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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Defense of Video Games

It occurred to me that I can probably make a good video game critic. I cannot be a book critic because I am not interested in literature, never been my kind of thing. I cannot be a movie critic because movies are mostly boring for the most part so I have very little interest in movies. I cannot be a music critic even though I listen to music. But I cannot be a music critic because the music that mostly interests me is classical and war/nationalistic music, I am not up with the modern times, and I do not know anything about music theory. But the one thing I can be a critic of are video games.

I love video games, and not only that, I have grown up on video games ever since I was a little boy. I grew up as the video game revolutions were happening around me. So not only do I have a lot of experience of video games I have lived through the short history of video games. It is in this regard that I think I can make a good critic of video games.

I would say that the golden age of video games is the late 1980's and early 1990's. This was the time period when games really started to take off. I lived through this period, well, the early 1990's is when I started playing games, but I did play the predecessor games also, so I can say that I lived through this time period. And I have continued to play video games up to the modern games which are released today. I do not play anymore as much as I used to when I was back in high-school, but I am at least up to date and familiar with what is coming out and what is being made.

I figured that I need to defend video games because they are a condemned art. And yes, that is right, I called video games an "art". Because that is what they are, and I will explain my reasons for calling them that.

People often condemn video games by saying it is a waste of time, that is it games for little children, make you uncultured, make you stupid, and they make you violent.

See books never have to defend themselves. It is always assumed that books are these great wonders of pure wisdom that no one has a right to condemn. You hardly ever hear anyone bad mouthing books. But you hear the bad mouthing of video games all the time. Why is it that books are mostly accepted by everyone as good while video games always need to prove themselves to be good?

I want to make it very clear, I have nothing against books. When I say "books" I mean fiction literature novels that people read. Obviously, scientific texts are entirely filled with important knowledge. Rather I am talking about books that people read for mere entertainment. I have absolutely nothing against books. If you like them, then read them. If you enjoy reading a story about someone else then go ahead and read it. I do not think there is anything wrong with that at all.

People read books not because they really make you smarter, but rather because they are a form of entertainment. If you read "The Da Vinci Code" by Dan Brown you are not becoming smarter about history because it is not intended as a historical book, it is intended to be a work of entertainment. And again, there is nothing wrong with that, if you enjoy this kind of stuff, then go ahead and enjoy yourself, you deserve some relaxation time, so I am not complaining and I am not saying there is anything wrong.

But my problem is that book readers do not grant me the same level of respect. They often assume that because I do not read literature and that I do not like it, it must be because I am stupid. Furthermore, that I like to play video games must immediately mean that I must be stupid and childish.

A video game is nothing but another form of entertainment. Back in history, 300 years ago, even 100 years ago, even 40 years ago, there were no video games. Basically the only means that people had to entertain themselves was through books. Books that were just story books, that told a story and motivated the reader to be interested in this story. This was the form of entertainment that people have often gone through most of history.

However, in the modern age there are many different new forms of entertainment. Movies are one of them, another one that I do not have an interest towards, but some people do. Another form of entertainment is video games.

A video game is exactly like a book, except the story is told very differently from how it is told in a book or in a movie. Video games have their own stories, and they also seek to express their stories in such a way to interest their players. Video games also tell stories, not just books or movies. In fact, video games have this advantage over books (and movies). In a book you read a story about someone else, in a movie you watch a story about someone else. With video games the experience is so much more special. In the video game you are the story. You are the one who makes the story. You are not reading a story about someone else. You are not watching a story about someone else. Rather you are experiencing the story yourself.

Books are limited in that they have no senses. Books are based upon your imagination, again this does not make them inferior or superior to video games, or to movies, it just makes them different. And if you prefer the imaginative method of story then good for you, I have no problem with that. I am just suggesting that there is a limitation to what a book does. A book cannot appeal to the sense of sight or sound. It relies on your imagination to construct a world in your head with these senses. The beauty of video games is that these two senses are immediately constructed for you.

