Monday, January 19, 2009

What Industry Made $21 Billion in 2008?

Movies? Music players? Cell phones? Nope, the bundle of cash went to video games. In 2008 sales of video games including hardware, software, and accessories brought in $21.33 billion.

But why do we do it? Why spend so much money on video games? Is it purely for entertainment or are there other motivations? Sure, we want to have fun, and that is indeed a factor, but are there underlying philosophical implications?

Blaise Pascal thought so. Of course, he didn't specifically have video games in mind, but his ideas in relation to diversion remain applicable to any form of entertainment. His philosophy of diversion, outlined in his collected fragments Pensées, offers an abundance of relevant wisdom.

In short, Pascal viewed the human condition as a paradoxical mixture of greatness and wretchedness. It is our wretchedness that drives us to diversion, as a form of temporary escape. "The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show, in short by what is called diversion" (136/139).

"If our condition were truly happy we should not need to divert ourselves from thinking about it" (70/165b).

This is not to say that all forms of leisure and entertainment are bad. That was not Pascal's point. Rather, he wanted to probe the underlying reasons for human behavior. In this sense, Pensées is a masterpiece of insight into human behavior and psychology, as well as providing examples of astute philosophical thinking.

But how do we awaken those immersed in a stupor of diversion? One approach Pascal suggested is dubbed "existential shock treatment." More on that another time.


Jeff LaSala said...

Robert, I would be interested to know what you think of video games. I've noticed that a lot of your posts offer up some thoughtful topics worth reflecting on, and that you submit some good questions. I wonder what some of your own answers might be... :)

Robert Velarde said...

I'll post an entry on the topic at some point. The short version is that I've been a gamer since 1975 (yup, I played Pong when it was new). I still play and own several game systems, though I do try to play with distinct moderation. :-)

Jeff LaSala said...

Hah! Good to know. I look forward hearing more.