Games? - Lois Greene Stone

            Why is a computer-gaming input device called a joystick? My personal introduction to such was definitely not joyous.
            New Year’s Eve, 1984, at a Florida resort, in an area off the lobby, video games with coin slots covered for that night circled the room. Small children and pre-teens waited for turns at the machines. I could never manage pinball flippers and assumed these ‘modern’ arcade things might be easier. My initiation into video games began. 
            Pac-man. Could I gobble up computerized dots, turn circles blue, rack up points, see boards shift? How hard can it be to manipulate one fat stick? My Pac-man was devoured before I figured out how to make him run away. Each time the game outwitted me there seemed to be an urgency to beat a computer chip.
            Missile Command. Both hands were needed. On-screen bullets shot, and I tried to defend my cities from destruction. “Run away” I blurted and tried to maneuver but the video always set up obstacles I couldn’t overcome.
            This wasn’t ‘fun’! Frustration and defeat are never easy. Even if I’d scored enough to enter my initials into the computer’s memory for high points, another would erase that accomplishment by earning a digit or two better. CAN be more successful than a man-made metal rectangle, said the ego.
            Human behavior, in that room, would have made an interesting psychology term paper. Some children showed anger outwardly; the score seemed to represent self-esteem. The ‘I’m better than you’ bragging, for a moment, could easily be directed to a player whose score was lower. Competition, generally lifelong, was becoming important. Yet there were some with patience as they waited, and a shrug of the shoulder when the video game defeated them quickly. Were they accepting it was a game, or learning how to pretend ‘it didn’t matter’? How did I feel as an educated adult, successful, creative, skillful, when a joy-stick was cumbersome and an object figuratively smirked at me? I began to accept frustration was going to be part of any video game, and for any age group, as the programmer knew more about psychology when these devices were made. For me, there were enough ‘frustrations’ without going to an arcade and paying to have temporary different ones.
            Did those then-children who pushed ahead, puffed-themselves-up to make others seem less qualified, kicked the machine’s legs in anger, become ‘entitled’ adults? Did those who shrugged, either realizing or pretending games were not personal challenges, become the adult versions of their 1984 beings?
            Since 1984, I have avoided video games while others find them stimulating. My perception of play or social contacts is merely different, not better nor worse than another’s.
            When Covid forced us to be isolated, we contacted others via mobile phones and played games such as Fall Guys.But monsters, and war never seem to lose popularity as themes. Why? Is a desire to conquer, as with the real-world situations, why weapons and power are so universal? Bits of success encourage gamers to continue to play for ‘larger’ rewards. Without droplets of achievement happening, few would assume they could control a machine. Designers know that.
            MRI’s have shown gamers’ brains increase dopamine release; dopamine is a mood regulator. Is this harmful? When, during video play, one level’s-up, and excitement happens, is the sensation so pleasant that reaching for more creates a type of addiction?
            So, what are the positives for, example, the popular World of Warcraft? Maybe it’s about exploring an imaginary world, finding new places, being emotionally attached to the created character, and sharing with a stranger during play. Maybe some who are bullied at school find comfort in the gaming universe and have a relationship with people they’d never meet yet feel a community.
            Since Pac Man, simple by today’s standards, there’s Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). Considered addictive, there’s no real ending to them. Released in 2004, one creates an Avatar, and there is in-game currency used. The player does have to buy a subscription with a real credit card and then may select a ‘realm’. Yes, there are dungeons, and war, and so many of our current TV series are filled with visual weapons, pain, lying, power pushing; maybe these video games are not too different from many tv series or films in 2022.
            If I were to wonder about the effects video games have on youth, might I also wonder about gangster movies, just the actual news daily in papers or available to see on electronic devices, destruction of a country for extra and not needed land, school children being shot to death merely by attending classes in their hometown building, and such? I might wonder which ‘real’ is worse, the fears from humans’ inhumanity to other humans, or the fake ones played via video games?

Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies.  Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.  The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from the 1950’s; a large showcase in its American History Museum features her photo. hand-designed clothing, and her costume sketches. ‘Girlhood’ exhibit opened 10-2020 and will go on tour beginning Jan. 2023.