Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Videogames and Me

Lots of people like to give games a bad rep. They're blamed for mass shootings, knife crime, animal cruelty and even turning someone into a sex addict. Despite the fact that no one has ever been able to identify a definitive causal relationship between games and violent behaviour, the stereotype continues. Combine this with the general representation of games and gamers to be less than positive and you can imagine how frustrating it gets to be a gamer after a while. It was refreshing to see a TV programme on Channel 4 this weekend called "Video Games Changed the World", which went through 25 of the key games through history, along with profiling issues and topics they and other games have raised through the years. So rare is a positive portrayal of games and gamers I could even ignore Charlie Brooker's more annoying moments. I don't think my hobby gets enough positivity around it, and you hardly ever hear about how games help people, or the good they can do. So here's my attempt to rectify that balance a little with a personal story of how games have helped me and continue to help me on a daily basis.

I was a shy kid. I didn't like talking to anyone I didn't already know (which kind of puts a big old catch-22 in the way of getting to know anyone at all) and I hated speaking up in class. I was the quiet kid, the one who got on with the work and tried as much as possible to stay out of the path of the bullies (aka the "cool kids"). I hated school, especially high school, and more often than not felt like a complete outsider, even at times among my small group of friends. But what I did have were games; some of the best times I had as a kid was playing Sonic The Hedgehog on my GameGear, Super Mario Bros. II on my NES or Earthworm Jim on my Megadrive. I had a friend who was a lot like me and used to come over a lot and we would play games together. Sometimes that was just one of us watching while the other played something in single player, other times it was beating each other up in Star Wars Masters of Teras Kasi. It was an awful game but utterly hilarious when we played it together.

Games definitely helped me get through the difficult teen years. Books and films had their part but unlike games they're passive activities. I was a very passive person at that time. Games forced me to be active and reactive, without being nervous of the consequences. Playing Final Fantasy VII for the first time was a revelation, immersing myself in the world of Mass Effect or discovering the Curse of Monkey Island; these are indelible memories to me, as real as someone else recalling their time in a foreign land or their first year in University away from home. Some reading this may think that sounds kind of sad; anyone who has experienced games in this way knows it isn't. Games opened up a world of possibilities to me and allowed me to be the hero in a way no other medium ever could. When you feel like the sticky stuff on the bottom of someones shoes most days, this kind of empowerment can be life saving.

In the present day games have become one of many hobbies I try to fit in when I can. Sadly it was the one that had to be pushed aside a tad to make way for writing and drawing. However lately I haven't been in a good place; the dark and dusty recesses of my mind are definitely in a need of a clean. I find I have no interest in doing anything. I don't want to write. I don't want to draw. I don't even really want to get out of bed in the mornings and would much rather wrap myself in the duvet and pretend the world doesn't exist. This started a couple of months ago and was not helped by me catching a lurgy that has been chewing on my lungs for over four weeks now (drugs are being taken so it should soon be vanquished). I hate not doing anything but every time I'd consider starting something I'd just think "what's the point" before slumping into a mound on the couch. Then, in one unclouded moment, I started playing Assassin's Creed II. And a little light was struck in the gloom. No matter how down I've been feeling I always seem to want to play it. This may not seem like a big deal but trust me; when the idea of even brushing your teeth seems like so much effort, and pointless to boot, it's a huge thing to discover something you want to do. So I've been running with it and definitely feel like I'm not entirely under that funk anymore.

Games can certainly have a negative affect on some, normally on those who play too much at the expense of a job, school or a social life. But overall they're a great pastime; always challenging, sometimes rewarding and loads of fun. I don't know where I'd be without them.

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