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kwanzudood Blog

Videogames vs. real life: Why is success in videogames regarded as less worthy?

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Society at large still looks down upon video games as escapist entertainment akin to movies or books; most people look at those who play organized sports and have no trouble heaping praise on the players for their accomplishments. However, when it comes to digital accomplishments, we don't see any news coverage of the player at the top of the leaderboards for Modern Warfare (assuming they're legitimate). Someone who obsesses with playing basketball is looked upon more favorably than a player who memorizes the nuances of every turn of every track in Gran Turismo in order to compete online. If you have a clerical position in a company and desire a more managerial role, you can't add to your resume any management or team-building skills developed in organizing your World of Warcraft guild of 100+ players. In nearly every instance (I really can't think of any examples to the contrary), success in a tangible, physical endeavor trumps success in videogames from the perspective of the average onlooker. A gamer could spend hours honing his craft and instincts with developing squad strategies and positioning in Battlefield in the same way that a soccer player practices dribbling the ball, but does the gamer's dedication warrant the same kind of popular favor that would be given to the soccer player? Maybe the gamer would be internally self-satisfied with his own skills and ability in the game, but many would question whether or not those successes are actually valid when compared to another's success in a tangible activity. The purpose of this writing is not to argue that videogame prowess should equate to prowess in a physical activity, but more to examine why success and skill in the digital and the physical realms seem to be valued unequally by society in general.

Physical reality versus digital reality:

It seems that one might argue that being skilled in videogames is essentially a useless activity because it doesn't affect anything in the tangible, "real world." Some people spend their time sharpening their mind in thinking about chess sequences, or developing their instincts in playing poker, and both of these games barely involve the tangible, "real world." If someone shows skill in shooting a 3-pointer in basketball versus expertly placing a reflexive, instinctive headshot in an FPS, somehow it just seems that the basketball player is regarded as having more valid prowess and will likely receive more recognition for his/her skill. Of course, receiving recognition could also be a function of how widespread or mainstream the videogame activity is. Many videogames are essentially a rough emulation of real-world activities, and some would argue that this is the reason why skill at videogames shouldn't equate to skill in an actual real-world activity. The best example of this is comparing Guitar Hero gamers to actual musicians. Personally, I'm also "guilty" of this mindset, as a musician I feel that the time that gamers spend in beating songs on "expert" difficulty would be better spent in actually learning guitar chords and pentatonic scales. In retrospect, one could retort to me that my time sunk into playing Battlefield would be better spent actually serving in a warzone (I did actually serve in the Army Reserve and was deployed to the Middle East) or my time spent playing Fight Night would be better spent actually taking up boxing. But nevertheless, for some reason, in my internal value system, I believe that Guitar Hero players should just drop their plastic guitarlets (the guitar controllers look like real guitars with Down syndrome) and learn to play an actual guitar. Why am I discounting the skill of a Guitar Hero player? They have developed skill in performing a certain activity for their own and others' enjoyment, so do they not deserve at least some similar recognition? The Guitar Hero player's skill in the digital realm somehow seems less valid than a musician's skill in the physical realm. I would like to hear some readers' comments about this.


Are online friends real friends?

Do you consider the other players you've met and befriended on Xbox Live (or PSN, or other online networks) as real connections? Of course, it may not be the same as having the kind of friend who would visit you if you were sick in the hospital, but there are gamers out there who actually consider their clan, squad, etc. as a viable support network. And why shouldn't they? Through raids or clanmatches or what-have-you, they have experienced struggling together and struggling with others creates camaraderie. At the same time, I'm sure that many gamers would be hesitant to present their online network of friends as "real friends" to their actual, physical friends. I'm sure there are some online friendships centered around videogames that have persisted for years, through different iterations of video game franchises, expansion packs, or game systems. When one compares the online experiences shared with an online friend to some experiences with real friends, the real-world experiences may even seem mundane compared to epic online battles and other encounters. Yet there is still something that seems more valid with having an actual flesh-and-blood friend that you could call up and visit. The likely reason that a strong online friendship couldn't become an actual friendship is geographic location which is likely out of all parties' control; at the same time, having a set of online friends is somehow regarded as less valid than having a set of real friends. When a notice pops up signalling that an online friend has signed on, there is still that similar feeling that one gets of recognizing a familiar face when an actual friend would swing by the gym, the basketball court, or the bar. It's a real emotional reaction, varying in degree by person I'm sure, but it's still there, so couldn't an online friendship be regarded with similar validity to an actual friendship? Readers, please post your thoughts on this.


Online competition versus actual competition

Online competitive play presents a pretty unique situation when compared to traditional competition in the physical realm. In traditional, "real" competition, players compete based on immediate geographic location, and the top contender from each location widens their competitive pool by expanding the region from which they draw other challengers (i.e., city, county, regionals, all-state, etc.). With online competitive play, the spectrum of players and skill presented is so wide at the onset, and "noobs" have to learn how to survive competition with very highly skilled players right from the very beginning. This can greatly speed up the learning process in figuring out the nuances of the game. Imagine playing basketball at a local park and possibly being matched up against college-level basketball players in your very first game, at random. Back in 2003 during my Army deployment, a lot of nights were spent playing Halo: CE against 7 other guys in my squad. We spent so many nights playing that we all felt that we were pretty good at the game. However, when we returned back to the US and Halo 2 was released, we started playing online on Xbox Live. We saw strategies and tactics that we had never even thought of, and our game improved immensely and quickly, just by being exposed to so many other players in a short period of time. I'm sure others have experienced the same thing in playing online games, and I believe it says something about the competitive online gamer in comparison to traditional forms of competition. With the wide spectrum of competitors online, competitive online gamers learn, adapt more quickly, and learn the nuances of their game more thoroughly than a traditional, face-to-face competitor would in their chosen sport. Of course, this is assuming that innate physical ability was comparable across all players. This is not to say that online competition trumps actual face-to-face competition, but it is interesting to note that it could take a baseball player 20+ years to develop their skill and abilities to the point of major league competition (if they even get there), and it could take a Starcraft player only a few years to reach the same equivalent level (i.e., competing on a world-wide level), and I believe this is because the wider spectrum of competitors online helps develop their skills faster. I'm sure this statement will incite discussion, I'd like to hear your thoughts.


Admittedly, with a lot of the points I've brought up, I should really consider the fact that videogames are still a relatively new activity and not fully understood by many, and gaming as a hobby still retains a high barrier to entry for a lot of people. Most of the major sports I've used for comparison have been around for at least a couple of decades. "Videogames vs. real life" is just a point that I've wanted to discuss for awhile, maybe to validate my own time spent playing videogames. I'm really interested in hearing what ideas my readers might bring up, and I'll discuss any good ones in a future blog post. Thanks for reading!