Gaming - the New Facebook?


When it comes to time-bandits, nothing beats online gaming.

Google allows me to see, in a limited form, what sites refer to this site and what queries on Google are directed toward this site.  One recent interesting one was, "How do I get my parents to stop asking me to do things when I am in the middle of a multi-player game?"  Presumably, the questioner is a young male, age 14-35, living at home with Mom (and maybe Dad) and likes to play multi-player online games for hours on end.   Mom hollers down the basement steps, asking Timmy to take out the garbage or to come to dinner, and he says, "Not now, Mom!  I'm in the middle of a big battle!"

And she says something like, "You'll be in an even bigger battle if you don't get up here right away!" and Timmy realizes that Mom might take away the car keys unless he complies, so he has to log off the game right as he was going to make it to level 1572 on his way to level 30,000.   Mom just doesn't understand!   And Timmy's right - she doesn't.  Of course, some Timmys of the world settle things with Mom, once and for all.

(I do understand Timmy's plight.  I get the same thing from Mr. See when I am blogging.  So far, it has not come to violence).

The beauty of online games today - of all sorts - is their addictive qualities.   Stupid "fremium" games like Farmville or Candy Crush can create an addiction response in some of the more duller persons in our society.   But realistic, first-person-shooter or role-playing games, where you interact in real-time with other people, over the internet, are far more so.  Once you get into the game, you can't just pause it, as you are playing against other people.  Your only choice in many cases is to keep playing forever, or to quit, losing the points you've gained that day.  Brilliant marketing strategy.

And these new games are amazing, in terms of the realism of the 3-D graphics imaging.   Back in the day, I did a lot of Patents on imaging technology, when a lot of the rendering engines used today were in their infancy and this new thing called "texture mapping" was just making the scene.   Gaming has driven PC development over the years.  If you want a powerful PC, just buy the gaming model - it will have the most memory, fastest processors, and the most powerful graphics card.   And fans - lots of fans.  My last stand-alone PC was a gaming model, and although I never used it for gaming, since it was cutting edge for its era, I could continue to use it long after it was obsolete.   It was capable of editing video - something my tired old laptops struggle to do.   But one day, the processor died and that was that.   I needed another PC like I needed a hole in my head, so out to the dumpster it went.

But gaming has gone beyond mere playing of games, but has morphed into something else - an online "community" of sorts, as people can communicate with one another via online games.   Indeed, some dissidents in China were using a gaming platform to post anti-government messages.  The Chinese intelligence services, obsessed about Facebook, Twitter, and traditional online outlets, let it slip under the radar, even after it was reported in the press.

I haven't tried any of the new online games.  I gave up "video games" as we used to call them, ages ago.  Once I installed a game on my PC, I found myself being drawn into it, again and again.  Suddenly, hours of the day were evaporating because of the addictive allure of a computer game.   That was 20 years ago.   Today, with the realism and multi-player features, plus the fact these new games were designed by psychologists to be addictive, makes them time-bandits to the tenth power.  The primitive games I played on my "PC" back in the 1990s were like experimenting with marijuana.  The games today are like meth - addictive and deadly, to your career.

Hell, some people are even addicted to computer solitaire - from what I see going on in offices and on airplanes across the country.

I mentioned before that the electrician I hired to install our new electrical box has a grandson who is an expert at Fortnite.  I am not sure what the game is all about, nor do I care to waste a few brain cells learning.  But they do have these tournaments, and apparently you can win money.  He won $70,000 at such a tournament, and I am sure he said, "See, Mom?  I'm not wasting my time!"   But whether he can morph this win into a lifelong stream of income remains to be seen.  I am not sure whether he is the Tony Hawk of gaming, or just some kid with a skateboard. The real money, I think, is in promoting games via your YouTube channel as the racist and misogynist Poo-Poo-Pie does on his channel.

Funny thing, racism and misogyny seem to be part and parcel of the gaming landscape, and why this is so, is beyond me.  Well, not entirely beyond me.  The demographic gaming developers are going after are the 14-35 year-old, white males, who are living in their Mother's basement, unemployed or underemployed, and have a lot of unstructured time available - the latter being key.  Women have a uterus and get jobs, as they crave security (hence they don't date gamers).  Minorities don't have the disposable income and also have to work for a living.  You need a lot of time to play video games.  You can't just dabble with a video game - it takes a long time to develop the skills and techniques, as well as know the secret tricks and shortcuts.

Unless, of course, you want to buy your way in. When games first stated allowing you to buy "treasure" or credits or whatever name they give to allow you to "unlock" to the next level, or acquire more arms, better immunity, strength, or whatever, there has been a lot of controversy.   Because you can be a really good player at a game, and some other doofus, who just paid a lot of money, can kick your ass.   You struggled for days, weeks, months, to make it to level 10, with strength 50 and agility 25.  He started there and bought his way higher.   In your first encounter, despite his lack of skill, you end up dead.

That alone would turn me off from playing such a game, and is one reason (besides being old and having shit to do) I have no interest in trying one of these new multi-player games.   The deck is stacked against you - you might as well be in Vegas.   Except in Vegas, you are losing money, while in these online games the primary thing you lose is time.

In the movie (franchise) The Matrix, the absurd premise was that in the future, machines would take over and keep us alive in pods to use for electrical power (as an Electrical Engineer, I had to laugh).  We would be fed an alternative reality into our brains - a reality of 1990's Earth.  It was a ludicrous proposition, of course, but a parallel seems to be developing in real life.  Whether it is an online game, a social media site, or whatever, we measure success in terms of "engagement" of the participant.  What is important to the providers of these online services, games, and whatnot, is how long you stay online - the length of engagement. If you can keep someone occupied for hours on end, then you have succeeded.

