Can’t Escape the Escapism Part 2

There are reasons why we can’t escape certain games. And there’s a reason why it matters. Sometimes a game comes to mind simply because something in our real world reminds us of it. Once, I was on a campsite standing at the edge of a cluster of trees and the light of the setting sun fell in such a way to make me say, “ohmygoditlookslikezelda!” Now, I love Zelda games and I’ve spent many hours with them, but that’s the only time the land of Hyrule came close to interfering with my perception of the real world.

Other times, a game comes to mind simply because it’s awesome. We like it enough that we wish some of its elements actually existed. When I was younger, I wanted to be Strider Hiryu. OK, I still do. I ran around my backyard pretending my swingset was my ninja-for-hire space station. Still, I never confused my world for the totally more awesome world of Strider because my world was boring.

The Louvre is a good place to grind.

Then there are other games we can’t escape because they have trained us to see certain opportunities. In these games, we learn to pay attention to certain cues because they indicate opportunities. Soon, we may encounter real-world objects that we just spent time treating as opportunity cues. For example, I didn’t pay much attention to potential grinding surfaces until after I spent hours looking for them in Tony Hawk.

In comment to Part 1, Christian noted that Prince of Persia had a similar effect on him. Probably, his senses and mind mostly ignored the climbing potential of walls until playing that game. And of course, they should have. They had no reason to pay attention until the mind found itself rewarded for paying attention to certain cues and then exploiting the opportunities they indicated.

The most abstract games are also the most notorious for not leaving our minds after we turn the power off and this is because they are abstract. Our newly trained minds are then searching for those cues that previously led to reward. Though I’m unlikely to stumble over a Tetris block on my way home, I’m still encountering countless shapes that my mind then wants to fit together for mad points and bragging rights. Tetris doesn’t even need our eyes open to continue its invasion of our minds. Our mind will use the vague blotches of light against the inside of our eyelids or it will just use our thoughts.

The unique interactive nature of games leads to this particular effect. Of course, other media, like books and movies, may have us thinking about them after we are done with them. That’s for other reasons though. We may be comparing the world to them, specifically reminded of them, or emotionally impacted by them.

Perhaps some people see games in reality a little too much.

However, games train. They train us to pay attention to certain parts of a world because of these part’s potential and ignore other parts. And those of us that have played games enough have even learned (or been trained) to start paying attention to new parts when we find ourselves losing.

This training and its after-effects matter. People are endlessly arguing about the extent to which a game can affect perceptions and behavior. It is likely we will increasingly see this argument focus on the potential positive effects of games. There is a growing “serious” games movement. It hopes to use the unique interactive nature of games to change our real-world views and real-world actions. Mostly, I have seen serious games concentrate on educating players by offering new settings and details from real-world events. However, there should be further exploration of how some games manage to affect how we see our world. Serious game developers may best achieve their goals by imitating these inescapable games. They could train us to see as opportunities parts of our world we are currently ignoring.

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16 years ago

Serious games have a lot to learn from traditional games, because most of the examples I’ve heard of seem to think that just putting any sort of real world situation or training into a game form makes it fun. It doesn’t, and if they want to train or educate well, they need to use the gaming format to make people see the situation in new ways.