“Where have you been all day? Playing games in your room?” My mother would interrogate as she craned her neck in my direction. There I’d be, trapped in the doorway on the way to the kitchen in order to get a quick fix before resuming whatever mission I was on.
“Yeah, just playing GTA.” I was transfixed on the floor, knowing what would come next. It always did.
“Sitting indoors all day isn’t healthy for you; you’ll get square eyes if you’re not careful!” She then would produce a light snarky chuckle, before returning her gaze to her very own 70cm hypnotic box. A slow rage built up within me, because I saw this exact same scenario three times today, when I checked in to the rest of the house. She hadn’t moved.
“Oh, and I suppose watching TV all day is no different.” I remarked as I slipped out of sight.
“Shhh, honey, the ads are over and The Bold and the Beautiful is on.”
And there it was; the double standard. Something that countless kids had to deal with growing up. So why is it that it’s such a taboo thing to be seen as playing games? Or, more specifically, to be spending so much time on them, when it is usually a mere fraction of the time some spend in front of the TV? Video games are viewed to be much unhealthier than any other form of media.
So… why is that?
First of all, compared to movies, television (and books, I suppose), video gaming is the youngest form of entertainment. When it first became popular, it mainly existed in Arcades, which gave people a place to go, a place to congregate and get out of the house. It was what a lot of the parents at the time were after; somehow, doing something, their kids had gotten out of the house. They were most likely relieved. My son/daughter is out playing with friends like a normal child.
The mentality towards video games changed when they began to gradually invade their homes. The Atari, the Sega, and the NES. They had humble beginnings, and catered towards casual gaming with friends at the time. They were accepted by parents as well, because due to the allure of bringing a friend over to play together, it was still seen as socialising. In terms of myself, I missed this generation of consoles. Our first console was the Playstation.
And boy, did that get a flogging. I still have vivid memories of playing Hogs of War or Army Men: Air Attack with my little brother on a tiny portable TV, or setting it up on the main TV when my parents weren’t around to get those precious Platinum Relics in Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped. These were some of the happiest days of my life. It taught me several key lessons, such as teamwork, sharing, and staying with something until it is completed (I was a bit of a completionist until one fateful day, but that’s for another time).
To get back on track: why did I spend so much time, and not regret any minute of, playing video games?
Because now I realise there are two incredibly immersive forms of solo entertainment at opposite ends of the spectrum; books and video games.
Reading books, fiction in particular, allows you to imagine your own vivid world, based on the plot that is provided to you. Yes, most often the details are there, but you get to fill in all the blanks, possibly subconsciously based on what you’ve witnessed in your own time. Emery slumped into his chair, barely making out the hands of the clock on the far wall in the evening light. You picture this scene in your own mind and flesh out the details. It could be a small mounted cuckoo clock, it could be a modern flat clock with no numbers. Similarly, which room is he in? Did he slump into a recliner, or into a dining chair, elbow resting upon the kitchen table? It’s upto you to fill in the blanks. It stimulates the brain.
On the other side of the coin, you have video games. The details, the scene, the situation; they have all been painstakingly created by the developers. How it all plays out, however, is ultimately up to you. The more recent successful games of late have left the “on the rails” type of gameplay which pushes you into the only one direction that is available to you. This has been replaced by freedom and choice. If you want to check out the scenery for a while, or go explore another area, you can. Video game series like The Elder Scrolls and Grand Theft Auto let you roam free to be who you want to be. The incredible Minecraft has hooked such a large audience, comprising of all ages for a reason; pure and unrestricted creativity. You can do whatever you want. The scene is set, all the details are there. It’s up to you to choose how it plays out. It stimulates the brain for creativity.
Both mediums hinge on the concept of immersion. It is you in the box seat. You have complete control of the situation. You create a unique experience that is yours alone. And that is the beauty of it.
There are many incredible movies and television shows out there (and a lot of rubbish ones… I’m looking at you, Tommy Wiseau), however I believe they lack the one critical thing that books and video games possess, and that is immersion. You are looking at someone else’s life, following a character or plot that has been scripted for a large audience. You have no input. Yes, sometimes the writers listen to the audience and shift away from certain themes. But they don’t listen to you as an individual. They can’t. Imagine a world in which there are millions of slightly different versions of Breaking Bad, just because each viewer had their own opinion of what dialogue should have played out.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been hooked by a lot of movies (The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Kick-Ass…) and television shows (Lost, Fringe, Game of Thrones) for their exceptional writing and direction. But I view it as something comfortable to slip into when I’m feeling particularly lazy, or don’t feel like putting in that imaginative effort.
I guess what I’d say to naysayers of video games (yes you, mother), is that I am putting in more effort to get a richer experience out of the time spent. I’m being more proactive than you are, watching the 17th Season of CSI: Random US City. So don’t give me that look when I say I spent the afternoon in Tamriel, or Los Santos.
Especially when video games are getting closer and closer to being viewed as another artform.