The final type of darkness includes games that confront us with the sad and disturbing stories of others. As in apocalyptic scenarios, we experience a profound lack of power, but this is now all the more telling because it is an individual we are trying to engaging with and save. BioWare is masterly here. Far removed from any fickle sex scene, Mass Effect 2's ability to involve us in the lives of its characters before letting them slowly unravel in front of us is as deeply affecting an encounter as I can imagine. Our heroic moments seem only to make the individual loss and collapse all the more telling.
Some of these moments pop up in the popular press with either outraged or perplexed headlines. Others are simply too involved to be noticed outside the gaming world. Either way, videogames involve us in some very dark moments. But quite the opposite to what those headlines would suggest, these are not dangerous experiences we need to guard ourselves against. They are good for us.
Provided we have an ounce of responsibility we don't need to worry about the detrimental effect they might have on our real lives when we stop playing. In fact, as with other cultural stories, engaging with them is the green shoots of a genuinely healthy individual.
Just because games address subjects that we don't often find elsewhere - powerlessness, abandonment, consequence, moral freedom, personal loss and collapse - doesn't make them treacherous. What is does mean is that our response to them is important, and that to capitalize on the fund of meaning they offer we need to understand the experiences they offer in detail. We need to notice what is happening in the person playing as much as in the graphic violence or sex on the screen.
I know these games aren't perfect. They are often too preoccupied with violence and walk all too familiar territory rather than taking genuine risks. But one thing I wouldn't change is their willingness to create playful ways to experiment and engage in very dark moments.
Beneath the explosions, dialogue and gunplay they silently ask some disturbing questions about how this makes us feel. Answering that question is a long and personal task, but one worth the risk and effort.
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