Something I find equally amusing and frustrating about video games is the amount of misinformation about the subject. I frequently come across comments online about games that enrage me. For example the parent who would never let their teenager play GTA because they think there’s a mission where the player has to rape a prostitute. I’ve played every GTA game except for the DS one and I don’t recall any such mission. I recall driving prostitutes to customers in GTA III and rescuing a prostitute in GTA: San Andreas but nothing like what that person mentions. If they don’t want their teenager playing GTA, then that’s their decision as a parent, but can’t people be bothered to actually research or at least find out a few basic facts about something before making a decision? What happened to making an informed decision?
All the criticisms that are frequently aimed at video games can equally apply to other things too, overly violent, misogynistic, lacking in any depth or substance. You wouldn’t have to look very hard to find many films that could be criticised for these exact same things. The same could apply to books.
The most obvious criticism is that people, especially children play too many games and aren’t active enough. Which is a valid criticism, but how come children who are bookworms don’t get the same thing said about them? When I was younger and I read voraciously, nobody (including teachers) ever told me that I had to spend more time outside. It was a different story as soon as the book was replaced by a Game Boy. Never mind that the story of the game was little different to that of the books I enjoyed.
The thing that frustrates me the most personally is the accusation that games are passive. Naturally some are more passive than others; obviously casual games don’t require the same attention level as more serious and in depth games. Something which could equally be said about books, naturally there is a difference between a crime thriller which is a quick and easy two day read in comparison to a history book on whatever subject. People play different games for different reasons, like people read different books for different reasons.
I don’t play many strategy games so my examples are somewhat out of date, but the point still applies. Take Caesar or Pharaoh for example, or any game of that genre, a game like that requires decision making skills, balancing the requirements of short and long term goals, multi-tasking, making financial decisions, and in the case of those two games you can learn a little about history as well. All without any significant violence (there are some battle sequences and people can get eaten by crocodiles) or bad language. Intellectually stimulating, family friendly and non-expensive, what more could you ask for? Those two games are actually part of the reason for my interest in history as a child and which led to me wanting books about Ancient Egypt.
And those two games represent excellent value for money, I think they cost a little under £5 each and I bought them about twelve years ago. I’ve gotten hundreds of hours of entertainment out of them. Gaming doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. Likewise games like Mass Effect are excellent value for money, even if you got them on release day and bought the special editions like I did for the second and third one. The first Mass Effect game, I’ve owned three copies of it across three platforms, two physical and one digital.
None of them cost more than £10 and it’s a game I’ve completed at least five full through play-throughs of with each one taking about 20/25 hours. And I can envision playing again from start to finish, if not just to design a character that looks like Joachim.
I notice that whilst people frequently comment on how much money I spend on games, or to be more precise how much money they think I spend on games, they don’t have anything to say about the often absurd amounts of money I spend on books. I once spent a little under £40 tracking down a rare Holocaust related book, and that price is a bargain considering the first copy I found cost more than twice that, and I was willing to pay that much I should add. I’ve read that book once, will likely never read it again, nevertheless I simply had to have it. Equally certain people are equally quiet on the amount of money I’ve previously spent on DVDs and blu-rays. When I spent a not insignificant amount of money tracking down rare CW films from Austria and Germany (some of which had no English subtitles) they understood why I had to have them. Yet those same people can’t understand why I had to have the new F1 game on the day it came out and not a few months later when it was a more reasonable price (this was during my Niki Lauda obsession).
Which leads to another advantage of video games, especially for autistic or otherwise socially awkward children, they can help people make friends or gain a little popularity. During the Pokemon craze, I found that all of a sudden people wanted to talk to me. And later on in secondary school gaming helped me cement friendships that otherwise would not have been made. It was pretty much the only age appropriate interest I had that didn’t bore my peers to death.
I’m not saying there aren’t any bad points about gaming, the addictiveness of them can certainly be troubling for some people, but for me it’s a non-issue. Not because I don’t addicted to or fixated on a game. That happens frequently. It’s not an issue because if it wasn’t a game, it would be something else, that much is guaranteed. It makes no difference whether I don’t sleep all night because of a particularly addicting game, or because I couldn’t stop reading a certain book or because I spent all night on the internet reading about my new special interest. The end result is the same, I still had no sleep. I’m still hyped up on excitement and sugar. And I still have to deal with the hangover of regret when I wake up the day after.
The experiences I’ve had in games are as memorable and important to me as the things that happened in my favourite books and films. Choosing Kaidan over Ashley in Mass Effect and all of the decisions you have to make throughout the rest of the trilogy, storming through Berlin as a soldier of the Red Army in COD: WOW, the camaraderie that’s built up in your party in Dragon Age, the end of Red Dead Redemption, recreating Germany win the World Cup in a football game and many many more. A book takes you where it wants you to go; it offers you no choice or active participation in how the story proceeds. Which makes me baffled as to how someone can argue that gaming is passive hobby, surely nothing is totally passive anyway, not even watching TV, because you choose what to watch, you actively make a decision to watch one show or avoid another.
It’s not easy to explain to someone who doesn’t like games why they are so great. It’s like trying to explain the appeal of watching football to someone who hates sports. Some things just can’t be done. I’m going to try nevertheless. Who wouldn’t want to explore other worlds and universes, save the world, defeat Nazi Germany, win the World Cup, rule your own nation, be a pirate on the seven seas and experience many more adventures? Or pretty much anything you can imagine. Want to track through a desolate wasteland and have to choose between helping or hurting people, creep through an abandoned spaceship whilst almost dying of fright every 30 seconds or so, be a valiant knight or an elf lord. Especially when in real life you are, or at least you feel like you are powerless and can’t do anything. You can argue that games are pointless, spending hours of your time building up a fictional character, collecting things that have no value in the real world, that instead of building up your Ultimate Team in FIFA you could be outside actually playing football. Believe me if I could be doing that, I would. Not that the two couldn’t co-exist though, why is that some people think you can’t do both?
To follow that logic, aren’t all interests pointless? Isn’t everything pointless and meaningless in some way? Even if you think that it’s not ok to say that to someone about their hobbies or interests, even I know that. It’s too depressing even for me to think that way, once you start thinking like that it’s hard to snap out of it. I can’t allow myself to seriously consider that idea, if I do, I won’t bother to do anything.