As I read Turkle’s essay on video games, I am truly shocked at just how universal it seems. While the medium seems to be focused on “techies” or “sci-fi/fantasy aficionados,” I am struck by how the motivations for gaming seem to boil down to two powerful, essential drives in our lives – mastery and mystery.
The first (mastery) is discussed at length – this notion of Zen-like centering on the task at hand, the perfect contest with self, the ultimate striving for perfection with only ourselves to celebrate or blame for each success and failure. The idea that we can figure out all of the rules, and utilize them in such a way that we become masters. It seems that this might explain why we do a great many things in this world – why we learn to play an instrument, or cook, or go to school, or play Space Invaders, or…
The second that seems to be discussed is mystery – that concept that we seek to discover and uncover that which is already defined but not yet known. This is linked in the article to the discussion of Dungeon and Dragons to a certain extent, and also connected to video games when we see ourselves as the character acting through a novel or narrative. Mystery seems to be that motivation where we roll the dice – where we do or say something where (because?) we don’t know where it will lead. We say “I love you” first. She/he already loves us or doesn’t – the “rules” or “answer” has already been defined… it is just up to us to discover. Some believe scientific discovery to be this way — that we are unearthing “rules” within our world and naming them… that discovery and knowledge are one big scavenger hunt for eggs that have already been hidden.
Already you can see that Turkle has enticed us into philosophical questions of “why?” that have captivated us for generations – I am reminded by Dr. C’s mention that we are all examining the same fundamental questions, just through different lenses (in this case, life via video games). Both the article, and my own reflections, seem to have an ellipsis and a question mark at the end of mastery and mystery. It seems that most anything from “Habitat’s” experiential level might be described in terms of a desire to master or to unravel mystery. However, what about beyond that? Are we motivated to do things beyond mastery and mystery? It seems that Turkle’s mention of “programming” – that idea of authorship, or of tugging at the “infrastructure level” seems to be another key motivation. Though creativity often might be describes as an extremely developed form of mastery, there also seems to be an overarching theme related to our ability to bend the rules as we understand them, to write ourselves in and out of stories in spite of “fate” or “predestination.” Many like to believe that the world and time are not simply a wind-up toy, but rather a living, breathing, changing, amoeba… who knows where we will end up?
I find it fascinating that an article on video games that starts with a foul-mouthed teenager could so quickly dive into the most fundamental questions about the human condition. As I think back on the article, I wonder – can we truly reduce our motivations for doing most anything be reduced to either mastery, mystery, or authorship? Are there things you do that can’t be described by one of these three drives? What do you think?