Phantom Pain

It is no nation we inhabit, but a language. Make no mistake; our native tongue is our true fatherland.

Damn, yo. This brilliant quote, from Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran, is the epigraph to the most recent trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

I’m not sure if it’s a good thing that I found a way of rationalizing my persistent curiosity about the video gaming world, that way being the fact that games can and often do make me think deeply about the world; books are revered for this invitation. I own both a PS4 (which I purchased at a remarkably cheap price by trading in a never-used Xbox 360) and a Wii U. I rarely play either, especially the Wii U, which is mostly used to entertain my advisory students and dorm dwellers. I actively teach against such mindless consumption, yet here I am, stupidly complicit in one of its most criticized forms. There’s no denying the momentary pleasure experienced together in a Super Smash Bros battle, but…really? Why do I permit such nonsense?

I blame it on the power of nostalgia. I grew up with video games. I forged friendships over death matches in Goldeneye, Turok, and Halo (to name a few of the games heavily present in my socialization). It’s not like gaming was an activity relegated to nerds (which is now a venerated social category anyway); in college, Halo was played throughout entire dorms at the same time. Sure, I can doubt the strength of the bonds formed in these clashes, and I can call out the privilege inherent in time spent this way, but I look back on it all with enough fondness to outweigh the guilt I’m assuming I ought to feel.

But guilt for what exactly? Yes, gaming is a distraction. But what activity, what project to which we devote our energy and time, isn’t in some way? This is obviously a logical leap, and it’s only to situate gaming as acceptable social activity, not ideal. Then again, I’m not sure with whom I’m arguing here. My current pedagogical self, who still owns and now bemoans games? Is there no way to reconcile this self with my inner naive child, who would never conceive of gaming as a mindless way out of real responsibility to other people?

I’ll say this: any anxiety or guilt I feel over watching the coverage of E3, playing games, owning systems but rarely using them, etc., isn’t getting me anywhere. If it’s a vice, so be it, but getting caught up in pointing a finger at myself and getting lost in such trivial self-laceration is giving in to further degrading socialization. Our world relentlessly seduces us into the very things we’re supposed to end up hating ourselves for surrendering to. Since I clearly can’t completely resist the temptation of the thing itself, I can at least resist the useless punishment that follows my conditioned curiosity.

Besides, as we covered in an early podcast episode, I’m as mindful a gamer as one can be. Yes, I can direct such mindfulness in better ways, and I do. I will continue to try to do better. But I’m finished feeling bad about socially imposed vices. Go away, phantom pain.

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