The Gaming Mind

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From The Wall Street Journal:

Videogame fans were elated in April when developer Square Enix released its long-awaited remake of “Final Fantasy VII,” considered by many to be one of the greatest games of all time. The original game, released in 1997 for Playstation, had everything: an expansive story across three playable discs; an engaging battle system replete with magic spells; and a cast of compelling characters, not least the game’s iconic hero, the spiky-haired Cloud Strife (and his nemesis, Sephiroth). I have fond memories of playing FFVII in my youth. Having the chance this spring, stuck inside during the pandemic, to revisit an expanded and upgraded version of this childhood touchstone was greatly satisfying.

Alexander Kriss has also been enthralled by videogames. In “The Gaming Mind,” Mr. Kriss, a clinical psychologist in New York, describes playing “Silent Hill 2” as a teenager. “I played its twelve-hour runtime back-to-back, probably a dozen times,” he says. “I discussed it exhaustively on message boards behind the veil of online anonymity.” For all its grim subject matter—the protagonist is a widower who visits a haunted town in search of his dead wife, doing battle with monsters along the way—the game proved a balm for Mr. Kriss, who had recently lost a friend to suicide. “My relationship with Silent Hill 2 reflected who I was and what I was going through, not only because of what I played but how I played it.”

“Silent Hill 2” is one of a number of games that figure in Mr. Kriss’s book, which brings a critical sensibility—his chapter headings have epigraphs from the likes of Ursula K. Le Guin and Saul Bellow—to videogames. The author is quite entertaining when holding forth on specific titles. He describes “Minecraft,” in which players build structures out of blocks, as “a vast, virtual sandpit” where “everything has a pixelated, low-resolution quality, as if drawn from an earlier generation of videogames when technology was too limited to make things appear vivid and realistic.”

“The Gaming Mind” seeks in part to dismantle the stigma that surrounds videogames and the archetypal “gamer kid,” a term Mr. Kriss dislikes. Much of the book recounts the author’s experience in therapy sessions, in which discussions of his patients’ videogame habits provided a basis for a breakthrough. The book also works in some early history of the industry, delves into the debate over whether videogames cause real-world violence (Mr. Kriss thinks these claims are wildly exaggerated) and parses the differences between various types of games.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)