Selfishness and Selflessness in Videogames
Our editor-in-chief here at Christ and Pop Culture, Richard Clark, has written an interesting article for Nightmare Mode on how games feed our natural self-centeredness and present us with player-centric worlds:
Because of how deceptively attractive a world created for our personal pleasure can be, when we stumble upon one that works for us, we are markedly protective of them. They begin to take a holistic role in our lives, living in our thoughts as we work and interact with others. The open worlds and the multiplayer competitions bleed into our reality, and become a kind of ongoing reality that we indulge in most explicitly during our free time. So naturally, gamers are known to become incredibly frustrated when we feel our favorite franchises have been mishandled. When reviewers dare to speak ill of a game we find particularly fun or meaningful, we rage against them with the fury of a riotous mob. We throw tantrums, as if our games were holy objects and that a particular gun being available “only at Gamestop” somehow violates our sacred human rights.
It does not. My own insistence that games, their developers, and their critics bend to my will betrays an ugly truth about human nature that is accentuated by videogames: I am fundamentally self-centered and unloving, desperately concerned with my own well-being to a lopsided degree.
Rich does, however, recognize that there is value in such experiences as mere escapes and even notes how games can give us much needed perspective on life, raise our awareness of the needs and desires of others, and even expose things about us that we didn’t previously acknowledge:
No, we exist for the world, not the other way around. Games can allow us to forget this truth for a time, but I also genuinely believe they can prepare us for the way things really are. In their narratives, games can center stories on the needs of the few and disenfranchised, and not the powerful. Games can allow for acts of selflessness that are implicitly rewarding, not because of what they unlock, but because of the experiences that flow from them. Games can dare to interrupt the feedback loop between player and game just long enough to insert the motivations and desires of some other character.
We’re getting opportunities for selflessness already in some of the more boldly designed games: Journey, The Walking Dead, Minecraft, Bastion all provide opportunities and even motivation to thwart our own selfish impulses. They break new ground, not just graphically or mechanically, but in terms of focus. These are games that, when played, allow you to consider the impact you have on others. They allow for gratitude to be acquired, not from unlocks or clearly marked and accomplished goals, but from the messy work of relationship building and sacrificial serving, by the ways they emphasize community. They shift the focus from personal pleasure to the desires, needs and struggles of others.