Before television fell from grace, the average American watched 4.5 hours a day or more.  Given you spend 8 hours working and 8 hours sleeping, that accounts for more than half of your free time.  Throw in how long you spend commuting, showering, shaving, dressing, shopping for groceries, cooking, and you can see that television occupied every single minute available to most people - which is why I stopped watching.

Sadly, it seems that Facebooking and other online pursuits have merely replaced television in our lives.  I noted before that Facebook is the new television - an interactive platform eerily similar to that predicted by Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 411 (originally published as The Fireman in the February 1951 issue of Galaxy magazine).

And maybe this is a good thing.   Maybe the vast majority of  Americans need to be anesthetized or have some time-bandit in their lives.   If not, they end up rioting for 50 days (yes, 50 days now - with no end in sight!).  Maybe gaming and Facebook and television are distractors that are necessary in our society, as the "surplus population" of losers and ne'er-do-wells are better off as mindless consumers, than people protesting for their rights or becoming self-aware (as in The Matrix) and taking control of their lives. (Cigarettes were a great distractor, and great for culling the surplus population - until the cost of medical care made this unrealistic. Today, however, the culling continues - apparently some are linking early death due to CoVid with smoking.  Keep puffing, idiots!)

Depressed people make excellent consumers.   At first it doesn't seem like the unemployed slacker living in Mom's basement has a lot of disposable income, but if you think about it, what little income they have, is.   Since their living expenses are nil, every dollar of every part-time job they get, which isn't spent on pot and beer, goes to distractions and entertainments.  This is the audience for today's explosion movies and movies based on comic book characters.  These are the people who dress up as "Cosplay" or as rabid sports fans - painting their house, car, and face, in fan colors.  These are the people who have basically given up on life and have settled for distractions, instead.

Do you think Elon Musk or Warren Buffent spend four hours a day playing video games?   The real movers and shakers of the world have that in common - they need those extra four hours a day that you and I squander on bullshit. The people who are on television seldom watch television - something they let slip by accident in interviews sometimes.   When you have to get up at 5 o'clock in the morning to get to make-up by 6, and prepare for a 7 AM shoot, you don't have the time and energy to stay up to watch the late shows.

I have nothing against video games - that is a lifestyle choice of yours to make or not make.   If you want to spend hours a day playing video games, fine.   But you can't whine about how rotten your life turned out or why your Mom is bugging you or why your girlfriend left you for that guy who "sold out to the man" and has a career job with health insurance.   You made a choice.

Of course, there is the other argument about video games - that they encourage violent behavior. Proponents of these games (the people who make them) claim there is no "proven link" between violent first-person-shooter video games and violence in the real world. It is a neat argument as there is, as far as I know, no way on earth to ever establish such a "link" through any sort of scientific method. At best, you could survey game users and non-game users and see if there is a correlation between the users and increased levels of violence.  But that would be correlation and not causation and the latter would be impossible to prove.  Besides, there is a static background of violence in the world, and it would be hard to show this one signal in a field of noise.

But from a psychological point of view, it only seems reasonable to assume that if someone spends their formative years (before age 25, when the brain starts to harden) training on a machine that rewards points for shooting people, that one might develop a taste for shooting things - and maybe people.   You lurk on any gaming discussion forum, and it is interesting how many gamers also have firearms, and swords and katanas, and whatever.  They lay them on their bed and take pictures of them, which is creepy.  It is not a healthy fixation.  It is the act of a powerless person.

But like I said, that debate will never be finished, as there is no real way to prove, one way or another, that violent video games lead to violence.   You could just as well argue that they provide a catharsis or release, of pent-up anger, in that people can act our their violent fantasies and thus be less inclined to violence in real life.   Maybe, but I doubt it, particularly when the primary users are young men with unfinished minds.

In addition to the misogyny and racism are things like the doxxing and swatting incidents, where people take their anger and escalate it to the next level.  These show a disregard for human life, which I guess could be fostered if you live in a basement all day long shooting at virtual people.  It would be nice to say these are isolated incidents, but they appear, if anything, to be on the rise.   Living in an online virtual world for hours a day isn't healthy, whether it is a game, Facebook, twitter, or an online forum.

When someone posts an noxious tweet (other than the President, of course) or makes a racist smear on Facebook, their accounts are deleted.  For some reason, we don't hear about this as much with online gaming.  Maybe they have a policing section and people can report poor behavior, I don't know.  I would hope so, in today's environment.

Then again, if you booted all the racists and "incels" off your gaming platform, you would be left with a single-player game!  The only person left would be an 8-year-old girl from Kansas City.  She would rule.

My take is this:   If you see your life stagnating and you are playing online games all day long, maybe you should think about the connection.  If you have a captive bounce-back child you are keeping in the basement as a pet, maybe you should think hard about where this is going, lest you be the Mom shot in the head or run through with a katana, when you tell him it is time for dinner.

On-line games are no different that television, Facebook, twitter, or youtube addiction. That's the problem right there. Because those other things are just as bad, if not worse. Junior is in the basement shooting prostitutes in Auto Theft XXXVI, while Mom is upstairs spreading wild rumors on an anti-vaxxer page on Facebook.   Both are freaking idiots and losers, in my opinion.

But I could be wrong about that!  Maybe Facebook and online games are the greatest thing on the planet and I am "missing out" on them by going kayaking today.

Maybe, but I doubt it.  I really doubt it.