Wherein we discuss video-games and the validity of the amount of time I spend on them.
As a child I spent a fairly hefty portion of my time playing video-games. I owned a NES, which unfortunately crapped out on me before I’d amassed more than two or three games. After its passing I was handed down a SNES from an uncle. While this was undoubtedly owing to the inexorable march of technology and he was moving on to pastures new, it was a gift that would mark a major turning point in my young life. Again games were few and far between, but the ones that I did have were impeccably maintained and kept with the same reverence as a holy text. To the point that they’re still with me today, in fact.
While my parents were permitting of this growing obsession – I suspect having me glare at the dim non-light of a Game Boy screen in the back of the car was preferable to having me aggravate my younger sister – there were limits. The TV is a valuable resource after all, and the outdoors are the stomping grounds of children too loud to be kept in close proximity to grown-ups for lengthy stretches of time. Still, when it came time to put down the controller and venture outside, the games were inevitably linked to the heroes of Nintendo and Sega. There are plenty of flowers that look like a fire flower if you squint just right, and a near inexhaustible supply of Goomba-like mushrooms to jump on. You’d just have to take turns being saddled (literally) with playing as Yoshi and having a friend ride around on your back.
Over time the balance between outdoor exploring and time spent playing out the adventure on-screen tipped in favour of the latter. This, generally, would be regarded as a bad thing. While I was still exercising and perfectly healthy for someone my age, I spent an awful lot of time stuck to various screens. These days being stuck in front of a screen is by and large the norm for people all over the world, whereas before it would have given many parents cause for concern. This is one of the ways in which video games differ from other media such as, say, books. Rarely would a parent limit the time their children spend reading, whereas imposing limits spent on time playing video games wouldn’t raise any eyebrows.
This is reflective of a general mindset held towards video games, similar to the one posed towards comic books. Someone well versed in the ways of the Xbox or the X-Men will never be held in as high a regard as someone well versed in the works of Joyce, or Dickens. Books are tied to pursuits of the intellectual and the scholarly, whereas video games are often linked with the layabout and the waster. This is an injustice. Both mediums have their champions – the Miyamotos and Hemingways – and their villains – the EA’s and the Stephanie Meyers – but both can rival each other in terms of their ability to enchant and enrapture.
Where gaming has been let down is in a similar place that comic books could be said to have been let down. This is in their representation and treatment of women, and the vocal community who believe this to be reasonable. While an author of misogynistic books can be quickly brushed aside and condemned to bargain bins and book stores, the perpetrators in gaming are often backed by multi-million dollar companies. Some of these are lumbering giants of the industry, their hides hardened to near impregnability through years of dominance over a market where, until recently, only those with a firmly established footing or a heavily financially bolstered creative team could thrive.
At present, this is a changing trend. Indie games are well known to the majority of modern gamers and the tools to will a pet project or harboured ambition into being are readily available and accessible to any with the drive to do so. Marketing platforms such as Steam provide the launching pad to (potentially) propel these games skyward, with the success stories like Minecraft, Braid and Terraria launching the lowly basement programmer to the status of gaming idols. The communities that gather to these developers are often pivotal to their continued success, and that of their product. These communities consist of a great many who spend too much time on video games, and we are all the better for those people. Adamant builders in Minecraft, the sort who recreate fragments of the real world within the confines of a blocky virtual space, have unwittingly loaned themselves to the proliferation of video games as tools of education and exploration.
It doesn’t take an extensive examination of Minecraft to divine where it’s value as an educational utility comes in, with the importance of teamwork in order to make substantial headway being almost immediately obvious. This aspect aside, there’s a wealth of established material available on the Minecraftedu website pertaining to teaching foreign languages, math, science and social studies. Also leading the charge in alternative teaching is Portal, a loftily regarded physics-based puzzle/platformer. By it’s nature it provokes an understanding of spatial awareness, as this is the only way to progress. Alongside these is Influent, a language learning game that provides players with an interactive environment, with objects and interactions labelled so as to help them hone their chosen tongue. Games such as these have taken the initiative in making learning more interactive and therefore more fun.
This returns us to the defining aspect of video games, fun. If fun were the defining factor by which we determined how well our time is being spent, video games would almost certainly come out on top. This excludes freemium games, which have risen to dominance in the mobile gaming industry and are almost entirely based on models of addiction. Currently Pokémon Go has enraptured and polarised the entire world overnight. People are engaging with the game and each other en masse. There are stories of animal shelters using it to get people to exercise and hopefully re-home animals, people who suffer severe social anxiety gaining a new tool to aid in socialisation, people genuinely connecting beyond the confines of pixelated screens. This has been the case with many games before it, for example MMORPG World of Warcraft has a wealth of stories of people using it to connect in real life and form meaningful and lasting relationships. Pokémon Go has simply brought it into the open. It’s on every street in most major cities in the world, and it’s beautiful.
I wrote the final paragraph to this months apart from the rest, more or less as a direct result of Pokémon Go’s release. This is mainly because I couldn’t think of another way to finish it initially, so apologies if it reads as a little disjointed. In summary: video games are fun, and a valid pursuit, and subject to the same standards and limitations as any medium. Above all they’re there to be enjoyed. So go play some games.