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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Video Games.

Let's talk about video games.

So if you've followed me thus far and have wondered if I plunged off the deep end never to be seen again, rest assured, my hiatus is over.

I'm planning on saving this topic for another post, but I've been grappling with some pretty monstrous insecurity and trying my best to summon the will to write. This was for both my blog and my book. It also didn't hurt that Steam had an enormous sale, and I managed to finally get around to getting Fallout 4 and the DLC for like, $25, and then I got the Witcher III for like $10, so you can guess what I've been up to all this time.

If I'm going to be honest here, and I intend to as you are all unwittingly my therapist (I apologize for being a walk-in and not setting an appointment), I feel completely and utterly unqualified to write, which is ironic after my Ivory Tower post. I did have a blast with these games, but let's be honest, I've been mostly playing them to keep myself distracted from my writing.

It's at times like this that I try to find a compromise, if nothing else. Since I couldn't work up the courage to write anything that I normally would, and I've been more engaged with games since I got a new gaming computer, I decided that I could channel my excitement for games into a blog post and ride that momentum onward unto the literary sunset.

So let's talk about games.

First I'd like to say that you should do as I say, not as I do. Let my hypocrisy be an example to you, dear reader.

Should you try this whole gaming thing, don't take it too far and stay up past midnight playing "just one more level" like I do. It's a lie. There is no such thing as just one more game or just one more round. That's a sugar-coated Trojan horse fed to us by Satan to make us sleep deprived, which is a part of his bigger plot against us to make us lethargic at work and school, so that by extension, we struggle to focus and turn to video games for immediate comfort instead of writing, which creates a vicious cycle of self-loathing and repetitive bad behavior.

Was that too specific? We'll pretend I never said that.

Right off the bat, I'd say that video games have tremendous benefits, so long as you play in moderation. Medically and socially, studies have found that playing video games for at least 20 minutes a day increases brain activity throughout the remainder of that day, as well as improves your eye-hand coordination, and can lower sensitivity to pain and illness as well as increases your learning ability.

So what's going on here? How does any of this happen?

I'll be using Fallout 4 and shooter games like Call of Duty / Battlefield as an example, but you could substitute any number of games and it would still be valid.

Let's start with shooters.

When playing an action game, your brain is being bombarded with information. Your fingers, eyes and brain become linked, and you're assessing thousands of different things every second. You're seeing the color, the shapes, hearing the noises- and in addition there's what's happening in the game.

The human body has more than 5 senses- in fact it's closer to about 20. One of our 20+ bodily senses is spacial awareness without contact; this means that if you move your hand somewhere in the air, your brain can tell its exact juxtaposition without you having to reach out and touch it with your other hand.

Your brain just knows where it is in space.

Well, when you play video games, after a little while, you start to substitute your own bodily spacial awareness for that of the game, and this spacial awareness puts your mind under tremendous strain as it works to keep track of every single thing's* location in relation to your own.

*By "things" I mean other players, walls, grenades, gun fire, cover, objectives, etc.


 And with some games it can get really crazy. Let's take a look at PlanetSide 2.

In PlanetSide 2, it's not just 5 v 5, 10 v 10 or even 20 v 20- rather the map is an enormous 64 square kilometers and can have anywhere between a few hundred and 2,000 players on it, all fighting each other.

It's not a free-for-all, rather it's three coordinated factions duking it out for control of that individual continent. They have everything from tanks to bombers to fighter jets and foot soldiers at their disposal, and to make things even more complicated, friendly fire is on. For all my non-gamers out there, friendly fire is the ability for someone to injure or kill someone who is on their own team. In 99% of games, friendly fire is off by default, but in this game it's on, so not only do you have the regular spacial awareness that you would have in any other shooter like Call of Duty, but now you have to know the exact location of your team mates too so that you don't blow them to bits by accident. And of course if you keep harming your own team mates the game will punish you by jamming your guns and weapons for a little while, which is to prevent griefing*.

*Griefing is the act of intentionally harassing or undermining your own team to be a nuisance.

 I'd encourage you to watch a few cinematics of various games to get an idea of what I'm talking about. Here's a good one for PlanetSide 2 that I absolutely love because it shows how much artistic talent and dedicated work went into the world's design, as well as how chaotic the game is when once you're in the fray.

I'd like to mention that I'm a seasoned gaming veteran myself- games have been one of few constants in my life since I was old enough to pick up a controller. I started playing on my parents' old Nintendo Entertainment System or "NES Classic," which premiered way back in 1985 and somehow made its way into my little hands around 2004. The only games we had were Super Mario Bros 3 (1988) and Joust (1982, then adapted to NES in 1985).

I started PlanetSide 2 around 15, and despite 10 years of daily gaming, it was hard as shit. Even after playing lots of shooters, I was not mentally prepared for hundreds of guns going off in every direction, missiles bombarding the ground from the sky, snipers taking you out every 5 seconds from a mile away or the constant friendly fire. There's such an overwhelming amount of information to process. It was only after three months of getting nowhere and sucking at the game that I started to develop enough spacial awareness to play the game enjoyably (and by enjoyably I mean that I can last at least a minute, instead of 5 seconds. And I better not catch you making any ejaculation jokes after reading that last sentence. I mean it, not a peep!).

