As a kid, I spent countless hours with my friends pretending to explore a new planet, fight a dragon, or save the world. Little did I know that such play also helped me explore and develop emotional responses in a safe environment. After all, if it got too intense, too real, I could always quit playing.
Growing up, we leave that kind of play behind. “Pretend” is frowned upon, making it more difficult to get people together without a definite purpose in mind. Like most kids, I allowed video games to take the place of more freeform play.
Unfortunately, there’s something more that video games still don’t capture: the emotional aspect of play. Video games are entirely mediated before the game begins, whereas freeform play is mediated by continuing consensus. As with books and movies, video game designers determine what actions and reactions will be available to their audience. This makes it easy to call up great, sweeping emotions but at the expense of the more personal emotional experience that freeform play encourages.