Many parents, me included, harbor a deep grudge against video games. Seeing our kids playing them turns us into nagging harridans whose vision of well-used play time involves skipping rope or playing Kick the Can.
But recently I caught part of a conversation between radio journalist David Brancaccio and Dave Georgesen of Sony Online Entertainment that offered a bit of enlightenment. Speaking about video games, Georgesen said: “We all want to be better than what we are in real life, and games are a mechanism to be able to do that. People can go in and have a ‘larger than life’ life.”
At first blush, that might seem to be a bad thing—something that people who are out of touch with reality might aspire to. Calvinists might say that wanting to be “larger than life” is a sign of misplaced pride. Psychologists might suggest that seeking to be something we’re not indicates either an inflated ego or a shriveled self-image.
But really, isn’t the instinct to be “larger than life” a driving force behind some of the best human impulses, including religious belief?
We want assurance that we are more than flesh and bones, that what we do transcends the mundane details of our everyday existence, that the physical world is not all there is, and that the supernatural world is not fictional. We read good books and watch good films because they inspire us to be more fully human, to participate in the triumph of good over evil, and even to experience the divine.
It really shouldn’t surprise us that our kids want the same things from their digital entertainment.
Perhaps what we should find dismaying is not that kids are playing video games but that game developers have exhibited such a narrow vision for an incredibly powerful medium. Searching for positive yet engaging games that interest kids over the age of 10 is a discouraging and often fruitless pursuit. Here’s hoping that the next generation of game developers will use their imagination to help kids live “larger than life”—onscreen and off.