Life, The Universe And Gaming: Videogames Are A Multi Billion Dollar Distraction
Panem et circenses.
That’s the Latin term for ‘bread and circuses‘ which spawned from a belief that governments would seek to distract its citizens with food and entertainment in order to mask what was really going on; and as we all know, the fall of Rome was something brought about by a failing form of government. And it’s something headed our way if we don’t get our shit together.
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To my knowledge, I’ve never done a political column before. If I ever get controversial, it’s usually related to videogames themselves and how my beliefs drastically differ from the common ones, or: Unpopular Opinion Puffin. But today I feel it’s time for something a little different.
On Friday, I was involved in a minor fender bender which was totally the other person’s fault but still left me feeling an otherworldly level of stressed out about it, especially because the car I was driving did not have my name on it, and the other car just happened to be a brand spanking new Mercedes Benz A Class. Ouch, right? This was compounded further by the fact that I am currently a student living on a student’s kind of budget and I have the likes of university fees to pay off before I can even think of blowing mad stacks on something I’d like for myself. Now I have the added burden of saving up every single cent I earn, just in case.
Do you know how sometimes you complain about something to another person and they go, “You think you’ve got problems?” Well, exactly that sort of mindset is now prevalent with me. I can’t help but feel as if last week this time, my primary concerns were how many hours of Dark Souls II I could get in before I could confidently write up the review, and how many episodes of House of Cards I could squeeze in between all of that, while still managing to keep up with my articles and campus work. Gratefully, that latter bit is quite lenient on me for the moment.
It’s a strange and wondrous contrast in the space of a week that I now know I really feel the weight of the situation I’ve found myself in. And you know what? It’s not even that bad. Technically the fender bender wasn’t my fault even though I was in the moving car (the other driver had pulled up behind me while I was reversing) and now that I’ve filed the incident report, I am not obligated to put another second of thought into this, and yet it’s easier said than done. But I didn’t kill anyone. I’m not currently in any sort of debt that could result in my assets being repossessed. The economy isn’t going to suffer for my actions. As problems go, there is much larger than what I currently have, and yet this terrifies me. Just imagining how bad it could get makes me never want to leave my room again.
And this is, in many ways, where gaming comes into the mix. You see, we all have problems and we all have to face them every day of our lives. Some of us have small ones; which t-shirt to wear today or whether or not their significant other loves them. Others have slightly more drastic issues such as actual debt and whether or not their significant other loves them after fifteen years of marriage. But at the end of the day, we have videogames and that affords us the opportunity to escape from our problems into another land, at least for a while, assuming we can actually forget about our problems for long enough to effectively do so.
However, all things in moderation, it starts to become a problem in and of itself when we are constantly using gaming to get away from our problems, meaning that the escapism soon devolves into more of a crutch. Suddenly we’re not just escaping our problems for a short while but we’re distracting ourselves entirely from the situation as it stands. We are hiding, in a sense, behind our entertainment.
This is where that initial sentiment comes in, regarding bread and circuses. I’m going to get a little conspiracy theorist right now and ask, do you know what’s going in the world right now? Like, do you really know? Let’s just hit some of the things we do know about. Russia invades the Ukraine and people are throwing the phrase ‘World War 3’ around but nobody is questioning how many countries the United States of America has invaded, while condemning Russia’s G8 position in the process. In Uganda, human rights takes a massive hit as homosexuality is not just outlawed but citizens are encouraged to out homosexuals in return for favour from the law. Here in South Africa, we have Nkandlagate and a new private aeroplane for the president, all while our economy dwindles as a result of miner strikes, but does anyone care? Nope, they’re more interested in some sports personality’s ongoing trial.
How many of you even know who you’re going to vote for in the elections in a few months, if you’re even registered?
Is it so farfetched to then think that ‘panem et circenses’ exists in our current world but instead of bread and circuses we have bread and entertainment, and with gaming becoming as huge as it is, is it again so farfetched to think that governments and anyone else who seeks to distract society would use gaming as that distraction? After all, just look at our consumption habits. The economy was in a recession and do you know who kept on making profits? That’s right, gaming publishers. The games industry practically shrugged off the economic recession and it continues to go from strength to strength. You all know this, of course, because no matter what problems you have, if you really want a game then nothing is going to stop you from purchasing it. Even if it means going hungry for a week, you’ll do it. We all would.
And that is why videogames have the potential to become a society killer. They are a distraction from real problems and make us focus on the completely unnecessary things — 720p versus 1080p, anyone? — instead of what we should be focussing on. If I may have any real message with this column, it is one of self-empowerment and facing the hard truths. Don’t ever make gaming a crutch to the point that all you need is your distraction and you’re okay with not knowing what goes on in the world.
It’s never okay to not want to know about something, especially if it affects you.
Ask the hard questions, seek the hard answers and try to keep your gaming habits in moderation. Because if you think of it like this, the more time you spend playing games, the less time you spend putting pressure on people calling the shots and addressing your own personal problems, the more those people will control you. And do you really want to be controlled as if you too are a videogame? Well I’m sorry to say this, but real life is not GTA V and there is no reset button to be found. Only stories about respawning.
Get up off that sofa every now and again and be an active participant in your life. Or surely you’re just another NPC in someone else’s game.