Just how much does this translate to brain development? Quite a lot. Playing action-heavy games is like a stress test for your mind. How much information can you process at any given second? If you aren't a gamer, jump into a shooter and find out. You'll immediately feel awkward trying to navigate the controls, but after a while you'll start to gain basic motor functions and the connection between your eyes, hands and brain will develop, and then you can worry about not dying.

Now, it's not just shooter games- I only used them as an example of how games can be stress tests for the brain.

Relaxing games like Minecraft can inspire the imagination and really develop a sense of creativity. In games like Minecraft where you collect resources from the environment and generate your own creations, you're pushing yourself to see what you can make with what you've been given. And anyone who's played Minecraft likely knows about the menagerie of massive artistic creations the game has yielded over the years.

To the casual player it might not seem like there's a whole lot to do in Minecraft, but the most dedicated of designers and imaginative players have spent months on in-game projects, which they take seriously, to create massive and beautiful structures. Players have created everything from Hogwarts to the entire city of London.

Seriously. A quick YouTube search will show you millions of videos of massive, stunningly beautiful creations created by both individual players as well as collective efforts of actual teams.

Minecraft Space Shuttle designed by u/crpeh
While the pictures use a lighting mod or "texture pack" to make the screenshot look prettier, the creations themselves are just blocks.

Now let's take an RPG like any one of the Elder Scroll, Fallout, or Witcher games.

I'll use Fallout 4* as an example since that's what I've been playing lately.

This is not a real-life photo. This is Minecraft.

*A lot of gamers hate Fo4 because the RPG elements are weaker than the previous games in the Fallout franchise, like Fallout: New Vegas, but it's still a good game so I don't care.

Fallout 4, as well as the previous games in the series, takes place in a post-nuclear wasteland where you scavenge for resources and try to survive everything from mutated giants to radioactive ghouls and thieving raiders.

But there's another interesting function to this game that's worth mentioning.

Unique only to the latest game at the time of writing, there's something called "Survival Mode" where everything becomes much more realistic. Normally, like in any other game, you can carry 20+ guns and weapons in your inventory, as well as a seemingly infinite amount of money and ammunition.

Not in Survival Mode.

In Survival Mode, your ammo has weight, your character has to eat food and drink a certain amount of water, and there's no autosave.

Normally in Fallout, as with any other RPG, you can run around with 20+ guns and infinite ammo, killing anything in sight and not having to worry about sleep or food, those things are just temporary benefits in the form of a stat or XP boost.
Fallout 4 takes place in Boston.


But in this game mode, if a ghoul bites you and you get sick, you have to sleep and take medications or else you'll become infected; you have to sleep at least a few hours every night or your damage resistance will go down and you'll be weak, unable to carry a lot of supplies. Should you become hungry and not eat anything, your character will gradually become weaker and weaker as they starve, and prolonging food for too long will lead to death.
Same goes with water.

The quality of the food and supplies matters as well.

Eating something like a steak will restore much more hunger than, say, a potato you ripped out of a radioactive waste dump.  If worst comes to worst you can always gamble a bite of mutated flesh from a ghoul, or resort to cannibalism, but both options have both negative health effects as well as social effects as a lot of characters in the game will attack you on sight if they see you committing acts of cannibalism, or at the very least they might decide they don't like you and refuse to sell you that food or medicine you desperately need should you fall out of affiliation with them. And if you find a bed, only good beds will work effectively. Your character will only get 2-3 hours of sleep in a random sleeping bag you find out in the wasteland, whereas you can get a full 8 hours of sleep in the comfort of your own shelter.

So while you're getting into gunfights, fighting with those raiders and mutants to the death over who gets the last expired box of Dandy Boy Apples, you're also thinking about how much water you've been drinking, how much ammo you can carry, when you need to find a place to sleep, and every other factor that goes into this type of gameplay.


This makes things much, much more complicated. Like in PlanetSide 2, despite having played the Fallout games since 2009, I was utterly wrecked by Fallout 4 Survival Mode. I was not prepared whatsoever for the amount of planning that was involved.

Normally, even if you die, it doesn't matter, you just respawn where you were 2 minutes ago. But since there's no autosave, and the game only saves progress when you go to sleep, dying means you have the start the entire day over. That could mean that hours of careful planning and scavenging for resources could be undone by a single stray bullet. And the amount of planning is massive- it's like the devs sat down and asked themselves, "How can we make the player feel like they're planning a wedding?"

Since you can't carry around 20 guns and infinite ammo, you want to carefully scout each location with a sniper rifle scope, return to your shelter, get some sleep, and upon daytime you have to carefully assess what enemies you're fighting, what guns and weapons they'll be using, which entrance to sneak into, and which gun and supplies to take, since you can only carry one or two weapons and enough ammo for that one gun or two, and maybe a few small food items for the trip.

Dedicated players who opt for Survival Mode can also turn off fast travel*, meaning they have to walk everywhere. Since the map is 9.5 square miles, that means a trip from one side to the other is a dangerous trek through 3 miles of mutants, radioactive waste dumps, wild beasts, and psychopaths who want to kill you.

