The compulsory 6AM alarm is something that we can all unanimously moan and groan about in similar fashion. It serves a purpose: We flop out of bed, half stumbling downstairs to prepare for the coming day, knowing that it’s probably not going to go as planned, but that by grinding through we can claim another slight increase on our overall pay package come the last Friday of the month. There’s also the slightly maniacally bizarre moment when we realise that what we’ve done has resulted in something entirely positive, even if the process was entirely monotonous. This said moment normally manifests itself in a slight grin or an unplanned public laugh on the journey home, even though you know that it’s only Monday and as such have four more days to deal with.
The inherent idea of routine in our quotidian lives is born obviously of reality. Nonetheless, it can very much be applied to video gaming as a medium, and is often pronounced in transparent ways. We, as a species, have a tendency to want the best materialistic bits and bobs. Just as in reality we toil away in the name of solid, financial security, we often mirror this when it comes to our beloved games, churning, and often gurning visibly, to be as set within a fictional, immersive environment as possible. There are presumably those who get rich quick by taking the dangerous path through the woods, but they are also the types who end up squandering all that they’ve gained in order to bite off more than they can chew. Most of us, when playing games, tend to want to cling loyally to our collection of spells, weapons or salmon. (Some people just really love salmon. It’s a superfood, didn’t you know!) We copy what we’ve learnt from society, because as people replication is simply the easiest road we think we can take. We weren’t told not to try hard in school and instead drop out looking for viable entrepreneurial routes, we were told to work ferociously and garner a secure future that held the highest possibility of monetary comfort.
Likewise, in a variety of games we scurry about amidst foreign fauna and barren deserts trying to dictate our own destiny. Such is the nature of the video game, that it requires something of a compulsive back-and-forth. We’re dealing with a medium that deals in glorious repetition. Whereas films and books generally have one narrative pathway, which can be just as effective, they tend to have a start and finish, a certainty that gaming has driven somewhat away from in recent times. It is true that film, books and other media can be viewed, read or listened to multiple times, but even if the experience is different, the concept and construction remains the same. With the seemingly rapid expansion of video-games into the fore of modern society, developers have been keen to add as much content as possible, potentially defining gaming as a medium that adheres to the tenets of reality due to replication of the never-ending, ceaseless day-to-day activities and interactions that we regularly experience.
Such is the case with the abundance of MMORGs, which regularly prove indicative of a fictional reality. Despite the fact that there are a multitude of options within such games as World of Warcraft and Runescape (Yes, I still roam the goblin-ridden lands) the principles for the majority of players continues to be the repetitive motion of collection and advancement of primal skills as a means of vague success. Runescape is an interesting game to spotlight, in that it, out of many, many games, truly showcases the numerous players’ inability to defer from the collective, community activity of consistent and persistent levelling through that most tedious of tasks, grinding. For a simple comparison of time spent on the game, compared to current progress, look no further than yours truly who has spent hundreds of hours on mining copious amounts of iron, simply for the reason of selling it and earning a nice, pleasant keep.
Is this not what we do though in life? Unless I’m living in some The Prisoner inspired isolated island, then do we not chug away endlessly as a means to an end? You see, gaming is such an interesting medium of study, because it draws from reality even if the overriding superficiality of the graphics determines that it can never do so. There’s almost certainly a determined compulsiveness to gaming that genuinely, despite its tediousness, is an element derived from general lifestyle.
To push the very aforementioned issues, perhaps we’ve become self-replicating machines. It’s an interesting idea to ponder upon, one that isn’t necessarily something that seems logical. Nevertheless, when we continuously advance a skill in a game, we’re replicating that which we’re doing in life. Normally, or at least, thus far, people only refer to a self-replicating machine as a mechanical device, but surely it can be applied to a human replicating himself in a fictional universe, creating an eerily similar character of him or herself, in order to furthermore copy the inherent actions of the ordinary daily slog. Whether we’re mining in Terraria, gathering herbs and edibles in Oblivion or simply collecting coins in Temple Run, we’re actively playing games in a fashion that leans towards the simple, yet strange idea of surviving through the repetitive.
The most obvious, recent example of this is through Mojang’s Minecraft, which has become something of a phenomenon among the independently made games catalogues. I often see reasoning about why the game has been so successful, people citing nostalgia through the similarity to Lego, others claiming it’s the simplicity of the game, (it’s not, it’s hard when it wants to be), but surely it’s that you’re constructing your life akin to the way we do in normal society. In the game, we craft and mine for minerals that will allow us to make a home, create a familial environment and therefore live a cushy lifestyle, all with the undercurrent of being able to survive lurking in the background.
We’re building and creating life. It’s unusual and perhaps far-fetched to think this way, but we are. We’re mimicking what we do everyday, from the humble beginnings of a young twenty-something, to a fifty year old, who through working hard, and most likely repetitively, has carved a nice life for him or herself. In Minecraft, there is that horrendous struggle when we’re plummeted onto the map for the first time, with nothing but our hands as a tool to start our journey. By the time we’ve found a few minerals here and there, we seem to be more solidified in terms of security, perhaps having created a small abode that acts as protection against the elements and all that encompasses the world outside. Ultimately, what has happened is something truly remarkable; using the tenets of the life we hold dear, we’ve replicated it in digital form.
If Plato was indeed correct, and art is in fact a replication of reality, then surely gaming is a medium that doesn’t deserve such unnecessary criticism when it comes to adhering to the upper echelons of a constantly mutating term. Regardless, what is happening when we imitate reality through a generally fictional medium is just as important as dictating what determines art or whether something has artistic merit. It’s what makes gaming such an inherently interesting subject to discuss and analyse, because at the end of the day, we’re subconsciously, unintentionally taking aspects from our reality and implementing them onto a computer screen.
So, when the next inevitable 6AM alarm cries out shrilly and you berate the future monotony of the day, remember to mourn the character on the game you were potentially playing the day before.
Because, when all’s said and done, they’ve had to endure the same terrible pain.