More Than Just a Game

“ Those who continue to dismiss games as merely escapist entertainment will find themselves at a major disadvantage in the years ahead, as more gamers start to harness this power for real good.” — Brian Reich

For many people games are a way to express their feelings, escape from the world around them and in some cases connect with those who reside on the opposite side of the world. 
In my case, gaming allows me to explore wonderful new worlds and landscapes that only costs a fraction of the price of a plane ticket.

Now I know that there are some out there who argue that the virtual world is nothing compared to the beauty that is mother nature, however in some circumstances I would beg to differ.

Video games give their players an opportunity to do more than just simply complete a course with the fastest time on a race track, instead they offer the chance to better understand our own feelings in a safe and welcoming environment.

Many of the games created toady are aimed to increase the players knowledge. This may not mean the ‘traditional’ sense of the word in which we use something to learn facts and figures, but instead games offer us the chance to learn new team building skills, help ease us with our pain, learn about our history, and yes even offers us the chance to improve out eye site. (No i’m not joking about the last one!)

A relatively new and upcoming example of team building skills is the wonderful world of eSports. This type of professional gaming offers people who are fans of MMO’s (Massive Multiplayer Online games) and others like it the chance to work together in teams to defeat groups from all around the world, just for a chance to claim that they are the best in the world/country or their specific region.

With an industry such as this being estimated at $60 billion dollars and being larger than the film industry, it’s hard not to consider this as a fully fledged sport regardless of the fact that for the most part, the competition it’s self takes place on a computer. With as much as $15 million dollars in prize money being offered in 2011, how could this not be considered as a proper sport?

FNATIC is one of the more well known eSports organisations that is sponsored by some of the big name companies such as Monster Energy that can also be seen sponsoring more ‘traditional’ sports such as motor cross. Coupled with the fact that this organisation alone has over 2 million followers on social media, it’s hard to dismiss this new style sport as nothing but a bunch of people playing games.

There have been examples of using games to get people to think about social issues such as politics. For most people, politics can be confusing and sometimes even boring (at least for me). But in making and using these types of games in a classroom setting, it causes its users to look at both viewpoints and in turn help them to learn without using this “old style” approach of a teacher speaking to students.

As you can see not all learning through games has to be set in a formal layout. For many games created today, the learning is not so much about books but the emotional journey that you set upon with specific characters.

When I think about the games I grew up playing, a lot of them were corny racing games such as Snowboard Kids, CTR (Crash Team Racing) and Diddy Kong Racing. But then I thought to myself surely there is more to why I loved these games then just competitiveness.

Then it hit me, Spyro!

Spyro was one of the first games I remember playing that I actually enjoyed purely for the love of the character. That fact that Spyro had been separated from his family was devastating news for a 7 year old girl, and for that reason I remember wanting to play this all the way through because I couldn’t bear the thought of him being alone.

Whilst it may not be the most visually engaging game of all time it was this real connection with the character that made me want to play it to the end, and why I will always have a soft spot in my heart for this little purple dragon.

Games such as The Last of Us teach its audience what it’s like to survive in a world that has all fallen to chaos and fear. However as you begin to play this game it becomes obvious that not only are you trying to survive under extreme circumstances, but the characters themselves are trying to deal with feelings of loss and abandonment in what is arguably the most visually stunning game of 2013.

It’s hard not to get emotionally invested into games such as these when the level of effort gone into these characters in terms of both looks and story line is truly amazing. In saying this, the characters development does not happen all at once, instead the audience gets to observe the gradual changes in the relationship between the two main characters; Joel and Ellie. (featured in the image above)

There is some debate as to weather all games have some form of important message or if they are simply created for pure enjoyment. Ken Lavine the creative director of Irrational Games (creator of games such as BioShock) believes that for a game to be successful, there has to be some sort of important underlying themes.

In the gaming industry we are also seeing a shift in the style of characters we see on screen, no longer are we given unsymmetrical characters whose eyes never move or whose clothes never seem to get dirty even though they spend endless amounts of time exploring through caves.

This new astonishingly real looking style of characters is thanks to a revolutionary style of animation called motion capture. In using this, gaming industries hire actors, fit them out in unusual suites covered in dots and get these actors to play out a scene, as if they were to do it for a TV show or feature length film.

In using motion capture instead of the “old school” animation style, companies are able to give their audiences a more realistic range of characters that are able to convey emotions and effect their audiences on a much deeper level. Don’t believe me?

Then take a look at this:

It’s obvious that we have come a long way in terms of the visualisation in games, however it is thanks to this new form of realism that audiences are able to engage with a character and feel more connected with the experience and hardships that these people seem to be going through on screen.

With more recent games such as Uncharted 4: A Theif’s End, some audience members may find themselves relating to the main character (Damien Drake) as he struggles with trying to come to terms with living an everyday, and in his mind boring life.

It’s this personal issue added with the discovery of his once thought to be deceased brother that makes this game entertaining, not just for the adventures that you find yourself going on but also feeling as though you’re a part of these intricate relationships that makes this so much more than just another video game.

In creating such amazingly beautiful and for the most part realistic looking games, audiences are able to become more submersed in this digital world and for the most part, find themselves discovering things that they didn’t necessarily know before. In some cases players may find themselves relating to the characters and worlds that they come across in a video game, more so than the world around them.

Instead of deeming all video games as useless sources of time wasting, perhaps we should be looking at all the facts and understand that for some people this is the only way that they are able to express themselves in an environment that welcomes all and judges none.

Whilst some people may believe that video games are just another way to escape the real world, there are endless supplies of evidence that suggest otherwise. No longer are we trapped in childish debates over whether violent video games instill violence in people, but instead we are using, sharing and creating games that let players improve team and problem solving skills and help them understand the world around us with no judgement or prejudice.