Though it’s been shown that only a minor portion of brain activity is shown to consistent once a child or adult has learned the controls of a game, I would argue that within videogames there’s a representation of a virtue that most “pragmatic tasks” lack – namely the element of challenge as the ideal. Now, many more modern video games (particularly those made by Nintendo) have made themselves gradually easier over the years (going so far as to have a invincibility mushroom appear after the player gets a game over) and focused on casual game play and broad appeal rather than game play that is incredibly difficult (e.g. Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 3, Crash Bandicoot, Hercules, Sonic the Hedgehog) but the appeal for many still remains to participate in something that is both interactive and difficult. The very nature of the challenge of video games is improving one’s self through challenge unlike most tasks.
The average human being lives a life of passivity and general resignation from both ideals and challenge. In a video game, we both receive the structured story of good triumphing evil as we see in the majority of movies, and we have a challenge incorporated in achieving that ideal that we don’t see in the day-to-day world. When we play as Mario, Link or Spyro we might not feel incredibly invested in the character’s game play, but there’s a part of everyone’s psyche that craves resolution, but not only resolution but desired resolution – that is resolution of the ideal. Would there be as much of an innate psychological craving to see a game completed if it involved kidnapping Peach from the Mushroom Kingdom and murdering Mario once he comes to save her as long as the game is just as appealing in its mechanics and overall entertainment? Though I have virtually no evidence to back this up, to me it just seems that the game wouldn’t be as appealing to most gamers and would even be off-putting to many. There are games like Overlord, which are deliberately immoral and involve the character playing as the stereotypical villain, but this is a game that though exciting (from what I’ve heard) is more of a comedic rump in essence then a plot to be taken seriously. Much like the blood scenes in Mortal Kombat (though there was also simply the appeal of seeing the blood and performing the fatalities) one is attracted to the disgusting or raunchy simply because it is naturally unappealing and unexpected in videogames. Though human beings have a large history of violence, it is wrong to say that we are violent by nature. Though stylized and watered down cartoon violence where one does not see the realistic effects of guns and knives are appealing to the average young gamer, it seems likely that a game that would simulate the effects of the types of warriors Nietzsche praises would result in fear and repulsion in children and many adults to the extent of being mildly uneasy. Just as Rousseau points out that even tyrants have a compassionate nature, it appears that even small children potentially possess some understanding of violence and its effects and has some innate desire to have “good” (which is expressed as a smiling person perhaps dressed as a knight) triumph over “evil” (which is usually depicted as a frowning ogre or some type of abnormality).
Now, it could be argued that this conception of good and evil is so basic that it doesn’t truly depict any coherent notion of morality. Instead, to show a person appearing cheerful and calling him “good” and showing an ogre frowning and depicting him as unpleasant simply shows the inherent quality of humans to attach certain moods to certain facial expressions and prefer those who appear to be of pleasant demeanor to those who are cantankerous. Therefore to my knowledge it is yet to be proven that children have an inherent sense of morality as conventionally understood and it seems that to show that if children have an innate notion of “the good” or some basic notion of fairness and justice, we’d have to raise them only so they are healthy and educated, with no notion of right and wrong. Then perform tests of preference on basic heroes and villains without using the standard trope of Disney movies and Nazi propaganda to depict the hero as healthy, strong and courageous and the villain as sickly, crafty and possessing physical traits such as narrow eyes and dark attire.
Though videogames follow the same basic trope to nail into the psyche the designation of virtuous and villainous, it does seem that the games posit a “commonsense” and almost inarguable notion of ethics no matter how simplistic. Contrast that with the motive of a great deal of wars and unjust actions which relayed on the identity and argument from religion, nationality, divine right of kings or various other false virtues. This is a sign of the modern age and the civilizing effects of technology. Therefore it seems that videogames posit a truth that isn’t to be fully comprehended by cinema. And that is ethics is largely simplistic in understanding but difficult in execution. Most of the moral blunders of human history are obvious even to the most simple-minded of men and women (or many children) living in the modern age with more civilized sentiments. Even with the large degree of irrationality and poverty, humanity has largely grown to be more egalitarian in its notions of right and wrong which coupled with other factors has created a large spread questioning of Government, corporations and even the most wretched of defilers to the mind, religion.
