On video games

I enjoy video games.

Preferably  fantasy role playing games (RPGs), but I’m not averse to the occasional beat-em-up or a nice empire building game now and again, or perhaps running a simulated society or business for a while. But I always feel that it is something not to talk about in polite society; that gaming is a deep dark secret only to be shared with a trusted few; that “coming out” as a gamer is not something you do around strangers.

Why? Perhaps it’s because I am part of the first generation that have grown up with video games. Our parents didn’t have games like this available to them at our age – if they played anything it was likely to be Snake, Pong, Pacman or perhaps Solitaire or Minesweeper. All are fine games in their way but nothing like the immersive alternative reality of games such as Oblivion, Fallout or Fable. Modern games allow a level of escapism that wasn’t available in the past. Because of the trend for later marriage and children, young adults with incomes have the money and time to buy and play intricate and involving games to escape from their real lives. There’s nothing wrong with this but perhaps as we did not see our parents or role models come home to computer games we’re not sure how acceptable it is. It certainly isn’t something I’d put on my CV, despite spending much more time gaming than whatever hobbies I did write on there. Perhaps that’s because the stereotype of gamers is that they sit alone in a darkened room with no friends – not the image employers look for.

In addition to escapism there are lots of other reasons why people play. For those who love competition, online rankings are compelling; for those who want to socialize, in-game chat is widely available; for those who have a drive to collect achievements or trophies, it is built into consoles.

My partner also enjoys computer and console games and we have reflected that it’s one of the ways we are compatible – someone who didn’t appreciate the addictiveness of the early stages of a game might find it hard to put up with their partner having so much focus on something that doesn’t matter. We have now bought two games consoles together, the first of which was to celebrate our 2nd anniversary of going out with each other. They are the only things of value that we jointly own (until we are married and with the exception of the cats).

I actually believe games are very reasonably priced when you consider the huge number of man-hours that goes into them and also how very many hours of game-play a modern game offers. With the story driven, fairly linear games that I prefer, just playing through the main plot can take well over 100 hours, without accounting for side quests and trying to get all items/skills/hidden bits and pieces. That said, I have to confess that I don’t usually buy a game at full price as soon as it comes out. I buy second-hand although I rarely trade in my old games as I will probably want to play them again one day. The best RPGs have excellent stories and I’m not one to read a good book only once, so why would I play a game only once?

Many have said that we are becoming an instant gratification society and it is true that gaming can be addictive because of the regular and often easily achieved rewards. The risk/reward ratio is heavily skewed towards reward. Now that you can quickly and easily save and reload your games where is the risk in trying a new strategy? And rewards will be found after every battle, round or level and sometimes just by looking in cupboards, boxes and bins. In-game cash is usually quite easy to obtain and easy to spend, whether on armor and weaponry or unlocking new game content. 

Many games now include options to design your own playable characters – to change the build, race, voice and gender of your avatar as well as the clothing so that everyone can play with a personalised character they can identify with rather than a default action figure. It has to be said that sometimes I have turned a game on purely to design a new character rather than to play the game itself. With this level of personalization of characters everyone can feel that they have created something and  it does not have to conform to anyone else’s ideals except where they are limited by the parameters of the game.

I do believe that age guidance on games should be respected – it is there for a reason. Some games are, quite simply, designed for adults not children. While it is a parent’s decision what kind of games they buy for their children I do not believe that some parents have any idea of the content and game play involved in some very popular titles. Most people are aware that certain types of game contain a lot of violence and gore but I find this far less alarming than the thought of young boys playing a game involving prostitution and rape (if you want to read more about this try Sexism in videogames). I imagine that many mothers who let their children play these adult rated games must be unaware that they have content of this nature, but that is why there’s a big red 18 on the box to give them a clue!

Having seen how computer and console games have developed during the course of my lifetime I wonder about the games of the future. How will we interact with them? How much more complex do we want games to get? When games seem as complicated as real life I think that’s time to stop playing!

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