Video Games & The Desire to Inhabit Virtual Worlds

Tony Peak
8 min readJul 10, 2023
image credit: screenshot taken by the author from Guerilla Games’ ‘Horizon Forbidden West’

“Reality is broken. Game designers can fix it.” — Jane McGonigal, game designer

I’m on the fence with the sentiment in this quote, but before I address that, we need a preamble. Character creation, if you will.

I’ve been a gamer nearly my entire life. Even though I didn’t get my own gaming system until I was 10 years old (ah, the Atari 7800; lots of great memories), I’ve been exposed to games for as long as I can remember. They have always been a part of my cultural landscape. Playing the Atari 2600 at a cousin’s house, or pumping quarters into the arcade machines in restaurants and gas stations, were my introductions to these fascinating pixel worlds. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I’ve seen video games grow from an activity that naysayers claimed was only something for kids, to an entire subculture driven more by adults than children.

I don’t enumerate these things to establish some sort of ‘gaming cred’. I’ve loved this subculture for a long time. But now, video games are more than just entertainment. They have become virtual worlds that many of us enjoy spending time in, long after we have completed their challenges and goals.

There are many reasons for this. With the advent of online gaming (ooo, the original Unreal Tournament, baby), video games became much more social as well as competitive. It wasn’t simply playing Street Fighter against your friend while you both sat in your living room; the arena expanded to the entire world, with opponents in every country. But that also ushered in communities of people who gamed together, passionately. It was about sharing that passion with other like-mined people, not merely the drive to seek new challenges in human foes.

As technology advanced, so did these virtual worlds. I’m not going to illuminate that process here, but now games feature narratives as deep as what you’ll find in sophisticated films, with the production values to match. For cutting edge soundtracks I look more to gaming offerings than I do film soundtracks; game composers seem likelier to take risks with the material, and push the envelop. The voice acting has helped create endearing characters we love to portray or interact with. The storylines in these titles continually improve; now they’re capable of delivering the…

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Tony Peak

Science Fiction & Fantasy author, member of SFWA, HWA, & Planetary Society; represented by Ethan Ellenberg