Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Are computer games changing our reality?

Computer games often reflect real world activities with an added hint of fantasy – but how is this fantasy changing and becoming our reality?

The only games I’m really into are football (soccer) games, so we’ll start there. I know for starter’s that the player ratings in these games often influence my friends’ opinions on which players are good in real life. (It should be noted that this is especially true of those friend’s who prefer the game to watching real football).

So as an example, one of my mates is convinced that Fulham’s Moussa Dembele is God’s gift to football and has for too long been overlooked for the ballon d’or award. A bit of a reality check with some youtube videos, and I am still not convinced. 

This is perhaps even more true on games such as football manager. The game maker’s have a network of scouts that give player ratings across the world. These ultimately impact many fans’ opinions of the real life players (we are easily influenced creatures). 

More than just alter perceptions of reality, many computer games can totally change a person’s reality to something else. I’m thinking here of ‘Second Life’ type games, or equally World of Warcraft. I’ve got my fair share of friends who are obsessed with these types of games – and I enjoy hearing the horror stories of WoW players who live their ‘real’ lives just to facilitate them maximising their online lives. 

That is, they work just so they can pay their subscription – or more likely, still in their mom’s basement, they just get by on the bare nutrition scraped from toast and pop-tarts, just so they can get those few extra minutes on the game. They sacrifice everything but the ultimate basics in real life so they can maximise their lives in the game. In this way, the simulation is more important than reality, and so supersedes it. 

So in this sense these games may change our perception of the reality. Do they really change the ‘reality’ itself though? 

(All this is assuming there is something that is ‘real’ that is more than just people’s perceptions. What else is there?).  

I want to move away from these extreme examples for a moment and look at a very common one instead. Social media. Facebook brings our social interactions away from the face-to-face, and puts them online. We write messages, send links and instant message people instead of seeing them in real life. 

Our social relationships are increasingly being stripped of many elements that were present say a century ago. First, the percentage of relationships spent face to face has decreased. Furthermore, the percentage of time speaking, rather than typing, to each other is decreasing.

The logic behind this modern communication is that it is quicker and easier. We are told this so often that it often takes over our logic. For example, I increasingly catch myself tempted to text or IM a friend rather than calling them up – even though I know phoning them up would be quicker, easier and more effective really.
So again, having looked at a few examples of how computer games and computerised communication have simulated our real lives and social relationships, I return to ask what are the wider points we can draw from this. 

The football games and Second Life instances shows that simulations are a powerful force in forming our opinions of ‘reality’.  In fact, it becomes very unclear what ‘reality’ is, if not our perceptions. I don’t want to become bogged down in a ‘what is reality’ debate, (which I think mainly comes down to linguistics)– but these examples of simulations are powerful reminders that what we perceive as real is very readily influenced and transformed. 

Moreover, Facebook and WoW both exemplify how social relationships are increasingly simulated and imitated online. By putting them online, they are in a place that opens up capital opportunities – to subscribe to a service, or for advertising.


  1. Jesus are you reading Baudrillard? This is all post modern thought, Baudrillard primarily. The interfacing, the simulated reality.

    Here's my same take on the Bella/Rob and Edward/Kristen wedding in Breaking Dawn.

    We are fast moving into simulated reality. When it is total we will be in Virtual Reality. From VR there is no return as it is irreversible and no escape. What Cosmopolis and Twilight are about.

    Now get into video games and the loss of reality. And Cronenberg's films are all about the interfacing. You've got a lot of friends out there.

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