Psi-Ops: Psychology of Gaming from an Existential Approach
Psychology of Gaming is about the exploration of what it means to be a gamer, and how we interpret what we discover as subjective human experience. Existentialism has identified the struggles of humanity since the dawn of time when early men and women began to foster the idea of life and death. The struggle was consistently one that engaged the individual in finding the meaning to life, and identifying how to live that life with purpose. Whether it was surviving one more day, seeking a mate to reproduce (and therefore, continue the chain of survival), or emerging in strength and power, one thing has always been clear: As humans we attempt to give meaning to everything, even when something is meaningless, to fulfill our own fears of non-existence in the universe.
The philosopher Martin Heidegger speaks on this phenomena.
If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life – and only then will I be free to become myself.
So what does that mean for gamers? For the gaming community as a whole? Maybe even for video game developers?
In a fantastical universe where the concept of a game is often identified by the actions of life and death between fictional characters, where does the person controlling this avatars fit into the equation? What does it mean to be a gamer? What is the purpose of spending countless hours living in a fantastical universe only to have it end, become defuse, or shift into a new story, character or medium. What happens to an online character after the server is shut down, or when a game is “finished,” or when a save file is corrupted or lost.
Then again, what is the purpose of spending 100+ hours on Skyrim only to start over and do it again? Why do we spend hundreds of hours competing online in Call of Duty and Battlefield? Why do we aspire to be recognized as professional athletes on a digital medium to achieve greatness through digital trophies?
So I ask again: What does it mean to be a gamer?
“If you are lonely when you’re alone, you are in bad company.” -Jean-Paul Sartre
The question has to begin with identifying what is a gamer? There are individuals that play first-person shooters religiously for 6+ hours a day, then there are those who play angry (flappy) birds during their lunch break at work. Others immerse themselves into entirely new lives through massive online games or platforms like Second Life. By strict definition Merriam-Webster defines a gamer as “a person who plays games; especially: a person who regularly plays computer or video games.”
The definition has further expanded to define sub-categories of gamers which include, but are certainly not limited to: Casual, hardcore, pro, core, newbie, retro, gaymer. You can spend countless hours on the definition alone. Regardless of what one considers to be a gamer, for the purposes of this exploration a gamer will simply be an individual who regularly plays video games. Whether you want to include angry birds into your subjective definition or not is entirely your prerogative.
Video games are often at a crux of seeking identity, purpose, and meaning. Often times those in the midst of the gaming community are ostracized and pelted with insults over social awkwardness and non-social behaviors or attraction. The gaming community has fallen into a paradox of having overcome these hurdles while the perception of the mainstream zeitgeist remains one of judgment and reserve. Sub-categories of gamers including the gaymer community have risen to give a voice to the voiceless.
So in the midst of this chaos, what has been the approach gamers have taken to find purpose and meaning in what they do? Here are the responses from a few individuals when asked “What is the point of gaming?”
So, if I were to ask you “What is the point of video games?” … what would you say?
Here are a few of the responses I’ve received so far:
“To provide a way to create a form of interactive story telling.” -C.T.
“For a narcissist like myself, the competition and the aspect of winning is awesome.” -J.L.
“To entertain.” -A.P.
“An escape and an adventure.” -A.L.
“I mean, if there is a point at all I would say: To be an extraordinary experience. To be a wonderful escape. To stimulate imagination, exploration, curiosity.” -D.B.
In other words the definition of what it means to be a gamer, or what it means to play games remains heartily within the subjective definition of those who play them. At the end of the day the term gamer, or any of its subordinate definitions serve one simple purpose: To unify and identify a community that enjoys, and often loves, an art form and medium of entertainment that often transcends the expectation of our lived experiences.
After all, purpose is the meaning of existence, whereas meaning is what something symbolizes or represents. The purpose of gaming is to provide an outlet of artistic expression and the meaning is what we make of our lived experience, whether individual or communal.
PHOTO CREDIT: Thomas Cummins
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