Goals, death, and computer games

Konstantin Rovinskiy
5 min readSep 23, 2020


Is there anything more meaningful and interesting than making money to consume what the other people produce when they make money? It is highly unlikely that there is a simple alternative solution for broad masses within the current world order.

However, a specific human activity capable of giving people some sort of alienation from a mundane routine has been known for ages. The activity always makes people move towards some special goals. It represents a clear reason for why they should do what they do. It is able to grant a certain meaning to people’s lives even though it has a temporary nature per se. And it gained a huge technological leapfrog in the 21st century. We are talking about gaming, of course.

A computer game is a palliative, a virtual simulacrum of reality. Nobody from the “serious” scholar sociologists can see computer games as a worthwhile relief for socio-psychological tension. The non-gamers tend to perceive computer games as just a computerized version of board games and gambling.

Neither casino nor chess was never accepted as an effective mass treatment for social pains. That’s true, but what is limited in the “real” world is not so in virtuality. Computer games create a hyperspace where we can throw away restrictions and limitations placed on us by social conventions. This is not about gambling and chess.

This is about freedom of choice when our full attention leaves everything in a mundane routine for the virtual dream world. In virtuality, we can simply choose a better version of life for a couple of hours at least. We can choose a life with a clear meaning, a life that implies missions capable of bringing back our dignity as human beings.

Computer games enhance and make active what the whole culture represents passively. Virtuality enables us to participate in a heroic epic in the first person. Not a fictional character on screen who just follows a given storyline of the movie, but we personally can do something heroic in a computer game. The present gaming technologies provide a total immersion in the plot. We can literally teleport into a separate reality to become a different creature having no limitations inherent in our “real” self. This is where our plural identities can get tangible objectification.

The more realistic and exciting gameplay is, the longer we want to stay in the game. Almost no computer games try to simulate our offline reality: the latter is too boring and trivial to be repeated in a virtual world. The main task of any computer game is to transform a gamer into someone (or even something) different from who s/he is in fact. No one cares too much about becoming either a hero or a villain, even a particular mission does not matter in many cases. The most important is to be occupied by an activity maximally incomparable to what we have to do every morning when we wake up.

Various opponents of the so-called “morbid game addiction” emphasize that the majority of computer games stimulate only baser instincts. This is highly questionable. Which baser instinct is twitched by the first-person shooters? The classic psychology can hardly figure it out. The famous Freud’s Thanatos has nothing to do with a gamer’s commitment to kill as many virtual in-game enemies as possible. This seems too far from a desire for death. If the fighters against game addiction are right, then the Freud theory is to be wrong. Who knows, maybe old man Sigmund was mistaken, and one of our basic instincts was killing our own kind?

Such an assumption would not contradict the whole human history showing that homo sapiens is the only creature on this planet who practices the destruction of its own species in mass. Suicide as a desire to Thanatos happens to be palliative in a case when a human being cannot find anybody else to kill. And even if so, shooters do not stimulate a killing instinct.

On the contrary, they act as substitution therapy representing a safe environment where humans can spill rivers of blood without having to kill anybody. The only downside that shooters have today is probably an insufficient realism when visuals are not complemented with olfactory and tactile effects. But the evolving VR technologies are proceeding this way.

The death subject occupies a special position in virtuality. Its existential importance is even more significant than the role of pain. The human culture always represents a mysterious phenomenon of death as a gate to the afterlife. It does not matter whether the afterlife implies any activity or not. Once death is a border between two different conditions of a human being, its nature is literally virtual. The death distinguishes a “real” life from something utterly unknown and, therefore, virtual in itself. That’s why namely computer virtuality is potentially capable of absorbing negative aspects of death.

The gaming environment devalues the “natural” fatality of death by making the plurality of deaths possible. A sequence of multiple deaths and resurrections is a norm in a game. Through devaluing the death the virtual space automatically devalues life to some extent. In doing so, virtuality deprives the “real” world of its exaggerated sacredness. It shows that biological existence as such is not unconditionally holy. It introduces the necessity of meaning into the existential discourse again.

Life starts possessing its meaning in the light of its finiteness. Deadly missions become an indirect reminder about a need to have a final goal without which humans turn into just organisms, just faceless cells of the global biomass.

Societies do everything possible to deprive ordinary people of any final goal. Social conventions replace life missions to keep masses in highly controllable silent herds. Nothing but excluding the death problematique from public discourse can contribute more to such sedative rhetoric of society. Personal feelings about the fact of the finiteness of life are obscured by social demagoguery.

To say upfront, society demonstrates its powerlessness before human nature when it makes people forget about death. It is as if society makes people stop casting shadows. We do not cast a shadow when we are either unavailable at all or surrounded by multiple sources of light when our shadows merge with our bodies. Society irradiates us with numerous temporary desires to immerse our consciousness into a civilizational routine where no place for the memory of death is available.

Quite a predictable behavior of any modern society concerning such phenomenon as, for example, suicide is illustrative. It is reasonable to look at a typical reaction of different societies on suicides to comprehend how fanciful are the desires imposed on people by society when they cannot find any meaning in their everyday “real” life.

(to be continued)