Sunday, February 6, 2011

Escapism: Is it play?

Hello all. Introductions first. I'm Kenneth Lam, and I'm a pretty passionate gamer. I dwell mostly in the realm of Nintendo games (I grew up on them and love Nintendo series to death), although ironically enough I'm quite bad at the main Mario platformers. This isn't to say that I don't enjoy other games though, and I'm a huge fan of the Tales of series from Namco Bandai. I'm a primarily single player gamer, and can easily lock myself up in a cave for who knows how long. Video games are pretty serious business to me for reasons too many to list here. I tend to take a more technical approach to games, which makes sense since I'm an aspiring scientist.

Games to me represent an escape from reality at times. This brings up the question, though - am I really playing when I play games for the sole purpose as a means to escape from the real world? Huizinga in his "Nature and Significance of Play as a Cultural Phenomenon" states that play is free form - it serves no purpose other than its own, and is a voluntary phenomenon that brings us into another world. But does escapism really follow through with any of these definitions? I play games for the purpose of escaping from reality, so in that sense, my playing games serves some outside purpose rather than just the sake of playing. I've given up the sense of detachment that simply playing would have afforded me, and grounded my escape and play in reality. As for whether or not it's voluntary, the answer lies more in the gray area. Yes, I've chosen to play games of my own volition, but if it's the quickest (and arguably least destructive) means to keep me from jamming my head into that printer that's chewing up my term paper, then the voluntarism of this escape is questioned more.

This brings us to the last point - play conjures up another world for us, an alternate dimension of sorts. Escapism through whatever means is the act of entering another world from the one we are currently in. Whether it's saving the world of Terca Lumires a la Tales of Vesperia, or just capturing a new Pokemon in Hoenn, I escape into another world entirely. I become Yuri Lowell, or the little blob of pixels walking around my GB/A/DS screen. It is true that the escape is grounded in reality simply because the purpose is to avoid reality. However, the world we enter is not. Although at first, we enter this world with a purpose, we eventually forget it, and become immersed ourselves.

Given Huizinga's definition of play, my playing video games as an escape really does straddle the ridiculously fuzzy line between work and play. My games have a necessary purpose, and it is to keep me from going absolutely insane. Yet, I'm still able to lose my attachment to reality, and it is with this particular facet of my gaming escapes that soundly keeps a foot in the "play" camp. It doesn't matter if there exists a purpose for my actions - this purpose soon loses its meaning as we become lost in our own little worlds.

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