Perhaps we’ll be at a family dinner for yet another Christmas of tedium and gran mocks the very passion of our lives, enacting it as some kind of robot proudly going “blip blop, blip blop”, knowing all the other “grown ups” will laugh. Yet, we bite our tongue. We clench our fists and grit our teeth in the knowledge that showing them how wrong they are or explaining as eloquently as possible, will never bring them around.
We could sit them down to watch the intro to The Last of Us, a sequence with better writing, character exposition and screenplay than a vast majority of films can cram into ten minutes. Not that a game’s ability to make us cry should be a measuring stick for sophistication in game design, no. Of course, we all know it goes a lot deeper than that. What makes a game memorable is the sum of all its parts and just how well they gel together to make us feel. If a game can make us feel a particular way, we’ll remember it fondly.
Both Journey and The Shadow of The Colossus have zero dialogue (none in any existing language for the latter, at least). Yet the world design and experience available to the player creates a story with no words. A story that is generated by the player and that is of course, the gift from developer to you. That is if they’re good enough at their job or have been able to achieve their ambition prior to that evil, looming publisher deadline. Were you that person, sat at the dinner table? That person who must endure a segment of the evening, surrounded by people (your supposed superiors) blathering on like an authority on something they know nothing about? These games I’ve mentioned will have likely sprung to mind, yet after ignoring the snide remarks directed at your beloved hobby for the one hundredth time these people will go on to watch Love Island for hours on end on any given Sunday morning. Yet – what you’re doing – that’s silly. For children.
I need to be careful not to go off on too much of a tangent here. After playing videogames for just over a decade and half, they have matured and grown alongside me. As such, they are a part of who I am. I’m sure the same story applies to many reading this today. Never ever succumb to this attempt at peer pressure, combined with brainwashing from people who don’t understand what the medium of videogames can offer you. You’re an adult and it’s what you enjoy – so do it. Never give into the school of thought that perhaps your not having a wife and kids by now, as your some of your friends might, is the done thing for your age. Nothing like this is what you’re supposed to be doing.
This ethos of sticking to your guns sure as hell comes in handy at times. Such a time swung by in my life recently. We’ve all had those crappy life events that have made us want to go home, play DOOM and curb stomp some demon skulls. Perhaps you didn’t get that job you were going for. Well, in my case, I went through a rather messy breakup. We all know what those are like. All kinds of thoughts swirl around in our minds, fuelling paranoia. We get hung up on the impossible idea of turning back time and saying or doing something differently. Me, I got home after a shift at work alone with my thoughts and made sure to blow up lots of shit on Far Cry 5. To the non-gamer of course, this kind of statement just portrays you as a junkie in need of his next fix, especially so in the wake of this depressing episode you’re going through.
What these people will never realise is that, our need of games at that point in time goes so much deeper than that. When we play a great game like Far Cry 5, we become the player character. We forget that, between our thought processes and the controller and the images on the screen, that we are separate things. In other words, we become one with the game. This is what’s called equilibrium. For our brains, this kind of dopamine fuelled hypnotism is a great feeling that many non gamers rarely experience. It’s the flow. It’s being truly in the zone. Perhaps others experience it in the busiest moments of their work. Yet we gamers experience it for hours on end, not on some piece of mundane work, but on an epic adventure of our making. To those naysayers, gathered around the table for dinner at this year’s family get together I say – there’s nothing wrong with that.
Although, it’s not all roses and fluffiness upon the escapist cloud nine of videogames. Like anything in life, we have to be careful. I’ve witnessed friends’ lives become destroyed through videogames. Everything is good in moderation. Although, if you find yourself playing DOTA 2 for six hours a day, everyday, it may be time to check yourself before you wreck yourself. In the case of a friend of mine, he lost his job, his girlfriend, his hearing and even his driving licence due to a marriage of smoking weed and playing too much DOTA 2. Thankfully, I don’t touch those kinds of games with a barge pole for exactly this reason. World of Warcraft, Warhammer, online competitive RTS games, tower defence games. Sorry but they’re the devil. I’ve seen them wreck too many lives in my time to honestly give them my support. By their very nature of repetitive maps conjoined with agonisingly slow spawn times, you may as well be sat at a slot machine just to see the cherries that reward you with nothing. At risk of pissing off too many PC gamers, I shall move swiftly on.
I often discuss with a close friend what kind of person I would be, had videogames never existed. Who would I be if my mother never bought that massive and underpowered hunk of crap PC when I was twelve? She only did it because we moved to the countryside and she didn’t know what I would do with myself. Indeed I came into gaming quite late. Has it made me lazy? It’s definitely helped cement that idea that I’d rather get paid for writing than running up and down an office floor to a printer over and over, the day punctuated by a phone ringing on the other side of the office. Yes, getting paid for sitting on my arse, be it playing games or writing is definitely a factor here. But should that honestly be considered a problem if it’s something I know would make me happy? If I was being completely honest I think I would be a more successful human being had videogames never existed. But you know what? I don’t care. I freaking adore videogames and I’m sure those reading this do too.
It’s the whole package that I love. The cutthroat Game of Thrones politics of the wider industry that sees development studios rise and fall at the mercy of their audiences. The sheer unlimited scope for artistic expression, not just in an image, but in moving images that are interactive. A message that can be told over far, far longer than the time it takes for a movie to convey a theme. The power that it gives to you the player to experience a kind of influence that this mundane, corporate world sure as shit is not going to give to you. It is these attitudes, this passion I have that means I get agitated when I see someone dicking about in a firetruck on GTAV. Or perhaps when someone skips a cutscene even though they’ve never seen it before. “What are you doing?! A lot of work and effort went into that!”, I object only to have an apathetic comment in return “I wanna play the game, not watch it, man”. Drives me nuts. Suffice it to say, I firmly fall into the hardcore gamer category even if, perhaps I condemn the games that have ruined the lives of some of my friends.
To wrap up, the main take home from this piece (if you take anything away from this article) is that, if you’re going through a hard time with a loved one, don’t let them take your hobby away from you. Girlfriend doesn’t understand how you can’t pause an online game then goes nuts over dinner later on? Tara, love. Housemates talk over cutscenes incessantly, thinking whatever they have to say is more important than who’s about to die in The Last of Us? Turn the volume up and put subtitles on. As for the naysayers at the dinner table… well, you could always tell granddad that his stamp collecting hobby is a waste of time…