Home CultureArticles & Essays Online Gaming – Unlimited Possibilities, But At What Cost?

Online Gaming – Unlimited Possibilities, But At What Cost?

by Aimee Brooke
Online Gaming - Unlimited Possibilities, But At What Cost?

A Massive Multiplayer Online Personality Test

In a world of unlimited possibilities, who would you be? A veteran soldier leading the ranks? A powerful beauty queen with a legion of worshipers? An alien creature defying the limits of humanity? In many multiplayer video games, you can achieve any of these narratives with the click of a button- well, virtually at least.

Games like Overwatch and World of Warcraft have a cast of pre-made, playable characters to choose from, allowing you to take on whatever persona you wish during gameplay. Players can have any physique, any gender, any expertise, regardless of their “real life” abilities. The enhancements of these characters are not just limited to physical traits, as there are also various customizable skill sets and talents to choose from depending on what stage of the game the player is in. 

Multiplayer games pitch an alluring offer, as they provide a platform for customizable identities. Inside of these various video games (Borderlands, Fortnite, League of Legends, etc), a safe space has been created for players to freely express themselves. Players can experiment with their identities and become whoever they want to be within this online space. It removes the limitations and confines of the human body, surpassing the real world’s societal pressures and labels as players come together in a common ground of creativity and self-expression. 

Modern mass media has created an idealized image of what a hero must look like: usually male, white, skinny but buff, pearly white teeth, full head of hair. The list goes on, crafting such a high and unrealistic criteria of perfection in order for anyone to feel good about themselves. 

This is why video games can be a great outlet for those with insecurities, or those feeling trapped within the physical confines of their own skin. Anyone can become the hero, the warrior, the victor. There are no real world criteria that need to be met in order for players to be successful within the game and feel good about themselves. Anyone can feel like a winner. This can lead to a large boost of confidence and self-assurance in the gamer’s life, as well as make them feel more capable of achieving goals and upkeeping positive self worth. Even though these victories are only happening inside of a screen, the emotions evoked are still impacting players’ feelings and perception of themselves in the real world. It gives them meaning and purpose as they gain online rewards and make these virtual connections. 

The majority of multiplayer video games allow players to interact from all across the globe, pairing people together who have never interacted before. The gamers playing together do not have any basis of what the other is like in the real world. This only contributes to the ability for the player to become whoever they want to be online, because the people they are playing with have no predesignated notions or realistic versions of themselves to compare them to. A gamer’s virtual character is the only version of themselves to exist to others within the online gaming realm. The player holds full control over the way others perceive them, and what aspects of themselves and their real life get filtered out of their image.

Online Gaming - Unlimited Possibilities, But At What Cost?
World of Warcraft

Are Customizable Identities Harmful? 

There is much debate on whether online gaming is a productive activity or  an unhealthy time waster. Like the old adage says, too much of a good thing can be harmful. 

These character-based video games serve to create an entirely new world that feels so realistic it can become difficult to discern between it and reality. When playing in excessive amounts, it is easy to get caught up in the drama of it all, and lose sense of the importance of things in real life. Many gamers don’t just play here and there throughout the week- they play for hours every single day. The habit of gaming for hours every day can start simply because “playing the game is fun.” However, gaming can quickly become a way to escape both reality and real world problems. Being inside the game gives players a high of sorts, intense feelings of joy and confidence when they allow their minds to get lost in the fictional world. These feelings are what can make the activity of gaming become so addictive. To the player, everything that takes place inside the game is extremely important and holds true meaning and value to their life as a whole. 

Falling into this state of mind creates a harmful scenario, because it can lead to an intense mental crash when it’s time to return back to the real world. Thus a cycle begins, where the gamer neglects their real world needs in favor of creating more time to play the game and get their daily fix.

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Cecilia D'Anastasio

An Opportunity For Bad Habits 

Falling into bad gaming habits is something that happens gradually. Playing one game for hours each day is simply the tip of the iceberg, serving as a gateway for other poor lifestyle choices down the road. The act of gaming for such extended periods can lead to neglect in sleep, eating, social, and hygiene practices. Many gamers, especially those of these younger generations, are notorious for staying awake all night so that they feel like they have extra time to game uninterrupted from the outside world. Then they will sleep in the following day until the late afternoon, throwing off their entire life schedule and repeating the same thing the next night. This puts them out of sync with the rest of the world and the people in their household, making it harder to keep up with the demands of school, work, and family. 

