“We need to loosen the lens on what’s considered ‘productive,’ because that word gears our behavior toward valuing ourselves in terms of being able to attract a mate or feed a family. Any kind of prejudice that people have toward video games, to see them as an activity that’s not valid, has a lot more to do with their own hang-ups about playfulness than it does with the capacity for games to express our impulses. When you play games, you forget yourself—or, I don’t know, maybe you remember yourself. And it’s not just humans. Games are something that all sentient creatures play, and not necessarily with a goal in mind, just so that two beings can entangle consciousness. There’s this supercut of dialogue from The Matrix, and at one point somebody says, ‘To deny your impulses is to deny that which makes you human,’ or something like that. I think the impulse to play is natural in us.
“Games encourage creativity. There’s this term in team games called the ‘Meta,’ which describes how certain combinations of characters tend to win. When it becomes difficult to win as certain characters, game developers work to make the game less elitist. The science-fiction writer Octavia Butler has this beautiful quote about her characters, something like, ‘They behave as if the world were more like the way I wish it were. They don’t fool around announcing how they are operating in a space of limitation. They just do what they need to do.’ Game developers operate with a built-in belief that they don’t want the Meta to remain the same forever, because it doesn’t reflect their faith in how the world can operate. They think of diversity and variety and multiplicity as something kindred rather than something totally alien. There is something beautiful about that to me.
“The video game that I’ve played the most in my lifetime is called Guild Wars—over 2,500 hours, which I was actually quite proud of. These days, when I’m away I play Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on Nintendo Switch, and when I’m home I play Red Dead Redemption 2, which I have some music in. Woody Jackson recorded and arranged the performances by different musicians, and then I got sent those and would reassess them and send things back. I really enjoyed the process a lot. Games and music set each other off in different forms of reward. One is long term, the other is instantaneous. In a healthy diet of how we spend our time, there should be all kinds of flavors and tastes. It’s a never-ending process of finding balance.”
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