The news is troubling. When you sit and listen to the radio, a romantic piece of equipment characterized by the joy it brings us, it quickly becomes a messenger of impending doom. News headlines seemingly scream, desperately trying to warn us of modern dangers –news anchors constantly chattering, always informing on the latest unthinkable tragedy. These are the “normal” things that helped turn my attention to video games at a young age.
I couldn’t understand why my parents watched the doom and gloom on purpose. It was like their lives were too comfortable at home so they needed to spice up their narrative by injecting some insane drama. I have since learned the more practical reasons of watching the news, but at the time it seemed more like a severely masochistic act. Why watch the news when you can pilot a starship and save the galaxy? Why, when you can assemble a team of heroes, travel across unimaginable landscapes, build close partnerships, form true companionship? Why, when you can assume control in your own world, fight back against the evil and restore justice? I’m discovering that there is considerable importance in making space for fiction in our daily lives.
In a fictional world, you can assume the role of the hero, the martyr, the law enforcer, the rebel, the dictator, a god, or an innocent bystander. From so many perspectives and stories, we build tools for empathy and compassion. People we love and encounter in-game continue to influence us beyond the screen, guiding our behavior in the real world. The experience of improving someone else’s life in-game, no matter how small, can be intoxicating and eye-opening. Have you ever been influenced by the actions of Atticus Finch or perhaps Dumbledore? Have paths in your life been even slightly guided by a character you admire? Imagine being given agency and power in your own world, safe to do what you thought was right. The lasting impressions of Commander Shepard can be very deep when her actions become your own. The real-world implications are numerous.
When you see protests become characterized as riots in the news, you may be reminded of the media-controlled world of “Deus Ex.” When you see families suffering in a militarized zone of the world, you may think of your fellow companions in “Wolfenstein II.” When you try to understand if it’s worth it to constantly resist, fighting an endless uphill battle, you may ask if it was also the right thing to do in “Half-Life 2.”
Reading and being constantly informed about the world’s situations can only take you so far. When given the power and responsibility to explore an entire galaxy filled with moral uncertainties and circumstances, you can build a new way of perceiving the world around you. It does not matter what kind of family you grew up in. If you went to church, if your parents were liberal or conservative, you can, and should, develop your own framework of seeing things. It has become apparent to me that it is an absolutely crucial act to develop our own repertoire of critical thinking to draw upon when interpreting the world around us.
I cannot say with any scientific evidence how important playing video games is for informing our behavior in the real world, but we are constantly reminded by the state of the news the importance of being proactive with our awareness. Too frequently do we repeat headlines and opinions of others. Too frequently have we assumed the role not of the individual, but of the member of a misguided movement. Take steps to alter your foundation of thinking to be more comprehensive. Go deeper. Compromise and change your own beliefs. It’s OK to change your mind.
When you next fall into that downward spiral that is the news and can’t make sense of all the doom and gloom, maybe take a break and play a video game for a bit. Hit me up for some co-op and we’ll suss it out. Don’t copy+paste some headline you agree with. Don’t take on another’s opinion just because it sounds good. Find your own agency in a world trying to hand you someone else’s. Come back after a while with a different self.
Brett Massé is currently playing “Bash the Fash” by destroyfascism