Go for it Ruin Your Fun

by on November 27th, 2014
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There is something so visceral about a new game. For first rate games (insert choice game here) you brave the midnight release party that is awash in an almost raw animal exuberance. People stand in line chatting away at the new features, updated graphics, or differing game play of the title with the anticipation of little Ralphie on Christmas morning.

You feverishly grip your seventy-five bucks as you approach the cashier, a little bit of sweat trickles down your forehead. Is it the copious amounts of hope and desire or the Rockstar energized swarm of fellow gamers that makes this room so hot, you think to yourself. The slightly cute girl-next-door cashier who barely understands the fervor, let alone respects it, grabs your copy of the game and slides it into your hand with the receipt. With a little smile and a friendly goodbye you rush out the doors elated that the time has finally come. You own the it title of the season.

For the following few weeks you dive into the game full force. You figure out the mechanics, you are engrossed into the storyline, and you feverishly attempt to climb the ranks by capturing achievements and trophies; you are completely and fully invested. By the time you are done you understand each and every turn in the plot, know the fastest route to a sniping nest, or one of another of the innumerable little tricks that have been learned. In the end the accomplishments you set for yourself in playing the game are completed and you can happily place the game in your library knowing your hard earned money was well spent.

What happens if certain aspects of this vignette were changed? What if instead of braving the wilds of an early release someone waited for a used copy to arrive in store? What if somebody did not even spend money on the game and burned a copy to play on their modded console? Alternatively what if the game was purchased but when they got home they looked online for game glitches that allowed them to exploit programming errors? What about dialing down the difficulty to a preschool difficulty?

As gamers we have our own subjective reason for playing video games and within those reasons are objectives that we place upon the medium that allows us to derive pleasure. When an objective is met our sense of accomplishment adds to our overall sense of self, which concurrently releases certain hormone types, that in turn makes us feel good (it is this mechanic that is at play when people talk about video games being addictive…but that is a conversation for another day). So what affect do the questions posed above have upon our experience in playing a video game?

A powerful affecter upon every human being’s conscious is that of cognitive dissonance. This is the idea that a person cannot hold two conflicting ideas in the mind. For example one cannot say that they both love Bioshock and hate it at the same time (unless they are being facetious). If they truly love the game Bioshock they find ways to rationalize the parts of the game they truly do not like in order to give reason to continue playing. Conversely if they hated Bioshock they will rationalize the parts of the game they may find intriguing as being the lone component that was enjoyable. The more time spent with the game the more these rationalizations are cemented as becoming our true opinion (I am sure we can think of a certain demographic in the gaming community that does this unhealthy degree).

A sub-component of cognitive dissonance is that of how we rationalize the effort made on a certain event. That event can be anything from joining a club, driving a car, playing video games, or even arguing with a partner. As rationalization of the effort goes there is a direct relation between the amount of effort made to the event and how much sense of worth one places upon said event. The more time spent in a frivolous argument the more worth the arguers have in proving their point, especially if the stakes are high in other parts of their life (such as needing to control another to compensate for a lack of self-esteem).

In our discussion of video games the less a person spends on a particular video game the less sense of worth the game has to them. Since the person doesn’t place a high sense of worth upon a game they will derive less a sense of pleasure from the game which creates cognitive dissonance. To compensate for this cognitive dissonance (that of why am I playing something that is worthless) these people need to either find other value in the game through things like dominating the experience in spite of others they play against, being in the top ten of a leaderboard at any cost, or just not playing the game after a few moments of play.

My Last Quarter

There are many areas in which cognitive dissonance affects our pleasure derived from electronic media. As an individual insists of circumventing their regular role in video games they also circumvent the processes in which pleasure is derived from the medium. So although the neighbor next door has a collection of over a hundred burned copies of triple “A” video game titles that they “play” on their modded console it is through the collection of numerous titles and bragging to others that they resolve the dissonance that they place little worth on their collection. The person who seeks and uses glitches in order to obtain a high ranking score is also the person is doesn’t see their name being at the top in the same reverence as the person who plays fairly and with skill to truly earn their limelight. The same could be said of purchasing high ranking characters in MMO’s, outright stealing video games, using cheats, macro leveling, buying a game used, limiting the extended periods of play (since this also leads to exhaustion), and to some extent manipulating difficulty settings to race through a game first.

To derive the maximum pleasure from a game the independent gamer should first understand what they actually enjoy about video games. Is it the feelings of momentary escape? Is it the comradery of playing with a group? Is it the active engagement of the story? It is up to the gamer to discover this first then make appropriate game choices not based on the subjective numbers of magazines or websites but their very personal needs. Then reduce the possibilities of dissonance through playing within the confines of the games rules, actually purchasing the game, and limit the extended all day play sessions. Finally participation in the community of the game helps make the player feel more a part of the game itself. This includes posting to forums ways to teach newer participants in the game how to play, working on mods that add what you may feel the developers missed, and actively engaging those who bring the experience down. This can be accomplished by being active in calling out cheaters, bigots, and the other unscrupulous gamers.

So the next time your brother-in-law says he just made it to the top of the leader board in (insert choice game here) on his modded 360 with a hacked together super controller just know he has to brag since he doesn’t get any real pleasure from the game and only wishes you to resolve his own cognitive dissonance.

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