Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Axes and consoles

In Trondheim a young man asked, with much righteous indignation, what use we have of 8 million gamers. Can't all that energy be spent in better ways? I didn't answer directly, because I saw it could lead into a lecture far too long for the already overflowing timeframes of the meeting. I just talked about how society is full of surplus activities, and gaming is just one of those.

This is, however, the point. Gaming is a surplus activity, a leisure activity. If you are cold and out in the rain, you want an axe. A carpenter can build a house with an axe, and this is a smart skill to have. But once you have the house, you have the car, you have the fridge filled from the store, you have clothing, you have safety and what you need to maintain this in a reasonable future - once you have this, what are you to do with your axe? Go build another house? This is what we are doing today, filling up the planet with more and more of what is considered "real values", objects originally needed to cover immediate needs are turning into objects of status and pawns in social games.

It is at this point that human society turns to other questions, other challenges and other past-times. We read and write fiction, we listen to music, we sit together and drink and exchange ideas, tell jokes and hang out. We watch movies, we go on vacations, we apply make-up and we knit pretty new gloves. What's the point? Why do we need the leisure time of billions? How many trees could we have cut down in the hours spent watching television? How many fields could we have planted? How many mountains could we have moved? How much medicine could we have produced if we could harness this wasted energy going into watching television and singing in choirs? Playing instruments badly, or growing orchids where they should never grow?

If we could harness this energy which goes into the leisure time, there would be no progress. While progress can be made through hardship and hard work, it also demands a certain level of slack. A society which has no slack may come up with some desperate measures for survival, but at the cost of other things we take for granted, like freedom, democracy, the right to make your own decisions. The moment everything must go into approved production, free choice is lost.

So, what are 8 million gamers good for? Nothing much. Just the same as writers, readers, philosophers, painters, gallery guests, dancers, athletes, sportsfans, filmmakers and cinemavisitors, chefs and gourmets or the fishermen patiently waiting for a fish to bite at the beach in Hudson River. They are here to spend some time doing something other than what is expected of them, to make room for new thoughts, ideas and opinions, to create diversity.

All we really need is an axe, and the skill to use it. The rest is luxury. I approve of such luxury.

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