For the past two years I’ve flirted with the idea of purchasing a video game system. I once had Sid Meir’s Civilization for my then new PlayStation 2 and played it for hours on end. When I turned 25, I decided it was time to put away video games and devote myself to more manly hobbies like playing the banjo and reading The National Review. Eventually though, I started to miss my PlayStation and the hours spent in a TV glow coma. I still haven’t decided whether to buy a system or not, so, naturally, I spent some time searching for counsel in MLC’s stacks.
To get a historical perspective on how a southern man should spend his leisure hours, I went straight to Bertram Wyatt-Brown’s Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South. Brown argues the southern notion of honor created the foundation for all institutions, most notably, masculinity. Brown explains a typical southern man spent his down time by gambling, drinking, and fighting.
What’s striking is that the leisure activities of this time were so much more, what’s the word, serious? To die in a game of Mortal Combat is one thing but to get your eye gouged out during a fight is quite another. And, ultimately, that’s why video games are unsatisfactory: they lack the visceral experience of a good eye gouging. Given this, I don’t see Nathaniel B. Forrest getting too worked up over a game of Wii Tennis.
In order to save some time let’s see what Dr. Freud might say about the Xbox360. Freud, of course, does not discuss video games but he does share opinions on why children participate in activities known as “play” (play being a key word here because we do indeed “play” video games rather than “work” them). Freud notes that “children repeat in their play everything that has made a great impression on them in actual life, that they thereby ab-reach the strength of the impression and so to speak make themselves masters of the situation”(643). So, Freud would probably argue the pleasure gained from conquering a video game is an extension of a childish desire to control our lives.
Do I believe this? I’m not sure. All I know is that whenever I have a problem, I peruse the stacks here at MLC to find the answer. After reading Brown and Freud I decided, for now, not purchase a PlayStation. Instead, I’ve decided to grow a beard. Now there’s a decision I know both Freud and General Lee would get behind.
Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. London: The Hogarth Press, 1939. p. 643