Halo 4 and Black Ops II are out this month, causing us to reflect on the appeal of first-person shooters. I tend to dismiss them, as I'm not a fan of shooting things without understanding them, but there's no denying the adrenaline rush from a competitive multiplayer win. Stephen Totilo at The New York Times explains how the feeling of surmounting a difficult challenge makes these games successful.
The best experience involves cranking the difficulty to Heroic and engaging a set of enemies, trying new strategies repeatedly and scavenging weapons or equipment from the battlefield until the right solution is found, and the enemies are dusted. These phases of stressed decision-making are training for the more unpredictable encounters with rival players in the competitive multiplayer mode. A good minute of Halo combat is like a good minute in the gym: The rest of your life is momentarily forgotten while you sweat it out, and then you’re happy that the challenge is done, and that you are in some way improved.
Good entertainment can help us forget the world around us. Perhaps this escapism doesn't make us more aware of others, but helps us understand ourselves.