Gamifying Our Lives


Games are EVERYWHERE. It’s scary. It’s like everything is being turned into a running joke via video games. It’s like …peak hedonism, if we may. Gamification, when abused, teaches us that we ought not take anything seriously. Just think about it: Gamification means we take some ordinary routine human activity and turn it into sport in order to encourage us to want to engage in it. So we consume games on every topic imaginable with a strong emphasis on violence of all varieties (physical, emotional psychological, etc) for the purposes of entertainment. This isn’t an essay on how games create murderers, but it’s important to point out the ways in which companies use gamification these days to sell us things we’d ordinarily find repulsive. As an experience it feels like they think that if they just make a game out of a serious topic it’s some how less serious, something we can be cool about and regard as No Big Deal. Happens all the time? Prevalent on every corner? Are games are trying to send the message that if you just “level up” in your life you’ll overcome and things will be better and you’ll win recognition as one who has triumphed over the evils of the world? Or something like that.


Today, iBeg is now called Homeless and it’s developers have tried to make it more sensitive by doing more community outreach.

It’s not clear why we need to gamify homelessness. Not sure at all why we gamify rape. What in the world are we trying to achieve by gamifying war? No, really – what is supposed to entertain us about war …or even ask: are we supposed to be learning something? Why is this a game? Why do I enjoy this? Maybe the real question is whether war is actually just a game and societies just try to make them into something we should take seriously. Hmm, maybe we’ve got it all wrong …

And what are games supposed to be doing anyway with these topics? There was a time when our fascination with games was their ability to work up our imaginations and make our brain cells sizzle with delight as we solved problems. It didn’t matter if it was leaping from platform to platform, aiming objects perfectly, stacking blocks at high speeds or anything else. Today, however, games have the ability to teach us things without us having to actually do them. The lesson is more potent when there’s a realistic chance that the thing we’re doing in the game syncs with things we need to do everyday. In this sense, games broaden our experience and extend skills, while also being capable of showing us the problems of things we may previously have believed to be harmless.

All of that depends on developers actually giving a damn about more than shits and giggles. It depends on them seeing the nobility of their own craft, its potential as something far greater than an instrument of entertainment. In the cases of poverty and violence, it means less focus on glory or comfort, and more emphasis on the realities of how and why these things happen. Humans love learning. We find it immensely satisfying and exciting. Games won’t suddenly lose their appeal if we begin to actually benefit from their mechanics. All the same, every game doesn’t have to be a serious thing. I just think they don’t ever need to trivialize serious matters to be entertaining. I think this is precisely where many games go completely wrong.

On the ultra nerdy side of things, if we look at gaming for what it is we’ll see it’s just really elegant and fascinating equation design for human behavior. Games are translating the rhythms of our daily life into algorithms, mathematical expressions predicting how people work, how things happen, and how we can mechanize our daily activities. Just think about that for a second: Games are basically well designed loops which predict and encourage human behavior in order to entertain us. You can’t play Super Mario without jumping, thumping gumbas, and banging your head on boxes. But why would someone feel compelled to keep doing that? There’s an equation for that. What about the more complex games like Dragon Age? It’s like swordsmanship can be reduced into simple arithmetic. How hard you hit that monster relies on a simple formula that calculates just how much force is required by a character of your skill to lop his head off in one stroke. Just an equation.

These guys will actually just stare at you until you get too close ...then they'll *think* about killing you ...yikes.

These guys will actually just stare at you until you get too close …then they’ll *think* about killing you …yikes.

Of course this is a gross over simplification. There’s way more maths involved in programming our most complex games. The ones with the AI that’s spookily responsive, like say an old favorite, Demon’s Souls. The computer knows you’re there and there’s a lot of thought that goes into making the computer recognize human activity …AND RESPOND TO IT! Math, math everywhere.

So gaming is essentially a history of how developers are getting better at mapping out human interaction through equations. And who says math is useless?

As gaming ages, it becomes important to think more about what we’re doing with gamification. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes its weird and sometimes it’s totally inappropriate. Games are one of the most important developments on the map of human progress. For the first time, we can learn about the consequences of our actions without killing living things. That is, of course, the other edge of the sword: consequences are important to training our morals. As we age with our newfound technology, we will have to be conscious of developing ways of maintaining our humanity and reverence for life.

Scree Tags: #gamification #socialissues #gamertalk

There and Back: Sword Art Online, The MMO Thought Experiement

Ah, a series I never got around to finishing. It’d be over a year late, but better late than never eh? It’d be worth at least two more follow ups. Late in the Sword Art Online series the content becomes …strange. But still a great anime series worth watching.

There are no edits below. Today, the pure article is yours. It can be found here at T.R. Red Skies as well.

Kotaku recently reposted links to some of their favorite articles this year. One of them reminded me of the anime series they turned me onto this year, Sword Art Online. It’s basically a thought experiment about MMOs or virtual worlds. As ever, without these kinds of reminders I rarely get the ideas to write about them so thanks for all the inspiration out there 🙂

This is an anime about real living in an MMO world. For the sake of not spoiling it for anyone, I strongly recommend you not look below the “Start” header below if you haven’t seen at least the first 3 episodes (they are about 20 min long apiece). It’s worth watching for an hour in order to understand the story. Plus, it’s actually a really fun story and I think MMO gamers can appreciate it a lot.

Good anime excels at constructing really philosophical thought experiments about questions which we always ask ourselves, but never seriously answer or explore. The questions posed in the series aren’t unique; what’s unique is it attempts to explore the issues of virtual worlds. The show isn’t perfect. The object isn’t to construct a perfect, flawless story but to explore issues through simple thought experiments. It’s entertaining and the scenarios are very intriguing! I’ve watched it dozens of times and it never fails to engage me. It’s just fun so check it out!

EDIT: I recently watched the second half of the series and I wanted to add warnings for sensitive viewers. Episodes 17, 18, and 24 could be triggering. This is especially true for episode 24 which has what I’d consider a rape scene. Episode 17 has strong sexual harassment and 18 walks even closer to the line of assault; in both cases threats of rape are present. Viewer beware.

Start (spoilers ahead)

First Episode: Watch @ Crunchroll

For the sake of understanding the article, I highly recommend you take 20 minutes and enjoy the first episode linked above. I promise to return your brain cells if any happen to die in the course of watching it. Virtual brain cells of course. It’s much more likely you’ll get a very fun experience out of it.

Logging in to AincradI have found over the years that anime is difficult to dissect episode by episode unless each one is truly a unique story. In the case of SAO, it’s an entire story told over a couple dozen episodes. The first episode really sets us up with exciting questions which have concrete connections to our feelings about MMOs. It puts a lot of the core questions on the table here which are explored one by one in each episode. That’s why it’s best to watch at least the first 3 episodes, or if you enjoy anime then the first 10 episodes at a minimum. I think those encompass the core and more interesting questions for gamers.

