Why life (and games) require rails.
Up until college graduation, my life was on rails. I knew exactly what was supposed to happen, how to make it happen, and how long it would take to get there; there was an eventual goal. While one could see the light at the end of the tunnel, there still were meandering duties and hobbies to be had such as being in a band, getting your drivers license, entering and exiting relationships, maintaining a job, mowing the lawn, etc. Then it’s time to graduate. The idea that the path you’ve set for your life is no longer attainable or no longer interests you becomes a reality. You seem to be stuck with these meaningless tasks and jobs without a clear path to get you back on track.
The majority of video games today contain one large objective, the rail, and many minute “side-quests.” While the gamer plays through the game, the concepts of time and duties never impede on the story. In Skyrim, for example, if you want to become a scholar, there is time for that. If you want to become a mage, there is time for that. So on and so forth. All the while, the main quest remains to be tackled. Differentiating from reality, the game’s main quest will never go away, it remains the eventual goal of the game, therefore the anxiety that time provides in reality never has an effect on the character within the game.
Paralleled against modern video games, it seems as if many people get caught up in the little things, duties or side-quests, which in turn takes their focus off of the larger picture, the rail. Most of us have many dreams and aspirations but the more we are caught up in routine and tending to the “small stuff,” the more impossible attaining these dreams seems.
I spend 40-hours a week in a cyclic job as a computer technician; no internal, rewarding progress made. While I better hone my skills in the realms of customer service and technical expertise, it does not get me any closer to writing a book or script or blog, building a video game or film, hosting my own entertainment news podcast, or becoming a Walt Disney Imagineer. By the time I am done with my routine day job, I would rather spend my time with my significant other and/or family.
I realized that when presented with unlimited options and limited time, I am unsure of the path I would like to take. I consider myself a jack-of-all-trades; good at many things, exceptional in nothing. I majored in political science at the University of California, Irvine, I currently work as a computer technician, I maintain two blogs: the media review blog TheStarrList.com and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan blog TMNTPartyVan.com, I extinguished an interest in architecture after taking a few classes, I play and record music, and I am developing a few screenplays and a novel. All in an attempt to discover my passion with the limited time I have to eventually decided on a career.
The recent post at HelloGiggles.com titled “Your Best Life” by Sarah May Bates elaborates on the idea that in the end, humans tend to regret working so much rather than appreciating time with family, traveling the world, and pursuing their passions. It also reflects on the idea that the little things get in our way:
“We feel we have to do everything or else the structure of life might fall apart. The mental energy we do reserve for ourselves is usually spent regretting something or worrying about something to come. Obsessing over things that cannot be affected with more obsessing.” - Sarah May Bates, HelloGiggles.com
While this passage is true, it does not take into account the fact that we work to make a means to enjoy life outside of work. The challenge I find is filling your work-life with a passion. If we are able to replace the forty-hours per week we invest in monotonous jobs and substitute it with our passions, we will inevitably end up with a more fulfilling life.
The other dilemma we struggle with regarding time is that it is a limited commodity. To my original point, in games such as Skyrim, there is time to seek out a multitude of professions and quests. In reality, we believe that there are life-markers that will lock us into our current position, such as getting married, having a child, and owning a house. I eye these markers with the idea that if I don’t reach my goals by the time these life-markers come around, I will have missed my chance.
A game that actually allows players to experience this is The Sims. Something The Sims creators, Maxis, got right from the inception of the franchise was creating an anxiety within the player, forcing them to juggle priorities as their lives get more complicated: manage more and more relationships, have children, get to work on time. Unlike Skyrim, The Sims compresses the element of time to a point that makes the player feel helpless against it, unable to concentrate on their main story and instead are forced to manage the small tasks. In fact, the original Sims game provides no rails at all and instead forces the Sim to carry out chores until the day they die, creating the perfect example of why humans need eventual goals, and not just buying new furniture.
I conclude with the idea that I have begun to struggle with the thought of leisurely activities. Escaping to the world of video games, where one can take comfort in knowing they have absolute control of their own fate along given rails, fills me with anxiety. I know that my own fate and life-rails are constantly in a state of chaos and uncertainty. Henceforth, this is the struggle. Unable to calm oneself with control and limitations because one is too concerned over finishing every side-quest life throws at them and continuously searching for their own rails. Humans need rails as much as games do.
NOTE: The original post was edited for typos and grammar on 1/30/13.
Kyle Starr is the creator and writer of TheStarrList.com and TMNTPartyVan.com. Find Kyle on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Contact Kyle through TheStarrList Contact page or by emailing him at kyle(dot)starr(at)me(dot)com.