It’s common these days to see video games and gamers in general get cast in a rather harsh, negative light by the media. Granted, this is generally from the likes of hideously misinformed, Republican morons who are represented by people like Peter Schiff who wants to take away minimum wage from already poor, underpaid workers – but that’s another matter entirely.I remember a particularly hilarious story I read where Minecraft got blamed because a 9 year old boy took his father’s gun to school along with a steak knife and sledgehammer… yup, not even Minecraft is safe from the scapegoating of video games in gun-related incidents, despite the fact that Minecraft doesn’t have guns in it. Depressing, isn’t it?
Oh, and nobody can forget the grossly exaggerated scandal that Mass Effect kicked up back in 2007 with regards to the sex scene.
A prime example of the ineptitude of Fox News in the most hilarious wouldn’t you agree? But that’s not what I want to talk about, in fact I want to talk about positive things which video games have done for me in my life over the last 15 years – that’s right, I’ve been gaming since I was 3 so you’d better not rile me up or I might shoot you. I’m a gamer, I have no moral compass and could kill at any moment – I read it in the papers so it must be true. I love newspapers…
Anyway, moving on (and all facetiousness aside). I played my first video game back in 1998 round a friend’s house, it was a little game you might have heard of called Spyro the Dragon on the original Playstation. After that, I was introduced to the likes of Crash Bandicoot, Rayman, Mario and Zelda and a lifelong hobby/obsession was born. Hours were spent traversing pixellated, alien worlds where dragons could talk, the fate of the world rested on the shoulders of one bandicoot who had to fight nefarious doctors and floating masks, a walking and talking cheesestring with no arms or legs journeyed through a land of candy and fought pirates… it’s all very abstract to describe in such simple terms, but the magic of those endearing experiences stays with me to this day.See, as a child it’s very important to indulge in your imagination – in fact, it’s something that you should really do all your life, but some people are boring and choose not to (like the people who scapegoat video games as the sole reason for gun crimes in the US). For the last 15 years of my life, video games have been a beautiful means of escapism, a way to occupy my imagination by exploring vast open worlds, or claustrophobic dungeons filled with monsters and wizards, or solving challenging puzzles in the testing chambers of Aperture Science. Everybody needs some kind of escape from reality every now and then, be it as a reward for a week of hard work or to quickly avoid all that angst your teenage self goes through. It’s always nice to know that I can come home after a bad or a long day, sit down and have the choice of stepping into another world – be it to experience a mentally stimulating storyline, or duke it out with other players on a virtual battlefield.
Contrary to popular belief, not everybody who plays online video games and wants to talk to other people is an online predator. Over the last decade, online gaming has become an international sensation and a means for people to communicate – even make friends. Not everybody conforms to the stereotype perpetuated by people who think that all gamers are just lonely people with no lives to live and sit around in their basement all day, giving nothing to society outside of the odd murder news story (because we gamers are dangerous folk who should be feared by the public). I’ve met quite a lot of people through online matches of games like Halo where there’s a real emphasis on team-based play and cooperation, some of whom I’ve known longer than friends I have ‘in real life’ (I don’t like this phrase, friends are friends – there’s no need to demean them by relegating them to existing in some ‘other’ world). It’s nice to hop online with some friends and do things like experience a story together, dominate (or completely fail) in multiplayer, build our own maps, test out custom games and so on. Or, sometimes you just want to kill some zombies…Also, there’s the scientific element to take into account here. Contrary to popular belief, video games are useful learning tools and have even been used to treat people with neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Our brains love the high-intensity stuff that video games make us experience, they engage you through entertainment and challenges which energises your brain and encourages the production of endorphins. Well-designed games like Geometry Wars have dynamic difficulty changes as well, meaning that the game is able to measure how well you’re doing and is capable of adjusting the difficulty to your skill level so that you’re always being challenged. Choice-based games like The Walking Dead, Mass Effect, and The Witcher also encourage you to make difficult decisions which heavily impact on the way you experience the game’s narrative which can ultimately make you a better decision maker. Real-time strategy games like Age of Mythology and Starcraft encourage you to micromanage your units, it focuses largely on your tactical coordination and organisational skills. Then you’ve got the Wii which encourages more physical activity… I could spend quite some time talking about the various benefits that gaming can have on your health when you find a good balance between your ‘real life’ and the time you spend gaming, but I think you get the idea. It’s not just about mindless shooting at virtual avatars to train the young generation into becoming criminals.
Art is another thing worth mentioning. I’ve spoken lengthily about the value of video games as an artistic medium, and they have served me very well over the years in inspiring me to draw, write, and read. Doesn’t matter if you look back at PS1 games like Spyro and see the graphical fidelity of an eight year old’s drawing on Microsoft Paint, at the time it was something which hugely influenced me – the things I drew, and how I developed my artistic skills. Likewise with the Halo series, it has provided me with a huge amount of inspiration with regards to all forms of art – reading, writing, drawing, music… The stigma against video games as a creative and artistic medium which can inspire a person to express themselves in a more creative way should never be the subject of ridicule simply because it’s a thing you sit down with to play as opposed to sit down and read or sit down and view in an art gallery.Since there are lots of games, there are also lots of artistic styles and visual elements and designs which you’re going to experience. Be it the winding purple alien corridors of a Covenant ship, the cyberpunk architecture of a human city in the near-future from Deus Ex, the blocky world of Minecraft, the washed out steampunk-themed vistas of Dishonored, or the cartoony outlined world of Borderlands. As you play more and more games, you’re exposing yourself to dozens upon dozens of new worlds, art styles, and especially music which reinforces the emotional and atmospheric tone that the developers want to convey. Halo’s ancient Forerunner structures wouldn’t feel half as mysterious and ethereal as they do without the absolutely stunning and iconic music which accompanies your virtual exploratory endeavours, this is what really has given me an appreciation for orchestral and classical music over the years. It seems that the mainstream music industry is starting to recognise the value of video game music too, as Journey was the first game to be awarded a Grammy for its sublime musical score back in 2012.What I ultimately want people to realise is that a video game can have just as much of a personal impact on a person as any book, film, poem, or painting. Don’t trivialise somebody else’s experience or secretly roll your eyes when somebody talks about a game having a major influence on their lives, it’s not very nice to feel like one’s creative energy is being repressed because you’re oblivious to the artistic, thematic and emotional value games have. We’re not all out to shoot up your stores and steal your cars just because we’ve played a bit of Grand Theft Auto, the same way we’re not going to get a pickaxe and break your house down into blocks so we can use them to shelter ourselves from the Creepers and giant spiders that come out at night (unless you catch us on down days).