Monday, July 4, 2011

How games made me Awesome

This is a short essay I wrote a while back, for no particular reason other than I felt like writing. It rambles a bit and is never serious, so it's pretty much a standard Albie essay.

The first videogame I can recall playing was a first person shooter called Wolfenstein 3D on my fathers ancient Macintosh II. It was a fairly simple game, in which you play a Allied soldier trying to escape Nazis in the aforementioned Castle Wolfentstein. I was also about six years old. Sure, maybe letting a six year old shoot pixellated Nazis wasn’t the best idea in the world, but it did start something that I’m sure my parents regret. It got me hooked on videogames.

My God, it's like a movie!

From then on, I’ve pretty much played games whenever the opportunity arises, except with the hearts of others (Backstreet Boys reference, terrible, I know).

Nothing good on TV? Play a game.Not near a suitable place to play games? Draw something (probably game related). No paper? Think about how much I like games. Sure, you could call it obsessive. In fact, you’re probably thinking theres something wrong with me somewhere. But there is a reason why I love games so much. They made me awesome.

Games have taught me not to give up. The boss is too difficult? You failed at that jump in Super Mario? The fucking Angry Bird flew too high over a pig? Try again. And chances are, you’ll learn how to beat that problem, and you’ll be rewarded. Sure, it’s a virtual reward, that isn’t tangible, but the lesson remains. If you can learn to apply that lesson, there's nothing you can't do.

I am a huge RPG (Role-playing Game) fan. I can go on for hours about Final Fantasies, Dragon Quests and Star Oceans, and for a good reason. The first RPG that really blew my mind was Final Fantasy 7, a little game that came out in 1998, and that I picked up about a year after it was released (Fiji Time, you understand). It was the first time that I played a game with characters that resonated, a plot that spanned everything from environmentalism, to love, to corporate greed and sacrifice.

As you can imagine, it blew my little mind away. Through that game, I realised that videogames have a way to teach lessons that most other media can’t. Interaction. You can read a book, or watch a film, but these stories are presented to you to watch. You’re not responsible for the outcome, you’re kind of just along the ride. It doesn’t make them any less important, don’t get me wrong, but videogames should be up there with them.

So there I was, chugging away at this game when out of nowhere, the girl that I had been travelling with for a dozen hours is cut down by my arch-nemesis. My happy go lucky, cheerful friend was slain, and there was no way to bring her back. I had to carry that, through the rest of the game, until I finally bitchslapped the last boss to oblivion, and it made it that much more satisfying. Like I said, the fact that I had to interact with the game, through pressing buttons to progress the story, making decisions in battles and planning ahead, invested me in the story that much more.

And I will admit, I cried my eyes out when she died.

Still get misty-eyed sometimes :(

Which brings me to another reason why games made me awesome. The fact that I had to press those buttons to progress the story. Yes, it’s just pressing a button, but you have to press the right ones, in certain ways, and at certain times to get it work. Right now, I’m touchtyping this essay without even thinking about it, and the reason I know how to touchtype is because I play a lot of videogames, and had to learn that particular skill in order to succeed. Sure, I didn’t think about it at the time, I just wanted to able to communicate faster in order to tell my friend Mike to get that dragon away from me, but now that I know how to do it, it’s pretty damn useful. And I can impress secretaries.

Computers and technology are everywhere nowadays. Most people carry one around in their pockets. We use them for work, you can access your money from them on every other street corner in Suva, and we pay good money to people to get them fixed when they break. Now, I’m not an IT guy, but because of videogames I found computer science class in highschool a piece of cake. Heck, I spent most of my time using the Basic program they tried to teach us to make text adventures. I’m also pretty sure that it was my highest mark, but I’ll have to get back to you on that (it may have been Geography, but that’s a different essay entirely).

They’ve made me read more too. An old mentor of mine once told me that there are no original ideas, and the same is true for the stories in videogames. They’re all based on something eventually. Ancient mythologies, religious ideals, heck, even Shakespeare has influenced some of my favorite games, and I usually ended up looking these things up and liking them because I played it in a game at some point.

Case in point, I would never have read anything about Norse Mythology unless I had played Final Fantasy 8. In it, you get a spaceship called the Ragnarok.

It's red, therefore, goes faster.

Sure, you may have heard the word a couple of times before (they use it all the time in bad sci-fi/ fantasy movies, usually from the 80’s) but I went and read about it because I wanted to know what the reference was. Okay, so it turned out that it was pretty much just a cool name they chose for the airship, but now I have some extra knowledge floating around in my brain that, you never know, might come in handy one day.
Quick, the Ice Giants are coming!

So what does this mean? Simply put, if you’re reading this, and haven’t played a game in your life you should try. You may end up being as awesome as I am. And at the very least you won’t spend an evening vegging out in front of a television screen. Granted, you’ll be vegging out in front a screen, but at least your brain will have to work to solve a problem or two. And if you do play games, and I’m preaching to the choir, use these points the next time someone gets on your case.

Because when the world ends, and those dragons mutate from mokos due to insane amounts of cosmic radiation, we’ll be the ones who know how to beat ‘em.

Also, don't just take my word for it, there are other people who believe that videogames can make you awesome, and make much better cases for it than I do. If you're interested in gaining some knowledge, the best place to start is this TEDtalk here. Educate thyselves.