It’s 2022 (or so) and Sword Art Online is the newest online virtual MMORPG where gamers can buy a fancy set of headgear and actually play the game in first person — the only controller is your mind.  The story takes place in the virtual world of Aincrad in which there is no magic. Only sword combat. The MMO has a lot of features that any eastern gamers would immediately recognize. While it’s got common general features with popular western titles like  leveling, towns, and gear there are elements which are distinctly eastern such as the way experience works, re-spawns, and other stuff which becomes more apparent throughout the series.

The Logout BugThe first dilemma for the players comes when they discover the log out button is missing from the menu! At first, most people write it off as a bug and even when they’re force teleported to the beginner city some believe it’s part of an opening ceremony. But soon the truth reveals itself: this is a feature of SAO and no one can log out. The only way to leave Aincrad is to beat the game. All 100 levels. Oh and if you die? It’s real; your body in the real world will die. Your task becomes twofold: to survive and to beat the game so you can live to tell the tale.

I used to be a pretty hardcore MMO gamer (hardcore in the sense that I played them non-stop for years). I’m sure the idea of being trapped in a virtual world is scary for most of us. It’s not that this question is so unique; so many of us have asked this question for years at various moments in our lives, especially in our gaming careers. We’re like the Matrix generation in that regard, so the game isn’t being brilliant in posing the question. Instead, it raises other related questions about gamer expectations and the delivery of the experience.

If a video game such as SAO was crafted in the real world, how accepting of bugs and flaws would we be in our games? Think about it: a bug that can potentially trap your mind in a virtual world. I think we’d possibly far less forgiving than we currently are. In fact we tend to expect there to be bugs, even critical failures such as not being able to log in or teleport to a town or get stuck. I question whether bugs ought to be acceptable at all, but then I know that games ought to be allowed flaws. Maybe we can just focus on not having critical bugs instead of the over-ambitious No Bugs stance. That would require well thought out game design, thorough such that the major areas of concern are practically bug proof. This is doable. It’s the reason we can count on airplanes to remain airborne and that feces doesn’t make it into our drinking water. The critical areas of solving those problems have been well designed such that even if the system possesses some minor bug or flaw, the stability of it isn’t compromised or lethal to users. How do game designers feel about delivering that kind of reliable experience, where gamers would trust that they could log in to their virtual worlds without fear?

From a different perspective …how many of us wouldn’t mind living permanently in a virtual world? Imagine you could log out at will, but that you could also literally live your life as a virtual creature. There are ways to sustain the body and handle waste which could make it possible. How many of us would choose that option?

This is also not a fresh question, yet I just haven’t given that much thought about how I would choose if this were literally the case. Yeah, we’ve all heard the question, but how many of us have attempted to seriously answer it? Technologically, we’re just a few years away from being capable of delivering an SAO-type virtual world. Would you trust game designers with a track record of buggy games enough to try their VR MMO?

I think I wouldn’t choose to live in the virtual world permanently, but I do consider it a valid option. It could be very pleasant and it could allow me to realize so much of my potential in an ageless, unrestricted world which thrives on my creativity. That’s very appealing. Of course, there might be limits technologically and by design of the game, but surely far less limiting than the real world. It’s interesting to think of all the possibilities and to know that they’re within reach in a virtual world! Yet that can’t be an unlimited good thing for humans. The real world is …well, real.

Kirito's IdentityThen there’s the question of identity. This is possibly one of the most discussed topics in the MMO community. In SAO, after players learn they can’t log out the game master then strips away their fictional identities. Everyone appears in-game exactly as they appear in the real world. Some players discover that their friends look extremely different while others have similar virtual and real appearances (such as Klein and Kirito). What does identity do to us as players?

In Aincrad given the current circumstances, it seems necessary to maintain your true identity instead of concealing it through an avatar. The players are stuck in the game; is it more beneficial for their well-being to live there as themselves? Or more dangerous? Maybe it doesn’t matter.  What the story does tell us though is that the game is filled with all kinds of people; old people, teenagers, men/women, and even small children.  It shows a reasonably diverse audience which doesn’t conform to traditional stereotypes. (It’s worth noting the game is dominated mostly by Japanese players so it’s got limited ethnic diversity.) It also makes the statement that our identities are important, both virtual and real. There are consequences, good and bad, for our avatars or lack thereof.

In SAO there are small, vulnerable children playing the game. Sometimes alone without an adult. Wasn’t it better to have their identity concealed? It might have protected them from less than good people or un-rehabilitated criminals. Was there a benefit at all to revealing true identities?

Identity Crisis

“You’re a guy?”
“…and you’re not 17?”

When I log in to virtual worlds I tend to favor short characters, like dwarves. Failing that I like to be green. But the avatars I’ve made which look most similar to me also embody a lot of my perceived personality. For example, the only human character I played in WoW was a priest who was faithful to no religion. Instead, I liked to think of him as a person who lived by the circumstances whether that lead him to the shadows or to the light. My rangers were a dwarf and an orc. My warlock was a gnome.  How did my true identity manifest itself though these characters?

In SAO, players have to deal with this question and others. On the one hand Kirito prefers to hide his identity which seems to affect his preference to solo the game. Klein on the other hand is a very open person; the disappearance of his identity allows him to own it fearlessly. This is shown by the way he begs Kirito to teach him how to play, his willingness to share his friends list and also, once their true appearances appear, to confess he finds Kirito attractive. Only at that moment does Kirito volunteer something about himself. Otherwise, by remaining solo he gets to continue to conceal his identity. This has consequences later in the series for both of them.

As they discover they are compatible comrades, they vow to maintain their friendship in order to survive the game. However, Klein joined the game with his real world friends. When Kirito begins planning the ways they can conquer the world together, Klein’s first response is that he has friends in the courtyard that he just can’t leave behind. It’s at this moment that they part and go their separate ways. I really liked this introduction to how we deal with our virtual friends and our real friends within virtual worlds.

Klein's DilemmaLoyalty has always been a tricky thing to gauge in a game, but lately it’s become rather elusive. Whereas earlier virtual friends represented people you cared about because you shared the same fantasies and interests, the evolution of social gaming has meant you’re supposed to bring your friends to the game instead of the game bringing friends to you. This subtle, but powerful dynamic questions our loyalties because it challenges our distinction between real world/real friends with virtual world/virtual friends. The line blurs at virtual world/real friends or virtual friends/real world, which  then divides our loyalties between real life and virtual life. I think we feel less obligated to virtual commitments, but there doesn’t appear to be a significant reason for that since virtual friends are still real people, and real experiences occur in virtual worlds.

