Finding meaning in video games

I am awful at video games. I can barely beat Crash Bandicoot. I’m so bad that I have completely sworn off most first-person shooters or any game that requires marginally quick motor skills.

My reflexes might as well be that of a koala bear. Yet, I spend tens of hours a week playing them. What is an uncoordinated girl that harbors an infatuation with books and movies doing with a video game controller clutched between her fingers?

It’s because of this simple fact: Video games are an amazing means of storytelling.

Before you gather your pitchforks to revere the intrinsic value of an old-smelling book or a classic film on a crackly projector, hear me out. Let’s say you heard of a new big blockbuster, one rich with compelling plot, engaging dialogue and beautiful graphics.

The story is one so complex, so dense with masterful thoroughness and insight that reviewers are practically salivating just speaking about it. Let’s say this film took place in an underwater utopia run by a man so powerfully rich, he was able to create his own secret society of aristocrats and scientists free from the chains of big government and watchful regulators.

Science progresses at a rate too quick for society to handle and everything soon turns apocalyptic. Your favorite actor plays the male lead who happens to stumble upon the microcosm after his plane crashes. Except instead of it being an actor, it’s you.

You breathe every breath of the protagonist, load every bullet, make every gut-wrenching decision he has to make in order to survive. You wander through this expansive, elaborate land and see the horrors of the mass-marketed scientific discoveries. You experience the twists and feel the horror the main character does once he realizes he’s been a pawn in someone’s sick little game.

You immerse yourself in a story that rivals those that belong to movie giants. The movie has been engineered to give you little rewards through happy neurotransmitters that make you feel like you have accomplished something and that you have autonomy as you walk through this wasteland.

Oh, except it’s not a movie. It’s “Bioshock.”

Some video games I’ve played have had the most dynamic and incredible stories, ones so good that I hold them up there with novels like “The Great Gatsby” and movies like “Forrest Gump.” Anyone who has played “Bioshock,” any of the Portal or Half-Life series, Mass Effect or even silly old “Kingdom Hearts” will tell you that there’s something so much more to these games.

There’s a purpose. That purpose gives meaning to gamers, something that stays with them and enhances a story.

It makes it personal, and the feeling isn’t something phony or artificial, as some bookworms may think. It’s simply plugging in the same imaginative element of a story and personalizing it. It’s role-playing, and it’s awesome.

This is something that I truly believe video game makers can capitalize on: making video games a challenge for dedicated gamers, but also creating a genre of games that couples a dynamic story with gameplay for those who are maybe not acclimated to intense strategy.

You may be saying, “We’re not making these games for babies!” and you may be right. You may be saying, “The death of the novel is upon us, and you perpetuate it!”

You may be right. However, I urge you to accept those video game aficionados and book-lovers like me.

Accept people who want the option to indulge in both the story and the reward system that gaming can offer. Accept those who seek challenges and great stories, inclusively and exclusively.

 

Reach the columnist at ameschko@asu.edu or follow her at @alishameschkow

 

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