A Digital Attraction
By: Skyler Isaac
Upon its debut back in 1975, the Atari / Sears home Pong console sold 150,000 units. Last year alone the gaming industry brought in revenue totaling more than 90 billion dollars. Across the world, people spend over 3 billion hours a week immersed in their digital worlds. The popularity of video games has grown exponentially over the last four decades. They are especially popular among those in their mid-twenties to early thirties.
But what is it about them that people find so appealing?
Is it the ability to effortlessly escape from the tedious banalities of real life? Is it the fact that you can commit acts of bloody violence without threat of legal repercussions?
The answers to these questions, of course, vary from person to person. But for this article I’ve drawn from the experiences of myself and fellow gamer Robin Darnell.
So the question is posed: What is it about video games that YOU find so appealing?
“A few reasons,” says Darnell, “First, it holds appeal for the interactivity. There’s things you can do with the medium that you just can’t with books or movies, [in which] the audience is typically a passive observer. In video games, the audience also becomes a character in the game itself. Even if the character has no actual characterization beyond being a ping pong paddle, they play a more direct role in the experience. Because of this, you can tell stories in ways that other mediums can’t, by playing off the actions of the players themselves.”
All valid points, none of which I can disagree with.
Like many, my own reasons for loving games begins in childhood. It was the late 90s, and I was about seven years old when my aunt bought me my first game console, a Nintendo 64. For a while the only game I owned was NHL 99, which came packaged with the console. But after a while my mother bought me a copy of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the game that hooked me for life on the concept of interactive entertainment.
Ocarina of Time, with its head-scratching puzzles and dynamic combat, proved to me that gaming could be both challenging AND fun. Much unlike NHL 99 which saw me win the majority of matches by a score of 23-1. Not very challenging, and definitely not much fun.
But this enjoyment of gaming is not shared by all. When asked why she, and by extent her generation, is not a fan of modern gaming, local human female Ingrid Isaac had this to say:
“As a parent…I see how much time is wasted. And it’s supposed to be fun. I see how it puts you in a bad mood. It consumes your time and you spend all of your money on it. We used to go to the arcade. And you only had so many lives, and then your quarter was spent, and that was it. Then you went home. I’ve also seen a lack of self-control when playing at home, versus when we played at the arcade. I’ve seen [kids] stay up until all hours of the night to keep playing. We had thinking games like Tetris, which helped that part of the brain develop, you know. When we used to play games, it was a group thing. We all sat around, laughing. Now with the ability to play games at home, it isolates people.”
But does she have any actual experience with modern games? Are there any that she likes?
“I enjoyed two games, Skyrim and Alan Wake. Those two I liked. I liked the graphics, I liked the stories. And you were taught survival skills that could be applied to real life. I also liked the music in those ones, it almost seemed like you were making your own movie. And Minecraft was cool, I watched you build so many little communities. That was fun. There was an element of violence, but it was cartoony and silly. We also had fun games, like Bubble Bobble. Games seem to have become more violent and much more gory.”
As gamers, we all know that violence and gore are on display to show that developers are incorporating new aspects into the games they make. The strength of the technologies at their disposal are at an all time high. Also, violence and gore make sense in the context of most games, and offer an ever-demanding audience the visceral thrills that they so crave. But it makes sense that an older audience wouldn’t necessarily see it that way. That being said, does Ingrid think that excessive amounts of carnage and bloodshed detract from the happier aspects of gaming?
“Yeah,” she responds, “From watching all you kids play, I’ve heard all of you yelling, screaming and swearing. That doesn’t sounds like fun.”
So, are the halcyon days of her childhood spent in the arcade now gone forever, hidden beneath layer upon layer of grotesque viscera? Has gaming evolved to the point that it can only be appreciated by younger generations, but not the older?
“That’s just a product of changing times,” says Robin Darnell, “There are news articles from the 1900s complaining that everyone is staring at their magazines nowadays, and that it heralds the end of face-to-face interaction and wholesome conversation.”
Does this mean that future youths will have forms of gaming and interactive entertainment that our generation just won’t be able to comprehend?
“It is literally already happening,” states Darnell, “Kids these days with their wiimotes and their Kinects. Everyone’s too good to just push buttons anymore.”
Are there any other types of games that Darnell dislikes? Any other examples of something new that people our age just don’t understand? What about these Virtual Reality headsets that have gained a bit of popularity in the last year or so?
“The examples I gave before were perhaps not the best. More passing fads than the “new wave” of gaming. Virtual Reality, though, could legitimately become something.
But right now I feel that it’s pretty underdeveloped. And it was already underdeveloped when my dad was working on VR headsets in the mid 90s.
“In terms of mechanics, I don’t like it when games wrest control from the player in order to show you some cutscene. Games shouldn’t try so hard to be movies. This is because the two mediums are different and need to be handled differently. Also, there seem to be a lot of overly-politicized games of late, with developers desperately trying to be “inclusive” and “progressive” in order to appeal to some demographic or another. It’s like product placement for ideologies, and every bit as jarring.”
As a filmmaker, I don’t necessarily share these views. One such cutscene from a game called Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway comes to mind. The scene is several minutes long and is done in one long take, complete with high-caliber voice acting and cinematography.
However, I can agree that Virtual Reality has a long ways to go before it can be truly great. At the moment, the biggest blockade standing in the way of its success is the massive price tag. Playstation VR sets cost over six-hundred Canadian dollars, and Steam’s Vive setup costs over a thousand and requires almost an entire room’s worth of dedicated space in order to operate properly. Not to mention the fact that users often complain of headaches caused by the headsets, and the lack of quality titles. Add all these up and it’s clear to see that the current state of Virtual Reality leaves much to be desired.
But back to the present. It turns out that older generations aren’t the only ones who possess a lack of appreciation for gaming. According to Reddit user joeydball:
“I feel like there’s a huge learning curve. Most of my friends my age grew up playing whatever the newest system or game was, and I never had any of them. I feel like it’s a type of literacy, to know how to use a controller like it’s second nature, and I’ve never been able to learn it. I can play Mario Kart and [casual] stuff like that and it’s fun for a while, but if I try to play a “real” game, I just stumble around and don’t know what I’m doing. Which kind of sucks because there’s a lot of modern games out there that look beautiful.”
This statement fills me with a significant amount of gratefulness. I spent my childhood lamenting the fact that I had only a handful of Nintendo 64 games, but if my aunt had never purchased that console for me, then I could have easily grown up with no knowledge, skill or understanding of video games.
This is especially important because for me, games go beyond simple escapism and entertainment. Collecting older games for consoles like the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis makes me genuinely happy. While admiring my collection, or remembering how I acquired a copy of Super Bomberman for only 10 dollars, helps combat my depression. Not to mention the overwhelming amount of negative thoughts brought on by obsessive compulsive disorder.
Whether they’re used as therapy or fun, video games hold a special place both in society and people’s hearts. For all the arguments which exist against games, there are just as many in their favor, just a handful of which you’ve read about in this article. Like anything, there will always be detractors, naysayers and plain old dickheads. But they’ll have to do a whole hell of a lot more than cross their arms and frown if they want to get us to give up our games.