Something for Nothing?

Gaming as an economic concept is indeed a strange one when you think about it. Essentially, one pays money (often £30-£40) to view and manipulate a bunch of pixels assembled on a screen into discernible forms, creating an ‘un-reality’ (i.e. a virtual world) in which the controller in question is expected to become invested. Some of the more fervent parts of the gaming community thus often find themselves under fire from those sceptical of the worth of gaming, as having ‘no life’ due to the fact that they enjoy immersing themselves in a narrative which has no basis in physical reality.

Without getting into a philosophical debate about what ‘reality’ is, the idea of becoming emotionally invested in something which cannot reciprocate this can seem bizarre to those unacquainted with gaming, especially as emotional investment is the precursor to further economic investment.

One might argue, ‘why not spend your money on something real? Something worthwhile?’ There is no straightforward answer to these questions, no logical basis on why one should or should not pay for games and gaming; there are only differences of opinions, perspectives that are hard to reconcile between those within the gaming community and those without.

The word ‘community’ is key here, as that is largely what one is allowed access to when they buy or play a game. Take the immensely popular Halo franchise, for instance. What started out as a virtual sci-fi world, containing a linear narrative by which the player was led has evolved into something much greater than the sum of its parts. The Halo protagonist ‘Master Chief’, by virtue of the rich detail in which the world and his narrative is rendered, has allowed the pixelated character to make the leap from its – or should I say his – virtual world into our real, tangible one. We can now buy Master Chief action figures, posters, bedspreads, life-size facsimiles of his armour – the list is astoundingly large.

This transition from one reality to another works in a kind of inverse way for the gamer; in essence, Master Chief has become an avatar for each and every gamer who has ever controlled him. Master Chief becomes an extension of the player that allows them to affect a world outside our mundane, singular one, and it is this feeling that provides the alluring immersion, maybe even escapism for some, that gaming offers. United by their mutual investment in its alternate reality, ever dedicated player of Halo find themselves part of a global community, a community whose fervour allows their beloved avatar to become a physical reality.

The competitive online aspect of gaming further facilitates the development of such a diverse community. Halo, as one of a multitude of games, can be played online with the purchase of Xbox Live, which thus allows an individual player from one side of the world to interact, play along with or compete against another from potentially anywhere else on Earth. Gaming as a competitive sport thus functions to varying degrees as, say, the Olympics do, with people from all over the world representing not just themselves but their broader, perhaps even national, community. Players can also alter the appearance of their virtual avatars with other economic purchases, such as ‘skins’ which allow for rare, if not unique, modifications upon the generic avatars, to further impress individual identity upon other gamers.

This article is just a tiny insight into the vast dynamics of gaming and its effect upon our physical reality, a cursory glance at a phenomenon on which books, even volumes, could be and probably have been written. The crux of the matter is this; gaming, like any other inter-personal activity, creates a community – imagined or otherwise – that some will live and breathe for and others will look upon with contempt. But if you’re one of those people who criticise a game-player for having ‘no-life’, just think; is it really a case of not having a life, or just choosing to live part of it elsewhere?