Whether your game is Final Fantasy XI (or XIV), World of Warcraft, Eve Online, or any one of a number of growing massive-multiplayer-online-role-playing-games, then you know how enjoyable these games can be. For those who don’t play these games, the idea of spending hours, upon days, upon months in front of a computer monitor or laptop screen presents itself as murky at best. Like it or not though, these games have made bank on their aptitude of capturing the human condition in their own respective worlds. Tapping into the core of the human condition, they provide the user with all that we lust after: Desire, Purpose, Freedom, and Power. Today I’m going to take a break from the hardcore philosophy talk, and give a personal piece on Existentialism and MMORPGs.
Introduction (skip if you are familiar with MMORPGS)
Let’s break down what an MMORPG is. RPG stands for Role Playing Game. The idea is to assume the role of usually one character and play through a story or series of events in order to beat the game. Final Fantasy is best known for its intricate story and plots, filled with magic, mystery and romantic accents. Games like Final Fantasy have been around since the dawn of video gaming.
On the other hand, MMO Stands for Massive Multiplayer Online, which of course just means what it says. So, MMORPGS require the player to assume some role in a virtual world with thousands, or even millions of other players.
Being in the World……..of Warcraft.
[I’ll use WoW as a reference for most of what will be discussed because of its popularity.] Philosopher Martin Heideggar explained the act of “being in the world” with the word Dasein. Dasein is the state of being-in-the-world as a result of a human agent acting within his environment. What if, though, that environment was virtual? What if you were experiencing that virtual environment, via a subject in that virtual world? Because of this, I like to think of playing games like WoW as Being-in-the-world and Being-in-the-World-of-Warcraft at the same time. It is the latter that I shall be discussing from here on out. The reason that these games are good at causing these shifts unlike any other game is because of one feature that sets them apart from other games, application of human freewill. When playing the game, one has the choice to do virtually whatever they want, or don’t want. As an example, I could encounter someone in WoW who is facing an enemy, but not doing so well. In fact, I have the chance to heal them and save them from death. If I choose to heal them I could save that player a good amount of time and frustration, but if I have better things to do, I could pass him and go about on my merry way. The fact is that games like these place you in a virtual world with thousands of thinking agents who are all acting independently.
Desire, Vanity and Power
I think if there is one thing that most players desire out of their game it is power. As you work through these games for long enough, you can become quite powerful. It is usually that lust for power and strength that drives most WoW players to become so addicted. When one becomes an unstoppable force, able to thwart anything in his path, it proves how good he is and how powerful he has become. That very same will to power is one of Nietzsche’s central concepts. He asserted that all humans desire to obtain power, and more importantly, exercise that power and dominate others.
Another key factor in most of these games is vanity. Usually, players begin their journey as a character with minor appearance choices. As they work their way up the ladder, they will have access to all sorts of intricate items and accessories to make themselves, in a manner of speaking, more “bad-ass.” In Eve Online, Players take control of space ships and meander around the universe molding their character the way in which they choose. But, of course, you certainly don’t start out with the biggest baddest ship on the market. Just like in real life where celebrities are idolized for their “bling” the same is the case in most MMORPGs.
These games do one thing well that even reality can’t seem to offer. In a world where people are constantly questioning what the meaning of everything is, MMORPGs give you direction. Sure, it’s not reality, but these games offer a sense of purpose, especially when you’re immersed in the story, or lore, of the game. Most Existentialists agree with either two things, A) There is no purpose to life, or B) The purpose of like is what you make it. When faced with such ideas, it almost becomes obvious why one invests a lot of time playing these games. You get the satisfaction of fulfilling a purpose unlike any you would be able to face in reality.
Sartre’s “Situation” and how it applies
The “situation” is an idea thought up by Jean-Paul Sartre. This idea stems from the misunderstood concept of freedom. Sartre explains that freedom is simply the constant struggle between our ability to choose and the obstacles that stand in our way. So, in reality, we’re never really completely free. There are always obstacles in our path that must be conquered in order to move forward. Moment-to-moment, no matter how large or small, we are confronted with a choice: “Do I want eggs for breakfast? Damn, I’m out of eggs. Perhaps I will have cereal. What happened to the bowls? Ah, they are all dirty. I am going to have to wash one now.” It seems trivial, but from the minute we’re awake we begin to confront these obstacles.
The same is the case for MMORPGs, which I think serve as a perfect microcosm of “The Situation”. You are given what appears to be the ability to freely choose your path, but even here “The Situation” is in constant motion. In games like WoW, and Final Fantasy XI, you are constrained by your level, your class, your location and your alignment. There are many obstacles you must pass in order to move forward. Whether you like it or not, you’re not totally free. In fact, most of what you can and cannot do is outlined by the games designs. One can’t strap on the best quality equipment at level one and start dominating the world. You have to spend time crossing obstacles like quests to gain experience, creating an income to obtain certain items, and dealing with trigger happy players who would love nothing more than to track you down and take you out.
Most of these ideas are a work in progress to me, but I was happy to share with you what I’ve been thinking. I feel that the world of MMORPGs could offer a lot in the field of human nature and Existentialism. It’s surely a topic I will continue to research. Until next time…