Why Video Games Are Essential Today.
Much like the opening title suggests, video games are a very important part of my life. Not for any one specific reason, but for a multitude of them, which I’ll get into later. These days, I’m not bothered about what anyone really thinks of me anymore, except for maybe 5 people who are an intricate part of my life. Still, whenever I see the media make out video games as something to be sneered at, it bothers me. Not everybody understands why video games are so important. I’d be willing to make a bet that these individuals also had a multitude of friends growing up, rarely endured being the victim of unwarranted bullying (in fact, they themselves were probably the bullies) and as a result of this, always had a place of belonging; a place to fit in, among their peers.
Personally, I never had that. I never had any real friends growing up. I don’t know why. I’ve always been told I was a sweet kid, and I was. I’d never harm anybody, I was always polite, respectful and even then, I knew I was wise and empathetic beyond my years. I always wondered if there was something wrong with me. I never raised this issue with my parents, because not even being 10 years old yet, bringing up how I felt just wasn’t something that was done back then. It’s not anybody’s fault. Things are different nowadays, thankfully, but that’s just how things were then. I often cried myself to sleep at night, wondering why nobody liked me; wondering why I would be called ugly; wondering why I was never included in group activities. It hurt. The only time I’d ever really want to play outside, playing Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians, and whatever other game you could think of, it was with my younger brother, but that wouldn’t be for a few years yet. I didn’t know why, at 6/7 years old, why I didn’t have any friends. All I knew is that I was constantly upset within myself, and didn’t have anything to look forward to, especially school.
Enter: Video games. Now, we got our first PlayStation back at Christmas of 1997. I even remember the games we got – Tomb Raider, Soulblade, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Rage Racer, Destruction Derby 2 and a demo disc including Crash Bandicoot 2, G-Police, among others - even though I never properly got into them a couple of years later. I think I was perhaps too young when we got our first PlayStation to really get a grasp of it. I first got the grasp of the Super Nintendo, which I got for my Christmas a year later. I had a few games to play on it, but I only ever remember playing Super Mario World. It was this that REALLY introduced me to my love of video games. It was something that was easy to pick up, and fun to share with my brothers. In a lot of ways, it brought us closer together, and left me no longer feeling like something to be sneered at on the end of somebody’s shoe. It wasn’t long before I moved on to the PlayStation, enjoying a multitude of titles, and then over the last 2 decades, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One and most recently PlayStation 4.
I genuinely don’t want to imagine where I’d be in my life if it wasn’t for video games. I probably wouldn’t have even gone to college, got my qualifications for becoming a Personal Trainer (as I’m also a Fitness lover) and turn out to be a damn good one, too. Recently, I’ve been trying to pinpoint my reasons for still playing them for all these years, and I’ve came up with the following.
1. Escapism – You can probably gauge this from what I’ve written above. As a youngster, with no friends to play with, and nothing to really look forward to at school, coming home to my Super Nintendo and PlayStation was like entering some kind of Heavenly Dimension (or Hell, depending on the genre of game I was playing, which was also exhilarating). There were so many different worlds to enter and be a part of, and so many different protagonists to connect and bond with at the touch of the face buttons on your controller. I was guiding these characters, navigating these collections of polygons through fictional worlds for hours on end, and it was the best feeling in the world. Not only did I feel part of their worlds, but I felt like I was their friend. Strange as that may seem, as somebody who never had any friends, this was an essential piece of my childhood. It gave me an escape like no other, and that’s something that not even my favourite movies or TV shows, except Dragon Ball Z, have been able to do. It’s not just escapism from everyday life, however. It’s an escape from politics, from world events, from the whining and complaining of certain groups “not being represented” as if anybody really cares. The reason games appealed to me so much in the first place is they helped my mental health a lot. I don’t need to see these issues that hurt my brain IN the games that I put on to escape them in the first place.
