A recent article on Yahoo! about Robin Williams being an avid gamer got me pondering the question:
Did video games contribute to the award-winning actor’s depression and eventual death by suicide?
On this blog I have written extensively about violence in video games and other media. My purpose here is not to get into a discussion about whether playing violent video games causes one to do violence to oneself or others. Or to point the finger at specific games that may be cause for concern.
Rather the question I ask is related to what game designers refer to as “immersion.”
A good game is one that draws the player into its world so much so that he will spend countless hours immersed in that world. This power of video games has been greatly enhanced by new advances in technology such as 3D and HD graphics. Successful games and their franchises rival movies in the cost, staff, and years poured into their development in an attempt to attain this goal of immersion.
A self-described game addict, Robin Williams spent the many hours between filming immersed in these virtual worlds. As a creative soul who struggles with depression I understand the power of fantasy and its blissful escape from the constant buzzing of the low intensity conflict of life. It is not easy to return to reality which can often seem rather dull and gray in comparison.
Sleep deprivation. Poor diet. Confined space. Distance/separation from close relations (ie family). Sound familiar? Such are some of the primary methods used by interrogators to “break down” detainees. These are also the characteristics of avid gamers, who willingly endure such in order to remain immersed. Did such a lifestyle eventually lead to Robin Williams “breakdown?”
There has been some discussion and research regarding how technology is rewiring our brains. More research needs to occur if we are to have a firmer grasp on exactly what is occurring within us as we spend more time within the virtual realm. The impact of such media is not simply on the outward characteristics described above. Something is happening in our brains as well. Did the virtual world become more real than reality for Robin Williams? Did real life lose out to the increasing “otherworldliness” of a good game?
My purpose here is not to judge Robin Williams. I have been profoundly affected by his work and will continue to be indebted to him for his impact on my life. But I found the article that blissfully described his gaming “addiction” as rather naive without any sense of the impact such may have had on the actor/comedian’s depression and eventual death.
World of Warcraft is planning on creating a character based on Robin Williams to commemorate his love of video games after an online petition amassed almost 11,000 signatures. The character will not be controlled by players, aimlessly wandering through the world I assume, interacting with players perhaps, cracking a joke or two.
It’s a nice idea I guess. Some would say even a fitting commemoration. But like most I would prefer having the real Robin Williams still alive, making me laugh out loud or shedding tears so real they fall off my cheeks and bounce on my keyboard while I type.
More info on video game addiction here.