Friday, August 5, 2011
Are Games Better than Real Life?
How video games that are getting better and better at simulating real experiences will affect those who play them is a hot topic right now. The worry that the human brain will be irrevocably altered by the substitution of the virtual for the real has prompted a lot of fretting. Even game-designer Perry in this TED talk seems somewhat conflicted, in his presentation of a student video of a self-confessed video game junkie who fears losing touch with a reality that doesn't measure up to the designed worlds of his games. Maybe so. Maybe there will be a profound and unpredictable shift in the way humans think, as virtual worlds become better at evoking emotion, providing clearer meaning and touch us more deeply than the life around us does.
As a humanities scholar, however, I'm not too worried. Games can only move us, change us, if they reach us on a human level. They can't make us less human if they are striving to reach those very things: emotion, purpose, meaning, understanding, feeling as David Perry puts it, that connect us to the rest of the human race. And those are the very things that define all the great imaginative, creative efforts of humankind. Music, literature, art, theatre. You can get lost in any of these pursuits. You can neglect the real world in favor of dwelling in the ecstatic realms of perfect creation. And yes, you can become consumed by an obsession, but no one argues that this makes you less human. No one argues for LESS virtuosity, for fear of luring the impressionable away from reality. So why so worried about the emotional power of games? There is not a game in the world, nor any hint of one coming, that can touch people the way great literature or art can. And until that happens, I'll put my money on the positive transformative power of art, in whatever medium, rather than worry that human creativity can make us less human.