Gaming is a philosophical quest.

This is the message I gleaned after listening to the latest episode in Robert Ashley’s impressive podcast series titled “A Life Well Wasted”. I normally podcast-it on a commute, but the message within the podcast was so rich and fascinating that I listened in an unprecedented way: indoors, at home, and with a cup of tea. And afterwords, I couldn’t help but feel good about my gaming habit, and the weird little quest that it continually takes me on.

 

The episode (simply entitled “Why Game?”) begins with Ashley asking people attending the Game Developers Conference why they game. It’s quite a simple and meaningful question, really. But… wait. Why do people game?

The podcast itself focuses on deep interviews with fascinating people. I won’t go into those here, because really, you should just listen to it, but know that you can expect varied and deep discussion. Particularly interesting is an innovative artistic developer (Jason Rohrer) that lives completely sustainably. That, and the fact that I heard about Elimination Communication from both my wife’s blog and a gaming podcast blows my mind.

The first, brief segment of the podcast focuses on the “why game” question, and the answers are all over the place:

“Because it’s fun.”

“It’s an escape.”

“Helps to get away from the day-to-day monotony of the horror of existence.”

But then, the answers get more hopeful. People talk about being “ambiently displaced”, and speak of the “therapeutic” qualities of games.

bully

I’m not sure what any of you think, but I’m definitely in the hopeful category. If Ken Levine is correct, that video games are a “convergence of everything”, then I want in. I want to stick myself plum in the center of another’s artistic vision, letting the “everything” surround me. I want to become enraptured by someone’s art. It’ll be like “The Nothing” in The Neverending Story. But, y’know, the opposite. See? The power of video games — it’s monumental.

Games are ridiculously entertaining, to be sure. They’re also a fine escape. But they’re also a philosophical quest, a way to immerse oneself into another person’s ideas. There’s a certain empathy one can ascertain from being another character in a game, something not too far from the techniques learned in method acting. And with that empathy, it’s not a bad way to open the door into other people’s worlds, and figure out what exactly we’re all doing here.

Of course, I can see how the association of the words ‘philosophical’ and ‘games’ may sound absurd to many. The nature of many games is a fast-paced, immature, and clumsy one. But not always. Your beloved, artistic Bukowski novel Ham on Rye isn’t far from Rockstar’s sandbox game Bully, and the graceful pick-up-and-play Flower has an intimacy and zen-like depth that’s quite close to Monet’s waterlilies. And that’s just the surface of comparisons.

flower

These are all little things, part of a large, often-convoluted world of ideas and thoughts in games. It may not always make sense, the artistic vision may not always be clear (or even artistically interesting, for that matter), but games are more than time-wasting escapism — they’re also a unique philosophical quest, an journey into characters, and, yes, naysayers — they’re an art form.

Thanks to Robert Ashley, and to the legions of gamers and thinkers that helped me see that all games — even, shiiit, Pacman — exist on levels other than simple cheap entertainment.