Monday, 14 June 2010

On being a gamer...

If you play computer games with any level of passion, the following should be familiar to you upon meeting a new person.

Person: So, what do you do in your free time?
You: Oh you know, the usual sort of stuff. I play computer games quite a bit.

Right there. That's when you know the entire conversation is going downhill from here. Even saying the words 'computer games' to someone I assume to be a non-gamer makes me gag a bit. It just doesn't sound good. I can't help it though, that's what they're called. You could go for the more American 'video games' but then you come off even worse I think.

Likely there will be a bit of a pause. Not long enough to be uncomfortable, but long enough for you both to register it. The person is likely now desperately trying to find something to say, and this furious neural activity will probably manifest with a slightly constipated look on their face. The conversation can go one of two ways now. The conversation can end abruptly with the individual walking away making a mental note not to bother you again, or it can continue, along the lines of:

Person: Oh really? What sort of games do you play?

This question can either be asked with a genuine innocence (which is ok) or a smirking, condescending sneer that makes you want to hit yourself in the face for getting into this conversation (which most psychologists would say is not ok).

The problem with that question is it's like asking a ballet enthusiast what their favourite type of ballet is. Chances are they prefer the ballets that feature ballet dancing. I have a friend who only plays Pro Evolution Soccer. It's the only *hurp* computer game he plays and it's times like this I wish I was him.

So instead you're forced to give the stock answer.

You: Oh, you know, I like all different types.

Which isn't a very good response. Why? Because it begs additional questions, the answers to which will dig you deeper into your hole. Observe:

Person: What game are you playing right now then?

Don't say World of Warcraft. Even if you do play WoW, pretend you don't. I'll explain why some other time.

You: Oh, I'm playing Bioshock.
Person: Bioshock? What's that?

Now, you could go off into a diatribe on Bioshock's artwork and style, its discourse on Randian philosophy and its examination of the nature of men, but you won't. Because you know the other person probably just won't get it.

You: It's a shooting game. It's sort of underwater.
Person: Oh, ok, sounds fun. I'll see you later.
You: See ya.

So now you've done it. You are now a gamer, and the individual you have just spoken to believes that the second you get home, you'll strip down to a wifebeater and boxers, open a two litre bottle of Coke, game for seven hours straight and then cry yourself to sleep.

Which might be true, but I'm not here to judge.

One problem is the games themselves, another aspect are the gamers who play them.

Let's face it, even in these days of Animal Crossing, and the Wii and Nintendogs and all that crap, games are generally quite a boyish experience, with explosions and fast cars and wicked awesome guns.

I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with this, but there is no denying that this is probably the only lasting impression a non-gamer is going to have after a brief exposure to the medium. And it's likely that this impression will stop a non-gamer from sitting down for couple of hours and actually trying a game out, which is a pity.

Maybe it's an issue inherent in the medium. A book, a movie, a TV show, they require only passive participation on the part of the spectator. A game, on the other hand, requires commitment from its player. It is a wholly active pastime, and the player needs to invest time and energy to ensure an emotional connection with the characters and thus a satisfactory experience.

Personally, I feel that dismissing computer games *boke* on the basis of observation of gameplay is akin to dismissing a film after watching the opening credits. Sure, you've had a look at the constituent components, but the sum is always greater than the parts.

But a change in this arrangement will only come with time, and one can't deny that advances in technology will help speed this process. An Xbox or a PS3 controller, to me, feels natural, it's operation buried deep down on some subconscious level. For a non-gamer, a controller is just a lump of plastic with WAY too many buttons on it. For that individual, the controller requires constant awareness and this fact stops them from fully engaging with the game. I hope that control systems like Kinect and the Sony motion controller can help allow non-gamers to see beyond the technical limitations of input devices and really enjoy games at the same level they would enjoy a good book etc. but only time will tell.

As I said earlier another problem is gamers themselves. We don't do ourselves any favours.

Person: What are you playing?
You: Grand Theft Auto 4. It's basically a crime game, but that isn't really doing it justice. It's set in Liberty City, basically a living, breathing digitised version of New York. I can sit here in my car and watch cops chasing down thieves, see car accidents happening around me, listen to the radio, or I can drive to another part of town and walk along the beach. It has this epic story centering around a refugee trying to leave his past behind and lead a good life, but finding out that it isn't easy to do, and that his past is reaching out to drag him under.
Person: Wow, so what are you doing now?
You: Erm...I'm repeatedly driving over a hooker.

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