The Mundane Fantasy

written by Fyren

 

Gaming can deliver all sorts of fantasies to the player. Want to be a an epic warrior of legend on a quest to save the land from certain destruction? You can do that. Would you like to be a daring space pirate that preys on the weak to turn a few quick credits? You can do that too. Would you like to stamp passports at a border control checkpoint? Wait…what? Would you like to be a bus driver? How about a home decorator? A janitor? You can do all of that through video games. Here’s the question though: why? The games that let you take on these sorts of real world and often mundane tasks are numerous, and many are wildly successful. I’d like to go over a few of the reasons for this seemingly odd trend.

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It is widely accepted that human nature drives us to master skills, regardless of what that skill may be. Some wish to become a master of drinking beer, while others may drive themselves to learn 13 different languages. Regardless, the desire for mastery is the same. It can be said that games often fulfill this desire. Why does one feel such accomplishment when completing Dark Souls? It is because they have mastered the mechanics. Even in a title such as Papers, Please or Viscera Cleanup Detail, that sense of mastery can still be achieved. Stamping passports, the mundane task that it can be, is still something that the player must improve at throughout the course of the game. The game demands that you improve your speed, accuracy and efficiency over time. This process of improving your skills and mastering the mechanics of any game satisfies one of the basest human desires.

 

Of course, a sense of mastery is closely tied to a feeling of accomplishment or fulfillment. Games are often a form of escapism for players, in one way or another. Whether we are escaping from the drudgery of our everyday lives, or escaping from our own perceived failing in the world, we find solace in game worlds that allow us to succeed. Again, even when the task we set about in a game is repetitive or dull, we crave that success on a very deep level. The ability to win at something, anything, when we may be devoid of ‘winning’ in other aspects of our lives can be incredibly compelling, engaging and in some cases maybe even addictive.

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The escapism offered by games also allows us to tell stories that we would not have the opportunity to otherwise. A game like Elite: Dangerous or Bus Simulator tasks the player with just moving from one point to another. Yet, these simple experiences can provide the chance for one to create stories of their own by placing the player into a situation that they would not otherwise experience. Role playing is a powerful tool, and games allow us a different lens through which to view not only the world, but ourselves.

 

Something all of these games share is that they take one core game mechanic and do it so exceptionally well that it is difficult not to enjoy it. They spend the effort required to really nail the visceral details of their mundane tasks. The sound of the stamp on a passport. The splash of the water when your mop hits the bucket. The rumble of the engine and slight shake of the camera as your bus pulls out onto the road. These small details add up into an experience that one cannot help but be thoroughly engrossed by. It is here, where games can truly shine as a medium and as an art form.

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Of course, these are just a few reasons these types of games continue to be so popular. There are a myriad of reasons to enjoy them. Despite the often repetitive gameplay, I find myself coming back to many of these “boring” simulator-esque games anyway. Games can accomplish things that no other form of media can through their interactivity. It is this extra layer of engagement that can make a game about mopping up the floor entertaining, while a book or movie attempting to do the same thing would be incredibly dull and widely regarded as a waste of time.

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