2. They’re Educational – Who says video games can’t be educational? Whoever it was, never played Metal Gear Solid 3 or Assassin’s Creed II, which essentially taught me about the Cuban missile crisis and the Italian Renaissance, respectively. I can guarantee you that I would never have retained this information in Mrs. Downie’s History class, but due to actually playing games and controlling characters that are learning and/or experiencing these events first hand, I am now able to tell you that on October 15th 1964, Kruschev was ousted from power as Brezhnev became the first secretary of the communist party, with Kosygin as the Premier, or that China conducted their very first successful nuclear test in the Takla Makan Desert the day after this, or that Primary Assassin’s Creed II antagonist, Rodrigo Borgia, would later become Pope Alexander VI. These are just two examples, but my point is, I would have had no clue about these historical facts had it not been for video games.
3. They’re Relaxing – I fully stand by this statement. It’s true, though, isn’t it? There have been multiple times when I’ve been at work, training clients and teaching fitness classes all day, that I just need to relax and unwind at the end of the day. So why not take a scroll through Kaer Morhen in The Witcher 3, or walk through the vast country and desert on your horse in Red Dead Redemption 2? Videogames aren’t always about slicing people into pieces with your swords, or shooting people in the face (although you can totally do that, too), but sometimes you just want to spend some time just being in these worlds, watching the sun set behind frost-kissed mountains. It gives you a deeper sense of connection to the world around you, and makes you more appreciative of the fine, intricate details that these worlds provide.
4. They’re Thought Provoking – No, seriously. Video games can challenge the way you think. A lot of large-scale games nowadays give you choices that are woven into the game’s narrative, that can affect how the story plays out, and can give you one of many different endings. We know that there’s only a limited choice available, otherwise these games would be way bigger than the giants they already are, but that doesn’t mitigate how we feel when making these choices to shape our story. Some choices you make are easy, whereas others are a bit more difficult, and have you question the morality of these choices, which is doubly true if the results of these choices end up with you feeling sad, or feeling even sadder. Even shorter games, lasting no more than a couple of hours, can deliver a serious gut punch. For years, I’d heard so many great things about this walking simulator called What Remains of Edith Finch. I eventually got around to picking it up, and just was not prepared for the roller coaster of emotions I felt in such a short period of time. It’s one of those games where, after you finish it, even while you’re playing it, you need to put pause and put the controller down to process the emotions each individual story produces, just to get your bearings. They really make you think about experiences you’ve been through in your own life, and how you felt at those times. I understand completely now why this game is so critically acclaimed, so if you haven’t already, just play this game.
5. They Tell Stories in a Way No Other Medium Can – I touched on this a bit in the previous entry, where nowadays, in games, you can shape your story in a variety of different ways. In short, you’re really shaping your own story to tailor the way you want it to play out. There’s no other medium that accomplishes this. Look at your favourite movies and TV shows. Not even they can accomplish the feats video games can. Back in the day, sure, games were mostly linear, and you had no control over the ending. You either enjoyed the experience or did not. Some of your friends may have enjoyed an ending to a game that you didn’t, and vice versa. Movies and TV Shows are still no different. Take Dexter, The Sopranos and Game of Thrones, for example. There are people who watched these shows and thought they are some of the greatest shows ever and believe that Game of Thrones had a good ending, and Dexter and The Sopranos had bad endings. These people are, of course, wrong, but that’s another story. Video games nowadays, however, have so much choices they give you. You’re not just playing the role of the actor portraying these characters, you’re also the director, guiding the unknown outcome of the story to a conclusion that, to you, will hopefully feel satisfactory. And even in the event you’re not satisfied, some games are so good, fun and enjoyable, you’re more than happy to play them again, make different choices and get that satisfying ending you want.
I’ll finish things off here, but these are just some of the reasons why video games are important to me and have made a big impact on my life. Escapism, Education, Relaxing, Thought Provoking and Storytelling. These are my 5 personal reasons why I’ve played video games since I was a kid, and why I probably always will.