Video games are crafted with the intention of holding the player's attention. Even when the game is boring, even when the player has long since stopped considered the game fun, players play on. In games with ranked matches, typically, loyal players feel a lot of negative feelings while playing.
So I've been gone for a week relaxing in Jamacia with my family and really taking a break from my normal life. In that time, for the most part, I wasn't playing video games because I really needed a break. Initially, it started as just a break from screens though, with my line of work I end up posted in front of a screen for the majority of the day and using my hands to perform small, repetitive motions. This is a recipe for pain in the form of eye strain and developing joint problems. So, breaks are needed. But what I didn't notice, going into my week-long reprieve was how video games were stressing me out, though video games are my primary leisure activity. It challenged me to think about the core question of whether video games are ever, truly, relaxing.
Let me explain, video games are fun. I really enjoy settling down with a good game and getting immersed in whatever it has to offer, like other forms of entertainment, like movies, books, and TV, it's possible to settle down and get lost in a game. I do it all the time. But, games also differ from these other forms of entertainment in large and obvious ways. If you fall asleep while watching TV or a movie, the show is going to continue. It's the reason that Netflix gives you that, "are you still watching" screen every couple of hours, to reduce the amount of stuff you'll miss while dozing off. Movies and TV are relaxing, in a sense, because when we watch the goal is usually not to interact with the movie, and you certainly don't need to. You are entertained passively.
A book functions a little differently because a book isn't going to read itself, but the reader's participation in the book is limited. You don't typically get to change the outcome of the story, for instance. A book doesn't ask the reader, necessarily, to get too deeply involved if they don't want to. The entertainment in most books is enjoyed passively.
Video games aren't passive entertainment. If you aren't playing, nothing major is going to happen. In a lot of games your PC will just kind of shift around waiting for you to come back if you don't take a moment to pause the game. Video games also revolve around the idea that the presence of the player is important in moving the game forward. The whole idea is that the player doesn't get to sit back, they must be active. But what does that mean for video games if you're looking for a form of relaxation?
Video games are crafted with the intention of holding the player's attention. Even when the game is boring, even when the player has long since stopped considered the game fun, players play on. In games with ranked matches, typically, loyal players feel a lot of negative feelings while playing. Losing is frustrating, people say terrible things and sometimes you just fuck up so bad you deserve to lose. And by no means is any of that relaxing, As I've discussed before, these negative emotions felt while playing have a tendency to follow gamers out fo the game and into the breathing world. With these types of games, relaxation doesn't even really seem to be the point, rather than relaxation, people shift their leisure time to focusing on gaining mastery in something. Getting good, if you would. So, no games aren't really relaxing in a traditional sense, though they are engaging.
But that doesn't speak to the largest idea of what a video game is though. It leaves out the genres of video game where combat and competition aren't necessarily the point. Stardew Valley, for instance, has nothing to do with ranked and without an online mode, doesn't even leave the possibility of people saying horrible things to you. It is meant to be relaxing as possible. What then, about games like those? Well, while those games do have a relaxing atmosphere, video games depend on tension and even Stardew Valley has it. Stardew Valley requires the attention to detail of farm planning, money management and even, time management. These elements of stress paired with the rewards of a system of progression present in any video game are created to keep players engaged in the resolution of that tension for as long as possible. Even the easiest game requires a bit of focused attention to be able to play it. So, in conclusion still, no, video games aren't really relaxing.
But more than that, video games aren't even designed with relaxation in mind. as a leisure activity created by a profit-seeking industry, video game creators aren't really even interested in relaxation as a goal. They want you to keep playing. It is imperative that people who play games realise that games have the real potential to stress us out more than they help relieve stress. Because of this, and I do hate saying this, disconnecting from video games occasionally is important to distressing. Video games are, ultimately, not the best form of relaxation when used in excess and also in isolation of other tools of relaxation.
The thumbnail photo is courtesy of Netflix