If you are reading a horror book it needs to construct a world in where the setting is very scary. The book needs to develop the atmosphere for the reader. The book will mention how it is dark, raining, and there are growling sounds in the background, and you can feel something chase after you. In fact, the story is not even about you, it is about someone else, that the book reconstructs, and you need to imagine being that person of the story. But in a video game this story telling is drastically different. The video game does not need to tell you about a scary environment because you can see it and you can hear it. It does not need to tell you it is dark, you can see it yourself through the video game. It does not need to tell you about the growling and chasing sounds after you, because you can hear them yourself.

But the best part of all between the difference between a book and a video game is that in the book you have no freedom to develop the story. The story is developed and set into motion by the narrator. In a video game this is different because you are the narrator also. You are the one who develops the story. If you are playing a horror video game and you find yourself in a scary environment you know how to react. You know you need to run and hide from the horror that is following you. The story does not need to tell you what to do. It feels so different in a video game as it feels in a book.

In fact, this is just one kind of video game. This is the kind of a game in where you discover the story by playing through it. It can be anything. It can have a mafia based storyline, or a fantasy based storyline, or a sci-fi based storyline, whatever it happens to be the story telling mechanics are the same. You are the main character who develops the story through your own actions in the video game.

There are other kinds of video games which do not have much of a story to them. You just blow stuff up. Or stack bricks together before times runs out. Whatever it happens to be. But those kinds of games also can be defended as a method of entertainment. Playing pool is a rather pointless game, but there is nothing wrong with that. You have fun doing that, so what is the problem? Playing tetris, for example, is the equivalent of virtual pool on a computer screen. Pointless, no story, but it can keep you entertained.

The last kinds of games are the massively mutliplayer games. Perhaps, you heard of World of Warcraft, or Modern Warfare, whatever they happen to be. Those are the games that are entirely played by humans through the internet. It is a world that consists of other humans players and you play among yourselves. Either you play in teams with a single objective, or individually - each one for himself, whatever it happens to be the game is set to be an interaction between people. It is just like basketball, except this game is not very physical.

There is also a challenge element to all video games, something all books lack. There is no challenge to read a story of a book, unless the book is incredibly boring that you need to force yourself to finish it. In video games there is a challenge to defeat the game. Games often come with different difficulty settings. Some harder some easier. So not only do you develop the story (if you are playing one of the story based games) but you need to challenge yourself to be able to beat the game in its entirety. Challenge is part of the appeal of video games to people. Some people go out of their way to play the most challenging games to see how well they can deal with them.

I sometimes get this feeling that the anti-video game people who call them silly and foolish have this 20 or 30 year old view of video games. These are the very same people who probably think that modern video games is some stupid graphic game with a man collecting mushrooms and jumping on heads of enemies. Do you realize how much video games have evolved ever since the days of Mario? It is quite spectacular to see how modern video games look.

Over five years ago I played "Elder Scroll's IV: Oblivion". I am not into RPG's but I had to get myself this game because I heard of its amazing reviews. When I finally got it and installed it on my computer I was amazed at the world of this game. The world is huge. I have no idea how large it is. I am just going to pick a number because I never measured, just saying how I felt. I would guess it felt like it was something as 4 square miles of exploring area. With unbelievable detail. You were able to look down on the ground and pick up a rock and then throw it. That is the amazing detail that this game had. After I played this game I was amazed at how people can develop such a huge game with so much detail. It felt like an artificial world. And this is over five years ago! Just imagine what games developed into today.

This is why it is not exaggeration to call video games as a form of art. Just consider the amount of work and time people had to put into it to construct such a complex world. As I said they develop their stories through your own character that you control, differently from books, but such games also have good stories too. This is not even mentioning the social part of video games, that you can connect with other people and play with them.

