A decade ago, I predicted that video games would have a long-run effect on politics. Imagine a child raised by a video game. When grown up, this person would have firm expectations about the way the world works. Many of these expectations would have political implications. I’ll give just a few examples.
A person raised in a video game would expect a world with no unemployment. In a video game, there is always something for the hero to do. There are even helpful signs and guides, pointing the player toward the next heroic task. These tasks are either of global significance, or, they lead to some later act of global significance. Players in video games are considered the most important people in that world. How different this is from the real world, where a person has to hustle to get any work at all. Often that work feels unimportant and underpaid. It would seem incredibly unfair – if you were raised in a video game.
A person raised in a video game would expect justice. Unfair play is not allowed in a video game. Designers work hard to balance every player’s powers so that all players have an equal opportunity to win. The only injustice that occurs is built into the story-line, which always involves some horrible injustice; but it is always avenged by the hero in the end. Injustice exists in videogames only as a thing to be quickly and bloodily destroyed. How different this is from the real world, where injustice seems built in. It would seem incredibly evil – if you were raised in a video game.
A person raised in a video game would expect the world to be split between obviously good people and obviously bad ones. The obviously bad ones have the upper hand at first, but they always lose to the obviously good ones. It is true that some games include moral nuance, but it is rare. One never encounters people opposed to you that nonetheless are good people with valid reasons for their opposition. How different this is from the real world, where every good idea has good arguments against it, with good people on both sides. Some of those people often defeat your arguments and projects. That would seem incredibly offensive – if you were raised in a video game.
A generation of people raised in video games would place unreasonably high demands on the real world, becoming easily outraged at its lack of meaningful action, its unsolvable injustice, and its moral complexity.
People raised in video games would be attracted to a politics that matches their outrage over their violated expectations. What kind of politics might that be? A policy calling for immediate, complete justice would certainly be attractive. So would a rhetoric that divides the people into two bins, one side good and the other evil. And any kind of dangerous, heroic crusade.
Is it fair to say that young people today have been raised by video games? Who knows. But it may be an overlooked source of the bitter politics of our age. Game heroes don’t compromise.