Growing up Digital
I wonder how differently my parents and my parents’ parents saw the world as adults compared to me. I grew up digital, and now in my early 30s, I spend a lot of time contemplating my relationship with technology and the physical realm. Every couple years I feel this need to unplug, spend time outside, and reconnect with nature. I wonder if this is just me, or if all people who grew up digital feel this same occasional sadness at not being more connected with the physical realm around them.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being part of a digital world too. Back in my WoW days, I felt alive logging in and seeing messages pop up from my friends (my family, really). I would explore the realms of Azeroth with zeal, taking in the beauty of the animation and graphics as if they were a real jungle I was walking through. There is something incredibly freeing about knowing you can explore and battle and become part of this world that is just a little more perfect and a lot more fantastical than our own.
Maybe it’s because I haven’t experienced game thrall in the same way since my WoW days; maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Some of the magic of those digital worlds has seemed to subside in the last 5-10 years. Maybe it’s because I now study games, and I can see the damage games and their players do both to other players and to the game community through things like sexism, racism, homophobia, and so on. Turns out those epic worlds may just have been a shiny veneer, behind which sat a rotting cultural corpse that was just as sick and demented as our own world. Rather than being empowered by the strong sexy female avatars, I now see them as stereotypes that not only denigrate women but I see the real women behind the scenes that had to put up with untold harassment to even be a part of the community that made something so beautiful.
I look around to my gamer friends, and I see a similar attitude to what I’ve been feeling. I wonder if it’s all part of growing up digital. We were so blinded by the veneer and possibility of gaming, that now in our 30s we are starting to see the negative side. I don’t think this is a bad thing, as we can’t pretend things weren’t messed up in/behind the games we enjoyed. That would be erasing the struggle of real people who worked hard to make those worlds. But the perspective certainly makes games occupy a different pedestal in my mind.
Perhaps it’s natural for humans to feel the urge to unplug and reconnect with nature from time to time. Perhaps that urge has nothing to do with growing up digital, or perhaps it has everything to do with it. Perhaps my generation has given up on games. Perhaps it’s time for us to put up or shut up and start making our own gaming worlds if the commercial ones are no longer satisfying.