The closest words I could find to describe myself in regards to this article was ‘misanthrope’ and ‘nihilistic’, and yet that’s still not entirely accurate. Technology has progressed to a level that can propagate genuine fear in the human psyche. Not the ‘50s sci-fi death robots or the ‘70s Bond movie machines-of-destruction fear, but the Phillip K. Dick-esque psychological fears. The warnings of a futuristic society broken by humanity, like those played out visually in Charlie Brooker’s inspired dark satire, Black Mirror. Which is why when I see the Microsoft Hololens that was announced a few weeks back, I can’t help but imagine then bad things that it could do. The kind of salacious things that someone like Paul Veerhoven would put in a movie as an aside like a virtual, holographic erotic dancer, being viewed by a Dad of three at breakfast – living the subterfuge of the happy families lie.
It’s not that I don’t trust the technology, but I don’t trust the operator. Which is why you could call me a misanthrope. But my opinion is that the human species are survivors and work to create the best things under the pressures of extinction and unity. In an age where I can walk 300 yards and pick up a box of Strawberries in mid-January, I feel more removed from any kind of human condition than I suspect I ever would have in previous generations. Which is why there is an escapism that I practice in video games. The escapism of the open-world dystopian/fantasy role-playing game or the escapism of a destroyed earth that you must walk to survive. Heading from realm to realm regardless of if its fiction is magical or futuristic.
If I were to list my favourite games of all time I would be sure to add Skyrim, Red Dead Redemption and Halo to that mix. Halo has a futuristic science-fiction world that borrows from many of the genres greatest tropes and presents them in a way that, while militaristic and brimming with bravado, creates the impression that there is more out there. The impression that there is more history to uncover, more secrets to be known and things more important than just throwing our DNA out to every planet with an excess of oxygen. Red Dead Redemption places itself in a changing world that operates like a Cormac McCarthy book. Its turn of the century gentrification and modernisation of the Wild West puts in to perspective how the elements of human greed and corruption have created such fallout that to live a simple, rewarding life is no longer possible and to survive in the 20th Century, some elements of the past must be destroyed to forge that.
It’s this kind of connection I make to these games that makes me invest in the character I’m playing. Not because of divine or fatalistic consequence but because a situation has made this person rediscover what it means to be a human in some way. With Skyrim the free nature of how you can create your own story, whether it is through emergent gameplay or in an intertextual way through the game’s fiction, completely places you in that world. It’s a world at war with political allegiances astray all over, the threat of large creatures destroying everything and ancient history restoring or upsetting the balance by placing you at the centre of it. The same can be said for the way that Fallout 3 operates within its own fictional world.
To bring this in to a more recent context, the same can also be said for the Dragon Age series and the latest title, Dragon Age Inquisition. Dragon Age allows you to create someone who is fatalistically placed in the centre of a predicament but the way you make choices in this world is a lot purer, if you will, than your modern day life or even many similar games. When you make choices to peruse a relationship with another character in the game, it isn’t because their dowry will be rather large or because moving in together will save a lot more money in rent. It’s because you’ve decided that particular person is someone you want to get to know, to invest in, to discover. Like love and the forging of relationships should be. When you make the decision of which members of your party should come with you, it’s because they bring the best chance of survival and the best talents to that situation.
It’s much more meaningful and dramatic compared to working on a PowerPoint as a team which you end up having to cover 75% of anyway. This is why so many people have replayed all of these games. Especially Skyrim and Dragon Age. Because there is the submission to playing the role presented before you that allows you to rise above the day-to-day postmodern nihilism that we live in. It’s the same reason people read books or view masses of DVD box sets and Netflix series. It’s even the same reason that people follow, attend and submit themselves to sports and the vast arenas they are played in; to be part of something bigger.
This is obviously escapism but because I write about games and have a passion for them, much like people do for movies, music, and other hobbies (for lack of a better word), I feel I have a much larger investment intellectually in them. So that I can see what parallels they have to our current human condition, or more to the point how the evolution of that condition has robbed us of the simpler, more honest notions in life. This misanthropy may be borne out fear but in the current context of cyber crime, viral news cycles, click bait and the anti-humanistic oppression that interconnectivity can bring, it is video games I turn to in order to remind myself of what humanity truly can be at its best and sometimes its worst. I think that is something we all need, even if video games aren’t the way you get it. Books, drama, theatre, however you remind yourself, anything is equally valid as long as you take away something human from it.