It contrasts both film and daily life in that while a film is an expression of “the ideal” in having the archetype of the good struggle and defeat evil, the conflict is very seldom represented in a way that has the audience understand the struggle necessary to vanquish injustice and tyranny. Difficult video games however replicate both the harshness of trials and the injustice of life by having the player struggle against hundreds of goombas, koopas (turtles, for those with social lives – and yes, I’ve used that joke before; sue me.) and numerous other enemies while the hero is alone in his rescue mission. That is another notion that isn’t expressed as well in cinema. In James Bonds films, though he goes in it alone, we clearly see that he is given help from others and is a “status-quo” figure himself rather than a rebel. Same with Frodo in Lord of the Rings and even to some extent Star Wars. The Empire might have taken over the Galaxy, but many if not most disapprove of their tyranny (which is poorly portrayed and isn’t given any reasoning for being; being as much of a cartoonish display of evil as perhaps possible, seen quite well in the Emperor) and Luke has several alongside him who will help him vanquish malevolence and authoritarianism.
In Sonic, Super Mario, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, and numerous other games, it’s clear that the protagonist is alone, either because all that one sees is enemies or all the other “good guys” have been captured (as in Spyro). This to me creates an almost Matrix like atmosphere of the majority of those one sees in life being minor pawns in an insidious game they cannot comprehend. One shouldn’t hate the common civilian (though in a video game one would stomp on their head) but recognize that they are unenlightened and supporting evil by supporting measures and methods of force, whether that be unjust incarceration, forced drudgery to corporations by making life a cycle of receiving and spending capital or the notion of Hell. There are few who will support “the Hero” the representation of the ideal in human form in all of his or her tasks; many will agree with basic notions they stand for, but will be psychologically incapable of contrary to the essence of aiding the Hero on their quest for universal freedom and salvation from ignorance, force and the more base aspects of human nature.
There are of course the Feminist claims that video games are misogynist largely due-to their depiction of the female as someone who needs to be saved and is helpless. First off, culturally men have fought in wars and being defenders of virtuous qualities (including protecting the innocent) is deemed to be one of their main blanket virtues despite the virtues they were defending not being consistently healthy, just or rational. Women are instead the safeguards and nourishers of life through the role of being a mother, which was not granted by them culturally (though that plays a role as well) but by biology. It is not “the Patriarchy” that made men more muscular and aggressive than woman, and so to blame centuries on reoccurring mythological themes on sexism is tantamount to blaming the common feeling that the severely ugly are repulsive and therefore undesirable to marketing and beauty-ads (the same goes with feminists claiming that “the Patriarchy” is what compels women to aspire to be beautiful though obviously corporations selling beauty products to the extent that they can and is profitable for them will have a hand in creating unmet standards of beauty in women and ruggedness in men – this however can be explained by a synthesis of biology and the profit motive; not “the Patriarchy”). Also it seems that to have a damsel in distress be the object-in-question that is under attack is actually a brilliant metaphor for an assault on “the good.” For what is the Damsel to the Hero? Both an innocent to be saved and an object of desire. We not only wish to create a just world and right wrongs because it is right and will benefit society, but because we ourselves will reap some reward or receive (or at-least be able to work towards without restraint) the fruits of one’s desire; if not of one’s desire than at-least (though no small thing) what is of innate value expressing something that the Hero innately desires through carnal lust – a brilliant metaphor for a intrinsic desire for the good if you’d ask me.
Contrast this with daily life, where the average person is not performing actions that are either virtuous (both in the sense they are healthy for the individual or are pursuing moral ends) or desirable for the average human being. Most people live the life of either an animal or a machine, typically both. Days are spent in mind-numbing routine and nights are spent in meaningless hedonism until one acquires children and is forced by social convention to replicate the same cycle of banality until the cowardice and short-sightedness of humans collapses upon them destroying billions of other lives and an unforeseen and theoretically infinite spectrum of untapped potential in the process. For we live in a world where the Ideal is expressed in fantasy but is deemed an unrealistic possibility of either undesired strain or is simply undesired in itself. Religions, Governments and corporations have always had to pretend to be the arbiters of the Ideal while conditioning the innate notion of the Ideal from the human mind. Either in saying that one cannot allow the Great to be the enemy of the Good, allowing the wealthy to profit from the drudgery of others and ruin millions of lives due-to the demands of the market or that poverty is a gift from God and ambition is a quality that is showcased in Lucifer. We see that in a modern world of civilizing sentiments the Ideal must both be deemed unrealistic for the “pragmatists,” undesirable for those of more Conservative sentiments and be expressed in fantasy as a distraction for the idealist – all three of these exist in the average individual to varying extents as contradictory as they seem. If humanity is to make any improvement we must take what brilliant writers have given us under the guise of popcorn-entertainment and act on the virtues that are both instilled therein and simply reflecting the pre-existing ethical and virtuous qualities of the developing moral psychology. We must make more than simply entertainment of fables, acting on the virtues of the potential that is the Ideal human existence to strive towards freedom, opportunity of natural tranquility and growth for all – we must in a sense view life not as a film to be passively witnessed, but as a game to be won.