Popular Culture  •  July 24, 2016

What Video Games Tell Us About Life

Interestingly, popular video games emulate mundane aspects of everyday life that we dislike. For instance, Packman is about cleaning. I’ve heard that it’s popular among women for that reason. FarmVille is about running a small business (farm). Minecraft is about sheer survival. Candy Crush is about pattern matching. It reminds me of matching pairs of socks after laundry.

The latest sensation, Pokemon Go, may at first seem like it is about obsessively collecting things (which is only pleasurable for obsessive neurotics or Aspergers) but what it successfully emulates is building of social capital. In a way, LinkedIn and Facebook function like trading cards. The main problem with them—the reason why social networking can be so stressful—is that it requires two-way approval. You are not fully in control of whom you can collect. By removing this anxiety, Pokemon successfully creates a fantasy world where you can build a social network without the risk of being judged by others. In real life, when someone asks you, “Do you know anyone who can do this?” you flip through your imaginary “Rolodex” to see if you have a Pokemon that you can deploy for that purpose. But in real life, doing so is rife with all sorts of unpredictable risks.

What is interesting to think about is why things that we dread in our daily lives is so enjoyable as a video game. I think it’s because, in video games, there are no real consequences. That is, if the stress and anxiety associated with these mundane activities are removed, they are actually enjoyable, or even addictive. If so, the key to enjoying our lives is in managing the stress and anxiety in our lives. It’s not about finding activities that are inherently and magically enjoyable to us. We don’t need to look hard; we are already doing them. It’s the stress and anxiety that ruin everything we engage in. As long as we remain this way, even writing the next greatest novel would inevitably be dreadful.