the map in one corner of the screen, off goes the model citizen on murderous misadventures. "After all, it's a game," reasons the player, "it's not me who's killing really, it's the game's fictional persona." Such false distinctions are dangerous to keep in the mind, even subconsciously.

Immersive entertainment for all its intensity leads to loss of subtlety. Behold the gratuitous violence and the extravagant display in the movies and music videos of today. Fast-paced action, eye-catching visuals, ever more colorful language to be heard in surround-sound. The problem with such entertainment is the law of diminishing returns: more exposure desensitizes the viewer, so that next time they will require a more extreme stunt, a more extravagant plot. Better graphics, bigger explosions, bloodier bloodshed, dirtier language. Shortly we find ourselves eagerly waiting for the next instalment of Resident Evil. "It's just a movie, just camera tricks, no one really dies!" Thus are we willingly complicit in our own deception.

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