Opinion: Video Games – escapism or catalyst for frustration?

Why do you play video games? It seems like a pretty straight-forward question, but it might be harder to answer than you think. So often when I ask this question, the answer I get goes something along the lines of: “I use video games to unwind, de-stress; as a form of escapism from the real world.” Of course, we can all relate to and see the benefit of that, especially this year. However, as much as video games provide us with this kind of emotional release – I do wonder about how some games swing the other way… and act as a kind of catalyst for increased exasperation. And why then, we still play them. Now hear me out…

So many games are clearly about exploring new worlds and characters. Experiencing new lives and possibilities. And there’s an obvious argument for stress relief in that sort of game. However, for some of us out there, the games we spend a heck of a lot of time on are often about repeated frustration. Think about it: Roguelikes and painfully tough platformers… or even (from what I’m told) anything FromSoftware makes; All of these are, in one way another, about doing the same thing again and again; Often repeating it until it drives us a little crazy, and sometimes mad enough to shout incomprehensibly at an inanimate screen or throw an innocent and usually wildly expensive controller. Now when that is the case – why do we still enjoy playing these games so much?

Of course, the easy answer is the payoff. Yes, once you complete a level, a boss or even the whole game in which frustration and the quest for perfection are baked into the gameplay, the result is undoubtedly significant. And many would say that incremental improvement and eventual satisfaction is worth the ‘early pain’. That’s how you ‘git gud’ and all that. A kind of runner’s high, or the burst of endorphins at the end of a heavy workout. However, if you take a step back – it’s an odd way to spend our all-important ‘personal time’ – particularly if it’s in scarce supply and especially if you don’t actually beat the level/boss/game in that playthrough. In those cases, were those precious few hours trying and dying (again and again) well spent?

What do you think? Are you a sucker for punishment? Is the repetitive loop in most games worth the frustration? Let us know in the comments section below…

Nintendo Nerd, sharing my love of Mario with the world one pixel at a time.

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