With all of these positive things to say about video games you would think there would not be people in the world who will be old style traditionalists and insist that we can only read books and cannot entertain ourselves with games because games are for losers.

Let us look at some of the complaints about video games and refute all every single one of them.

The first complaint is that video games are a waste of time. They are. I agree. But so is reading books. Why are books not a waste of time? You read some arbitrary made up story. You do not spend that time productively in creating something new. There is nothing wrong with wasting time. Wasting time is okay to do as a form of relaxation. Each one of us has to waste time at some point in our lives. And that is okay. Some people might prefer to waste their time playing video games other might prefer to do with books. But neither one is superior to another.

The second complain is that video games are for little children. I do not really even see why this is a complaint at all. Ever since when did little children invalidate an action? Little children also like to eat food does not invalidate the action of eating food? You can find little children who also like reading books, does that make reading books a childish pursuit? Besides why is the statement, "this is so childish" even a bad statement to make? For me saying, "this is so adultlike" is much more offensive than saying "it is childish". Because children at least have an imagination, and are free to explore it, unlike many adults who end up being trapped in a "mature" lifestyle with little imagination. I would rather be childish any time over being an adult. So I do not see how calling a video game childish is even an insult to video games. And it is not even true that adults do not play video games. There are a lot of adults who do. It is rather that adults have to spend their time in other ways, such as working or spending time with their family, so they do not have so much free time on themselves. But if adults did have this free time I am quite sure many of them would play with other people.

The third complaint is that video games make you uncultured. But this is just silly. If you read books from 300 years ago you are not exactly "cultured". How many people do you know of who read "Paradise Lost" by John Milton? How many people even know that there is such a poem? How many people know that there is also "Paradise Regained"? Not very many. If you read old books, which as I said, there is nothing wrong with, you are not up with the times. You cannot relate to the interests of the common man. But now let me ask you a question. Do you know what the Companion Cube is? Do you know who Gordon Freeman is? Do you know anything about Duke Nukem? If you do not play video games you will not know. Everything that I mentioned are quite popular characters in the video gaming world. The young generation does kinda know who these are. You might sometimes use references to stories and books in your discussions, well my gaming generation of people may at some point use references to stories and characters that they picked up from video games. Video games have also inspiration. Reading old books does not make you up with the times, it does not make you cultured as you would claim, but video gaming does more so.

The fourth complaint is that video games make you stupid. This can or cannot be true. It depends on the game. If you play "Sarah Palin: The Video Game", which is a first person shooter where you shoot for moose out of a helicopter, then I am pretty sure that makes you dumber. If you play "Barbie's Pink Adventure", we can also assume that game kills your brain cells. But most games, I should say the more popular and better made games, do require a certain level of thought to beat. Many games today have puzzles in them. Usually really easy puzzles that a standard gamer can figure out instantly without much thought, but they do require you to think. Some games make slightly harder puzzles. There are pure puzzle games that make hard puzzles that are designed for you to spend a lot of time on them. I would argue that the good games of the year that are released take more thought to beat than it does to read a novel. Games, again depending what you play, improve your problem solving skills. Books do not. They do improve your language skills and you pick up more words and expressions but they do not improve your problem solving skills. So this criticism is another weak criticism of games.

Finally, there is this criticism that video games make you violent. Look at me. I have been playing games ever since I was a little boy. I have played games were I have ripped off a head with a spine attached from my enemy. I have played games were I robbed a bank. I have played games were I had sex with a prostitute then killed her to rob her of the money I paid her. Despite all of this I am a perfectly normal person. There is nothing wrong with me at all. Everyone will agree with me when I will say that I am the most normal person you would ever meet in your life. I have no psychopathic tendencies whatsoever. So fuck off and die.

This is pretty much everything I wanted to say about video games. There are so many good reasons to support them and play them and hardly any good objections to why not to play them. But somehow there remain people in the world, usually the generation above the current young generation, that just hates them - though these people have no good reason for their dislike at all.

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