The Allure of Video Games

8 Mar

Today marks the release of one of the most anticipated games of the year, Dragon Age 2. I can’t wait to play and see how the changes in the sequel to one of my favorite games of all time will play out. The developer seems to be aiming for a closer connection to the playable character of Hawke and greater investment in the line of plot development. Knowing that this is the group responsible for the Mass Effect series, I’m excited and reasonably confident in the results. The first had room for improvement but Bioware has a way with progress. I’ll probably give my opinion and review when I’m done with the first play-through.

If you can’t tell, I have a deep appreciation for games and the people who make them. Video games have a place in my heart that is second only to writing and sometimes my time management between the two turns into an epic battle. While writing makes me feel like my true self, video games take me away– making me imagine myself as someone totally different but also finding similarities in unexpected places. Well-executed games often have protagonists that are just as relate-able and memorable as the most famous characters of books and plots that involve the player vicariously through the hero (or anti-hero) you play.

Several games have come out in recent years that force a player to choose if their hero will do good or evil deeds (read: Mass Effect, Fable, Bioshock, Dragon Age, Force Unleashed) and while these decisions do not make a player good or evil, they can bring up interesting scenarios. To use an example from the recent Fable 3: Imagine that you are a king or queen of a country that has absolutely no treasury and needs to add funds to prepare for a cataclysmic war. On one hand, you could turn an old factory into a school house and lose money doing so or you could force the children to work there, making money and also eventually saving lives in the war effort.

I love games because, really, it takes a book experience to the next level. There is usually a main character, a plot, other characters for you to interact and form relationships with, and in the best games, the way you play alters the experience you have. Many game developers have intricate background history to their games such as Halo’s infamous “Bible” which catalogs records of wars, alien races and planets, and famous heroes that players don’t even encounter in the game. For lovers of sci-fi and epic tales like the Lord of the Ring series, games are a natural tangent to reading and can be much like being inside one of their favorite novels.

But how does this happen?

Well, games have been evolving for a very long time and most gamers like me began with games that were simple–things like Mariokart and Zelda– in their childhood. I would say that most kids, especially girls, grow out of video games because as they grow up, the games marketed towards their age group become more serious and involved, taking more time and effort to get through. Many games also become less social as you follow the age correlation because (there’s no nice way to say this) most video games are made for people who have a lot of time on their hands–people who don’t have much of a social life to begin with. In other words, video games for older people are (by and large) made for shy, introverted types. That’s not to say that aren’t gamers who are outgoing with tons of friends (this is even more common among men) but they’re probably not the target audience.

I can’t speak for everyone but in my case, I started to love video games first, because I wanted people to like me, and second, because somewhere along the way I started seeing their potential as forms of art.

First, I have to admit, when I asked for a Super Nintendo at the age of seven, I really only wanted to make the boys in my life jealous. I’d played my brother’s Sega Genesis and my neighbors’ Nintendo Original and knew very well that they would all want to play with me if I had the newest thing. My plan worked because my brother started playing with me and the boys across the street started thinking I was cool so I guess you could say that while I was shy, I definitely had social reasons in mind at the beginning.

As I got older, games evolved with me and I started seeing First Person Shooters and RPG’s coming on the scene. These two types are the most time-consuming but also the most interesting and dynamic. At first, I was very casual in playing these games but around the time that my now-husband deployed, I started putting a lot more time into video games and really fell in love with them. At the time, I had just transferred to a university and didn’t have a ton of friends in the new area. On top of that, I was obviously very sad and needed a lot of distraction. For those long months that Hubs was gone, if I wasn’t doing homework, writing (which was usually part of my homework), or at work, I was playing  a video game. It was a coping mechanism, but not an unhealthy one. I enjoyed the games I was playing and had people that I played with online. Paired with a few “real world” friends, I really wasn’t too lonely or socially deprived.

This was the time that I also got my dad hooked on gaming. I went home a lot more often back then and when my dad was there, I would have him play Halo with me. I get my love for sci-fi and fantasy from him and he was already an avid fan of the Halo mythology so he barely needed encouraging. After it became a tradition for us, we bought his own Xbox and we started to play online when I was back at school and he was at home. You could say we did a lot of our bonding over virtual bloodshed.

So really, although gamers get a bad rep for being socially awkward geeks, I think there are definitely a lot of virtues to the credit of video games. While putting too much time and energy into them can make you anti-social, games have a way of bonding people through shared experience and fun. There is more of art in their creation than they receive credit for, too. While some games are mindless, most nowadays are being carefully and thoughtfully crafted around intricate characters, plots, and even beautiful environments. Browse the employment or human resources tab of any developer’s home page and you’ll see a huge array of artists working for them, including writers, graphic artists, environmental artists, software engineers, programmers, and much more.

Think twice next time you go to judge a gamer by his/her obsession. Your intentions and desires may not be so different.

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One Response to “The Allure of Video Games”

  1. vwsweetie2003 March 8, 2011 at 10:32 pm #

    Well, I feel enlightened! Thank you for shining a completely new light on this for me!
    You are so right!

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