I would almost say that fear of the unknown is the only real kind, but that seems difficult to defend. Certainly, the fear that the guy who told you he would cut your arm off at 3:15pm next Tuesday will definitely do exactly that – this guy being famed, far and wide, for his punctuality and efficacy when it comes to scheduled mutilations – would be a very reasonable (hypothetical) fear, and I think most people would feel it under those circumstances. I will go so far as to say, though, that fear of the unknown and fear of the known are two emotions so wildly different in tenor as to make it absurd that we would call them by the same name.
I’m not even sure that a known fear is exactly fear, though, or that it remains such. Certainly, at first, the idea of having an arm cut off is terrifying. However, as you have time to reflect upon the inevitability, you can resolve yourself to it. You can begin to plan for your new life as a one-armed person: Cancel those piano lessons, order a left-handed mouse, join your local ‘The Fugitive’ re-enactment club. As you think about it more, the mystery drains away, and while you’re certainly not looking forward to it, it becomes easier to regard the loss of an arm as more akin to a scheduled surgery than an unjustified mutilation.
It will hurt though. Like, a whole lot – but I digress.
Let’s talk about uncertainty.
Let’s talk about dread.
Let’s talk about the fear of the blank white page. Let’s talk about being scared to watch the last episode or fight the final boss because you don’t know what you’ll do with your time afterwards. Let’s talk about staying with the job you hate because you don’t know what you’ll do with yourself if you don’t have it to go to every day. Let’s talk about why not all slaves want freedom. Let’s talk about why people get angry if they’re forced to think they might have made a wrong decision.
Our image of the world is of paramount importance to us. Our symbolic representation of our environment is what we base all of our decisions on. Whenever something disrupts that structure, the ground moves beneath our feet and we start barking like dogs. Uncertainty goes beyond mere fear. It becomes painful, almost physically painful, to be uncertain. It cripples productivity and mental health.
Uncertainty underlies anxiety, emerges when we are uncertain of our environment and our future.
Uncertainty underlies depression, emerges when we are uncertain of ourselves and our place in the world.
Happiness is doing things that you believe need to be done and seeing the results you expected emerge from your actions. If you’re forced to do things you have no interest in, you will feel shitty. If you get results contrary to your expectations, you will feel shitty.
This is what games are. This is what games offer. They give us a place where we can pretend we’re doing things that need to be done, and where actions are promised to always produce a consistent and expected result. This is what we crave.
The more we reinforce that brick building, though, the heavier it is when it falls.