Games are rubbish.
Hey, I just said a controversial thing! Go me!
They are, though. Just look at them. Look at them, with all their explosions and badly written scripts. Look at them, imbued with that absolutely inane forgetability. Oh, they’re fun. Sometimes they’re more than that. Sometimes a game sweeps you up and doesn’t let you go for the five, ten, twenty, fifty or hundred hours it lasts. Sometimes it’s bordering on beautiful.
But ask yourself this: has a game ever changed your life?
Replace “game” with the word “song” and A) it becomes Phonogram’s slogan and B) starts to make much more sense. You could replace it with “film” and the same would happen. But has a game ever changed your life? And if so, are you sure it was the game, and not just you?
Fellow One-A-Dayer Dan Lipscombe is currently beavering away on a big megafeature for Resolution. The theme: a continuation of his fabulous “Why We Play Games” series last year, bouncing off one idea specifically – the notion of escapism. And the question he’s asking to a variety of games journo folk is: when did you turn to a videogame to help you through a difficult time in your life?
It’s a great question to ask. I was well up for contributing. And then I sat down in front of a Google doc, fingers poised over the keyboard, and though… well, it’s never happened. Of course it hasn’t happened. Not that it shouldn’t happen, and I’m delighted that so many people have found solace in computerised entertainment. That’s great. But I’m still left thinking back to various points in my life and thinking… well, no, I kind of avoid games at those times. I don’t think I could turn to a game in those times. I’m a difficult bugger to distract.
That’s the thing, though. I can’t help but feel like Dan, and his crew of exquisite word-writers, are talking about distraction. And I don’t deal well with distraction. I worry about the fact I’m being distracted when there are Important Things going on. And what I actually need in those times is something that won’t just keep my mind occupied until I’m sufficiently prepared to deal with a given situation, which is what I suspect is the situation for most people who turn to games in this way, but something that will actually change my life in a meaningful way.
Like, y’know, music and that.
I have about 1500 words of complete bollocks scrawled on the magic of music, which I’m saving for a day when I absolutely cannot bring myself to write anything on here. You should absolutely fear that day. But a great song can embody so much that gaming just cannot – or has not to this date, at least. It can embody hope, or longing, or creativity, or destruction. This combination of sound waves travelling through the air and into our ears can not just affect our emotions, not just make us feel happier or less happy than we were before, but inspire actual change. I absolutely long for a game to do that.
Have there been any that have come close? I struggle to think of any, really. Passage is poignant, but it doesn’t really say anything beyond “you live, you might get married, that’ll change things, you’ll definitely die.” Machinarium dragged me around a whole series of emotions, but I came away from it thinking “hey, that was an exceptional game,” rather than “hey, I should be more exceptional.” Many games have got me thinking about stuff. Many games have made me feel stuff. But no game has completely thrust itself upon my psyche and forced me into something in the way that music so often does, and that the occasional film has too.
I tend to think it’s foolish to pretend that games aren’t a hell of a long way behind the other contemporary forms of art and entertainment. That isn’t to say we’ll never get there. And, conversely, it also isn’t to say that games necessarily should catch up. For many people, games are games. They are that idle distraction. That’s often just what you need.
But when you listen to a great piece of pop music and find myself literally unable to not dance… when Don’t Stop Believin’ comes on in that awful club and you find yourself thinking that, because you were there to hear it at that moment, it’s going to be a good year… when the astonishing chaos of The Libertines gives you something to belong to and believe in, however naive that belief was always destined to seem in the future… whenever that song broke your heart, or made your dreams come true… that’s quite the thing.
Deus Ex is my favourite game of all time. It didn’t mean anything.
I want a game to mean something to me. I want a game to change my life.
(In the meantime, please continue to give me money to write about your horrible, rubbish passtime. Kthx.)