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Sometimes it’s as important in a gamescape to pause over the fire button and smell the virtual roses. You’d be surprised just how much you can gain
By Colette Bennett
The year is 1976. You are standing in front of an arcade cabinet with your hands wrapped around a large, glossy black steering wheel. On the screen in front of you, black and white pixels represent the car you are driving, primed to run down screaming gremlins who teem on the streets around you. You don’t know what Grand Theft Auto is yet, but you’re playing its precursor – Death Race.
This old racer seems anything but offensive if we peer back at it through a tunnel of years. However, at the time of its release, it caused a stir that we are now all too familiar with in the current space of gaming culture: concerned voices complaining that games offer a way to enact violence. The US current affairs program 60 Minutes featured Death Race in a segment about the psychological impact of videogames. Apparently, a lot of gamers enjoyed driving at top speed and protecting the world from the claws of monsters, but people who didn’t play games were already raising an eyebrow.
In the past ten years, the media focus on violence in gaming has reached a fever pitch, with little attention devoted to games that aim to accomplish the opposite. Dozens of studies have been done about how violent gaming correlates to real life aggressive behaviour, although establishments such as The Harvard School For Medical Health and The British Medical Journal still have yet to be able to draw any conclusive evidence. As violent crime rates continue to drop since the 1990s, it continually becomes more difficult to blame people who unwind by stabbing demons for a few hours. Besides, stabbing demons is fun.
Even so, it’s not uncommon to hear people pointing the finger at games, even when their connection to an unfortunate event was tenuous at best. As graphics improve and the capability to make games more and more realistic increases, we’ve seen games that portray violence do so more realistically than ever. Brutality has littered the film screen for years, but a clamour of voices claim that the difference lies in the ability to ‘play’ as a character who commits illegal or otherwise immoral acts. In reality, there is no difference. Sitting in the movie theatre can be every bit as impactful as holding the controller – in the end, our minds have to motivate us to act.
For every hundred gamers who adore evenings spent gunning down team-mates and enemies alike in Call of Duty, there are a dozen who are seeking different ways to engage in the virtual space. A new movement is on the rise, and the further it evolves, the more it shows us that gamers crave more than just bloodshed and demolition. That movement is contemplative gaming.
Contemplation is commonly known as an act of paying attention. The word is also defined as “a concentration on spiritual things as a form of private devotion.” These words seem fitting for use in a temple, but gaming hardly seems like a spiritual practice – how can double wielding giant guns with a cigar jammed in the side of your mouth possibly have anything in common with communication with a sense of spirituality?
However, for gamers who have known the bliss of ‘falling into the groove’ while playing the fastest levels of Tetris or blasting Through The Fire and Flames on Guitar Hero 3 without missing a single note, they might be able to more closely relate to thoughts of a near-meditative state. And even recent casual titles like Farmville and Angry Birds offer their own levels of trance-like concentration. They lull us away from reality, but still present a sense of comfort, like falling asleep listening to the sound of the ocean…
This is just a small extract from the full feature in Issue Three. To read the entire article, click here to purchase the complete digital edition of Continue for just $2.99/£1.99/€2.25.