For Kirito, survival is the most important thing and they should act quickly and independently in order to get ahead of the crowd; to put space between themselves and the anonymous masses. For Klein, he’s not willing to survive by leaving his friends behind. He decides to stay in the beginner city in order to find his friends. So how do gamers today view their virtual worlds and friends? Why do they seem easy to dismiss? What, if anything, do these interactions say about us?

Game MasterThere are also the questions of how game masters treat their players or deal with problems the player has and how we think about relationships in games. The GM in SAO is pretty brutal; he’s kidnapped his players and is holding a microwave gun to their heads. On its face, this characterization of GMs seems a bit too exaggerated to take seriously. Yet the principle in question raises an important issue. We are at the mercy of game designers when it comes to our game experience. It is their world that they are sharing with us and for the most part we have very little say in it. Sure we can critique the game, but in the end it’s theirs to design. What are the dangers, if any, of GMs having such control over the player experience?

Does GM abuse occur in our MMOs? It most certainly does. This is the issue raised by a principle we take for granted: that GMs have ultimate control over our experience, even if they allow us to participate in our own unique way. They define all the rules, make all the content, and control all the rewards. Yet, these things aren’t themselves dangerous. It’s more a matter of how GMs use their power to deliver an exciting gaming experience to us. In Aincrad, this is manifested in the worst way. But there will be plenty to say about this later in the series. For now, let’s just keep that question swirling around in our minds for a bit.

SAO also asks about our more intimate lives: who is home with you while you’re immersed in virtual worlds? If something were to happen to you, who would know to check on you? Are children equipped to deal with virtual reality? So much to explore, so many questions, but it’s the first episode. To learn how the series answers these questions, you’ll have to stay tuned.


There and Back: Healthy Competition

I’ve always wanted to improve on this article and maybe I’ll find the time in the near future. What is healthy competition and is there such a thing? Last year I listened to a presentation by Alfie Kohn – whose work I wasn’t aware of at the time – which completely threw my understanding of healthy competition into a flux. When I wrote this piece, I believed there was such a thing. Today, I’m not so sure.


Video games can often be sort of “naturally” competitive. As long as there are stats and numbers, players can and usually will compare them to see who’s doing better. Competition is often just a way of socializing results with peers, but sometimes it can become a bloodsport. That kind of competition, I’ll argue, isn’t very healthy.

Over at Psychology of Video Games not too long ago, Jamie Madigan wrote about the gameplay of competition, how events actually play out through a game amongst groups of people. In his article he reviewed 3 studies which I’m not able to view without paying a bit of money (hey, I can’t run a no-ad blog AND pay for research). One study looked at cognition: do players think more aggressively after competitive games? The other 2 generally looked at whether players acted on those thoughts during gameplay. Unsurprisingly, all studies concluded that there’s a relationship between how players play and how that might characterize their immediate interactions.

I’m a cooperative gamer. I believe I’m not very good at competitive games because of it. Part of the appeal of coop games is that I find teamwork more satisfying than 1-upping.  However, I do engage in competitive games all the time …with friends. Competing against strangers feels weird to me. I believe it’s because I don’t care about the other player; there’s no meaningful connection to make competing against them engaging. Yet I have friends who love Horde mode almost exclusively because it’s anonymous. I have others who love killing me in competitive games. Who’s to say this is unhealthy?

Defining the Competition

I found a really good article on the definition of healthy competition versus unhealthy using a random Google search. The idea was to learn how others view competition and get a sense of how others perceive competition and it’s benefits/flaws. Here’s one that I found which has become a favorite:

Healthy competition encourages everyone involved to push themselves harder than they would have without competition, and as a result they achieve more personal or professional growth whether they won or lost. Healthy competition expands the boundaries of what you believed was possible for yourself. And it encourages you to admit to others that you’re ambitious.

Unhealthy competition is when your reaction to others’ success is negative, rather than inspiring and motivating to you. Unhealthy competition is where you hope others have limitations because you are afraid your limitations will cause you to lose unless they are somehow held back. Unhealthy competition is where you associate shame with losing rather than see your own nobility for trying. – Ivory Madison @ Red Room

I thought this was a really nice, simple and common description of healthy competition. It acknowledges that healthy competition is about personal growth while also pointing out that what makes competition unhealthy is getting enjoyment from others’ failures. Nice, neat, straight forward.

Ivory went on to say that healthy competition requires courage, because in the act of throwing oneself into competition we have to be willing to show our vulnerability, willing to accept the risk that we might fail and fail publicly.

So …can this theory be applied to competition in video games? When is a round of Counterstrike unhealthy? And what about griefing? Are players who only enjoy PvP against much weaker or vulnerable players engaging in unhealthy competition? Are these players afraid to combat others of equal power? Maybe it’s just sadism or maybe, somehow, the game (by design) hasn’t created a space for healthy competition.

Our Personal Experiences

Personally, I view competition as an opportunity for cooperation. Just think about it: if I’m a competitor in a game or a sport or for a scholarship, I’m not actually trying to make my opponents lose so much as I’m just trying to win. That means I focus on self-improvement, not sabotage. I’d define unhealthy competition as the latter. Whenever competing isn’t about improving yourself, then that’s probably a sure sign you’re not getting anything out of it. And if that’s the case, then what’s the point? In healthy competition, everyone involved improves, learns something new, or overcomes something about themselves. I guess the way some of us view losers might be the real problem.

And what about those who just like whipping others? What about those whose fun is derived from some else’s misery? I don’t think we need a scientific opinion to see there’s something not quite right here. Why should someone be thrilled that they’ve made someone cry or upset or unhappy in a video game? I would say this is unhealthy competition.

The joy of competition doesn’t come from triumphing over your opponent, but triumphing over your own fears and vulnerabilities. It’s proving to yourself that you are skilled and/or that you’ve improved. Your winning doesn’t mean that your opponent sucks so much as it means you’ve gotten better. For the “loser”, they have now discovered their own weaknesses and where they can improve. They’ve also probably learned a thing or two from you. In other words, there are no losers in this scenario.

But what about prizes and awards? Again, I’d say the real reward is self-improvement. My views on the meaning of winning haven’t changed much since I last wrote about them. Sure, it’s nice to have someone toss money at you for improving but at the end of the day that external prize isn’t the point. While I think it’s important for our victories to be acknowledged, I don’t believe external prizes are the ends. They’re just symbols and accolades for posterity.

In victory, it’s not about the win. It’s about overcoming. And that in itself is a powerful thing.

