Wednesday, August 09, 2017

The Attraction of Video Games

What makes video games so appealing?

Before you click away from this blog post, take a moment and think about why you play video games. Is it for the action? The adventure? Being involved in a different reality? Do you like the fantasy element of games? Do you enjoy the mental break from you day? Or is it the mental stress from puzzles and platformers that keeps you going?

For a seemingly simple question, there are a multitude of reasons on why video games appeal to us. I don't always get personal on this blog, but today I want to take a break from reality and talk about what appeals to me about video games.

I fully admit that I'm a TV and movie junkie. I have 3 degrees in film. I also love to read - novels and short stories, and prefer fiction and sci-fi over autobiographies. Movies like 'Star Wars,' 'Indiana Jones,' and 'Blade Runner' drew me in. Not because of Harrison Ford. I didn't like Han Solo much when I was growing up (I can hear the anguished screams of fangirls). But seeing such fantastical stories told on film - I was hooked from the start.

For me, video games were a natural progression of my curiosity with storytelling. The joke in the family is that my brother and I popped out of the womb with a controller in our hands. We've always had a console in our home, starting with the Atari 2600. We were born in the mid-80's and we grew up in the 90's, when everyone was figuring out how to incorporate technology into our homes. Our Atari was used mostly for Pong and Pitfall. Entertainment was the initial goal with video games, much like film and television were. The Nintendo Entertainment System was our first glimpse at games with stories. They were simple stories, like saving a princess held in a castle...somewhere. But they were stories that took on their own life beyond what a movie could offer. Instead of being a passive viewer, you were now an active participant.

Final Fantasy IV is what hooked me for life. The pixeliated characters taught me more about life, friendship, sadness, anger, hate, sorrow, trust, and redemption then anything I learned in my decades of schooling. It was a game that had everything I wanted in a movie or book, but so much more. Because I could be a part of it all. Yes the story was scripted, but I was more invested in the activities of Cecil and his cohorts then I was of Luke, Han, and Leia because I could direct the characters innate actions.

The ability to control the game, as much (Mass Effect) or as little (Super Mario Bros.) as the content allows, is what makes video games appealing to me. That level of immersion is something film has been trying to capture for the past decade as game sales continue to dominate the industry. The fact is, film will never be a video game. It just won't work - not until a movie is able to break it's 4th wall and have people control the story. Those experiments are not something that I see moving past short art-house films or temporary exhibition pieces. Mostly due to the nature of film, but the disconnect between film and the audience is much shorter compared to a game. With a game, we know it's digital. We know it's not real. Even with the most human of actions, we are still able to separate reality and fantasy. Film and television are different. Outside of animation, when one uses living people to portray characters, it takes on a new level of realism. We connect to actors because they are human. We understand their needs because we too are human. They have to eat, sleep, use the bathroom, go to work, etc. With a video game, characters can ignore all laws of logic and physics to do things. Even in a crazy action movie like 'Atomic Blonde,' where the impossible seems feasible, there is a grounding of reality by having human actors. This is why movies can't be games - we are unable to break away from the reality of the actors. Controlling a bandicoot to jump and spin doesn't hold the same weight as telling a soldier in a movie which bunker to explore. The bandicoot is a bandicoot. You have 99 lives and can try again if you fail. The soldier has 1 chance to make the "right" decision, and most of us would not be able to face the reality of the situation if s/he failed because of us.

So there you go. Those are my reasons for video games being appealing to me. I enjoy the fantasy; the ability to be swept away into another realm and ignore this one for a few hours. But I'm also fascinated at how the stories are told. How we can take those plot points and make them our own with a level of immersion that can't be beat.

How about you? What about video games appeals to you?

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