Ask Dr Mark

Ask Dr Mark
Over Gaming

Mark J. Kline | 9 Dec 2010 13:00
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Today's video games may create a stronger sense of immersion than other media and previous sources of imaginary transportation. When I read a particularly engrossing book, I may think about it a great deal and imagine things that happen in that world. No matter how vividly the world is described, or even portrayed on film, it doesn't amount to actually being there. Gaming allows us to feel many sensations, emotions, and experiences of actually being in another world even though we know we aren't "actually" there. Our neurophysiology is acting, in least in part, as if we are.

Your question has to do with losing this feeling, and while you keep reassuring yourself that it is possibly "for the best" because you have lots of other things that need to get done, I sense there is a kind of wistfulness here. You wonder what happened to the immersion because it was so enjoyable, and understandably, you miss that pleasure and wonder where it went, and why it seems to be gone.

It's not unreasonable that the things that captivated you at twelve are less captivating at seventeen. As we mature, especially through adolescence, our brains and bodies develop new capabilities. We find different things intriguing: many of them fall into the broad categories of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. You might find that satisfying feeling of immersion in a relationship, or you might find it in an activity with other teenagers, or in meeting the challenges of school or work.

Of course it's also possible that nothing can provide this feeling better than a game for you and you may need to seek out different kinds of games that tap into the needs and fantasies of young adults.

Is it bad that games have the potential to provide a kind of immersion that gamers may crave and not be able to find anyplace else? Parents and professionals spend lots of time worrying about this, as they see young people transported into alternate universes where they can be hard to reach. For some, attunement to the immersion of gaming becomes part of a withdrawal from reality, and serious problems can result.

There is also the possibility that our capacity for immersion in gaming could be mobilized to assist in learning or creative problem solving, as described in a recent New York Times article.

Technological revolutions provide novel tools for some of us to be productive and solve problems in new ways. Just because a technology begins as a kind of play doesn't mean that it won't ultimately become a useful innovation that mobilizes a different potential within us. Immersion seems to be a powerful reaction to the wonders and thrills of video gaming and it is clearly a huge force in the lives of today's young people.

Dr. Mark Kline figured out how to stream Netlix movies through his family's Wii. This will certainly interfere with MarioKart and WiiFit. Have a question for Dr. Mark? Send it to askdrmark@escapistmag.com. Your identity will remain confidential.

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