• XtraLife: First Person Addiction

    First Person Addiction

    I sit upon the roof, looking down on the streets of Paris. I spy a patrol, then a large walking robot. I make mental notes of these and start to go over my predicament. I need to figure out a way to get into the catacombs; my contact is there, but the streets are locked down, and even though I’m a nano-infused super spy, I don’t stand a chance in a head to head gun fight. I’ll have to use my wit and skills to evade certain death. I crouch in the grass. Close by, a low growl has set my nerves on end. The problem with being quiet is others have the same idea; that 4 legged killer is the color of the night and the 4 arrows I sank in him didn’t seem to effect him. I curse my laxness at the tagging processes as it’d be nice to see him... A shot rings by, my vision blurs as the dust and stones pepper my face. Ahead, my squad is taking serious armored vehicle flack, they need my explosives, but that sniper somehow centered me out and has me pinned. The ground's shaking, a tank rolls by, inches from my face spewing its hefty shells into the side of an unsuspecting armored personnel carrier. The glass and steel provide me with chances mere people miss. I sprint, jump and grab my way to a higher zone. I may not have a gun but I’m certain the people I’m avoiding can barely see me, let alone hit me, as I leap a death-defying arc onto a stack of pipes before planting my feet firmly for some seriously amazing horizontal running. “Pills!” I hear my compadre shout from a dark room near the roller coaster area, a large steroid-induced Zombie made mincemeat of our other friends, so we don’t pause long, the relentless swarm of zombies is only a chance for them to regroup and contemplate what sauce to have with our brains!

    First person games are my bread and butter.

    Occasionally I will happily play a 3rd person game, but nothing immerses you more than seeing your “hands” in front of you. Psychologically it’s a lot easier to become that character. If you play racers try this: Play a race in “third” person view, and race. Then replay the race, this time be inside the car. I can almost guarantee you’ll feel more like a racer than before. Same in shooters. By seeing your hands wrap around a gun makes you feel like you are there. Ever since I first set my eyes on those pixelated arms in Doom, I knew this was something special. A link between myself and who I could be, if that simple thing called mortality was removed. Here’s the hard bit to conceptualise. As a player in any game you are safe. Zombies, Aliens, Monsters on a screen cannot harm you. Theres no way they can. Then how come in some games you feel genuinely scared? How is it a shot whizzing by you in Battlefield 3 feels like you are really getting shot at, or a Jaguar growling at you in the woods of Far Cry puts the chills down your spine?? Lets not mention the adrenaline kicks Arma II’s Day Z can give us. Thats the beauty of first person POV, it’ll fake your mind into becoming something more than human. You transcended mortality yet you still fear mortal things. Mr Toledano is a very accomplished photographer, he tends to focus on subjects other than portraits - his photography echoes untold stories and unfinished sentences. He covered expressions of gamers and the results are artfully rendered. The complexity of humans relating to a video game are captured in awe-ridden detail and beauty.

    Reading, and watching movies is very passive. There is a story to be told and you are merely a passenger, allowed to see or read it, but completely powerless. They can elicit some emotions and in a way I’d argue that they have a harder time in the video game industry replicating those emotions that actors have spent years honing to make you tear up or jump out of your seat. Watching Olympus Has Fallen, I reflected on the fantasy lives we bestow regularly upon ourselves. We actually have a great gift, our lives are rich and busy and we often overlook the smaller things, so when we add something so fake into our lives can we truly recover something of worth from it?

    I remember reading Ernest Clines “Ready Player One” and just being in awe at the entire concept of society readily accepting the imposition of an alter-ego-driven reality, where reality becomes the virtual reality. It portrays a fantasy world and is a fantastic voyage through the 80s-90s, but something struck a tune with me. I tend to play games 2-3 times a week, I average 4 hours a night - That's about 12 hours, again this is an average; some weeks I barely play, others I have more free time... But generally, I pretty much spend just over half a day per week in another world. This made me think about a few things (I need a new hobby?), then I decided to do a brief blanket question (“How many hours do you average a week in games?”), to 5 random friends in hopes of redeeming myself, and to get a general idea of what's normal.

    Gamer 1: “106 hours this past 2 weeks.” Gamer 2: "Too many," followed by, “sometimes 40+, depends on the week.” Gamer 3: “20-30 Hours probably.” Gamer 4 : “Ummmm 30+, Wow I need a hobby.” Gamer 5: “Mmm... depends on if school is busy. Busy weeks: 0, non-busy weeks: 10-20.” It seems to vary, but around 32 hrs a week seems average (for these guys combined). Thats over 1 whole day in another life. I think we can start calling it another life, when on average these players are role playing close to 1 month of each year. And if that isn’t a strong enough argument, consider this: By playing first person shooters, I could argue your brain assimilates the information as real interactions, and if you were to pick up a rifle at a shooting range in real life, the sensation of loading, aiming, and firing, would feel considerably less foreign than if you were never to touch a gun in your alter ego's life. You see, your brain is smart, but can be fooled into perceiving the actions upon the screen as real. You jump when a rifle fires off, in game, because you are startled and scared you may get shot. You sweat real beads of perspiration as you try to escape Chernarus for the first time, whilst players hunt you and zombies tail behind. I found, recently, Bioshock Infinite made me choke up in parts of the story, a feeling never drawn from me upto now. As game developers create more and more palpable environments, are they cognisant of the worlds they are creating? Do they realise many of us will lose our alter egos into these worlds?

    Jumping dimensions is easy in gaming, but when you do, can you truly come back? How many times do those virtual worlds perpetuate into your daily lives? Think about it and it’s alarming. Recently a gamer joked how on his drive home from work he scoured the fields for downed choppers - this was a reaction to Day Z’s infamous downed helicopters that spawn “loot.” Another piped in saying he can’t look at barns the same way and always looks for parked vehicles near them, and has an overwhelming envy to see if they are in working order. We emerge from these games changed people, no longer do we observe the same reality; part of us is left trapped within the game. Trapped is harsh as often we feel more trapped in our own lives, the ones where you have to work, do the dishes, feed the dog and mow the lawn. In our alter ego's lives we slay dragons, defeat alien overlords and fall prey to the desires and whims of the game's creative directors. Arguing play vs work is very real, there are many games that have some seriously menial tasks, and people still play them as video games give you the power to effect certain elements; sometimes your input into the world can completely change the events and story, other times you simply follow a loosely laid path, and are allowed to do what you like between each section. You can be whatever you feel like, providing someone has created a world for your alter-ego to live in.

    Experiences make us who we are, our personalities are a blend of stories and moments. By adding in an alternate reality's experiences we are indeed becoming a truly strange group of people. I am me. I am MaximusBoomus. Only I know where I end and Maximus begins. The non-detectable merging of fantasy and reality is almost mind numbing when you think of the ramifications; considering you take into mind that we are completely aware of the rift between the worlds. All I really know is games have given us a wonderful chance to undergo some amazing adventures with friends and alone, and that's something worth toasting to!

    This is Me/MaximusBoomus leaving you with two questions (feel free to leave answers in the comments section):
    • “How many hours a week do you play video games?”
    • "Do you feel your gaming has directly influenced your character outside of the alter-ego world?