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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

"god-mode" is Healthier?

One of the most unique things about my generation is introduction of electronic technology. Electronic media has exploded in the last 20 years, making those of us in our late 20's to 30's old enough to remember life before the changes, but young enough to take much of the change for granted. I heard a guy describe the "E-generation" as those born after 1975...I just barely slide under the radar there.

I still remember getting our Atari 2600 for Christmas one year. Once we opened that box, Christmas could have ended just then. When we finished opening the other presents, cleaned up the mess, and oh yes, thanked our relatives, I was quick to hook that it up to the TV and see what it could do. Later that week, I remember playing Pac-man as neighbors stood in our living room, amazed that I could control where the yellow dot moved. "You mean you can make him go in the bottom left corner?" "Can he move to the middle too?" It seemed that we reached the pinacle of video entertainment.

Things rapidly improved. Sega and Nintendo came out. Now, the characters weren't just colored blobs, but people who looked distinct from each other. Sports games improved graphics, plus systems collaborated with players unions, meaning I could actually control Mickey Tettleton.

Yet, for a while, they all still had one thing in common. Your perspective was from above. Watching as players moved to your command. No matter what game you were playing, it in a sense was like chess. You told the pieces where to go and watched to see the consequences. You didn't even think about this...it's just the way all games were played. Years later, once games had become more sophisticated and changed their perspective, we began to call the old-school way "god-mode."

Now, few games are played in "god-mode." Graphics, story lines and expectations have increased. Now we play most games from a first person perspective. Please bear with me if I overspiritualize, but I miss the old way:

1. "god-mode" seemed to keep a clearer boundary between reality and fiction. If I became good at a game (by the time I had retired my Atari 2600, I had figured out enough glitches to beat the cpu 200-0 in football), I knew I was simply good at the video game, not the actual sport. I could hit the ducks in Duckhunt, but I knew that didn't qualify me to enter the local trapshoot competition.

2. It reminded me that I'm not in control. Man, I loved nothing more than lining up on defense as Greg Lloyd. I'd send him after the qb everytime. Yet sometimes, he'd get blocked, the running back would break his tackle, or (gasp!) he would suffer an injury. No matter what, I really wasn't in charge, and couldn't control things. I may be playing in "god-mode" but I certainly lacked the omnipotence of God.

3. I remained me. Never once did I actually think I was Greg Lloyd, or even Bill Cowher. My identity remained mine. The game was an escape from reality (as most leisure is) yet I was the one escaping. It just seems that with the electronic age, many people are escaping the reality of who they are, not just the world around them. This may seem to be a minor point, and I know I'm not really articulating it well, but it seems that when the system is turned off, some people today have trouble turning off that cpu-created-identity as well.

For me, I had played golf on the computer long before I played it in real life. Once I finally got on a course, I assumed it wouldn't take long before my drives were 300 yards. I assumed my shots would generally go straight and even assumed club selection would be a rather easy thing. Reality is a whole different story. I soon realized that winning a simulated PGA Tour on the computer in no way meant I had a clue about real life. Couldn't this sadly be the same for some regarding war, sports, driving or even interacting with women? They receive a false perception that clouds their reaction in life.

4. Graphic depictions were less. In Combat, I would "blow up" an enemy tank. The tank would just disappear in smoke. Today, I'd see blood, fire, burning flesh--any number of things. Granted, the graphics are awesome and much more realistic. But that's part of the problem too. Could they be desensitizing us to the things of society? (Do I react differently to immodesty or violence because I just accept it as part of life now?)

I'm not saying that we get rid of video games. Not at all! I'm also not calling for a reduction in the video quality or control of the games. But I think, more than ever before, we better be interacting with others about the games. How do we engage in entertainment without becoming driven by it? How do I enjoy playing as a character I will never really be (Though I don't enjoy his game in real life, it is kind of fun to bully people in the paint like Shaq), without trying to become that character.

I don't know if it's the shift in society or in the games themselves, but far more seems to be at stake now. It's not an issue of the rating system that's used either. Some seem to take a moment to escape reality, only they never truly return. We better be having real conversations with real people face to face, or we may forget which is life and which is just a game.

(If you'd like to go to the radio conversation that sparked this thought for me, check out Al Mohler, "Video Games and Virtual Reality").

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