The gaming dilemma
Last Saturday I read something scary at Scary Worlds. His narrative is not a new one: aspirations never achieved, because they were never reached for when the time was right. I believe that all of us are on the same life quest, but on a different stage: Scary, in his mid-life crisis, looks back disappointed in his complacency; I look into the future afraid of reaching back and feeling the same way. That is why this is a difficult time for me, the time for choosing who I want to become. And that choice is grounded on many different expectations and inner and outer pressures.
I listened to an emissary of the American Dream who told me that one should never give up ambition, and I am inclined to agree with him, even though the Dream has been proven fallacious since The Great Gatsby. Ursula LeGuin, a writer I just recently discovered and that I begin to admire above our forefathers, once said: "Success is somebody else's failure. Success is the American Dream we can keep dreaming because most people in most places, including thirty million of ourselves, live wide awake in the terrible reality of poverty." But what my dreamer friend told me stroke true as well. It was a long conversation whose essence can be summed up as: "if you do not reach for greatness, if you settle for contentment, your work will be mediocre."
One of the key things that held me back from working hard on my dream (writing THE novels I had planned since I was a teenager) was gaming. One of my greatest passions, but also one of my most ravenous tempters. I do not blame gaming in particular, but entertainment as a concept. Mass, dulling, lulling entertainment. If it had not been gaming, it could have been the TV, but I doubt that would have held the same appeal to me. Gaming provided me with almost everything that I lacked in real life: a strong bond to dad; a welcoming community for a confused teenager; easy, reachable goals which made real success too much hard; a ravishing world I could inhabit when my working class environment seemed too poor when held against my science fiction fantasies; also a creative outlet through which I rp'ed, and so I deferred the other non-transient creations. But there are net-positives in my experience as well: I met lots of people that have been instrumental in my life, and my current partner. I could not ever resent my journey, but I do resent the fact that I have a hard time letting go of an entertainment that saps the energy out of me. These ephemeral dreams of social life through raiding, of accomplishment in execution of an irrelevant skill, of grind for a virtual item... No more.
My dilemma is the following: I enjoy games, but I fall into their Skinner box traps, their virtual-as-real successes. Thankfully, it is only these routine-like games like MMOs that drive me to such mind state. RPGs are safe. Not all entertainment is dangerous.
I know that what I have written will rub most of you the wrong way. It feels fascist to claim that entertainment is dangerous and thus it should be banned (although Huxley spoke of entertainment as oppression and he was much more spot-on than Orwell). That is not my meaning. What I want to expose here is the mechanism which has trapped me and some others into passivity. The way easy pleasures take over your inclination for something higher, if you ever had it. Which reminds me of the recent conversation about 'fun' and 'accomplishment' feelings. In the game context, we talked about games which felt like easy fun and games that required you to work to achieve something. You can apply the same concept in real life. But looking back into the gaming conversation, I have this question: "Is achieving something in a game a real achievement?"
In games there is no failure. It is the American Dream. Work hard enough and you will be on the top, or near enough that you feel accomplished. If your guild could not progress through T5, change guilds. There is no such thing as unemployment, competition, gamble. It will trick you into thinking yourself successful, while turning failure into a momentary lapse towards victory. But wipes occur in real life too, and they are much harsher, and not always lead to victory in the end. That is why we enjoy this Dream so much, and why we cower in the thought of undertaking a real enterprise. Human beings are irrationally afraid of failure. I think we should take a lesson from MMOs here and think of it as a progression raid: there will be wipes, and you will learn and become a better player thanks to them. Success is not guaranteed, but failure is whenever you stop trying.
Entertainment, the dulling kind, does two things in my opinion: one, it distracts you from yourself. We demand to be entertained, to be separated from our overwhelming minds. If done when really required, after a tiresome day, it can certainly be healthy. When done as a routine, you are losing on the opportunity to engage in mental growth through good books, good games, and something that has never been more devalued: good thinking. Now every moment of leisure is occupied with a mobile device that fills our ears, hands and minds. It is as if we were scared of being alone with ourselves. The other thing that entertainment does is fill our head with the ideology of our current society, which goes unchallenged in our passivity. Do not underestimate the power of narrative. It is everywhere around us, and shapes everything. It puts words into our mouth which we have not thought ourselves (how many times I had to explain that protein comes as easily from vegetables as it does from meat, as I introduce myself as a vegan).
I am aware this is not a post for everybody. It took me some time to learn that there are lots of people who do not have such clear-cut ambitions, and which are content and happy with a 'passive' life, or which have done enough to lean now on the rocking chair. I direct this to people who have a boiling energy under their skin, and which they might have quenched with a downpour of games and series and silly things. Distractions from their frightening epic quest. Do not settle for grey-level quests, dear reader, when you can take the orange ones solo; as for the group quests, we are always here to help: friends, family, random strangers over the internet.
I'm leaving you this song, passed on to me by a short-term lover and long-term dear friend. I passed it on to my partner. I think it contains the simplest and most fundamental message that has ever been sung.