Ever meet a sore loser?

These are people who see their failure to win as shameful, but more than that sore losers see their opponents victory as demeaning to them. An example: I have a friend who’s definitely a sore loser, to the point that none of us will play a competitive game against him.  He has to be on our team or not play at all. For him winning is about image, how others view him and losing is about how he views himself. When he wins, he believes others perceive him as successful and worthy and in turn he feels successful and worthy. When he loses, he believes others see him as a disgrace and in turn he feels disgraced. I remember being a sore loser as a kid. I hated losing so much that it would just make me angry. I think now it had to do with feeling that I wasn’t good enough or somehow losing proved that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. It’s ok to not want to lose, but understanding loss is the only way we can learn to win. I think this how some of us might feel when we say we don’t care about winning, but that we enjoy friendly competition.

I’d say games like League of Legends has an extremely competitive community. I’d also say it’s one of the most unhealthy gaming environments on the planet. The toxicity is historic despite all efforts of good players and the developers. In contrast, I see the SpaceChem community as an amazingly healthy competitive community. But why? I’ll leave that to you to answer.

So how do you define healthy competition?

There and Back: Industrialization of MMOs

Not quite as old as the others I’ve re-published, but it’s topic makes it a good time to raise the discussion once again. This is the original version, no edits.

MMOs have a depressingly familiar flavor to them these days no matter which one you play. It’s the kind of impression that leaves some of us feeling like it’s all the same grind, similar to some things in the real world — things we were hoping to escape from. Part of this impression we’re experiencing is the industrialization of MMO content.

Robot Assembly Line Image

This is basically the process for generating content in MMOs. Except it’s still done by people.

The over-production of quests, items, and dungeons are some of the results of this industrialization. The feeling that you’re consuming the same gameplay simply regurgitated by competing companies is ever-present. Their mass production reminds players that there’s nothing special about virtual worlds. The worlds represent a symbol of something and is nothing in and of themselves.

The earliest MMOs relied almost strictly on players as content. Quests were scarce, instances non-existent and resources for game development were usually poured into creating a richer world experience. One day, this model split into two primary models: theme park MMOs and open world MMOs (e.g. sandbox). For example, theme-park MMOs made their debut in 2004, with World of Warcraft. That game was a true cross between old school content delivery and the emerging ideology of theme park design. At the time, it was an amazing improvement on the traditional formula; the game became much more accessible to those who had never played an MMO while veterans got an exceptionally polished, improved game. These days WoW is like the McDonald’s of MMOs …and no one thinks McDonald’s is particularly good, exciting or awesome. It’s just familiar, consistent comfort food that makes us feel safe about eating there (the irony of this shouldn’t be lost on anyone). McDonald’s serves industrialized food.

Theme park MMOs function exactly like theme parks elsewhere, like Disneyland. It’s a vast, mass market, fantasy rendering of an idealized world. Nothing is real, yet it feels exactly how you want it to feel and it idealizes reality in a way that alters our expectations of the real world. Talking mice, fairies, castles, and magic wands …all of these are features in the theme park alongside the side shows and thrill rides. They are there to entertain. As a collection they are designed to allow visitors to wander around all day in any manner they like: in groups, by themselves, and it even invites them to blend in and become invisible (costuming). Most importantly, theme parks aren’t designed for meeting new people or even for enjoying the attractions with them. That is incidental. Friends and family are only welcome insofar as they also pay an entry fee and the park would like their money. Interaction is not encouraged and not discouraged, but is an ever available option since you are constantly surrounded by people. Does this sound like any MMO you have ever played or heard of? It should.

Maps Image

Their similarity is both expected and surprising. It’s one way that we can understand that the design of each place is extremely similar.

A game like Ultima Online can’t really be termed a sandbox as we know them today. It was more like a virtual space, a 3D chat room even, where players could role-play and share in the same fantasy. It acted as an environment for player imagination to thrive. Sandbox in modern terms conjures up images of games like Minecraft or EVE Online, where game developers literally give players the tools to create their own content within the virtual realm. In this way, players themselves are the content and also the content generators. This is a fairly recent development in MMOs though this concept made it’s first appearance in A Tale in the Desert (to be fair, all of these games dropped practically within a year of one another so “first” is a matter of publishing date, not idea conception).


When we industrialize something, we streamline it’s production in order to mass produce a product rapidly and more efficiently for consumption. Quality matters less than quantity and the former usually slides ever closer to mediocrity with every “improvement” of the production line. However, the quality becomes decreasingly important the more people are using the product. It’s ubiquity makes it a natural occurrence in society and it becomes standard fare to the extent that everyone is expected to know about it and have experience with the product. Like McDonald’s.

In MMOs, mass production of quests, dungeons, and gear peaks annually. The ubiquity of these three features within the genre speaks to this. Their use has less to do with gameplay enhancement than with manufacturing them pack the game with “features” and boast about them in the hopes that it’s “enough” content to keep players constantly paying. The consequence is that these features lose all of their initial meaning and sink into near irrelevance; the features don’t represent anything; gameplay achievements signify nothing but themselves.

World of Warcraft is a game which suffers irreparably from over-industrialization, but it’s hardly alone. Guild Wars, Star Wars, The Secret World all suffer the same. Development is clearly dictated by how many more people the company can get into the game. This is seen by players in efforts to “dumb down” or otherwise remove any uniqueness among players. Probably what’s more important is that game development technology, the best available, is almost tailored to crafting the games that are already successful, thus it’s not hard for new games to look and play exactly like their predecessors.

From a development philosophy standpoint, it’s the corruption of the meaning of equality: developers believe that time-spent is the single most important variable when determining what’s fair gameplay. To that end, removing gameplay elements which allow players to accrue power or achievement over time is mandatory to keep the game “fair.” They even the playing field by making all feats attainable no matter how little effort is put into it.  They patronize the player-base, appealing to their vanity instead of their ambition. The game becomes mediocre in the same way that McDonald’s is.

Unfortunately, we still live in an industrialized world and the governing values are those of industrialization. Games aren’t so unique of an industry that they would remain untouched by it. Yet the shifts in technology are changing the way we think about games everyday …hopefully these shifts will occur soon in the MMO genre. It desperately needs to arrive into the 21st century.

Male Power Fantasies in Gaming

This is another relevant throwback article I wrote a couple years ago. It’s always funny to read my old self. I’ve learned so much since then, but there’s still some good information here so it’s worth reposting. In fact, I’ve updated the whole thing. There’s also a link to the original article if you want to have fun watching me change. EDIT: Some pictures didn’t properly display. Also, it appears some edits didn’t get properly transferred over. My mistake. I’ve recovered them.

