Thursday, February 28, 2013

Reasons Why Nemo Hates My Face

(This could get a little lengthy.)

I love playing games. There. I said it.

I love playing games of all kinds--board games, card games, sports and, most of all, video games. Some would say I like to play head games but I can neither confirm nor deny that suspicion. And I've paid the band Foreigner to remain silent.

I would simply say that, when I was born, I was born with a controller in my hands. In addition to all of the questions that would raise, sadly, video games essentially didn't exist when I was born. Sure, make some "old man" jokes. You're just adding a snowy cap to an already incredibly surmountable mountain...or mountain range. Whatevs. YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!!!

I remember it well. A decently young me was at the county fair. My father asked if I wanted to go into the arcade. "What's an arcade?" I asked.

I'm pretty sure my eyes nearly popped out of my head. But since that would have caused alarm and a trip to the hospital, I instead contained my excitement ever so slightly. But I was hooked instantly. And, folks, we're talking games like "Asteroids", here. Yep. A few buttons controlling what was pretty much a series of lines with a few motes of light. I did not actually play any of the games that day but, oh, would I make up for that deficiency in very little time.

Needless to say, growing up, I lived in arcades. I wore out at least two Atari 2600s, then progressed to the Colecovision. NES, SNES, you betcha. I skipped a few console generations, hibernating under a rock while the pixels passed me by, only to emerge, pasty and bleary-eyed, and quickly make the Xbox my bitch. Then onto the current Xbox 360. All the while, the standard home PC was serenading me. And let's not forget the Apple IIe.

I wasn't picky. I played every damned video game I could get my grubby mitts on. I had some handheld games that looked like arcade games. I mapped out levels on River Raid (still one of the best games of all time). I drew video game characters on school folders.

Yes, I played E.T. on the Atari 2600. I am not ashamed. Being a kid, I did not have discriminating taste. I fully realize this "game" was utter shit. It was a hot mess. It was indeed horrible. But I tapped that. I beat it several times. Back then it was the thrill of the game. Plot didn't matter. Most game designers couldn't even spell the word "plot".

Which brings us to the present.

Video games today are major productions. Hundreds of people come together to create them. This isn't Atari 2600's "Combat". I'm sure there was a really great plot, there--"That tank stole my cheese!! KILL IT!!!"

But video games turn people into killers! And they're mindless! Read a book, you hooligan! Do something productive! YOU'LL GET HERPES!!!

I have nothing against other diversions. But let's compare a few other activities.

Books: Books are awesome. They're portable, they don't require electricity (other than light to see them) and they can be extremely enthralling. They can challenge the imagination and the mind.

Movies: Movies are an all-around, engrossing experience. The sound and the visual effects can be stunning. The plot, characters, and acting can move you to tears or cheers.

TV: Let's face it. Most of television is complete and utter detritus. Very few gems shine through the filth and the muck of daily television. I can't even seriously consider TV an "activity".

Physical Activities: Sports, exercise, etc. I fully approve of these activities. Everyone should get some exercise in their routines. Sports and exercise keep you fit and healthy. They can be social activities or "lone wolf" endeavors.

Hobbies: Hobbies are always great to have. Usually they are productive--instruments, crafts, etc. They build talent and skills as well.

Video Games: There are so many varieties of video games that I will have to generalize for the most part. Most modern video games tell a rich, in depth story that rivals most movies and books. You usually have to option to play alone or with others. Games like the Portal and Scribblenauts series force you to solve problems. Motion games can provide exercise and coordination tasks. Real-time strategy games like Starcraft, and other games like Civilization force you to think, develop strategies, and plan for the future of the game. Even an old-school game like Tetris stimulates the mind. And so many video games encourage teamwork and strategy when played with other real, live humans.

This isn't just Pac-Man and Donkey Kong anymore. Video games often become trilogies or entire series. They have movie-level production values with complex, rich musical scores, professional voice actors, and animation and effects that rival most movies. While you are watching a screen, video games--unlike movies--are much more interactive. Movies don't often cause you to think unless they are a suspense/thriller type of flick.

Television can't even begin to compete with video games. I'm not even going to acknowledge it. Moving on. 

Books massage the brain a bit more and the entire thing takes place in your mind. Video games--not as much. But they can immerse you at least as much as a book but, more often than not, they will surpass the book's ability.

Because of the variety of video games there are now games that allow you to move and exercise. While these games can't compare to playing actual sports, you can get an excellent workout and still have a load of fun. Maybe two loads...but that gets a little messy sometimes.

Now...hobbies are a completely different story. There really is no substitute for a good hobby. They truly are fantastic, engrossing activities that usually produce something, practice a talent, or collect something.

For me, video games are an excellent stress reliever. I enjoy carving a path through the rough terrain, descending upon enemies, managing resources and building units, flying a plane and, yes, headshotting poor hapless enemy dudes. Does this mean I'm zoning out and wasting my time? No. I am interacting, thinking, strategizing, planning, watching, listening, and planning. Is this going to turn me into a killer? I find it highly doubtful that I am going to charge into an office building while munching dots, jumping over barrels, and warping through portals, just to throw a tetrimino at someone and kill them.

Yes, I play a lot of violent video games. I am also a well-adjusted, relatively social human being who holds down a good, steady job, makes good, responsible decisions, loves his family, and works hard to move forward in life. I'm not a fan of violence, but I know the difference between a movie, TV, video game, and real life. Translation: No. Video games do not make me violent or turn me into an angry rage monster. If a video game turns someone violent, then most likely there was an instability present to begin with. This is not a 100% across the board--some people are batshit crazy while others are just unpredictable--but I'm pretty sure this is the case much of the time.

Video games, to me, are like watching a book and listening to its soundtrack, blazing a trail and deciding what happens, changing this fictional world through strategy and, yes, blowing the living crap out of some enemies. They are an excellent stress reliever and  an awesome distraction. They are produced by people who are passionate for good storytelling, visuals, characters, and sound. And they want to amaze you and knock your socks off. Writers work in words, video game creators work in just about every medium you can imagine. Some games span movies, books, and music.

And that is why I love video games. Actually, that is just scratching the surface. I don't see them as a waste of time or inferior to other pursuits. Video games have created friendships, families, and social lives. They are an outlet. They are entertainment. No, they are not a substitute for a job, education, a family, or a social life. But they can supplement each of these facets to some extent. Some players even make money in profession video game leagues just as athletes make money in their chosen sports. Some players sell in-game items or entire characters for big bucks. Yes. Real Money. There are even award shows devoted to video games.

With video games, virtually anything is possible.

Sure, video games are like anything else, they can be played too much. I have nothing to say to that except "everything in moderation".

Video games aren't going anywhere. They are, in fact, evolving. And, actually, I think they're just getting started.

Now if I could just get that nasty case of Nintendo Thumb cleared up, I'll be just fine.


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