Clicking the link below will lead you to a video from the GDC (Game Developer’s Conference) vault featuring a 2013 talk from Jane McGonigal (this blogger’s favorite person…in case you haven’t noticed). While it is a video, it’s really more of an audio recording, and the video consists of the slides from her presentation. The good news is, is that there are chapters, so if you cannot listen for her complete hour talk in one sitting, you can always come back, and click on the chapter you were at last.
Normally, I would post this a link on my Tumblr or Facebook page, but considering the topic being presented, I feel like this is particularly relevant. Despite it’s negative connotation, all human beings at one time or another engage in some sort of escapism, which is basically anything that allows people to disengage from the real world for a point in time. Sometimes, it’s simple things like reading a nice book, going to the movies or a sporting event, even going for a run. Sometimes, it’s very negative like drug or alcohol addiction. Regardless, all humans do it, some, probably more than others. But why is there such a negative connotation behind it, if everyone does it? A lot of people argue that people who “escape” into something are running away, not facing their problems, and not communicating (communication…one of my favorite words) with their fellow humans. These are usually the people who don’t realize that they “escape” every once in awhile. Others see it as something that should be treated as a vice, to be rewarded with, or to feel guilty about if there are still things that need to get done. People who enjoy their “escapism” are judged by what they are and how much they are engaged in them. For example, if someone goes on a daily thirty minute run, everyday, it’s probably not that big of a deal, they’re just getting some exercise, and pumping up the endorphins. If someone is going ten, fifteen, twenty miles everyday, and is not training for a race, or on a team, probably has some stuff going on. As one social worker put it, runners who go that length for no real reason makes her question “What the hell are you running from?”
Perhaps running is a bad example. After all, there are lots of physical benefits to running. But what are the benefits of video games, or really any games, which could be considered the epitome of escapist entertainment? Well if you have been paying attention to my blog, Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter, you’ll know that games do have a lot of benefits. They can promote collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, education, communication interaction, physical rehabilitation, emotional rehabilitation, and the list goes on and on. Of course, games are a fun way to escape, I know that I definitely enjoy playing Angry Birds on my phone as much as the next person, but as a researcher, I am really intrigued at what games have to offer from a communication and innovation standpoint. Games have the potential to do some amazing things, but if it continues to be stuck in the escapist category, it’s going to be a hard sell for people like me, and others around the world. Fortunately, more and more people are turning to video games for some form of entertainment. I think this is due in part to consoles offering movie services likes Netflix and Hulu, and also functioning as DVD and BluRay players, but also the quality of games. Even my mother, who for the most part dislikes video games and finds them as only form of escapism, is amazed by the quality of the imagery, the story telling, and music of the system. She even bought a Wii for herself, because she thought the game mechanics were crazy awesome, especially with the WiiFitness game (speaking of which, I have no idea if we still have our WiiBoard…that was a fun WiiBoard). As gaming has evolved, the clientele has expanded, but it still has to shake off it’s roots as only being used as a escapism. In a famous tweet by Eric Zimmerman, which is also mentioned in the video, unlike art, music, and stories, games constantly need to justify themselves.
Art, stories, and music definitely have a lot in common with video games and other forms of gaming. All of these genres have been accused of forms of intense escapism. That their content is filled with violence, sexual undertones, and can incite impure thoughts! He doesn’t mention movies, but it might as well be lumped into the same category of violent, sex fueled, escapism. But, unlike video games, art, stories, music, and movies have at one point being heralded. Consider the Mona Lisa, the Statue of David, or the Sistine Chapel. The music of Mozart, Beethoven, musical composers like Andrew Lloyd Weber and Stephen Sondheim. To Kill A Mockingbird and Citizen Kane. These forms have become highly accepted forms of cultural significance. Even if you do not like them, you appreciate what they have done. Yet, I question if there is a game, in particular video games, that have reached that level of cultural significance. Some games I think have come close, like the Game of Life, Monopoly, Chess, Solitaire. Perhaps characters like Mario, Lara Croft, and Master Chief could be considered culturally significant, but even then I wonder if the people who dislike video games, appreciate what these characters (and their stories have done).
I am not going to say anything more because I think the video provides a very detailed description regarding the history of escapism, and how we can escape from video games being merely used as forms of entertainment. Her suggestions are very enlightening and I hope some game designers do take heart to makes games that can actually really impact lives, or provide a convincing, and strong message.
Stay tuned for the next post. Some big announcements are coming this way :)
Originally Posted on The Gameful Scholar