Every morning there are numerous notifications on my phone from Facebook friends inviting to me to play different games. I don’t play video games of any kind, but I am not oblivious to what they are about, which is why I can’t bring myself to play any of them. Most FB games end with the word “ville” eliciting memories of the popular game SimCity (another thing I never got into).
These games are not so much games as they are simulations of (real) life. Seriously, in each one of these you create a character that is very much like you (if you happened to look like a cartoon character), and you move your little person around performing the same tasks you would in real life. You walk your dog, feed your fish (if you are kind, you feed your neighbor’s fish as well), you plant your garden, cook dinner, go to the store, talk to your friends, etc. I don’t have a dog, of fish, but if I did, they would be walked and fed respectively. I do cook dinner, go to the store, and if I had the slightest inclination, would have at some point planted a garden. None of this is particularly fantastic, or even slightly interesting. Yet thousands of people play them religiously, and judging by the timestamps when the requests were made, they do so in the middle of the night. I take this to mean that after having performed all of these mundane tasks throughout the day people log onto their computers at night to virtually perform all of them again.
As I mentioned, I have never been into video games, but I do understand the concept of playing them as a method of escape. It is no different than my reading a work of fiction to unwind for an hour or two. I just don’t understand how people unwind by “escaping” into a parallel universe where they essentially repeat the things they already do.
I thought that maybe they create lives that they wished they lived, but what I found (from asking a few people who enjoy said games) is that really there is no greater purpose. There is no winning, except if you consider keeping your alter self alive as a win. There is no end, you simply continue playing and existing in the video game realm. There is basically no greater raison d’etre except as a distraction. If you know me, you know I love distractions. Nothing feels better after a long day (especially if it was particularly rough) then spacing out on Pinterest, or simply staring at the ceiling with music playing in the background. Yet I love these activities precisely for their ability to get me to stop thinking – about what happened that day, what will happen, or life in general. How can anyone forget real life when they emulate it all over again in a scarily true to reality virtual space? If anything I would think that playing these endless games that center around nothing more than keeping house, going to work, and running errands serve as brutal reminders of the futility of life.
That is exactly why I won’t play these games. This week I have already spent numerous hours at work, fed fifty cats, went to the grocery store half a dozen times or more, cooked, cleaned, went to the post office, and ironed my laundry. There is no part of this I would like to repeat in an online version. Simsville is just a complicated way of playing house, and now you have to become friends with your neighbors while compulsively rearranging your furniture every five seconds. Fishville is like owning cats if they were fish – you feed them, take care of every one of their needs, and they ignore you. Farmville is like spending all day in your back yard, should you have one, except instead of relaxing your are constantly working and never growing enough (a metaphor for life?). And I am not sure what Candy Crush is, but it sounds like something I would do to the candy in my mouth if I was in a bad mood.
I never in my life thought I would say this, but at least I can understand shooter games. There is a goal, something to look forward to achieving, and which typically either moves you up to the next level, or ends the game. Your little pixely guy needs to annihilate the other pixely guy, and if you accomplish your task you get a gold coin. Not to mention you get to pretend you are someone else, because I imagine most of us are not professional assassins. I don’t like it, but I understand it.
The “ville” games of today do not offer the same thing. Your biggest triumph is successfully completing a faux grocery run. You may not be attempting to achieve world domination, but you don’t even get to enjoy the small victories of getting a promotion at work, or earning a degree.
Creating a little mini me that lives a life no better or amusing than my own just seems incompressible as a method of entertainment. Don’t even get me started on the games where you take pictures of your real life friends and create avatars for your little person to interact with in the virtual world. I can’t be alone in saying “what the Hell??” I can even understand the novelty of it. Sure there have been times when I was curious, and almost created a little Christene avatar simply to see what it is like, but I am sure I would lose interest about five minutes in. At no point during my internet browsing do I want to do virtual vacuuming. If I wanted to interact with my friends, I would go out with them, and if they were unavailable, I would simply wait for them to become available again. I have no need to create the internet’s version of voodoo dolls and name them Tanya and Stephanie while freakishly posting pictures of them in my make-believe internet life that is suspiciously similar to my real life, except with fish and a back yard.
One person believes that creating the mini version of yourself online helps you regain some control since you are now in charge of your atmosphere and no longer at the whim of demands of real life. But from what I am gathering, that is exactly how these games work. Like the Tamagotchi friends of the 90’s, you spend the entirety of your free time feeding, entertaining, and otherwise maintaining this virtual being where you become a slave to its needs while it simultaneously reacts to the needs of its program. No one appears to be autonomous in this equation.
In fact, after a little bit of research it seems the entire purpose of these games is to give people more responsibilities to handle. Should you decide to live your actual real life one night and not log onto your computer, you will return to dead fish, a dying crop of blueberries, a highly depressed mini version of you, and a lot of pretend dirty dishes in the sink. Months of after-hours of play acting have been undone by only a few moments of neglect. My children could probably survive on their own longer than some of these virtual characters, thus breeding a dependency upon you which takes over your entire life. Maybe that is the point. You become so absorbed in your created online life that you actually stop living your real one in lieu of feeding pretend fish at night. Then you invite all of your friends to play, and instead of any human interaction everyone will play house by themselves with make-believe people that just highly resemble people that they used to know.