Tuesday, April 9, 2013

This is why I must play

One of the first video game genres that I started out with was Real-Time Strategy games like Command & Conquer and Alpha Centauri before moving on to a genre which are now called Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games. One of the curious aspects about playing these games is that I almost always went for world dominion (e.g., take over the world). In the CnC era, this made sense, since really, you fought against the artificial intelligence (AI) or other players. So failure is not an option. Neither is negotiation or holding hands across the vast internet and singing Kumbaya. And actually, even as a girl scout, we have never sung Kumbaya, we always sung the Mosquito song or one that was called 'New Friend Found'.

Anyway, I digress. So. World dominion. This is  in part due to the game design, and even as game design evolved, newer games in the genre like Civilization featured AIs which proved to be a REAL pain to maintain diplomatic ties with. Way worse than people. And I've always thought people were bad. Wait until you meet obtusely designed AIs, who will get mad at you if you even breathed near your borders. So. I'd have to shake many pointed sticks at them until the point gets across.

Which brings me to my point. And I do have a point somewhat. I actually despise the notion of conquest - you know, the kind that brings suffering to other human beings (like say, drones). This may have something to do with the fact that my people were always someone else's subject. But really, I'd like to think that it has something to do with being human. At a fundamental level, even when I'm playing games that feature specific themes such as conquest and establishing control by peacefully bringing light to the darkness (that's my favorite colonialist rhetoric), I know that this is not reality. And in some way, it's a way to direct my aggression and anger so that all the ugliness that is a part of me comes to the fore in another medium other than real life, where it will do actual harm. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of harmful interactions in games, but that's a topic for another discussion.

Perhaps it's somewhat poetic that I met my husband online - where he has seen me at my worst. I always joke that gaming brings out the worst in me - but there's an element of truth in it. It's almost cathartic. And this is why I must play.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

On privileging play

I have been thinking about the issue of privileging play and how it unfolds in different cultures, if at all. I recall stories of my father as a young child going heading out to the beach with his brothers, searching and foraging for snails or any molluscs that they can find. Dad seemed to enjoy himself immensely, and one might think that this event might be considered play from his perspective. However, the reality of the situation was that while it was fun, the reason why Dad was by the beach was to look for food.

In contrast, when talking to my late grandfather, I do not ever recall of him thinking of such activity as fun (he would scoff I think). This is largely because to Grandpa, actions that had no bearing on the future or others are nothing but indulgence. Don't get me wrong, he was a loving man who had a wry sense of humor. But his life experiences shaped his outlook on life. Life as a fisherman taking care of 8 children by himself (Grandma died when Dad was 6) was challenging, then life under/working with the British, then occupation under the Japanese... suffice to say, life was definitely eventful. No play is death some say ... but I do not believe that. Grandpa's life was fulfilling and he was happy and contented. Play may not be central to his life, but when one is focused on surviving, this is not unsurprising. I guess my point is to simply be careful of claims that we make about the necessity of play, less it tramples on the lives of others. It is an activity that may be definitive in some life courses, but not all. And to say that we all need play to survive sometimes does not feel right.