My purpose here is not to show how males are exploited or are victims of something. The broader culture is structured to reward males for their conformity to sexism such that even while their presentation is problematic, men are the clear beneficiaries. In this article, I want to  examine those presentations and respond to some of the most vile defenses of them. I’m targeting men, but I think any reader can gleen an idea or two from what follows.

Something We Have to Know About Ourselves to Understand Our Fantasies

I’m not going to explain “Not All Men …“. We’re all intelligent creatures, yeah? This is directed to whom it applies. All men can learn to question their interest in fantasies, especially the power and the sexual ones, which are often intertwined in the imagery of games. Receive this only as an opportunity for personal introspection, not an attack on your person.

wow_alexstrasza_by_gooloo0_o-d32edoqSo who is this picture really painted for? Why is it painted in this way? I have my own theory. It goes like this: the artist, especially if male, is painting for a male audience. His goal is to idolize sex itself. The woman is simply a necessary element to demonstrate his heterosexuality. If he could do it without painting a woman, he would but most male artists are never this clever and creative. They opt for the woman. She’s an obvious marker of heterosexuality to other men, so the art will read easily with a male audience. Next, the sex. Sexualized images of women focus on the big two, tits and ass, to help men fixate to get it up. If her back has to be contorted and her breasts immeasurably large, then the more sexual the picture is. When it comes to sex education, men learn that their erection is the most important component. The harder, the better. To get it on rock we must fixate our minds on something that turns up the intensity. We learn to do this so we don’t embarrass ourselves when the moment comes. When the moment comes, we want to prove our manhood — be as hard and erect as humanly possible. You just can’t get there pre-sex without fixation.

Back to the art work: so the focus on those two essential parts of a woman’s body aren’t really about the woman. They’re about demonstrating manhood, proving to peers that you too know the secrets to a good hard on. That’s what all winking, nodding and loud approvals are about. It’s got nothing to do with the woman. She’s invisible. The painting is of breasts and buttocks. This is objectification incarnate, a literal object in human form. She’s been completely reduced out of humanity in the name of erections and manhood.

avengers-posing-like-womenAs me and my closest friends got older, we had some very revealing conversations about our actual sexual tastes. Chief among them was that it wasn’t boobs and bottoms that did it for us. One friend couldn’t resist long hair — he later learned he liked it on men as much as women. Another liked high pitched voices. Boobs and bottoms were nice in the moment, but they were not essential to the physical attraction. I suspect this is true for most men, that our tastes vary and that any given picture of a sexualized woman isn’t actually our thing — but we can never publicly say so for fear of the relentless shaming. It’s much easier to just go along to get along.

Women are only tangentially necessary to prove male heterosexuality, a checkbox on the list of Masculinity. The less like people they are, the better because it’s not about demonstrating our love of women, but our solidarity with other men. Remember: men don’t get points with other men by being loving. We get the respect of other men by being emotionless, hard, tough, and, most of all, heterosexual. Sexualization of women in games is primarily about homosociality among men. Masculinity is a performance men do for other men and in which women are only a prop.


By making fantasy depictions of women normative, sexism remains part of our daily mode of operation. This mostly goes unexamined and unquestioned, and that’s key to the perpetuation of it. It’s not just a few sexists in an otherwise non-sexist society, which would be easier to fix. It’s institutions that reproduce it. So remember this when you hear the following arguments:

  • There’s no such thing as sexism. The argument goes that since no man in the vicinity has qualified the alleged sexism (only they can be trusted to identify it), sexism is a myth. Men and women act the way they were born to act, that this lopsided relationship between them is natural. Cries of sexism are just women acting emotional, as is their natural condition or some variation thereof.
  • Sexism without sexists. This argument accepts that sexism actually exists, but no one anyone knows is sexist. Your friend isn’t sexist, you aren’t sexist, you haven’t seen sexism in the work place, it’s not happening in your games, and on and on. The supporting arguments for this are that sexism is ONLY when your grandpa tells your grandma to get in the kitchen (but even that kind of sexism is ok because it’s natural), that sammich jokes are funny, and that chivalry is Good for Women. There are no sexists. This ultimately has the same implications as the first argument.

It’s supposed to feel like things are just normal. That’s what structural problems feel like: Normal. That’s what makes them difficult problems to address. Normality means acceptance, even if what’s happening is wrong or negatively impacting certain groups. Normality means status quo, “that’s the way it is”. It means those who benefit from normalcy are blind to it (the privileged).

Our Complexity Reduced to XY

In fantasy art, men have motives, problems, goals and dreams, and a strong sense of justice. We bring the law because heroes are the law — they cannot be corrected and they are the solution to every problem. We’re complex, complicated, multi-dimensional characters dealing with fate. We’re capable and competent, trustworthy and loyal. We epitomize everything that’s worth redeeming about mankind and that’s an important message of the fiction: men represent the reason everything is worth redeeming and we are there to correct things. And people.

On the other end though, our heroes are shallow, ever the revenge driven patriarch out to protect us from ourselves. Socialization teaches us that these are innate features of male biology, the emotional under-development and drive to violence. And as they say, when you’re a hammer everything is a nail. Male violence is always justified as natural and righteous.

In the end our complexity is reduced to biological rage that’s channeled into the role of lawbringer and protector. So much of the “development” of male heroes is in explaining why their violence is righteous. In the end, our complexity is reduced to a chromosome which we are slaves to, the opposite to that in-control hero we project in our fantasies.

The Art of Heroism and Absence of Heroinism

Superman Male Power FantasyAesthetically, what’s attractive about the superman is his confidence and power. His posture and physique exude it. This is what men are supposed to aspire to: strength which grants confidence that commands respect. The fantasy images aren’t for women (again, women aren’t even important to the artist), but for men. It’s rare to encounter images that are created to celebrate female heroism.

The art of the male and female hero is about inspiring power in men. Male hero figures are all about strength. It’s a fantasy about power. The female figures are also about power …sexual power for men (imagery that inspires erections, which is a symbol of our potency). Sexualization is actually about sexualizing male power. Again, the woman is merely a prop in this process. She’s not important.

Heroes are natural born leaders. That’s why most of them are men. Our place as men is at the front, to dominate because that’s what heroes do (“it is natural for men to lead”). Media messaging for men tells us that we must aspire to these things, because they define true manhood. Every man is taught to pursue true manhood. We cannot fall short of these expectations or else we risk being ostracized, shamed and having our man card revoked.

Remember those words “be a man”. What do they mean? These images are attempting to draw that out for us.

Of Women and Redemption

Through it all, the messaging in our fantasy tells us that men, as in males, must be redeemable, no matter what.

