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Video Games: The Elephant in the screen

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Edited by: Janani Mahadevan

If a discussion about the cultural phenomena of the late 20th and 21st centuries is ever broached, it is often dominated by video games. For those who grew up with them, this fact is undisputed. Video games command a following like no other; something about them has led to an explosion in popularity. Each year, bigger, better and more beautiful titles are being launched. Some of these games have budgets that are competitive with mainstream Hollywood films. Going by the sales figures, this domination of the gaming industry is only expected to increase. 

Different people derive different kinds of value while  spending time with a video game. Some just want to have fun, some are looking for a deep story-driven experience, and others treat it as an escape from reality. Whatever is the case, everyone agrees that video games are the predominant form of personalised entertainment. They combine the one-to-one nature of the novel with the vivid imagery of cinema. Even though there is a story, how it plays out is increasingly left up to the player. Gone are the days of merely fantasizing about being the hero and saving the fair lady; you can actually embody them now. This level of identification with characters is a facet of video games that is only amplifying;in a few year’s time, thanks to VR technologies championed by Meta, the line between character and player will be even more nominal. 

An unparalleled element of creative freedom exists in open-world games, where players can do anything within the game’s mechanics and even go further than that by augmenting the games with custom modifications, turning a video game into the ultimate pastime. Add a level of multiplayer competition to the mix and you have created the most prevalent parenting problem of our time: video game addiction. Securing the victory of other real players delivers the same dopamine fix which we get after winning in (real life) sports. However, our physical limitations limit our ability to play sports for extended periods and therefore make it an unviable addiction to pursue. Video games pose no such hindrance and without self-control, managing time becomes difficult. 

However, the players are not the only ones responsible for developing an addiction to video games. Game developers play an equal part in furthering this addiction, too. The meteoric rise of free-to-play games, which feature microtransactions for in-game resources, are another facet of this addiction. When a game developer does not charge you for playing their game, it means that the game is not the product being sold — you are. More specifically, your attention and your human frailties are targeted by the developer. These games are modeled in such a way that progression is unnecessarily cumbersome and time-consuming for players who don’t engage in microtransactions. Therefore, you are left with two choices: either you spend unreasonable amounts of time to progress in the game, or you succumb to the developer, spend money, and make progression easier. 

Another major source of revenue is in-game customizations, a trend that isn’t  going to go away anytime soon  judging by the reception NFTs are receiving today. Digital assets become more and more relevant and valuable when most of our lives are spent digitally, in the ‘metaverse’. Younger generations are increasingly finding succour in social media sites and video games. Those who can afford it do indulge in video games, which is increasingly becoming a costly yet essential part of their lives. Those who can’t for one reason or another, will resort to watching someone else play video games on sites like Twitch or Youtube and receive at least in part the thrill and joy of doing so themselves. Consequently, streaming sites and streamers are no longer a niche, owing to their growing audience numbers and lucrative partnership deals with large platforms and other sponsors. Today, a Youtuber or Twitch Streamer is a legitimate and even widely aspirational career pathway. 

Many such internet personalities have become popular celebrities while conventional celebrities have tried to leverage their stardom in the promising space of the internet. It would not be wrong to say that most of the world interacts with each other only via the internet now. So, to remain relevant and catch as many eyeballs as possible, one must turn to it. Despite the many commercial underpinnings of the video game revolution we have been witnessing till now, it has changed the lives of many. Some of Gen Z’s fondest collective memories revolve around video games. Games deliver an experience like no other and retain their freshness despite age. In many ways, video games have become more than a form of entertainment. Like many of life’s experiences, they constitute an essential part of our development and enable us to thrive as human beings.

I am not alone in admitting that some video games have changed me fundamentally. The stories they tell and the emotion they elicit are unique to each of us. Recently, I played Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2. Its ending made me cry tears of joy and provided intense satisfaction. I believe that the fifty or so hours I spent playing that game were genuinely well spent. I can’t imagine a reality where I did not play that game;such was its value to me. Although I was aware of the risks of video game addictions and the exploitative nature of microtransactions, I could completely understand why they are so popular just from the feeling that game gave me. In conclusion, I hope we balance our approach towards video games, avoid the pitfalls and scale ever newer heights. 

Srijay Raj

Ashoka '23

I am interested in spirituality, music, films and politics.
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