Games by definition are supposed to evoke a sense of playing, a feeling of amusement. So why don’t I feel any urge to unblock a stinking sink or paint a fence in a storm until Mario or whatever polygon protagonist is up for a bit of DIY? Because games make these tedious inanities more enjoyable in some way? Possibly because players aren’t actually doing those things when playing a game. Maybe even because players don’t need to do those things. There are so many questions surrounding why boring chores are so addicting and popular in games. I’m going to try and put my finger on it, or at least near it. That will be my virtual job because you could have been an astronaut. With all those hours you ploughed into Farmville you could have trained to become an astronaut…probably. At the very least an actual farmer. You’ll never know.
Get to Work.
Imagine spending the day pumping cars with gas, mowing the grass, gathering coconuts, cooking steaks, collecting garbage, cleaning graffiti, killing bugs, plumbing, delivering pizzas and tiling. Sound like an ideal birthday, right? Not really the most fun prospect for someone’s free time. Those are just some of the side quests from No More Heroes and No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle, and some of the most enjoyable moments to boot. Chores can be fun and satisfying in the bizarro world of a game. I challenge anyone that’s played a Zelda game to tell me that clearing a path in the long grass with a spin slash isn’t satisfying. Cutting grass, yeah that’s all that is, try and say otherwise. The comments section is below.
Just the Job. Why We Play at Work.
Games like Harvest Moon, Sim City, Civilization and Football Manager are widely popular in part because they fulfill a niche. Clearly the approach of these games helps define them as an occupational simulator. Living the dream life by performing a dream job. A holiday from mundane life in reality. Because this is a game the pressures and harsh realities posed within the role of a sports team manager or a mayor are nonexistent. The gamer’s life doesn’t fall apart after getting fired or impeached for doing a bad job, they simply start again. The game world jeopardy of a game over or failed mission is merely the challenge – but one we enjoy, because it doesn’t matter. Games are not reality, obviously.
The weight of consequences in a game is far lighter. For instance, a sneeze and a slip of the wrist during brain surgery in real life doesn’t result in a game over and a continue like in Trauma Center: Under the Knife. Players who use those hot shot lawyer skills picked up in Ace Attorney to defend themselves in court can expect to be sent to the chair for returning those library books late. That will definitely be the outcome, I’ll have you know I’m an expert on library laws.
Chef Gordon Ramsey’s bulldog in a lift door face isn’t going to do a lovely smile at anything someone cooked out of Cooking Mama. He will tell them it’s **** and burn a picture of their face because that is his number 1 favourite thing to do! Sending the wrong bag to the wrong plane in Aero Porter is no big deal although in reality someone may have just sent a freeze packed heart to Tijuana by mistake, there’s no reset button for that (also if it went British Airways there’s definitely no getting that emergency heart back, trust me).
Fantasy World > Real World.
We are living out our fantasy lives in games all the time, everywhere (that isn’t PlayStation Home). This is us, the gamer choosing our fantasy jobs rather than playing a game. From casual to hardcore, we are doing jobs under the pretense of a game. Not very good jobs at times either. Yet games don’t have to be presented as a recognizable job to be a job.
Take MMORPGs. Y’know, the kind of games that people die of exhaustion playing for hours on end in South Korean internet cafes. In 2005, a 28 year old man collapsed after playing StarCraft for a number of days with very little sleep or nutrition. Those are jobs. MMORPGs are so addictive because they reward us for leveling up, grinding away to complete missions, accumulating currency and overall, for the time invested, and that time is potentially forever. The hours and effort invested in something can define it as a job and that certainly fits the bill of MMORPGs due to their ‘endless’ nature and the central emphasis on remuneration. Just as in a real job, gamers can work too hard. It’s not really very healthy. Just as in the real rat race, gamers compete against a massive amount of ‘real’ people. There is a risk for those that fail to find the difference between games and reality. The structure makes it easy to become susceptible to addiction.
Art mimics reality, just as games mirror life. Video games also evoke and often distort the jobs and activities that are familiar and at times banal to us. It’s these distortions that make cleaning up the place in Katamari so fun. Games are also escapism and in the sense of occupational simulations, one person’s escapism is another person’s reality. If someone is a truck driver they’re probably not rushing home to play Euro Truck Simulator 2 but someone else might love to give that a go (Case in point, train driver sim Densha de Go! [Let's Go by Train!] is an arcade mainstay in Japan). Alternatively, someone may prefer a job as a magician elf in another world or something, it’s up to the gamer because thanks to the crazy magic of games that’s on the menu too. Whether we like our jobs, occupations or chores far better in the games, we play or not. One thing’s for sure, occupational simulators enable us to effectively live through a virtual reality. If that’s true then the Sims is basically The Matrix.