How You Got Videogames Wrong: Your Brain is a Bad Game

Pissing you off in installments, the monthly series “How You Got Videogames Wrong” delves beyond appearances into the slimy interior of The God’s Truth (about videogames). This month, a three-part series that seeks to comprehend your comprehending.



Here’s a thesis for ya: If you want better games, be better people. I don’t mean more discerning, though that’s part of it, for sure. I mean be an anti-dickbag, a “mushroom kingdom upon a hill,” to adapt Winthrop’s adaptation of the Sermon on the Mount. Or just the Sermon on the Mount. Or just whatever.

Real talk, we think games are places for our brains to play when in truth our brains are places for games to. And most of us are packing Duke Nukem Forever. Often do we demand better games, pine for, dream of, but less often do we actively alter the brainscape that houses these games, the game running on our end, that makes them meaningful. And I’m not just talking the old saw about player expectations. I’m, well…I’m talking morals.

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Ah but morals in the John Gardner sense, of course…not the kooky, snake-charming sense. Which is to say, morals that pertain to how we access, generate, and comprehend art. For Gardner, this can be summarized in the oft-quoted, “True art is by its nature moral,” an appeal to the critic and creator alike to see art as that which “explores, open-mindedly, to learn what it should teach,” and furthermore that which is the “struggle of thought.” In short, Gardner is asking us to both treat art as a person, and to be ourselves the kind of person art is.


“Well, great,” sez you, “how in the hell do we do that?” I agree. Gardner, for all his talk, doesn’t really indicate the origin of this “immorality,” not beyond the ambiguous ye ol’ folly of man. And without knowing where the ticking comes from, you’ll never fix the engine. So, I would like to put forth the culprit of our moral failing: The path of least resistance, that predisposition of all natural things to move toward minimum effort, that why? of lightning forks and raindrops. An especially pertinent failing given that our medium-o’-choice is the physical narrative.

You see, above all else, the human brain is exceedingly good at three primary things: (1) Detecting patterns, (2) turning said patterns into categories, and (3) collapsing both in order to conserve energy expenditure. That’s why, for instance, you call all women “bitches,” why you’ll call me a “fag feminist punk” for noting that you call all women “bitches,” and why I assumed that about you in the first place. It’s like a sad version of the already sad habit loop: We cue off a broad topic, immediately defer to a preset routine regarding said topic, and then get rewarded with not having to think about it anymore. And though we like to assume such polar thinking is confined to political talk, the truth is that we do this, like, all day every day. Your decision to consume rather than produce. POLR. Your suspicions of the minority living down the hall. POLR. Nearly every single thing about you down to your basic psychological functions. POLR.

Add to this then the “real world” energy of physical motion and we have on our hands a medium that just begs you to take the short path. It’s why I have rarely taken a corner in GTA the way I do in real life (i.e. not through a hotdog cart): I don’t need to. And when I have it’s only been a shifting of the Principle of Least Action from imitating movement in an un-consequential space to imitating myself in a consequential one. And it ain’t just GTA, and it ain’t just me. The vast majority of choices we make in games are unconscious choices, and the vast majority of those are based, in one way or another, on the path of least resistance.

And it is just that fact (as we’ll see next week in Part One) which makes games so damn interesting…