My father once asked me what I liked about video games. I guess he was wondering what his normally bookish and mild-mannered daughter found appealing about peppering aliens with bullets. At the time, I was playing said video game (you guessed it; it was Halo), so my response was pretty brief.
“It’s fun,” I replied, while hopping around with a Plasma Pistol and avoiding a large Wraith (essentially an alien tank).
Base line, yeah, video games are fun. They’re some of the most diverting pieces of entertainment out there. I’ve never laughed so hard as when I was playing a video game with some friends and we were messing up horribly, like when I played Overcooked with my friend Nick and we set the entire kitchen on fire.
But, for me at least, video games can serve a whole other purpose aside from merely being “fun.”
People might say escapism is a bad thing, but I do not think that is always the case. Prolonged escapism is a bad thing, but little jaunts into another world can be downright therapeutic.
They can give you sparks of insight into your own life. Playing Gone Home made me realize how much I fear an empty house. Playing Dishonored multiple times made me realize that, despite receiving no judgment from anyone regarding foul misdeeds and little reward for being a “good” person, I still strive to do the right thing. Playing Mass Effect 2 made me realize that I am extremely ill-suited for trying to seduce a co-worker’s daughter in a crowded bar.
They can alter your perspective for the better. I learned so much about the potential failings of Ayn Rand’s dream society by playing Bioshock. I learned how meaningless choices derive meaning simply from the fact that they were made from Prey. I learned never to mess with anything remotely close to energy from Hell from Doom.
They can give you a breather from the stresses of life. I’ve gotten royally steamed at the world sometimes. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times a bout of Halo has helped me cool off.
But my favorite reason for liking video games is that they’re the ultimate form of story-telling.
As previous readers of this thing (still find it difficult to say blog) should know by now, I’m an avid reader and writer of fiction. I adore stories in their myriad shapes and forms. Movies, novels, and comic books all tell stories in their own unique ways, and I appreciate each of them.
But none of them can hold me the way a video game can.
A video game is an interactive story.
A lot of my favorite video games, in addition to providing me with engaging gameplay, tell imaginative stories, and I get to take part in them.
Every time I make a little dude jump from platform to platform, turn a corner in a first-person game, or decide how to upgrade my RPG protagonist, I am influencing the story, even if the influence is only slight. Video game stories are scripted, no matter how much they might try to mask it, but there is a deep level of connection to a video game’s story that occurs because you as the player are actively taking a part in it.
While playing Joel from The Last of Us, his grief at losing his daughter was that much more tangible to me as a player because I was there moving him along as he carried her in his arms, the two of them trying to escape the zombie-infested town. When Cortana sacrifices her life for the Master Chief at the end of Halo 4, I could feel it as keenly as the Chief, because she was helping me out during the game as much as she was helping out the Chief.
I’m not at a point yet where I can call a video game “art.” (Though Journey and Abzu have come really close to making me say that.) But I am not hesitant to say that video games can tell the best of stories. To anyone who loves to read a good book or watch a great movie, I beg you, give a video game a try.
Note: Make sure you pick one out that has narrative leanings. Games like Super Meat Boy, while fun as fuck, don’t go out of their way to give you fiction feels.
Also, I should mention that being so heavily invested and a part of a story can occasionally be an…extreme experience. Like when you’re playing the horror game Outlast and that crazy Doctor is chasing you through the halls of Mount Massive Asylum like a maniac after having sliced your fingers off and you have to run into vents and slide under beds and all that stuff in order to get away from him. That’s not really a convenient time to sympathize with your character because he’s feeling kind of terrified.
So go enjoy a nice, relaxing video game, huh? 🙂