This same mentality of life revolving around the video game even affects basic hygiene. Gamers are prone to forgoing frequent showers or maintaining looks because it takes up too much time. Especially when the player is secluded from the world and can look however they want to inside the game, there is little motivation driving them to maintain their appearances in person. There is no routine for bathing or dental care or cleaning laundry. These bad habits can carry over into serious health problems in the future. Poor sleeping and eating habits are already enough to take a significant toll on the human body, causing obesity or malnourishment. But gaming combines that with hours of eyes staring at a screen and sitting in the same position. It is damaging to the eyes and can affect vision quality, and in the lack of physical activity and basic movement, muscles start to atrophy. 

We have seen several fictitious examples of this sad reality playing out through movies such as Ready Player One, which depicts a futuristic world where the general public remains inside their homes and are immersed inside an expansive virtual reality universe via their gaming console systems. People spend the entirety of their days inside the game, sitting down with a headset and other gaming equipment that brings them into the virtual world and allows them to feel everything that’s happening inside the game physically. Although the movie’s plot is very different from our current state of the world, it does a great job in depicting the mindset of people who are completely consumed by a video game and how it affects them mentally. It even explores the concept of how and why gamers choose their online personas. It is most observable that the features and characteristics of a virtual character are a representation of everything the player feels that they are lacking. There are several instances within the movie where viewers meet the online version of a character first, only to find out the real version of themselves is the complete opposite of their gaming character.

Online Gaming - Unlimited Possibilities, But At What Cost?
Ready Player One

Does Online Gaming Hold Any Real Word Value?

Taking all of these possible negative habits and warped mindsets into consideration, it is still important not to stereotype. Everyone is different, and while these stereotypes might be something commonly seen among others, the lifestyle of a “gamer” does not fit into one specific mold. Just because someone enjoys gaming does not mean that they are explicitly addicted to it or that they use it as an unhealthy coping mechanism to escape reality. The activity of gaming has its positives, such as improving motor skills, and even offering well-paying jobs to many gamers around the world. 

We are quickly becoming a virtual generation, and social media platforms serve a strong presence in our daily lives. Many opportunities have been created for gamers to make a steady income while doing the thing they most enjoy. The most notable sites for successful gaming careers to take place are Youtube and Twitch. Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, better known by his online alias “PewDiePie,” started posting videos of himself on Youtube back in 2010. In his Youtube videos he would play various popular video games while showing his reactions and adding in his own reviews of the games themselves. He quickly gained notoriety for his entertaining comments and reactions during gameplay, and after almost a decade of posting this kind of content he is now the second most subscribed Youtube channel in the world with a growing 103 million subscriber count. He is known to hold a net worth of over thirty-million dollars. 

Twitch is another popular gaming website, known for its livestreams where gamers record themselves playing video games and broadcast it to a live audience. Viewers have the ability to tip streamers during their live streams, which is equivalent to real money that can be cashed out and used in the real world. Many gamers are able to build up a steady and loyal following on the site, and eventually gain enough influence to move to other social media sites like Youtube or Instagram where they can be paid for sponsorship ads and sell their own merchandise. After reaching a certain level of popularity, streamers can be recruited for sponsored streams, where they are paid one cent hourly for each view they recieve. For most popular gamers, this can mean earning around $10,000 an hour just from gaming via livestream on the Twitch website. 

Moreover, the concept of being a “Gamer Girl” is also something that has become heavily franchised upon in recent years. A common example of this that hit the media recently is popular Youtuber and cosplayer Belle Delphine, who posed as a gamer girl and sold her bath water to viewers for the hefty price of $30 a jar. Thousands of people online bought into this persona and willingly forked out money to buy some girl’s supposedly used bath water for their own using pleasures. This incident resulted in a lot of negative backlash and controversy, but  the internet is proving time and time again that there are endless ways to earn money online, especially through the gaming world.

Online Gaming - Unlimited Possibilities, But At What Cost?
Twitter: Belle Delphine

The Big Picture 

Online gaming is a limitless space for self expression and exploration. It can free the mind, body, and spirit, allowing players to let go of their daily struggles and enjoy a fictional universe.

Moving into a digital generation, it is important to understand the benefits and risks of an activity that is taking over the world on such a large scale. Something of such capabilities holds its consequences, leaving the door open for addictive and self-destructive behaviors. Becoming too invested in the gaming realm can cause a complete divide in someone’s identity, skewing their concepts of who they are inside the game versus in real life. It can serve as a toxic escape that fuels more self-hatred and insecurity when players try to return to their real lives. 

However, when real life and the gaming world are combined, it can also become the perfect platform for players and future generations to secure income and online influence, as well as create a form of uplifting entertainment for onlookers to enjoy. Regardless of anyone’s opinions on multiplayer games, they exist and they are expanding on the ways in which players can become more immersed inside the virtual world and alternate universes. We need not fear such limitless boundaries, but embrace them in their glory without getting lost in them.

Hey, chum. These posts don't write themselves. If you wanna stay in the know, it's gotta be a two way street.*

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