"The skulls... the bodies... you give it all such a glow! I don't know if it's art, but I like it!" – Jack Nicholson, Batman
"The skulls... the bodies... you give it all such a glow!
I don't know if it's art, but I like it!" – Jack Nicholson, Batman
The bullet rips through his body like a baseball through a plate glass window. He drops in a pile of blood and armor, destined to return to his home in a black bag along with his blushing bride. There is an exhilarating high that is running through my blood as I see the second body crumpled on the ground. This is why I play: the thrill of the hunt, the rush of the kill, the excitement of escape. Each frag is a small victory; recorded proof that I've defeated another human being at a common task. Every time I get someone in the scope the game has started for me and when they fall to their knees from a high velocity slug the competition is over. I am the winner, and for a brief period I feel like a god among men. But the moment is brief, and after a few seconds I start to feel the urge build again. The urge to win, not the game, but one on one against my fellow man, and to prove to myself and everyone else that I am superior, no matter what.
Karen Horney called it hypercompetitiveness. According to her it's "the need by people to be successful at all costs and the willingness to exploit and manipulate those individuals who are seen as obstacles to the attainment of their goals. In her view, such an exaggerated competitive attitude is an 'unfailing center of neurosis' and has a detrimental impact on the individual's development and personality functioning." Of course, Horney never shot the entire crew out of a Warthog in Halo 2, while it was racing full speed over hilly terrain, with three shots from a Beam Rifle.
What Horney did do was make a list of neurotic needs and the coping strategies humans use to attain those needs. The most relevant one I found being a person using aggression to satisfy the need "for power, for control over others, and for a facade of omnipotence." Couple that with Alfred Adler's "aggression drive, referring to the reaction we have when other drives, such as our need to eat, be sexually satisfied, get things done, or be loved, are frustrated" and you get a severe neurological and emotional motivation to succeed, or in my case, put my target on the ground.
But why does it mean so much to me? In the grand scheme of my life it doesn't really make a difference whether I shoot an opponent or the wall behind him. The point for his death doesn't really affect me in the long term.
These are all warning signs of the beginnings of neuroses, and when I sit to think about my behavior when playing violent games, they are all symptoms of which I am very familiar with. So maybe I already have developed some sort of neurosis, and if mental degradation is usually an on going process what have I got to look forward too? Or what have I already gotten myself into? Neurosis is a scary enough animal, but it can seem like small potatoes when compared to its big brother, Psychosis. If it is psychosis on the horizon, how would I even be able to tell?
Delusions, like the delusion of superiority to another person based on something like a game, can be one of the red flags. Any kind of exhibition of mania can also be a symptom, like say, cackling with laughter in a spray of blood as you cut someone's torso in half with a chainsaw. Or even something like affective flattening which can be indicated by
unchanging facial expressions, poor or no eye contact, reduced body language and decreased spontaneous movements. A person experiencing affective flattening may stare vacantly into space and speak in a flat, toneless voice. Flat affect refers to the outward expression of emotion and not the inner experience.
That's funny because I've heard some gamers use other words to describe that state like "the zone" or "immersed" or even just "concentrated."
These few symptoms by themselves may or may not be signs of a burgeoning psychosis, but what is really interesting is that when you put them all together they specifically make up some of the key criteria in diagnosing Schizophrenia.
I'm not saying that all gamers are or are becoming schizophrenics, but I'm not disputing that claim either. Wanting to win could just be me wanting to win, but when does it start becoming a need or an obsession? The brain is an organ like any other in my body and, like all the others, is prone to adverse affects when overloaded with one kind of input. If I eat too much sugar I run the risk of becoming diabetic. If I listen to loud music I can damage my hearing and if I stare into a bright light I can burn out my vision.
So is that what I'm doing when I let my imagination get carried away with the massacre on my television? Am I staring into the sun during an eclipse, too caught up in the beauty to realize that the price I'm paying for my reckless abandon is a life without handicap?
Of course, one of the things these theories have in common is that they are all unconscious happenings. So whether I'm developing a god complex, psychotically sexually frustrated, or just hate my mother, it doesn't matter because I'll never know for sure. All I can be sure of is the result. When I get caught up in the gore and the explosions and the contest on the digital battlefield there isn't a narcotic in the world that could replicate the feeling of pure euphoria that comes over me. All that's left for me to decide is if that precious high is worth the possible risk.