I would like to talk about a controversial subject: the “bad things” that can be done in video games. I’m talking about drugs, excessive drinking, thievery, intimidation, violence, and other taboo activities that can be done in real life, but that bring with them negative consequences that are often unescapable. For decades critics have bemoaned the presence of such activities in video games. They decree that being able to do these things in games encourages players to do such activities in real life, and therefore their presence in video games is abhorrent. No good can come of this, and so these activities should be removed from video games. With that said, allow me to play devil’s advocate.
A few years ago I was going through a difficult time in my life. After a particularly trying day at the office I wanted nothing more than to go out and drink a lot. The toxic environment of my workplace, low self-esteem, strained relationships, anxiety; I wanted to forget it all. But it was a Wednesday, and I knew that if I indulged in these urges I would not be able to perform my best at work the next day. So I did the next best thing: I made a new character in Skyrim, an Orc named Virag Gra-Doner. Virag was the virtual embodiment of the cocktail of turmoil I was feeling, and via her I did the things that would have gotten me into trouble in real life. Virag drank to excess, did all the drugs, served fresh sass to her employer, and did pretty much anything else that would fall under the category of “questionable life choices.” The experience of role-playing as Virag was so relieving that I continued playing as her for several more weeks. During this time something interesting happened: Virag began to get her life together. I would start playing with the intention of getting drunk and into trouble, but would be drawn to bask in the beauty of the game world over escaping from a dreary prison cell. Instead of insulting an NPC yet again, I was curious what their reaction would be if I was nice. Virag had evolved from her original purpose as a vessel for my angst; she had become a way for me to see how choices influence our experience of the world.
I do not speak for all gamers nor do I claim that my experiences are representative of everyone who has ever done questionable activities in video games. That said, I do not believe that I am alone in utilizing video games in the manner described above. Games can allow us to do things that are not possible in real life. Sometimes these things take the form of defeating great evils, forming formidable civilizations, or amassing vast fortunes. While these are pleasant opportunities, sometimes it is more cathartic and insightful to vent then to run through a field of daises.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda, MD: Bethesda Game Studios, 2011. Video Game.