What would make people willingly sacrifice their bodies and even their lives for a fake existence in a mainframe somewhere? World of Warcraft addicts are already doing it by the millions, and I bet many would gladly commit real life suicide if it led to immortality in the game.
This excerpt from a movie by Michael Highland, a 20-something, self-professed video game addict, talks about how gaming makes the real world "flat."
(Note: To watch the video footage that goes with any portion of this transcript, go here and scroll through the interactive transcript on the right. Click any phrase and the video will play from that point.)
I, like many of you, live somewhere between reality and video games. Some part of me -- a true living, breathing person -- has become programmed, electronic and virtual. The boundary of my brain that divides real from fantasy has finally begun to crumble. I'm a video game addict and this is my story....
I have had life-altering experiences in virtual space, and video games had begun to erode my own understanding of what is real and what is not. I'm addicted, because even though I know I'm losing my grip on reality, I still crave more....
Today, after 20 years of watching TV geared to make me emotional, even a decent insurance commercial can bring tears to my eyes. I am just one of a new generation that is growing up. A generation who may experience much more meaning through video games than they will through the real world.
Video games are nearing an evolutionary leap, a point where game worlds will look and feel just as real as the films we see in theatres, or the news we watch on TV. And while my sense of free will in these virtual worlds may still be limited, what I do learn applies to my real life. Play enough video games and eventually you will really believe you can snowboard, fly a plane, drive a nine-second quarter mile, or kill a man. I know I can.
Unlike any pop culture phenomenon before it, video games actually allow us to become part of the machine. They allow us to sublimate into the culture of interactive, downloaded, streaming, HD reality. We are interacting with our entertainment. I have come to expect this level of interaction. Without it, the problems faced in the real world -- poverty, war, disease and genocide -- lack the levity [sic] they should. Their importance blends into the sensationalized drama of prime time TV.
But the beauty of video games... [is] that these games are beginning to make me emotional. I have fought in wars, feared for my own survival, watched my cohorts die on beaches and woods that look and feel more real than any textbook or any news story.
The people who create these games are smart. They know what makes me scared, excited, panicked, proud or sad. Then they use these emotions to dimensionalize the worlds they create. A well-designed video game will seamlessly weave the user into the fabric of the virtual experience. As one becomes more experienced the awareness of physical control melts away. I know what I want and I do it. No buttons to push, no triggers to pull, just me and the game. My fate and the fate of the world around me lie inside my hands.
I know violent video games make my mother worry. What troubles me is not that video game violence is becoming more and more like real life violence, but that real life violence is starting to look more and more like a video game.
These are all troubles outside of myself. I, however, have a problem very close to home. Something has happened to my brain. Perhaps there is a single part of our brain that holds all of our gut instincts, the things we know to do before we even think.... Only in recent years has the technology behind video games allowed for a true overlap in stimuli. As gamers we are now living by the same laws of physics in the same cities and doing many of the same things we once did in real life, only virtually.
Consider this -- my real life car has about 25,000 miles on it. In all my driving games, I've driven a total of 31, 459 miles. To some degree I've learned how to drive from the game. The sensory cues are very similar. It's a funny feeling when you have spent more time doing something on the TV than you have in real life. When I am driving down a road at sunset all I can think is, this is almost as beautiful as my games are.
For my virtual worlds are perfect. More beautiful and rich than the real world around us. I'm not sure what the implications of my experience are, but the potential for using realistic video game stimuli in repetition on a vast number of loyal participants is frightening to me. Today I believe Big Brother would find much more success brainwashing the masses with video games rather than just simply TVs. Video games are fun, engaging, and leave your braincompletely vulnerable to re-programming.... I'm not sure what the future of video games holds for our civilization. But as virtual and real world experiences increasingly overlap there is a greater and greater potential for other people to feel the same way I do.
What I have only recently come to realize is that beyond the graphics, sound, game play and emotion it is the power to break down reality that is so fascinating and addictive to me. I know that I am losing my grip. Part of me is just waiting to let go. I know though, that no matter how amazing video games may become, or how flat the real world may seem to us, that we must stay aware of what our games are teaching us and how they leave us feeling when we finally do unplug.
Not surprisingly, the disturbing social and philosophical implications of this poignant confession are lost on David Perry, the game designer who played the film during his speech at TED (don't get me started).