Gaming and suicide: two relief valves for society

Konstantin Rovinskiy
6 min readSep 26, 2020


(to be in the context please read part I and part II first)

A very rational and, therefore, cynical suggestion on how to address suicides was published in the above-mentioned Russian newspaper in 1911. “Suicide is a part of natural selection. It helps society get rid of the weakest. Nobody should interfere” — was claimed by the authors of the publication. Those days, it was recognized as a scandal. But nothing has changed in the very attitude of society to the reasons for suicide since then.

People keep building imaginary goals to stay in a neurotic state of dissatisfaction with their present positions. It is illustrative that the progressive social development that we supposedly witness today goes in line with the growing number of suicides over time. Nothing weird is in it actually: the source of both progress and suicide is the same. As we figure out, this is a desire for change. It might sound cynical, of course, but the suggestion from that old Russian newspaper keeps working. Moreover, the deeply social pseudo-individualism is gaining momentum today reaching a frightening degree.

Suicide contributes to society working as some sort of a safety valve which relieves the pressure of personal existential protest. Once society is afraid of the true individuals, it will always tacitly preserve every possible stimulus for suicide. We have to repeat again: society is about power, it has nothing in common with the coexistence of individuals. What society cares about most is its status quo. That’s why neither unemployment nor suicidality can never be a problem for society.

Nothing prevents us from assuming that society uses suicide as a measure against overpopulation. It looks more humane than homicide, famine, and the AIDS epidemic. It is based on democratic freedom of choice along with basic human rights in the quest for happiness. It is cheap and effective: the only thing needed is just to keep broadcasting images of happier individuals over media to heat up our desire not to be what we are today, not to stay average.

Can our awareness of the reason for suicides help in such a case? Highly unlikely, since the overwhelming majority will never leave the ranks of socially standardized bipeds. Suicide will always remain an inherent feature of any society in which chasing happiness is a mass cult. The true individuals do not need to keep socially sanctioned lucky cliches before their eyes to be happy. That’s why true individuals are not native to society. They are looking for a way out to post-society where a different goal-setting system works.

Post-social structures are a matter of the future, however. Does this mean that absolutely everyone belongs to the present-day obedient social mass? Does no one understand the predatory substance of society? A thin stratum of anti-social rebels is always available. Another deal is that both the content of that stratum and a means of protest are changing over time. The modern “clip-thinking” geeks subconsciously realize that any direct confrontation with the machinery of society can lead to either imprisoning or suicide. They do not join street protests under slogans created by social activists (street protests are just fitness for society, they make it stronger, in fact).

The true individuality seekers do the only thing actually dangerous for society: they ignore it. But it is impossible to ignore society offline. Reality and society have reliably merged long ago. That’s why only a parallel world of virtuality can provide individuals with “dis-social” shelters. The environment of computer games is one of those shelters.

Getting back to the gaming space we have to admit that it plays an ambivalent role. On the one hand, games contribute to society in a similar way that suicides do: they offer a safety valve to relieve psychological pressure induced by various social problems. And they do it in a softer manner without redundant mortality. On the other hand, the virtual world extracts individuals from social relations for a while. It educates gamers on how to stay away from both reality and society. And such an experience might appear irresistible for many of those who take society with low piety.

It would be too naive to consider all gamers the antisocial rebels. Moreover, a significant part of them belongs to the abundantly socialized precariat who seeks refuge in gaming. The lion’s share of gamers plays computer games just for fun without a second thought. Gaming is rightfully accepted as a particular sort of escapism. Only a small percentage of those who regularly play computer games can call themselves the true “hardcore” gamers.

It means that just a tiny portion of the world population can recognize an alternative way of life in a virtual space. Even though the gaming industry keeps growing (its annual turnover surpassed profits from all Hollywood movies in 2019), it still remains quite a geeky realm in terms of sociology. In mass consciousness, games remain just a way of spending spare time. Many “serious” people have nothing to do with gaming for various reasons.

For example, the soldiers from special forces having real combat experiences do not play shooter games. Their real-life missions are full of death and, therefore, their lives are full of meaning. They hardly need any virtual substitute for the activity that allows them to recognize the predatory nature of society in any warfare.

Ask real combat veterans about their attitude to bureaucrats, pacifists, rich kids, corporate stooges, politicians, drug addicts, suicidals, and (of course!) shooter gamers to see quite a healthy reaction of people who occupy a special position in any society. Warriors address life routines from a specific angle.

But when someone other than the actual military personnel chooses to be a SWAT trooper within a shooter game, s/he can find a more meaningful version of existence in killing virtual terrorists than in any other activity provided by a real daily routine.

Just think about why the market offers no computer games where the main character is a cashier in a shopping mall, or, for example, a junior manager at an advertising agency. Most likely because nobody would pay for experiencing a trivial mundane role.

People are bored without risk, adventures, and death. Common citizens need something capable of making them forget about the misery of their average lives at least for a little while, at least in a virtual space. Once the days of crusades and world wars are long gone, computer games remain the only environment where the majority can feel like real humans out of the wheel-and-spoke social pattern.

However, this is about just a temporary psychotherapeutic effect of gaming. Sports, for example, can work similarly, especially those kinds that imply a certain risk to life such as mountaineering, parachuting, and deepsea diving. But to be practiced any sport requires a lot of spare time, an upper wealth status, and quite a strong health. Risky sports are not for everybody, to put it mildly. Besides, sporting activities imply multiple social relations that cannot help in solving personal existential problems.

Another option is available in various spiritual experiences such as religions and meditation. However, such practices require quite a rare capability: strong self-discipline in the quest for a supernatural epiphany. We are too passive, emasculated, and materialistic to follow quite severe spiritual practices. Besides, the majority of the global population is too busy with a struggle for survival to keep in mind anything but concerns about daily bread.

Even if an individual is capable of following a particular spiritual movement, the latter can only drive back to society in any case. The Pope, Dalai Lama, Orthodox Patriarch, as well as all the other clerics espouse nothing but social values today. They work for society, not against it. All religions, in general, have turned into social phenomena long ago.

In contrast to the above, computer games have neither corporeal limitations nor spiritual restrictions. They seem to be an easy way out of society. Technologically speaking, computer games in their current state cannot be a fully-fledged substitute for a real offline routine. And that is not what is required. For the people suffering from the meaninglessness of their miserable existence, the gaming environment is an umbrella under which they can hide now and then from the never-ending downpour of social problems. The so-exciting parallel reality still has a temporary nature when virtual worlds reside only on the screens of computers and smartphones. That’s why many little humans cannot get lost in it completely. Even the booming VR technology cannot provide a 24/7 performance despite its 3D realism.

(to be continued)