Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lower Pleasures

Society’s not quite sure what to do with video games yet.  Questions still remain on what effect they have on the human brain among many things.  As they have become more prominent, games have entered into many discussions.  More often than not, they are relegated the category of “a waste of time.”  A discussion on utilitarianism I had recently would call them lower pleasures, that is, something that does promote happiness, but must be subordinated to other, more noble pursuits such as poetry.  Such a view could only be founded in ignorance, and this article will highlight two notable counterpoints to this belief.
***Spoilers for Bioshock Follow***

Anyone who has ever accused video games of being inherently mindless has never played through Bioshock.  On its surface, this game may seem like any normal first person shooter to an outside observer.  The world created in the game, though, is based on the philosophical ideas of Ayn Rand.  In fact, much of the game could be seen as a critique of her system of ethics driven by self-interest.
Rapture is a manifestation of Ayn Rand's Philosophy

The city of Rapture is a place where self-interest has been allowed to run rampant.  Unchecked, the ambitions of Rapture’s inhabitants gradually turned them against one another.  The entire city broke down into Hobbe’s state of nature with each person only looking out for themselves.  Inequality quickly surfaced and the result was two rivals who had amassed power, Andrew Ryan and Frank Fontaine.  Their war finally brought an end to Rapture.

This analysis is simplistic to be sure, but illustrates the point fine:  video games can be used to explore complex philosophical ideas.

***End Bioshock Spoilers, Begin Silent Hill 2 Spoilers***

Another counterpoint to the “video games are mindless” argument can be found in Silent Hill 2.  Its gameplay is rather simplistic, following many survival horror formulas, but integral to the debate at hand is its story.  Drawing inspiration from Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the game explores many issues such as guilt, hatred, and even love.

It is primarily character based, and follows the trek of James Sunderland through a deserted town.  As he progresses, it becomes clearer and clearer that the town wants him to face the truth about his own guilt over the death of his wife.  Some similarities exist between this story and that of No Exit by Jean-PaulSartre.  As the plot unfolds, the characters get revealed more and more to the player.  Suddenly, they shift from being simply innocents caught up a horror story and more the creators of that horror themselves.
Silent Hill 2 is a story about coming to terms with the past

***End Silent Hill 2 Spoilers***
Games can be complex or simple, just like any other medium.  Simply because some are reflex tests that require no deeper thought does not mean all games are like that.  Sometimes, only looking at the surface can do a subject a great injustice.

What do you think?  Have you found any games that explore deep issues or ideas?  Do you enjoy that type of game?

No comments:

Post a Comment