*That is, the ability to teleport to any location you've visited before.

To call it intense would be an understatement. Everything from radiation to mutated molerats will try to kill you and make you their dinner, so you have to take every little factor into consideration.

Not to mention, unlike the regular game mode, you can't soak up a hundred bullets and be fine. A couple gunshots to the chest or a single bullet to the head is enough to die. This makes going up against a gang of 20+ armed raiders seem... a little daunting.

But I didn't just come here to talk about the scientific benefits of video games, or about how RPGs require critically thinking skills.

The truth is that what most non-gamers don't understand is the delight and ecstasy of exploring a new world, conquering that wasteland or fantasy land, discovering new places and new ideas.

PlanetSide 2 has a gigantic world where three armies are at constant war, and the results are spectacular and beautiful.

  
Guild Wars 2 has you exploring the gorgeous world of Tyria, saving villages and tracking down dragons and runaway deities to kill.


Fallout 4 has you exploring the ruins of Boston, scavenging for ammunition and stimpaks while searching for your missing son Shaun and simultaneously trying to not get killed by whatever the fuck this is.


You watched those videos right? If not, then what are you waiting for? The rest of this post kinda hinges on the assumption that you did, so go ahead and do it before you continue reading.

Go ahead, I'll wait. Please come back once you've finished.





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Okay so you're totally done right? You didn't just scroll down and skip past those vital links?

Don't lie to me. I can tell when you're lying.

So you done now?

Alright, you may proceed, but you're on thin ice.


 
 


One thing is evidently clear from the videos above.

The game worlds are intricate and remarkably creative and artistic, and everything from the story-driven narrative of some of these games to the game mechanics themselves all act as a catalyst for exploration, discovery, and skill development. They serve to teach us how to problem solve, how to make decisions, how to deal with disappointment (what a useful skill to have once you get slapped by adulthood) and how to have fun and enjoy the ride.

Video games are often used therapeutically as many people recommend playing them when recovering from traumatic events and going through depressive episodes. Participants tend to be happier, to recover faster, and to be distracted from whatever it was that was bothering them in the first place.

Video games aren't just beautiful visually. Composers like Jeremy Soule create some of the most remarkably beautiful soundtracks I've ever heard, and these were in games like Skyrim and Guild Wars.

If you want to hear some pretty epic shit, click here and here. I hope you brought your tissue box, because hearing Asja Kadric's marvelously accented voice is enough to make the manliest of manly men bawl their fucking eyes out.

Games are important because interactive media is the most liberating and creative way to experience something wild in the comfort of your own home. It's a chance to develop your problem-solving skills, memory, focus, and to have a blast while doing it. The day the academic elitists at universities acknowledge interactive media as Art™ is the day the growing gap between basement-dwelling nerds and normies* can begin to shrink, as it will expose the reason why video games are the most profitable form of media in 2019, making a whopping $138 billion by the end of the fiscal year.

*People who don't know anything about Internet culture; mostly journalists, parents and advertising companies.

To put that into perspective, the Music Industry made $16 billion globally in 2016.

At the same time, movies made $38 billion US dollars.

Yet, PC games made $34 billion, console games made $30 billion, and mobile games made $40 billion. Combined, they made over $100 billion in 2016, and that number is expected to rise up to 35% this year.

Avatar made $2.7 billion way back in 2009, but since then no movie has come close to video game releases.

The most profitable movie in the last five years was Rogue One, which made over $500 million at box offices, but the game GTA V made $800 million in a single day. GTA V made almost double what Rogue One made in only its first day, and you can bet those numbers stayed steady for at least the first week of its launch.

And GTA is only one example.

Fallout 4 clocked in at almost the same revenue at $750 million on release day, followed by Call of Duty: Black Ops II which made a solid $500 million release day.

Whether journalists like it or not, video games are the future of entertainment.

Hell, they're the present. This is what's happening in the now.

If you've never played, you're probably a little bit curious what you're missing, so I'd encourage you to try one. If you have access to a decent PC or a game console, pick up a controller and give some of the top games a try to see what it's like. Try playing from start to finish and see what you think. If you have friends or relatives who are gamers, you can ask them to show you the ropes and they probably will, because gamers eat that shit up.

Don't worry about being new. Most gaming communities love new members and are happy to show them around and help them learn how to play (just don't play Rust or Fortnite and you're good to go).

Age doesn't matter either. My 87-year-old friend Norm has been playing Minecraft since 2011. No one is too old to play video games.

In the meantime, I'll be putting my controller down, because I need to get to work.

As always,

may all your cups of tea be your cup of tea,

and I'll see you in the next post.

5 comments:

  1. I thought I'd briefly mention my secret alter ego for those who scrolled all the way down here. I may or may not play a certain VR game called Beat Saber where you slice blocks as they fly towards you, and I may or may not have reached a Godlike skill level. If enough people request it, I just might be willing to upload a video of some Beat Saber gameplay.

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    1. Thank you very much mystery person! Your words have spurred me and I will continue on.

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