I’ve been a casual “gamer” my whole life, even though at this point I probably play fewer games than ever – and I don’t even own a console. But I’ve long believed that not all games are pointless fun, and a lot of them aren’t childish. The more artfully created ones can be powerful enough to change the way you see the real world.
In an earlier post I wrote about how Guitar Hero is going to save rock n’ roll. Lately I’ve been reading Chuck Klosterman‘s provocative book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, which is a collection of his witty, insightful essays on pop culture. One particularly entertaining essay concerns his experience playing The Sims, a game that involves creating and controlling a virtual person and leading them through what basically amounts to a simulation of real life. Chuck’s early findings after his simulated self gets depressed:
And why isn’t my SimChuck happy? Because he’s a self-absorbed, materialistic #$%^. This is perhaps the most disturbing element of the Sims: The happiness of the characters is directly proportional to the $%^& you elect to buy them. As far as I can tell, acquiring electronic equipment and name-brand furniture is just about the only thing Sims find psychologically satisfying.
Later, Chuck calls Sims game creator Will Wright and quizzes him about this facet of the game. Will’s response:
“Materialism is the red herring of the game,” he says. “Nobody seems to pick up on that. The more you play, the more you realize that all the stuff you buy eventually breaks down and creates all these little explosions in your life. If you play long enough, you start to realize that those things won’t really make you happy.”
Will provides a more thorough commentary on the value of games for Wired magazine.