The Window to the World: What Video Games Have Taught Me?
For me, video games occupy a space somewhere between total downtime and work.
Since starting to blog about games I have found myself analyzing them with a thoroughness I used to keep for English literature class.
Gender politics, social implications, reflections of the current zeitgeist…
Games are a significant media if a frequently downplayed one.
And yet, as this week’s Round Table points out:
There is a commonly held belief that videogames are not equal to literature and film.
One conservative acquaintance of mine on Facebook doesn’t even consider them on par with “public speech and music.”
On the other hand, we have anti-video game activists claiming that video games have the power to train children to be emotionless assassins.
Even within the video game community I’ve often heard the reaction, “they’re just video games.”
Well, I am here to say that video games can teach us, make us feel, make us cry, make us laugh.
That they are easily the equal of film and books (as are music and public speech on occasion – I have a dream, anyone?)
It’s easy to point to how they teach us explicit lessons.
There’s a number of AFK games where you redeem codes here, purport to teach you how to play, how to cook, how to design clothes, how to get fit, how to remember things better, how to be a better player in general, or just how to think more efficiently.
But what about the other lessons?
The unconscious ones, the ones that slowly shape our world view, the ones that affect how we interact and talk and think and live?
As babies, we come into the world with a muddle of DNA and a wide-open mind.
Over time, our parents, our friends, and our teachers fill us full of ideas, knowledge, opinions, traumas, happy memories, fears, and neurosis.
Add to the mix films, games, getting drunk at 4 am by yourself and reading House of Leaves, divorcing the person you thought you’d be with forever, or getting your first pet – and various other experiences and you wind up with a person.
A living, breathing, complex person like you.
Games don’t influence us in some brainwashing capacity, stepping into our brain and re-wiring it to believe that murder and mayhem is a good idea instead of a bad idea.
To suggest they do is a huge disservice to the mind’s ability to reason, to differentiate between reality and fiction, and to leave no room for the looking glass world of social criticism.
However the opposing view – that games are harmless toys that have zero impact on anything – is just as simplistic and false.
The human brain is mutable.
It does get affected by fiction, by dreams, by the twilight zone of abstracts and concepts.
Yes, I cried when Aerith died.
She’s just a collection of pixels, a poorly translated, blocky character that I could still emphasize with.
Death is something we all have to deal with.
We can connect that death, that fictional, meaningless death, with all of our own losses, and we can grieve for her.
Video games take us into an interesting world.
A world where we can experiment.
A world where losing isn’t so bad.
Want to try creating an anarchist haven?
Create an MMO guild, let it run on anarchic principles, and see what happens.
Want to rigidly order every last detail of a city?
Load Sim City, and see what happens when you do things the way you always thought they should be done.
What have multiplayer games taught me?
That people are people, wherever they live, whoever they are.
You get the same drama, the same friendship, the same falling in love and falling apart that you get offline.
Every guild is a hotbed of lost love, betrayal, revenge, war, and loyalty.
Move out of the way, daytime TV.
What have FPS games taught me?
Apart from the fact I am a terrible shot, they have taught me that some people can take their skills to a prodigious level.
That a person who dedicates themselves to something, who practices and learns and applies what they learn, can rise to stunning levels of skill.
There are guys out there who are the Olympic athletes of the FPS world, and they should be honored for their talent.
After all, getting 100 headshots in a row is no more relevant than being able to run 100 meters really really fast.
Warcraft III – a world without limits
What have RTS games taught me?
That I love them, that I love the patterns that they make, the deeply relaxed state they take me into, the way playing them always makes me feel more alert, more intelligent.
That, much like a game of Go, once you move past the learning stage you enter a world with no limits.
I love the focus, the awareness of every unit, every piece, how everything is connected and yet always moving and changing.
Video game zen?
It’s there, that state of mind.
And I can carry that with me, view my life with the same strategic brain.
What about artistic games?
Small, abstract games?
The world of video games is as varied, as intense, as fractured as any other media.
I can peek inside another person’s creative vision, and see – in a distorted kind of way – their joys and hopes, their fears and visions.
Is that brooding, claustrophobic tunnel design not a piece of art in itself?
Did the designer not call upon old childhood fears of dark, closed places, of being alone, of being scared?
And those rolling psychedelic landscapes in platformers – is that not a dream world on a par with anything written about by an opium addict with a pen?
Human imagination is an unbridled, rampant thing.
You can’t box it up with neat little parables, or easy conversions.
Witnessing a kiss in Crysis is not going to turn someone homosexual.
But it reminds someone, however briefly, that homosexuality exists, that people are all different, and yet all similar.
That every relationship is different and unique, and yet we can still emphasize them all so easily if we can just drop the prejudice for a little while.
Games let you look at the world through someone else’s lens.
They let us paint the world, break it, build it up, reshape it, and then share our creations with the world.
This is why I love games.
This is why I keep buying and playing them.
Because nothing else is so visceral or marries an alien view-point with your own actions so decisively.