I’ve been fairly stressed lately. As someone approaching my late 20’s, I often wonder if I have made the correct decisions throughout my life. Within video games I often have feelings of self doubt, but they are remedied quickly by the parameters of the game itself. Games are designed around exploration, self-discovery, and retries. Sometimes retries cost a quarter, but they are almost always available and always encouraged.
Too often it seems like life is about avoiding risk. Living without health insurance is risky, so many people pine after a steady job with benefits in order to live risk free. But is that really living? Often those jobs demand a super majority of the individuals time, so much so that he or she is encourage to internalize their role and begin to define themselves by it.
Video games allow you explore unique possibilities. It is risky for Mario to run under Bowser legs in order to defeat him. However, after doing so Mario has the possibility of saving the princess, or she might just be in another castle. Video game treasures are often hidden beyond difficult bosses or complicated puzzles. It is risky to attempt to reach them, but the developers usually make their existence well known as they attempt to lure you towards discovery.
Real life does not lure you towards discovery. Newspapers and media constantly tell stories of the wicked world outside your home. Murders, accidents, natural disasters, and crime fill the airwaves, attempting to tell stories about the danger of exploration and self-discovery. Thus, the public is encouraged to maintain their careers with benefits in retirement and live life safely. Ultimately the message received becomes one that equates change with danger.
Perhaps because of or in spite of this mindset, video games become havens for discovery and risk. Gamers are encouraged to visit dangerous places repeatedly. If you fall of a ledge in Super Mario Odyssey, you lose a measly 10 coins. In Final Fantasy XIV, you are encouraged to embody a digital avatar representing yourself within a broader community. At the beginning of the game you must decide between 8 different classes that will define your job within the community for years to come. At first it seems a lot like choosing a job in the real world, until you discover that you can actually change your job at any time and they switch back just as easily.
Final Fantasy XIV encourages exploration and self-discovery. If you want to be a Bard, you can be a Bard. If it turns out that you don’t like shooting arrows, you can quickly change to a job that wields a samurai sword. The game thrives on this architecture, you are encouraged to find the role that fits you best and you are not punished for trying new things. Dark Souls encourages you to build a certain character archetype, but also allows you to change weapons and skills with little penalty. Monster Hunter: World encourages you to spend precious resources upgrading weapons, but allows you to rollback any upgrades and regain the materials spent.
Compare this system with the real world. After graduating college or high school you must decide a career. If you feel like you no longer enjoying sitting at a desk for eight hours a day, or traveling every weekend then it is very difficult to try something else. It might be easier to quit or resign from any job, but is infinitely more difficult to find a new job. And employers are more likely to view a person with multiple jobs as flaky and unreliable rather than experience and varied.
I firmly believe in the importance of variety within one’s life. I try to fill my life with an endless stream of new experiences. Obviously, I play a lot of different video games, I watch a ton of movies, I read novels and comic books (and manga), I try to keep up with new television shows, two years ago I tried learning some French, this year I’m trying to learn more Japanese, I like snowboarding and cross country skiing. You might see me running on occasion and practicing a unique form of yoga. I listen to all kinds of music and play the saxophone, clarinet, piano, and guitar, some better than others. I also view myself as a teacher, student, and life long learner.
Why does real life saddle us with so much rigidity? Especially, when the boundaries within video games are so easily flexible. Treat the people around you as complicated beings, no one can be solely defined by their career. Because often our hobbies and passions reveal more about our true character than a salaried job. And that is why even though I am extremely busy and stressed with my “real job” I still try to find time to write about video games and the important impact that they can have on ourselves. I use video games as a means of exploration and self-discovery, although sometimes I wish that I could go out and explore the real world too. I feel like those experiences would go a long way towards finding my own self.
Which game do you think has the best job system? Do you play video games to fulfill a sense of exploration?
Jake “prettyboyplaid” Fredericks