“I don’t know what success is, but failure is trying to please everybody else.”
No matter how hard anyone tries, not all people are going to have an appreciation for video games. Just as there are people who think books are pointless or stupid or send the wrong message, there are those who think video games are a waste of time and promote violence and are an overall plague on society. Like I tell my wife, it’s better than doing drugs.
People can be grouped, generally, into three categories where video games are concerned. The first category is the hardcore gamer. This type of gamer pulls all-nighters, goes to midnight releases, plays games that could take 100 hours or more. This is the gamer most people typically associate with video games. The hardcore gamer was a nerd in the 80s, a geek in the 90s, anti-social during the 00s and is now running blogs and recording podcasts to keep other gamers in the know. A casual gamer may own a system and play a little here or there. They like to play with friends and don’t really care too much about the lands of Hyrule or Tamriel.
The casual gamer made the Wii the most successful system this console generation despite the lack of HD graphics and solid online capabilities. Then there’s the non-gamer. Some non-gamers like to watch people play video games. Some buy the games for their kids and say nothing. Others check the ESRB ratings and take them to heart. And still there are others who try as hard as they can to point out how bad they think video games are.
I could go on and on and attack Fox News and politicians and parental organizations and other media outlets who decry video games. But then that would put me at their level. Suffice it to say, many of these groups and outlets are ignorant to the value that video games bring. My objective with this article is to point out the good in video games and maybe reach some people who may not get it.
Which brings me to my next point: Story.
I love reading books. I’m a huge Stephen King fan. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter were some of my favorite books. Right now, I’m working my way through George R. R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings. So, there’s no shortage of reading novels in my life. Video games are the same way. Yes, you have your Call of Duty or Madden games that really don’t have much in the way of storyline. But for every one of those there’s a Bioshock or Assassin’s Creed with a storyline that could rival a lot of what you would find in a bookstore.
One could consider a video game an interactive novel. The older Final Fantasy games, before the voice acting, required the player have the ability to read. In order to play through these games, the player must understand what is being said. The games can aid in increasing the player’s reading and comprehension. Parents with kids who don’t like to read books may be well-advised to consider games like these to help their kids learn to read without the use of books. There are even games that use different language tracks.
Blue Dragon is a good example. The game can be played with both English and Japanese dialogue. This is perfect for kids trying to learn another language. They don’t even know they’re learning.Video games as art is a constantly debated topic. The concept of art itself is purely subjective. However, one could argue that video games are as much an art form if not more so than film. It makes an extreme talent to draw up concept art for games like Skyrim or Uncharted and then to actually bring the drawings to life and give them dimension and movement is nothing short of astonishing. Even the game designers themselves have incredible vision.
Hideo Kojima, creator of the Metal Gear series, creates games that are as much fine cinema as they are video games. The cut scenes in MGS4, while long and loaded with information, rival today’s films with interesting character development, intriguing plot twists and invoke a rollercoaster of emotions.So, I ask, what is the difference between reading a book like Homer’s Odyssey or playing a game like God of War? And before you say the book is a classic, consider this: most books that are considered classics today were thought to be dangerous by those in power in their time. Various religions and governments burned these classics to try and keep order. The story of Huckleberry Finn is called a racist book because of the way it was written and the story it tells. The book reflects the time period it takes place in accurately and is now considered a classic because we are being educated on it.
I challenge those that call a game like Mass Effect
a waste of time to play through it and see for themselves the story it tells and how it allows the player to interact with that story to change the world around them. The news stations only focused on the sex scene in the game (which by the way is tantamount to a side romance in any other book or film) and didn’t bother to actually play the game and understand what led up to it (if you even went that route). What they failed to capture was what the game was actually trying to portray. As Commander Shepherd, players have the choice to show the good side of the human race and work toward helping others and saving the galaxy. On the other hand, they can act on the darker side of human nature and act selfishly.
Another aspect of video games is the challenge. Games can challenge not only one’s reflexes (games definitely help with hand-eye coordination) but they can challenge one’s mind as well. Tetris is a popular game played by millions that requires quick thinking as well as planning ahead to be successful. The Professor Layton series tells stories through hundreds of puzzles that range from simple to extremely difficult to so simple the player makes it difficult. There are some puzzles I even remember seeing on work sheets in school.
Games can also showcase the impossible. Bioshock revolves around the city of Rapture which is actually underwater, away from the holds of various governments and religions. Airships are a big part of the Final Fantasyseries. Video games send a message to players that anything is possible. No matter how fantastic the concept, go out and get it done.
“But if all my child does is play video games, they won’t make friends and they’ll end up fat and useless.” While that may be an extreme case, it shows concerns that a lot of parents have. With motion controls coming to the forefront of games with the release of the Wii, and later the Playstation Move and Xbox Kinect, players are getting more physically involved. But, just like using the gym, health comes from not just exercising. You have to eat right, get enough rest, and try not to stress too much.
As for friends, video games are actually a great social activity. Being able to play online with friends is a great way to stay in touch (even though you get the occasional punk kid who thinks that swearing is cool and acts tough because no one can see them). Cooperative play modes allow gamers to work together to achieve a goal (just like the real world). And trust me, it wasn’t that long ago that I was a kid. In my neighborhood, people rarely came outside and when they did, their parents didn’t let them out for too long. Also, as a teenager, you’re lazy and want to be left to your own devices anyway.
My one request is to stay educated when it comes to video games. They are not going anywhere any time soon. As a parent, take an interest into what your child is playing. Try the game out yourself. And if you’re no good at it, remember, your kid wasn’t either when they first played it. Also, consider, video games can be a good outlet for a kid to release some of the frustrations they have. They can be therapeutic. Oh, and take responsibility for the games you let your kid play and for your kid’s actions. If you won’t let them watch Scarface don’t let them play Grand Theft Auto.
A video game can’t tell if the player knows the difference between reality and fiction or the difference between right and wrong. As a member of the mass media, don’t use video games as a scapegoat. If a kid gets into a fight, it wasn’t the game that caused the fight. The child didn’t just become violent because they played an M-rated game. . Ask yourself, what is their home life like? Do they get picked on at school? And watch your own show. How much violence does your program show to viewers?
Video games, like all forms of entertainment, have those that love them and those that hate them (and all others in between). They have their moments of greatness and moments of weakness. Compared to other forms of media, the video game industry is young. Allow it to thrive and the possibilities are endless.
Images courtesy of Fox News, Bioware, and Bad Day LA.
Editors Note: Sorry for the random Period between some paragraphs. The formatting got messed up and it was the only way to separate the block of text. -JG