Masculinity is power, and power is attractive. The women in these games want these heroes because they’re strong, powerful figures. Or at least that’s the narrative. The sexual aspects are subtle, but present. The images of men are rarely sexualized in the same way that women are, but rather their power is sexualized. It’s a kind of balance to maintain the humanity of the character. Too much focus on raw power, and you’re the bad guy; too little and you’re as useful as the female characters.

Kratos Male Power FantasyLet’s look at Kratos from God of War. There’s a moment in the game where he lays Aphrodite, tames the goddess in her own sanctuary. Aphrodite is the prop and the scene focuses instead on Kratos sexual prowess. It’s another opportunity to put his power on display. Was it his body she was attracted to as is the case with men and female imagery? No. In the end, Aphrodite is written up as a nymphomaniac, his superb physique significant only inasmuch as it eroticizes his strength. It’s the power he radiates that she lusts after, that makes him a real man. She’s been waiting for a real man for so long, she tells him. Kratos is a real man, his power absolute (this is why he can sleep with a goddess). Male sexuality is not about sex, but power. This is just another way we know that sexualization is about masculinity, disguised as femininity (enlarged breasts, hips, facial features, make-up, and weakness …Aphrodite is all these things and more).

But there’s a price for this mascuinlity. While Kratos’s entire story is built on his quest for power, at times we’re not sure if he’s the hero or a villain, but this contradiction still humanizes him. He’s a man who’s descended from the gods with the power to take even them to their end, even death himself. Over the course of the series, Kratos is a destroyer and in the end of the series his character is offered as a sympathetic figure. A fragile man reaching for godhood, a rejected god reaching for manhood. Yet he spends all of the first game destroying gods for personal satisfaction. He murders his wife and child in his blind lust for power and suddenly, a man who’s spent his entire career destroying others is presented as deserving our compassion.

These new, divine dimensions of character make him more worthy of redemption than before; men must be redeemable the game tells us. He’s come to see the blood on his hands as a curse …and he yet continues to bludgeon every god until the world is no more and nothing is left. Yet by the end of the series, Kratos is transformed from destroyer to redeemer. Men can act in this self-centered manner and we still have to forgive them because, as the narrative tells us, men are the solution. He emerges a god who grew into a better man. That should be a familiar tale for most of us.

The Darkness PicIn the end, we know Kratos’s whole story. He’s not just an abstract figure players don’t care about and he’s not just some power-hungry warrior with a great body. He’s complex, yet shallow. He’s perfected directing his anger to the point of a blade, but he’s just not there emotionally. In fact, when he encounters emotions we find him in the game lost on a black road amidst total darkness. His quest for power has reduced him to nothingness.

Having Our Cake

Game designers believe that we really identify with this sort of thing. They count on it. It’s not so much that they think this applies to all guys, but that they know all men are bound by the same oath of silence to never speak about it. Our task is simple: nod and approve of the cleavage and hips served up in our fantasy art or be ridiculed. Men are supposed to approve of the Kerrigans, Laras, Camys and Aphrodites. Kratos isn’t the only character to be built on male power fantasies.

The values our games espouse exist within a cultural context that reinforces positions of privilege for some and positions of inferiority for others. Every character is made for us, every image made to appeal to us, and we get a lot of variety. We don’t have to want it or ask for it.

Male power fantasies, as an idea, aren’t bad. There’s nothing wrong with being male and enjoying fantasies of these kinds. Modern fantasies come at the expense of everyone but men, though.  Sexualization of women is done for men and men are done for men. It’s all about us and that’s part of why it’s such a big topic in games and fantasy. By all means let’s have male power fantasies, but do we have to throw women under the bus in the name of them? Do we need to be the center of attention? Must everyone be defined as though we are the center of the universe?

Do people other than ourselves matter?

It helps to understand exactly what we’re talking about when we speak of power fantasies for men, and who it’s actually about. There’s no separating them from the harsh realities of traditional manhood which help construct them. It’s OK to chose differently and it’s OK to seek the approval of women, not just men. If we did that a bit more, perhaps we’d get our sexy fantasy art that’s about women instead of just power.

Original Article:

Scree Tags: #malepowerfantasy #sexualization

There and Back: The Big Lie or How the Gaming Community Got Dirty

Another article I wrote almost 2 years ago which bears special relevance today. I’ve edited it down, but also linked to the original article. I plan to explore this topic once again in the near future, just as I plan to do with all of the There and Back articles you find reposted.

Malcanis over at The Mittani wrote a brilliant article last week about how the player community in EVE interacts. In it, he invoked the ideas of Hitler’s Big Lie to explain how the community deceives itself into taking sides and demonizing others. Malcanis gave a very eloquent summary of the principles as follows:

Ideally, when you’re telling a Big Lie, you tell a lie that fulfills three important criteria

  • i: That the listener’s problems are not his fault. They’re caused by a malicious and irredeemable Other. And they’re going to keep on getting worse.
  • ii: That if this Other weren’t up to those shenanigans, the listener would be recognized and rewarded for being the superior person that he is
  • iii: The implicit, but unspoken solution is to do the thing that the Big Liar wants to happen. And just in case, make the solution explicit and speak it loudly.

Directly before reading that article I had been browsing the comments over at Iron Ribbon and Disqus recommended me another article over at The Mittani which spoke about sexism. It’s not that Hitler’s theory here is always true. But I think it’s true among people with certain values, chief amongst them any -ism. If a person already believes there’s such a thing as a better race or sex, then they already believe the premises of the Big Lie. Having a leader come forth and personify it, and institute it as  law and order is merely taking those values to their inevitable conclusion.

What do we tell ourselves as a gaming community about sexism and racism? The primary sides involved are usually posed as males versus females, white versus non-white, because they’re rooted in our very bloody and barbaric past. Adolf was no fool, but the people to whom he told the Big Lie were at least paranoid enough, lacking in the courage and fortitude required to reject those values. And if not those two reasons then they followed because they believed in the Big Lie.

First, a relevant statistic:

There are scant statistics of any sort about the ethnic demographics of the gaming community at large, but if I find any in the future you can be sure I’ll write an article about it.

Point 1: The Big Lie to Yourself …Responsibility

It’s very hard to admit something is wrong that you’ve done out of habit for years. This is my personal testimony, not to be read as a cliche of do-gooders.  I’ve been a sexist and racist for most of my life. I wasn’t the overt belligerent type nor someone who literally hated or disliked groups of people. I was a pretty nice guy by normal standards, but just somewhat ignorant or aloof. I wasn’t aware of how my behavior patronized females/non-whites, how it insulted them in my gestures of goodwill, or how it oppressed them in what those gestures assumed about them. I was just ignorant, like so many of us. It wasn’t intentional and for those who have been where I have, we’re not evil people at heart. We just picked up some very bad habits and behaviors from our environment. At some point in our lives we simply didn’t know something until it was taught to us or until we were made aware of other things.

