Why Gamers Can’t Stop Playing First-Person Shooters

The New Yorker:

In the fall of 1992, a twentysomething college dropout and former juvenile offender named John Carmack was hard at work in Mesquite, Texas, on a new concept for a video game. It would merge the first-person perspective of a game like Myst with the direct combat of the shooter game Wolfenstein 3-D and the multi-player capacity of Spectre, and it would do so in a more realistic three-dimensional environment than any game before it. The following year, Carmack and his five colleagues at id Software released the product of that vision: Doom.

They knew that they were on to something big. “We noticed that the janitor coming in to empty the trash had just been sitting there staring at the game—for a long time,” Carmack told Time magazine. By August, 1996, Doom had sold two million copies, prompting Wired to name it “the most popular computer game of all time,” and it had spawned a new sub-genre of video game, the so-called “Doom clone.” Though Doom itself was not the original first-person shooter (a game in which, as Nicholson Baker wrote in his 2010 article about video games, “you are a gun who moves—in fact, you are many guns, because with a touch of your Y button you can switch from one gun to another”), it catalyzed the genre’s popularity. First-person shooters are now responsible for billions of dollars in sales a year, and dominate the best-seller lists of current-generation gaming consoles.

What is it that has made this type of game such a success? It’s not simply the first-person perspective, the three-dimensionality, the violence, or the escape. These are features of many video games today. But the first-person shooter combines them in a distinct way: a virtual environment that maximizes a player’s potential to attain a state that the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls “flow”—a condition of absolute presence and happiness.

Read the whole story: The New Yorker

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