I’m Not a Soldier… but I Play One in Game

posted by on 7th September 2011, at 1:52am | Discuss Article

Funny title, yet it contains a not so funny truth about what people gain from video games. To begin with, what is the point of any video game? Does it teach you something valuable? Does it give you experience that you can apply to real life? Does it challenge you, improve you, or strengthen you? Does it accomplish anything? Is it just for enjoyment? For fun? For a good laugh? Or is a video game just a waste of time? Does it simply replace something you know you will never truly experience? It’s somewhat of a harsh way to start off an article, challenging you to think of why a video game matters at all. But it’s also an important topic. It’s the kind of thing you aren’t asked about every day, which is why I’m going there.

Maybe there is a straight off simple answer to the question of why we play video games. “People just want to have fun.” For some people, this is probably true. “People want to challenge themselves or prove something.” For some, that’s probably also true. Anything I mentioned in the introduction could be a possible answer as to the reasons for which we play video games. But when it comes down to it, I think there is something more that people are looking for in a video game. It’s something more complex than just enjoyment or any simple happiness. I assert that most people’s desire to play a game doesn’t boil down to any one reason. What I think (and it may be a stretch for some) is that video games are about experiencing real life, but without the trouble of getting hurt, doing hard work, or possibly dying.

What do I mean? I’m referring to the idea that video games allow us to “experience” life without the trouble or consequences that might come from making mistakes. In a sense, a video game removes pain for the picture. For instance, have you ever felt pain when you play a video game? Does a video game make you cry? Have you ever died because of a video game? I’m guessing the answer is no. But what does that have to do with anything? A video game isn’t supposed to be really serious or even meant to replace real life, just escape it for a while or do something you could never do in real life. I think it’s a little more intricate than that.

You see, humans are limited by the abilities they possess, the physical attributes of their bodies, their mental capacity, and last but not least, death. We aren’t supermen. But what a game provides that you can’t get in real life is a chance to experience things you could possibly never do in real life. Take for instance Call of Duty. Some of you will probably never join a military or ever be close to a war or battle. And when I say close to war or battle, I mean you will never kill anyone in your life or see someone shot next to you or be injured/killed during a fight. But with Call of Duty, you can “experience” what it’s like to be a soldier, to shoot people, to see people die next to you and even die yourself. But there really is no real life consequence for playing the game. And when I say “experience,” I mean a game could never match what it’s really life to be a soldier. But it can try, and for some people that’s good enough for them. Hence, the article title.

Some people exchange game “experience” for real experience. They think that because they have played a game, they have some idea about how life actually is. Most people probably never consider this or believe it. It is just a game after all. But for some, it’s good enough to serve the purpose of real life experience. And that is at the heart of what I’m trying to point out to anyone who reads this.

So what do video games realistically do for us? Distract from life or waste time. That’s really all they are good for. True, people may gain some enjoyment from video games and maybe some pleasure, but this enjoyment and pleasure is fleeting. It’s instant gratification. Life has more permanence than a video game and the things you do in life matter much more as well. Experience only comes from living life, not from playing a game. Granted, I’m not saying all people who play video games have worthless lives or just pursue instant gratification. But video games, even if enjoyed only once in a while or just a little at a time still detract from a person’s ability to spend time pursuing real life goals and accomplishments that actually matter.

Perhaps you’ve been thinking to yourself “Why… so… serious?” The truth of the matter is that I write this article at a time in my life when games consume a good amount of my time. When you play as much as I do, but then are asked the simple question “Why?” or “What for?” by someone, it can stop you in your tracks. Why do I spend so much time on something that gives me nothing useful or good in return? I’ve asked myself the question many times and come to various conclusions such as “To have fun… to replace boredom… to accomplish something… to waste time… feel important…etc.” All these answers are true to a degree, but don’t reveal the entire truth at once.

The truth is I want to live life, but video games distract me from doing so. Can a video game be powerful enough or fun enough to actually overcome you and keep you from doing the things you would love doing in the real world? Yes! I’m sure some of you have friends who are addicted to at least one video game. WoW, GTA, CoD, Halo, or whatever it is. These games have the power to take over a life and direct attention only on one thing. Pleasure. And I admit… it feels great to play a game every day for hours, but I gain nothing from it which instantly takes away the enjoyment of all the pleasure I just experienced. I gained nothing.

At the end of the day, I don’t expect you to be moved by this article. In fact, I suspect most people don’t have a problem with playing video games once in a while. Some of you probably don’t even play that often and view this as an exaggeration. Call it a rant, call it sarcastic or cynical, call it whatever you like. Perhaps the best thing to call it is a wakeup call. I’m sure most of you have productive and fulfilling lives. Video games are not at the top of your priorities list. Since I believe most the people who have read this article play video games, do consider how much time you spend on them. Is it time that could be better spent going after things in real life that matter?

And one more thing. I’m sure many of you plan on having families some day and at least one child. Video games are probably going to be around and popular for a long time. Are you going to worry if video games start to dominate their lives? I’ve spoken to many parents who already have kids not even 10 years old who spend hours playing video games. But these parents don’t have what it takes to tell them no and shut off the machine like my parents did when I was young. And, boy, was I glad they did. Just something to consider.