This week we’re going topical again and looking at the growing phenomenon of customization in video games and how it relates to our identity. Today we’re seeking to understand this trend by looking at the first of two possible answers to one question: Why do we want to create a new identity?
We’re not satisfied with ourselves. When I made my Xbox Live avatar, I gave it more hair and a slightly thinner physique than what exists in reality. When you create a character in Mass Effect, does Shepard look exactly like you? Maybe there’s a lot of similarities…but perhaps you threw in a scar or two to add that “tough look.” Or maybe you went a completely different route and made Shepard the opposite gender and/or skin color. And then there’s the customization of abilities and skills. This is where video games really set themselves apart because they allow us to do far cooler things than would ever be possible with our own dumb non-magically/ technologically enhanced bodies.
This fixation on a world where we are able to be and do anything can become a real problem. For those who are extremely dissatisfied with themselves, the ability to live as someone else only fuels the addictive capabilities of an already-enticing virtual world. The Gerard Butler movie Gamer showed one example of what lengths people are willing to go to in order to obtain a different identity (or use that demand to provide an identity for someone else).
There are unfortunately many sad examples of what happens when the obsession with living out a different identity goes to the extreme. The one that stands out is the story of a Korean couple who neglected their three-month-old baby to play an online role playing game. While they were at their 12-hour gaming sessions at an internet cafe, their real-life baby starved to death. The horrible irony is that in their online game, they were using their characters to raise a virtual baby.
After reading a little more into the story you learn that their baby (the real one) was born prematurely and that neither of them had jobs. It’s hard to imagine how difficult it must be to take care of a premature baby without any income (which may or may not have itself been related to gaming habits), but that’s no excuse for their neglect. It does point to something telling about their motivations for pouring themselves into a video game…
They were seeking control. Their real lives were likely a wreck and they had an insane amount of stress that comes with raising a (prematurely born) child. Where they were powerless in real life, they were able to have control of things in an online game. The fact that their created identities had a virtual baby shows that they did indeed want a child, but they couldn’t handle the real-life responsibility of being parents.
That’s what video games offer- a better identity where you have more control. Are you a social outcast in real life? Online you can be a level 27 Dragonborne spellcaster and command the respect of an entire guild. Do you have difficulty managing money and keeping a job? You can fire up Fable and earn a living as a blacksmith and never get fired or lose money to mismanagement. Are you dissatisfied with your appearance and lifestyle? Go play The Sims to look like and do whatever you want.
There are people in the Bible who are no strangers to these feelings of self-dissatisfaction. One guy who was pretty dissatisfied with himself was the apostle Paul who wrote most of the New Testament. He uses a good chunk of one of his books to describe how he always manages to screw up no matter how hard he tries. At the end of this rant he exclaims, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” You thought everyone who wrote the Bible was perfect and morally superior? Not so. The Bible is clear that we are all under the control of sin because of our bodies of death.
Being dissatisfied with ourselves is sadly woven into the very fabric of our nature. All of humanity fell under the effects of sin and death because of Adam’s choice to disobey God in the garden at the beginning of time. Adam’s poor decision brought epic failure on God’s perfect creation…… but yet these fancy, shiny video games let us see and experience what it’s like to be what we want to be, without the frailty caused by sin and failure. Video games provide us with the opportunity to create an identity that is significantly more awesome than the pathetic, broken identities we have to look at in the mirror everyday.
These new ways to customize allow the opportunity to change our identities, but is it really enough?
We’ll continue the discussion in the next post. Give us your reactions so far in the comments.