When first confronted about being sexist, I was horrified. Being called a sexist isn’t a good feeling but if you’re just willing to listen and try to understand why someone could possibly perceive you that way, then you’ll get over it. Else you’ll likely be defined by how you reacted to that accusation.

The point here is that when you’ve been doing something wrong for a long time, it’s pretty terrifying to learn that it’s been hurting people. It goes beyond just admitting a wrong; it’s a confession that you’ve negatively affected dozens of people, misjudged them, made their lives harder, or scared them away from pursuing something they cared about. That’s offensive to those of us who believe we’re good people and especially offensive to those people who aren’t willing to listen and consider that they might actually be doing those very things. The first stage is always denial and the one that follows is always anger and resentment. This is a pattern of response many of us should recognize in all these discussions at our age. Many people, guys and girls, instantly jump on the “nuh-uh” argument and paint plaintiffs as bra burning feminists, reverse racists, or sex-pandering men. They say women are sexist for making exclusive groups which men cannot join. They say most gamers are majority men so women should learn to accept the way things are, that men are by nature gruff, brutish, and insensitive. Both sides rarely admit to building up the Big Lie which allows them to feel justified in their views of the other. Often when we’re denying the other side, we’re doing so to protect ourselves from the accusations. We’re doing so to dodge responsibility for the way we’ve been behaving, because of what the accusations might suggest about us — which aren’t flattering. At some point, though, we have to admit these things and be free of them. While the process of changing is difficult, the steps towards it are simple. Either you believe a person when they tell you you’re being hurtful or disrespectful or you pretend that what you’re doing isn’t hurting anyone and that your behavior is fine. We have to remember: it’s not the racist or sexist act which will necessarily define you, but how you respond when someone points it out to you. There’s no harm in letting maturity guide our reaction by admitting you might have erred.

Point 2: The Big Lie …About The Other

When you’re the Default, it’s impossible to see that. Impossible. You rely on the feedback of others to alarm you of the injustices that come with having a Default and Other. The bad thing about being the default is that it’s extremely difficult to get past the denial stage; because you can’t see the unfairness because of your perspective, you’re far more likely to believe nothing is wrong at all and that others are simply delusional, or making a fuss out of nothing. That’s doubly true in the 21st century where people, despite national (and global) conditions, believe the -isms to be relics of the past which no longer exist. People are so ready to just be over that stuff that in their haste they dismiss anyone who would dare remind them of our horrible track record with it.  No one wants to have the same fight in 2012 that people were having in the 1960s USA. Yet all of those oppressive values from the ’60s are still wide spread and deeply rooted in our cultural values (albeit in subtler ways, which makes it a greater threat now than it ever was then).

When comment and forum threads in various gaming communities repeatedly host discussions about sexism and racism, I think that’s a sure sign that this is still a problem. But when you believe the Big Lie or when you’re so committed to self-deception on those issues, you’re likely to draw battle-lines in which you stand on one side and everyone else becomes Other. We do this almost instinctively to discredit people, to make them seem ridiculous and to paint ourselves as idols of rationality. The actual topic gets abandoned in favor of bickering about who’s less crazy — which is just crazy.

There is no Other. It’s a lie we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel good about ourselves.  It’s a lie we tell to prop up our egos, to make us feel better. After all, you can’t be the best unless there’s someone who is worse than you. What we ought to value about success is our own personal growth, not our triumph over others. In the gaming community, where competitive relationships are part of the landscape, that doesn’t mean we can’t see who’s the better shooter in NBA 2k. It means that you aren’t being better or making yourself look better by calling people fags, suggesting they’re gay, or telling sammich jokes. You aren’t looking more manly by demanding to see boobs (becuz real men luv boobs, rite?). You’re just celebrating being the default and ridiculing others who aren’t like you.

Point 3: Believing the Big Lie

Sometimes people tell lies for so long or hear them so often, that they believe them and begin to base real decisions on them.

Even military psychology …hesitates to make the distinction between true and false, between the “produced” and the authentic symptom. “If he is this good at acting crazy, it’s because he is.” – from The Procession of Simulacra byJean Baudrillard

Jean was explaining here how we cross over from pretending something is real to simulating that which isn’t, and how in the end it becomes irrelevant. In the process of simulating, we produce the symptoms of the simulacra. At that point, the difference between what’s real and what isn’t becomes incredibly difficult to discern, if possible at all.

There are levels of self-deception which we engage in on the issues of sexism and racism which amount to us pretending such a thing just doesn’t exist. And this is made possible by just acting like everything is fine, denying things very loudly in an effort to drown out any reference to the truth. But at some point we begin to actually believe the lies and the truth falls away. We’ve made such a convincing show of all the falsehoods, that they start to appear authentic.

So let’s gradually back out of the philosophical woods here. Sexism and racism are extremely real and they pervade our social institutions as they dictate our culture. It’s dangerous to suggest people who point it out are “them”, the crazy, delusional, conflict-seeking whiners who just can’t handle the real world. The irony is that the most fervent deniers (who are usually self-professed racists/sexists) themselves can’t handle the real world, where there really is no such thing as “better” races or sexes.

It’s also bad that some of us want to sit on the sideline and wait for change. It’s those people who say yeah, sexism and racism are bad, but the people complaining about it shouldn’t make a big stink about it; that since complaining won’t change anything we should just be quiet; that games have always been this way and we ought to accept it. All of these responses fail to acknowledge that no change in the history of anything has ever happened by humans standing idly by waiting for it to happen to them. This line of thinking is potentially worse than being the sexist or racist yourself, because it confirms their existence but advocates silence. Dr. Martin L. King spoke out decades ago about these moderate types and how their neutrality is more dangerous than the belligerent offenders.

Getting Clean

So now that we’re dirty, now that the gaming community knows we’ve got some filth to deal with, we come to the part where we must confront the Big Lie and so much more. It all starts with owning your actions, taking responsibility. This is the cornerstone: eradicating a community of difference in order to erect a community of commons. It’s been hard and often un-fun for me personally, but immensely rewarding to make that private change. I began to realize one day that I was looking to gain something at the expense of others which wasn’t mine to gain; that the real value in being a non-shitty person is feeling good about myself and knowing that I’m not hurting other people. The prize for me is a clear conscience, more success, and making a world I can trust with my children. We have to admit to our complicity in the system. Every time any of us has listened to racist rants on vent, or sexual demands from guild mates in chat and said nothing about it, we might as well have said the words ourselves for all the damage our silence did. None of us is untouched, not even women and not even non-whites. We’ve all been soiled, even when we didn’t want to be and didn’t intend to be. That doesn’t absolve us of responsibility. It just means that we were blind to it before, that now we see it, and we will use that knowledge to speak out and act against it.

