The words “calm down, it’s only a game,” have been heard, in all likelihood, by almost everyone over their lifetimes. It tends to come in response to a negative reaction to something in a game, from losing Monopoly to the Champions League Final.
And for those of us who play video games, this turn of phrase is even more common, and even more aggravating.
Being killed or otherwise defeated in a video game, over and over again, is at best annoying, and at worst, costly in terms of in-game currency. Perhaps you lose experience points, or virtual money used to buy items, but whatever it is, the outcome is often the same. A heartfelt, often passionate feeling of anger and sadness. But why? Because, as is rightly pointed out, often in the immediate aftermath of such an outburst, it really is just a game. So what if you lose in-game money?
You can’t spend it in real world anyway. You haven’t actually lost anything. Or so what if you die in game? You can just try again, you haven’t actually died in real life, so stop complaining. The answer is, of course, that we have failed to achieve our targets in game, and this failure is what generates these negative emotions. The odd thing is that, in some cases, the feeling is exactly the same as if we fail to do something in the real world, although often not as long lasting or as extreme.
Now this last point is key. At the moment, if you concede a 90th minute equaliser on a football game, what happens? You are annoyed, sure, maybe even genuinely upset. But no one would argue that this feeling compares to how you would feel if you were actually a footballer whose team had just conceded the same equaliser in real life. Why? Well because that’s real, whereas the video game isn’t. Why does that matter? Well because you’ve trained years for that one moment, enduring plenty, and to have victory snatched away so cruelly in real life, given this, is completely different to someone who picks up a controller and plays a game.
Currently, this is an adequate response. But the onset of Virtual Reality, in a vein similar to the new movie Ready Player One, might just lead is to re-think this. Because just as one can lose in a video game, one can also achieve. It’s really hard to complete some of the achievements in a huge RPG like Dark Souls, for example. It takes skill and dedication. And yet, when someone does manage to do it, instead of their achievement being celebrated, often it is at best it is often ignored and at worst, ridiculed. But a fully immersive Virtual Reality experience may lead us to change our tune.
The example I am going to use to illustrate the point, whilst it may seem far-fetched, is not so unlikely if the relevant philosophical literature is to be believed. Firstly, consider this. Why do we idolise and respect those who climb Mount Everest? Obviously, because it’s really hard to climb. It takes years of training, unbelievable levels of endurance, and, I would imagine, really hurts. If I were to ask you, whether me climbing Everest on a computer game compares to the real thing in terms of difficulty, the answer would be no. All I’m doing is sitting on my sofa playing on a console. Therefore, I don’t deserve the reception that a real mountain climber deserves.
But now consider this. You put on a headset that is so realistic if you didn’t know any better you’d swear you were on Everest.
Furthermore, you are wearing a full body suit that can mimic, down to a T, every sensation one might have climbing Everest. Every bite from the freezing wind, all the aches and pains that undoubtedly ravage the bodies of people who climb Everest, perfectly accurately. So to put it simply, it is just as physically demanding for you to climb Everest, in terms of pain, as it would be for someone actually climbing the mountain. Would this be regarded as comparatively impressive?
This is still a video game, one might say, your body hasn’t actually moved anywhere, so one could argue that because of that fact, no it wouldn’t be. But again we come back to the earlier question. What’s so hard about actually moving your limbs in such a way so as to climb Everest? It’s really difficult for a number of reasons. But in the near future, every stress and strain you would expose yourself to on the mountain may be simulated artificially in your brain. After all, our brains tell us when something hurts. For you, it wouldn’t matter that you hadn’t actually been there, your body would hurt just as much as if you had.
This is a specific example, but the same could apply to a virtual experience where you swim the English Channel, or complete a marathon. Now when it comes to how much credit we give someone for doing something, there are things other than physical endurance we take into account. Perhaps you are running the marathon for charity, which is admirable and worthy of praise even if you come last.
But, it seems to us that the experiences would be comparable on a physical level, and thus, effectively, playing a video game where you climb Everest would warrant congratulations in the same realm as those you would give to someone who had actually been and done it.