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Gaming Escapism?

While discussing the relative merits of Skyrim a few days ago, a friend said something to me that got me thinking about the way that some people view games and gamers. To boil it down to just a few sentences his argument was that in order for a game to be judged good or worthwhile it needs to break ground as a game, offer something new; but also should strive to be a work of art, and in a sense should better the person playing it. My response was that, given the nature of games being a mode of entertainment, shouldn’t the measure of a game’s success merely be judged on whether it is enjoyable to play? Games can be works of art, but they don’t have to be to be good games. Obviously, games breaking into new ground can be wonderful, but then a hugely enjoyable game built using familiar stories or scenarios are not therefore automatically bad games if they are done well. RPG’s are a great example. It could be said that most RPG’s are pretty similar; wandering around doing tasks to level up and make a few numbers go up. But this misses the point entirely. What makes many RPG’s great is just how fun and engrossing they are (whether down to fun combat, exploring etc) despite the fact that the overall formula is highly familiar. As for betterment I felt that this is missing the point of gaming somewhat. The argument was then made that if all it took for a game to be judged ‘good’ is whether it is enjoyable or not, then there is merely a sense of escapism about gaming. To a certain extent this may be true, but I prefer to think of it in more positive terms. Rather than escapism, games can be just a way to relax, a mode of enjoyment which does not need the sense of betterment that is so often pressed upon us in other areas of our lives, such as to look good or to strive for success at work or through academia. Games, like films, offer us the chance to experience and live out scenarios that just are not possible in the real word; such as lands riddled with small monsters that you can catch and raise; or entire worlds that you can explore and are full of elves and goblins magic and so on. Games are often something of a guilty pleasure for me, something that is done in time which I know should usually be spent writing my dissertation or picking up extra shifts at work. If this is to be a guilty pleasure then the most important thing I want from my game is a sense of enjoyment and gripping excitement. If the other values mentioned above are also present, then this is a bonus.

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One response to “Gaming Escapism?

  1. Kliban Katz ⋅

    I think we need our guilty pleasures to keep out sanity! Games as art is something near and dear to me, because many independent games go this route and have a compelling story. They’re an escape. Games like Dear Esther might bend the rules of what a traditional game is, but they’re compelling in their artistry, their execution, and their story. It feels authentic. And then there are games like Deadly Premonition, which have awful controls, but the experience is totally unique and makes me feel like the experience was all that mattered. I feel like getting a solid story from a big studio has become like DLC– it doesn’t come included. My last hope is with the indie community.

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