Addicted to digital repetition


Are we Addicted to the digital rush?

Is being addicted the new way to connect in modern life? Or is this just a symptom of the urge we all have to acquire, only twisted into commercial idealism which replaces real achievements?

Take computer games. They provide moments of satisfaction, and the best ones make you feel that you’ve actually earned it. But even the greatest games, unless you’re playing professionally, for money, may offer little more than a realisation you’ve spent twenty-five hours on your sofa collecting coins or blowing up Nazis.

Escapism is important. Games can brilliantly provide this. Playing games – particularly with the Nintendo Wii – give a communal experience and even the glow of exercise. But what room is there, creatively? Games are created to encourage your addiction to them, to push on a little further, to press the right button and get the yummy treat of a cut scene. And sometimes it’s worth it – if there’s a story involved.

A group meet in virtual World of Warcraft (pic: Games Digest)

But what do we actually accomplish? Even in the more sociable online games, like City of Heroes or that giant of them all, World of Warcraft. There’s a sense that playing these games leads to a form of guilty escapism. You know there are better things to do – more constructive, more solid pastimes – but it’s hard to beat that rush of achievement when you destroy an entire legion of bad guys. And the lights are ever-so pretty.

I haven’t played WOW, but I was briefly addicted to City of Heroes, and that was a great way to lose all your evenings. Being in a little group and killing bad guys felt great. The graphics were immersive and the idea was great fun. Sadly, I decided that if I was ever going to get any writing done I was probably better of not repeating my subscription. Perhaps I’m more of an all-or-nothing personality. It just seemed more and more likely that the predictable pleasures of the game were taking away my brains’ ability to come up with fully rounded stories.

Yes, I am aware that now I’m typing about it. So think of this article as part-therapy for my brief addiction to video games, and an inoculation against the other distractions out there, like satellite TV, and downloading from iTunes. All of these become avoidance techniques to actually achieving anything substantial.

After all, I may have just complained about distractions and addictions for the last five paragraphs, but I do now have some writing in front of me.

There’s definitely nothing wrong with playing or reading or watching TV for a good while. I think it’s the ALL OR NOTHING problem that makes it difficult to cut it down to a level where it’s killing a couple hours, not intruding over your whole goddamn life.

To borrow from Norman Bates, “A Hobby is supposed to pass the time, not fill it” and it’s becoming a worry that, just maybe, the digital age will provide more distractions than any creativity.

It’s not all doom-laden apocalypse, though. The act of blogging, while not particularly useful in itself, it at least lets people share thoughts online and gives an insight into worlds that you’d probably need a 12-month subscription for.

Pictures, media, the ability to rip up and reshape DVDs, music and re-edit any image you like, sometimes seamlessly, has given many of us more of a stab at creativity and reshaping the world from the internet up.

It could also be argued that it’s just basically regurgitating the same-old, same-old until it looks sort-of new. You Tube is a very visible example of these platforms. In many ways, it’s fabulous because it allows some bright sparks to give themselves the version of a film or TV show they actually wanted, like this remix of the Heroes finale (which regular readers may know is a pet peeve)!

(above) A very interesting remix of the fight in the Heroes Finalé

The guy (or gel) cut a minute from this, and you just DON’T miss it!

And has anyone noticed that Sylar is better dressed than Peter?

Ahem.

Heroes-ending-rants aside.

Consoles are also open to hacking, with almost none of them free from chipping or in some cases, people emulating old games so they’ll work on the new consoles. This site illustrates how a thing called homebrew allows people to mess with the new Nintendo DS.

And is all of this unoriginal? As everyone shares the same experiences, media and imagery, does our pool of experiences get teenier, or more impressively vast? Are we limited to what we can find on google?

The answer is always to find moderaton in some things, and occasionally go overboard on others. Our experiences may be enriched by sharing them, and by sharing our abilities through YouTube or on fanfiction sites or blogs, we get to connect more rapidly with people who we won’t necessarily bore to death with our (often!) weird obsessions.

On the other hand, it cuts down the likelihood of wandering into a secondhand bookshop and finding you really like Huckleberry Finn stories (for example), or picking up a cheap copy of Miles Davis in a record store and discovering it all for yourself.

Those aren’t personal examples, but you see where I’m heading with this? Computers can take the randomness of discovery out of life. And Amazon recommends is just NOT the same. It’s moving towards being able to browse the books in person, to get inspired to buy it by a review, or an appealing blurb, but it’s much more likely you’ll try a book on a personal recommendation from someone else.

To pull it back to my original point – are we all going to be writing blogs about blogs in fifty years’ time? I doubt we’ll be quite so insular. There are blogs about real life that aren’t just the shared Starbucks experience, or the problems of finding childcare (which is fair enough). There are people from Iraq, and ex-pats in Spain, and militant vegans out there.

All we can hope is that these experiences are shared in an interesting way.

In a century that seems intent on splitting people apart, and binding them with branding, is blogging the only thing able to truly pull our experiences together? Are we going to be divided between those whose shared experiences are virtually identical, and those who live in the grittier end of online reality?

Will everyone have broadband (or hopefully better) in twenty years?

And can we really interact with each other any more truthfully if we meet them through google than if we run into them face to face?

I know I’ve borrowed a lot from You Tube lately, but I find that it and wikipedia is the best place to find out that other people think the same – only, case in point, in a interesting and often hilarious new way. We all want to make sense of our surroundings, and our awareness of them have gotten a lot bigger lately.

I suppose it makes some sense that we’d really want to limit them in some way to the level we’re able to understand.

To borrow from Ghost in the Shell, “The net is vast and infinite“.

I think the final word should come from this guy. Thank you for reading:

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4 thoughts on “Addicted to digital repetition

  1. Well said. There’s a reason one of my friends (a film editor himself!) calls video games “electronic crack.” In moderation, they can provide relaxation and stress relief after a long day. Far better to blast creatures from outer space on your screen than other drivers on the freeway with a .38! However, from what I’ve seen, video games are a lot like potato chips…when did you ever see anyone have “just one?”One of my most productive periods of writing in the past was done when I took the advice of another writer friend and cancelled my cable television. Amazing what you can achieve when there’s nowhere to go for recreation but your own imagination…

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