Video Games versus the Spectacle

Recent studies has been talking of how people will turn to video games in order to avoid boring routines and everyday lives (Molesworth, 2009).
Is this escapism a byproduct of people desperately attempting to escape what postmodernists call the spectacle?

The theory of the Society of the Spectacle, was first presented and discussed by the French author Guy Debord in 1967. According to Debord, modern society is nothing more than a collection of fragmented images: A self-inflicted illusion that keeps us imprisoned by consumerism and search for meaning in a bland existence.
The modern human being has become obsessed with appearance, over actual experience.
“All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.” (Debord, 1667, p. 5, thesis 1.)

A study conducted by Mike Molesworth does indeed talk of ways that people seek to escape their routines through different means of play. Through engagement with video games, players can temporarily escape not only their day-to-day lives, but also their idea of self. Games makes players forget their shortcomings, and let them live out fantasies and daydreams instead of dwelling on real life.
Brian Sutton-Smith directly points out, in his book The Ambiguity of Play (1997), that the need for  imaginative play is a direct reaction against industrialisation and urban lifestyles.
As people realise that their lives are pre-scripted by society, they will actively seek to escape this script.
In this sense, video games does indeed sound like an active escape from the spectacle.

However, an important thing to note, is that the spectacle is only considered to exist as a product of media and new technology. If mass media did not exist, neither would the spectacle.
This means, that video games – no matter their psychological effect – is just another fragmented image of the spectacle itself.

What we are left with might be a paradoxical spiral, where the consumer seeks to escape a pre-scripted reality, by participating in media. However, this participation is done by indulging in the spectacle itself.




Debord, Guy (1967) The Society of the Spectacle. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. 1994, Zone Books, New York.

Molesworth, Mike (2009) “Adult’s Consumption of Videogames as Imaginative Escape From Routine”. Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 36. pp 378 – 383. 2009, Bournemouth University, UK.

Sutton-Smith, Brian (1997) The Ambiguity of Play. 1997, Harvard University Press.

Venkatesh, Alladi (1992) “Postmodernism, Consumer Culture and the Society of the Spectacle”. Advances in Consumer Research, Volume 19. pp 199 – 202. 1992, University of California.


Aphelis (2013) Cover of the 1983 edition of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. Accessed on 27th March, 2017.
Available at:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s