Marshall McLuhan, Video Games, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

This essay talks about video games in the context of Marshall McLuhan’s thought of seeing all kinds of media as extensions of ourselves. It talks about how video games are an extension of our imagination, just as wheels are extensions of our legs.

One of the main goals of modern video games is immersion. The amount of immersion that a player feels during a game is a good indicator of how convincing that they find the game. It does not matter how strange or outlandish some of the elements of the game are compared to real life, what matters is how much the player enjoys participating in the events that take place in that world. This blurs the lines between the digital world and the physical world. One of the efffects of this is the creation of digital marketplaces, where digital items can be purchased to assist the player in-game, but for real currency.

This is where McLuhan’s theory comes in. In the short story ‘The Secret life of Walter Mitty’ (1939) by James Thurber, Mitty spends a significant amount of time jumping into different imaginary worlds, as he finds his existence mundane. His imaginary worlds are an extension above and beyond what he experiences in everyday life, and video games are another extension of this, allowing us to experience environments and lives that are not our own.

In the future, this is likely to be even more prominent in society. Immersion is reaching a whole new level with the development of virtual reality headsets like the occulus rift, and sensory deprivation rooms that allow for a player to become completely focussed on the game that they are playing. It is entirely possible for people to get lost in games, and even to want to get lost in games. The level of possible immersion in these fantasy worlds is only set to increase.


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