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Gamers are 'Don Quixote'... and they should be proud. Discuss.
by Greg Mengel

Cue theme music.

You are the hero.

You've beaten the final boss. You've saved the princess. With rifle in hand you've tamed the Old West, painted haunted space stations green with the blood of alien parasites, and beaten back the Third Reich. Your heroic ballads are sung at taverns throughout Azeroth, Cyrodiil, and Arcanum. Glories and honors are your bathwater, and countless masses laud you indefinitely.

But do they really?

No. Your praise and thanks - your heroics and gallantry - spur from two sources: your own imagination and the games that spark it. All that fame, all that fortune? It's all in your head.

You are Don Quixote, the man a la Mancha; destiny calls and you go. The wild winds of fortune will carry you onward. And onward, to glory, you go.

Let's discuss.

New theme music. [1]

You will never feel more than when you look at this picture.

Games are powerful. Perhaps more than any other medium, they can make us feel.

Nowhere else can you control a character and have your decisions determine the fate of both individuals and worlds. It's a living, breathing medium sewn together from the best parts of others - empathic art, striking cinematography, moving soundtracks - and has become a factory of innovation, oiled by creativity and fuelled with ambrosia.

Because of their heightened capacity to incite feeling in us, it should be no surprise that games - like novels, films, or psychedelic drugs - are addicting. Hopelessly addicting for some. Not only are their puzzles and challenges food for our minds, their stories and settings are a feast for our souls.

A game has the power to involve a person so completely that some of us substitute it for the world around them.

But is that a good thing?

Choose a race. Choose a class. Choose the right raiding party...

The great majority of gaming's opponents cite addiction and detachment from "the real world" as primary reasons why the medium is especially unhealthy[2]. They see it as a vortex, sucking in the time and attention of its followers to the point where they forget what is truly important:


But what is reality? Who determines what is real? Are there scientific units by which our perceptions are measured? This question - concerning what makes something real - is the key to understanding why gamers game, potentially segregating themselves from the outside, "normal", world.

Lucky for us, there are plenty of old, dead, bearded white people who have thought about it at length[3]. (Yes, I'm delving into philosophy. There's a picture of a scantily clad 8-bit Samus at the end of the article for you if you read all the way through).

Theme music three.

There are many philosophers and psychologists who address the mental ability that causes a person to actually believe he is a mythical Spanish Lord, or a level 85 tauren shaman, but one stands before the rest: Rene Descartes.

Rene Descartes, voted "Silkiest Hair," University of Poitiers, Class of 1616.

Descartes is famous for his dream argument, which has become a cornerstone of not only modern philosophy, but also of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Larry and Andy Wachowski's The Matrix, and Christopher Nolan's Inception. If you've spent hours in a movie theatre parking lot discussing any of these films, then you'll know that this Frenchman is deep.

The dream argument proposed by Descartes asks us a fundamental question: could it be possible that all this - everything you touch, feel, experience - is just a dream? Is it possible to tell whether or not you are actually real? Is everything we sense - from the grains of sand rubbed in between our toes to the universe we peer into on starry nights - nothing more than a well-crafted, believable lie?

Our thoughts, created by our own minds, are the only concepts that we can ever know for sure are real; the only concepts we create uniquely based on whatever we've seen in our crazy, messed-up lives. Even if they are inspired by "the dream," our independent thoughts prove that we actually exist. Without them, Descartes argues that there would be no concrete evidence proving that human beings, and the normal, humdrum lives they live, are real.

Congratulations! You made it through three paragraphs of philosophy. You've now had more liberal arts education than George W. Bush.

If Descartes is correct, then we can assume that...

a) Reality is a relative concept, and...

b) Our thoughts and perceptions, moulded by the experiences we have in all settings (both 'fake' and 'real'), are what make us They define us as unique people.

Which brings us back to how gamers relate to Don Quixote. If our thoughts truly are the only realities we can know in this world, then we have the power to create - to choose - the environments in which we live, even if they do not correspond with the norm. We can, to a point, forge our own unique realities that suit us.

Enter fourth, and final, theme music.

Take that, windmill! That's for killing my dad.

Enter The Ingenious Hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha, the hero to which all gamers should proudly relate.

Alonso Quixano is an aging farmer from Spain who has lived a simple, humble life. For decades, his existence was a quiet one consisting of farming and caring for his housekeeper and niece. As the years go on, Alonso begins reading books on chivalry and heroism. He takes them completely literally, actually believing that wizards, cyclops, and dragons exist. This becomes his reality. In such a world, wrought with danger and damsels in need of saving, Alonso does the only responsible thing - he dons a rusty suit of armor and sets off in search of adventure as a knight-errant.

Like a gamer may disregard a boring, dead-end job in favor of an exciting adventure in Hyrule, Azeroth, or the Mushroom Kingdom, Alonso redefined his own reality and existence so that it suited him. He effectively altered his reality. The power was in his mind: he had the ability to change his environment so it better suited his psychological needs. The so-called real world lacked fire, lacked passion, so what the hell - he upped and moved to another, as do millions of gamers every day.

When it comes to reality, my belief is that every person experiences a different world, unique to them. Even those who embrace the 'normal world' see it through a different lens than any other human being in history. That's how our minds work: we interpret "forms" (as Plato and Aristotle described them) and, using the power of our own past experiences, passions, and inherent logic and creativity, forge them into something completely unique - a reality that is completely our own.

The worlds and narratives offered by games often play a large role in what reality we create for ourselves, just as the world in which we walk, eat, and breathe does. Our physical bodies may be more attached to the environment that offers the food, water, and oxygen that it needs to survive, but our mind does not necessarily care - it can live anywhere.

At first glance, reality can be a tricky concept to grasp, due in part to humanity's persistent need to justify its actions by basing them on a universal truth. We want there to be just one reality; just one universe with laws to abide by, because having those parameters would be simpler than a world in which we are constantly forced to interact with billions of unique, often conflicting world views. Global mental solidarity is easy, but it is not human. What is human is to take the concepts presented before you - all of them - and mould that mental clay into something extraordinary.

Whether you're playing games, reading books, taking in a film, travelling, or even simply sitting at home watching your cat scratch paint off the living room walls, you are creating a unique set of experiences which, when combined, define who you are and how you think; a reality, unique to you, that nobody but you can ever understand. Embracing that - like Don Quixote did - may be the only way to truly live.


[1] Yep, that's right... Lady Gaga. I apologise for nothing. ^

[2] The others cite how idiotic we look playing DDRMAX. ^

[3] When they weren't experimenting with cocaine/heroin/psychedelic toad backs/cocaine. ^

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- Greg Mengel

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