Next is to stop looking at the difference between you and others because it’s insignificant compared to the similarities. If we view the gaming community as a place full of different people, we will breed a community of conflict. If we view it as a place full of people just like us, we’ll make a community full of cooperation. I know that sounds very idealistic, but it’s just the plain ole’, unstyled, no make-up, hairy truth. Self identified whites, males, blacks, gays, and all other descriptions are fine, but they shouldn’t be used to to differentiate. Identifying and differentiating are very different things.  The former allows us to be unique and the latter creates situations where everyone has varying quality, allows us to create Others.

Finally, we’ve got to grapple with our common reality. We have to accept that one person’s experience of you isn’t going to line-up with who you believe you are all the time, and that this doesn’t mean you’re irredeemable or wicked; it means you made a mistake. We have to be willing to believe that there really is a lot of unfairness out there, that people are wrongly discriminated against on the basis of skin color and genitalia, and that it happens often enough to spawn dozens of organizations dedicated to addressing those problems. If we’re so willing to consider that these people might be crazy, we must also be willing to consider they’re perfectly sane, correct and perfectly capable of identifying a problem when they see it. Listen to them and, if you can, support them. They are you and if you try to keep them down for their difference, someone will try to keep you down. Reject both instead of making space for them in our reality. Things don’t have to be that way.

If Hitler understood the power of the Big Lie, and we believe he was Satan incarnate, then let’s reject the Big Lie forever.

Original Article:

Scree Tags: #gamertalk #community #activism

There and Back: Escapism and Fantasy

This week’s throwback article is left pretty much in tact. Reading again, I don’t think I’ve changed my views a whole lot and some of my questions about escapism remain unanswered. I did recently write an article about the power of our fantasies and the role they play in the design of our games and development of that community, which you will find even more relevant than what follows.

Original Article:

I read a passage from a book this summer with a quote that really got the wheels in my brain turning about socialization in MMOs. The quote?

But fantasy is not created from nothing; at least in a limited sense, fantasy is a “recollection” of a world we have lost. It is a psychoanalytic truism that what we lose in reality we recreate in fantasy.

This comes from a book titled The Gender of Desire by Michael S. Kimmel, and the subject matter is male sexuality. Being a gamer, any book that uses the word fantasy instantly triggers images of unicorns, elves, and dreamy landscapes.

What is it that I bring into my fantasies because I lost those things in the real world?

Escapism and Addiction

If the above quote can be true, then it’s a significant clue to understanding the nature of MMO escapism and addiction. I’ve had plenty of friends in my MMOs who seemed, to me, to be a little too attached to the game world. They lived in it, never logged out. In WoW’s heyday, I absolutely preferred logging in most evenings to going out. At that time in my life, Azeroth was far more pleasant, contained much more of what I needed than the real world did, which was filled with crappy circumstances that seemed out of my hands.

Escapism isn’t necessarily a negative or a bad thing. In fact, it’s a pretty healthy thing. Like most things, the context and extent to which it’s used determines whether it remains a healthy outlet for our minds and emotions. I believe game addiction is real, but I also believe most players aren’t addicted to their games. They’re using these virtual worlds to escape often dire circumstances, mitigating things like depression, which in turn gives them the reprieve they need to actually function day to day. MMOs can be therapeutic in that regard and in America an MMO is the cheapest therapy you can buy anywhere!

In these situations, does it seem true that what we lose in our real worlds we attempt to recreate in our MMO experiences? It definitely seems so.

Self Perception in Fantasy

Not too long ago, I wrote an article about sexism and male power fantasies. I followed that up with an article about male fantasies of women. Here, I think we can apply the question above to both topics. What are we (men) trying to reclaim in our power fantasies? What are we trying to recreate in our fantasies of women? Likewise, I’m curious to know the answers to these questions for women as well.

Many of us have responded to women, especially feminists who hold the view that men in general hold all the power in our society, with the remark that we don’t feel powerful. We say to them that women, in fact, have power over us. They control the sex, the marriage, the money, etc. We respond that we need permission from our significant others to do the things we want. Of course, many of us make these remarks half-heartedly with levity in them. But it’s generally true that the average guy doesn’t feel like they’re in control of anything in their daily lives and he may easily perceive the women in his life to have just as much control or more. We’re just sort of being swept along and even in those situations where we want to exert control, such as over our jobs or our homes, we often find that forces beyond us take that control from us as well (the boss can fire you and the bank can take your house).  It’s perfectly valid, and I believe true, that the average man is as powerless as the average woman in their daily lives.

But there’s a significant difference. It isn’t so black and white as that.

I think the average guy understands that he’s supposed to have a little more power and control — but men actually have access and that’s key here. Non-males and non-white ones especially, do not have that level of access. It’s why men are so assertive, or at least it’s socially acceptable (and expected) that men will assert themselves. It’s the assumption of power.  It’s also a source of frustration, knowing that as guys we’re given certain responsibilities and jobs as a matter of gender, but also knowing the expectations are impossible to live up to.  Grappling for that sense of control and power can be maddening because it’s so elusive.

…and what we lose in real life does seem we recreate in our fantasies. Men are paragons of power* in our games. It’s not merely a case of imagining ourselves with slaying dragons within Tyria, nor is the desire to transfer merely more control over the minutiae of our lives. Any examination of men’s power fantasies reveals a desire for domination, for achievement, for high social status. Now I’m not saying that all of us feel this way or have these particular fantasies. Rather, I’m speaking to the men’s fantasies that predominate our media. I’m personally starting to believe these are relics from a time past and that a lot of modern men don’t identify with those fantasies. Yet I meet guys on a daily basis who truly buy into those kinds of fantasies, truly believe that it’s a man’s nature to be in control, unemotional, and a winner while also believing that it’s woman’s nature to be …well …hysterical, out of control, emotional, and dependent. And what do we have in our games? Scantily clad women taunting us but who are easily subdued, NPC femmes who need to be rescued, or succubi who torture us, but whom we ultimately conquer.

This all reinforces my perspective* on the power of fantasy. It’s not just art or just games, but aspirations and desires. Our fantasies and our enjoyment of them is linked intimately with our wants and needs. They reveal what we value and yearn to possess.

How has fantasy impacted your life and how do you feel it interacts with your true desires?

 Edit: Links added for clarification wherever you see a *.

Scree Tags: #escapism #digitalfrontier #fantasygames