Column • Letting go of the Space Marines

What if we let go of the Space Marines and just be… ourselves?

In most games (disregarding for the moment the ones where we stack blocks on top of one another) we are compelled to inhabit the role of a character other than ourselves. We consider this fun, because very few of us are in fact real life knights, space marines or Panzer commanders. Through video games, we have an excuse to do the exact same thing we did playing outside when we were children, but today through the slightly less confronting means of a machine with a screen. 

Besides the inherent fun in assuming the role of a fictional character, there is the irresistible opportunity to be less complicated and more exciting than ourselves. For a moment, we can forget mundane annoyances and earthly troubles and simply focus on being knights, space marines or Panzer commanders. A ‘you’ that is more fun and less hassle than the actual you.

Dubious food

And yet, we do not simply stop being ourselves when we play. We willingly suspend our disbelief to accommodate the game’s compact alternative to reality, but we are still people staring at screens. People use thought processes and experiences that were honed in time away from said screens. The skills we use in games are the same we use to avoid being run over by cars and prevent ourselves from eating dubious food. 

The game thrives on and expects us to use these experiences to engage with the system. But ‘our selves’ are built up from more than that. Each human being has a different self that evolved from a unique mass of experiences, incidents, opinions and mistakes. There is no ‘Gamer’, only a host of very strange, very different individuals that all possess the same motor skills, more or less. And that is what most games count on. A brain for a body to move about, but rarely a mind that is not the one designed for the task.

Something stranger

Very rarely are we ‘ourselves’ inside the game. Not a manifestation of our self or a character that makes decisions that you agree with, but our actual selves. Long ago, David Cage attempted this in Omikron: The Nomad Soul. In the first minute of the game, a character addresses the player directly through the screen and explains that he will transport your ‘soul’ into the game to directly inhabit one of the avatars in the game. Later on, a demon tells you he knows you are only a player inhabiting an avatar in a game, and directly threatens you: The player playing the game, not the game character played by you. It is a unique and strangely reflective moment, and although it was not perfectly executed, it makes one wonder what could be achieved when it is. If designers incorporate the infinitely strange variables of actual people, it will stop being Escapism, and become something stranger.

Therapy, perhaps.

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