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Playing games to escape + real games - Issue #5

Games, Politics & Labor
This is a very short issue, mostly a personal reflection. This week has been tough. I promise to return with more.

🌸 Escaping from reality
I remember at the beginning of the pandemic, there were countless articles praising online video games for offering us the place to interact, maintain our social relations and keep in touch with friends. We downloaded Among Us, Fall Guys, League of Legends, Counter Strike, joined a Discord server with friends, and spent countless hours talking, and focusing less on the playing aspect.
We started this in March, but the farther we were going into the pandemic, we noticed our conversations becoming repetitive. He was recalling us how he got drunk a couple of years ago on the beach for the fifth time, while she was complaining about being stuck in the house. The conversations were soon predictable, and we were able even to anticipate what one would say about their daily existence.
By late April, if not May, we put a big question mark over the social aspect of video games, asking ourselves if we are actually staying in touch, or just preventing loneliness by grabbing every little strip of communication possible? Due to a fear of facing the truth, we never gave a precise answer to that question, rather succumbing to repeating daily the same mantra during our gaming sessions: I am bored, I will go now.
While we were becoming skeptical of video games being this medium to keep us in contact, we were turning to playing more video games by ourselves or simply not paying a great deal of attention. A game that was requiring us to learn new mechanics, to immerse ourselves in the lore proved to be a tough choice for the pandemic. We were going for rather predictable games, allowing us not to concentrate as much, and to listen to a podcast at the same time or watch a tv show.
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The romantic image of the video games being the place where we could safely interact has been pushed forward by various voices in the press. Paul Tassi recalls for Forbes that playing video games during the pandemic are not a scourge, but they are meant to keep both adults and children sane. Bryan Lufkin, in an article for BBC, describes online gaming as being a lifeline that allows people to interact, to keep in touch with one another and even to develop new social relations.
National Geographic joined the debate saying that during normal times, kids would have built social skills on playgrounds, in school hallways, and in the parks. While those places are inaccessible, video games act as the playgrounds, as the school hallways and as the Starbucks where kids would have had their first dates.
It is true that if we have an Internet community, we could simply log into Roblox, Fortnite or any other game to meet new people, socialise and immerse ourselves in the stories. Green and Brock defined the state of a reader becoming absorbed in the narrative world as transportation. We transport ourselves at the place where the story is happening, where the characters are interacting with one another and where the emotions hit the hardest.
During the pandemic, I have played God of War, a game about masculinity, fatherhood and the process of raising a child in a world where you have to constantly slash demons, take their spirits out and murder them in the most brutal ways. I kept my headphones very tight on my ears, listening closely to the dialogues and following Kratos and Atreus journeys throughout this virtual world. I was invested. When they burned Atreus’ mother on the rug, I felt like I couldn’t detach my fingers from the controller, while my eyes were starring at the flames taking over the body. I was transported into the world, I was there, witnessing it and mourning side by side with the characters.
The transportation process into a story could be beneficial in teaching us about certain subjects, or life values that we could later employ in life. The romantic portrayal of video games as being able to provide people with a space for interacting with one another falls short in assessing how many of us actually use it this way. Not every time we play video games, we are transporting ourselves into the stories, putting ourselves in the shoes of the characters or developing certain life-long values. In a research, interviewing over 500 participants, titled Playing a video game is more than mere procrastination, the authors found out of the four main reasons why people are playing video games, 3 of those are: breaking from stress, escaping reality and breaking from everyday life.
🎾 Have a nice weekend
May you all have a nice weekend. I have been playing GTA 5 as an escape tool those days. I have using it whenever something was happening which felt very hard to confront. Was it good? Was it bad? Hard to say at this point.
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Radu Stochita
Radu Stochita

Newsletter following the research process for my Honors Thesis which aims to understand the labor relations inside the video games industry.
Writing once a week (at least) about working inside the video game industry, the politics of games and their relationship to society.

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