The Pleasure Principle of Gaming
Brett Todd on The Firing Line:
Monkey orgasms and Half-Life II
According to an article in the October edition of The Atlantic Monthly, researchers probing the mysteries of the brain once equipped a male monkey with electrodes prompting responses of pleasure and pain. One of these electrodes was attached to a switch that produced instant orgasms. I probably don’t need to add that the monkey hit that particular button every three minutes until the device was removed. It isn’t mentioned in the article, but I’d assume that they had to pry the control box out of the monkey’s cold, dead fingers.
Which makes you really wonder about the pleasure principle in general. We’re conditioned for instant gratification, to plunge headlong from one experience to another in search of momentary entertainment. Although the monkey’s story comforts me that this trait is ingrained, that we haven’t been turned into attention-deficit drones by two decades of quick-cut MTV videos and Coors Lite ads, it still underscores our unfortunate hook on the quick fix.
Gimmie, gimmie, gimmie could describe every aspect of popular culture these days. We consume so much so fast that we don’t appreciate what we’re doing in the moment. And I’m not just talking about fatties and their Klondike bars. Everybody’s so focused on what we’re going to entertain ourselves with next that we don’t pay attention to what we’re entertaining ourselves with now. Network execs key on this trait, to the point where they bookend top shows like Friends
with crap in the knowledge that people are too damn lazy to turn the channel. How else to explain the mystifying endurance of shows like (shudder) Veronica’s Close
t and (double shudder) Just Shoot Me
through much of the 1990s?
But gamers make even the mouthbreathers who follow Kirstie Alley’s career look positively simian by comparison. They at least do nothing but slump on the couch, watching whatever dreck that NBC has decided to air at 8:30 on Thursday night. We actually go out and spend $50 a pop for every game that we play, buying so fast that actually finishing them all is out of the question. We spend a few hours with one game, get a little bored, and need the thrill of buying and installing something a bit newer and a bit shinier to get us going again.
Purchasing games has become more of a hobby than actually playing them. Don’t believe me? Look on your shelf and count the number of games you’ve completed in the past six months. If it’s more than a third of the games that you’ve bought, you have to turn in your hardcore gamer credentials and leave this web site immediately. Every serious gamer that I know finishes no more than one game in three. Even the ones that they like are routinely left behind—just for a little bit, mind you—in order to sample a game that just hit stores, that everybody is talking about. Then something else shows up. Then something else. Soon enough, the first game in the pile gets completely forgotten. There’s no going home again, either in Our Town
or in computer gaming.