Are videogames part of the real world?

Videogames are often juxtaposed with reality. Even among those who endorse them, games are considered respite for those who want to check out of the day-to-day. When we say things like this, we are essentially reducing gaming to an inferior category of existence as compared to “real life”: it is time invested in fantasy as opposed to reality. Jane McGonigal takes issue with these beliefs:

I think it’s important to identify (and possibly challenge) the assumptions behind these questions and concerns. The assumptions I would say are two-fold: First, that when we play a game, we are doing something other than living “real life”. And second, that activity with a “productive purpose” other than enjoyment or social interaction is at least equally as important to a good life and a good society as play, if not more important and valuable to a good life and a good society than play.

Yes play can be productive, but she goes beyond this justification by questioning the very notion of reality and asks if games do not fit into this definition:

Is interacting with a digital simulation of physical space a less real activity in terms of cognition, emotional engagement and social interaction than non-gaming physical exploration or social interaction? I understand that phenomenologically and ontologically we are talking about very different things – exploring a “real” cave in the physical world versus navigating an avatar through one – and we could certainly argue the relative merits of each. (The physical cave offers more exercise and a richer sensory experience; the virtual cave allows you to experience things that might not be readily available in your local environment and it’s safer.)  But regardless of which is better, are we actually saying that a physical and cognitive experience of a virtual world isn’t a real experience? It’s still embodied, it’s still activating our brains.

She doesn’t answer these questions, but they are worth thinking about when considering the medium’s merits. 

Art by Aled Lewis