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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.)


10 responses »

  1. A game has in fact changed my life, so much so that I changed the entire direction of my education.

    I originally wanted to become a police officer, but after playing Half-Life back when it came out and becoming captivated by the environments of the game, the interaction and believability of it all I decided that I wanted to not just work in the games industry but become a level designer (or Environmental Artist as it’s now called), decided to go to Art College, take the route into University and then study a game related course and I’m now the owner of a BA degree in Games Design.

    So yes, a game has in fact changed my life. Music and Movies, both of which I’m fans of, especially movies where I’m a massive movie nerd, both have impacts on my emotions at that moment in time and often bring back memories, but it’s gaming that has changed the entire direction my life has gone over the last 11 years.

    And you’re welcome to the £2 a month for Resolution, it’s a brilliant site and you and your staff do a cracking job, keep it up.

  2. Timing is everything on this. I think I’m too old for it to happen again, but when I was a teenager Planescape: Torment changed my life. The ideas and concepts it introduced me to at the time really resonated with me, and changed the way I looked at life substantially at the time, and really sent my imagination into overdrive.

  3. You’ve read This Gaming Life, yeah? It’s basically a series of studies of how games have changed people’s lives.


    • I still haven’t read the bloody thing. That paperback version took so long to turn up. It’s on my shopping list.

      Also: hey, that was a big, misinformative rant of mine! I’m not saying games can’t change people’s lives. I’m saying that no single game has changed mine, in even a small way, I don’t think. And I want them to. I should have probably phrased all of the above far better.

      EDIT: And obviously, games are brilliant. Pay no nevermind to my angry ways.

  4. “When did you turn to a videogame to help you through a difficult time in your life?” Hmm… kept me sane through four years fully bedridden and utterly isolated. Does that count?

    Where books can affect my thinking and music affect my mood, I’d say games have had as much capacity as films (though admittedly it’s occurred less often) to leave me slack-jawed in wonder. Unlike films, I’ve been prepared to play the same game on a near daily basis for five years and only just reached the “bored now” stage.

    I don’t think it’s possible to devote that much time to gaming and claim it hasn’t had at least some kind of effect on your life! Particularly true of my partner, I guess, who did a total career track jump to work in the industry.

  5. Lewis, I think the trouble here is that you’re too hung up trying to compare games to other mediums, which will never get you anywhere. They’re all entirely different forms of entertainment, and they’re meant to inspire entirely different reactions.

    You wouldn’t get up and dance to your favorite game, would you? I know that doesn’t make any sense and isn’t what you were trying to say, but if a game has yet to “change your life” the way movies and music already have, then you need to figure out what a game would need to do to fulfill that requirement, rather than holding them to the standards of other mediums. Knocking a game for not having the lasting value of music is like knocking a cupcake for not being a frog. They’re beyond comparison; judge games within the boundaries of what they’re supposed to accomplish.

  6. I feel for you. You obviously know my history and how games have helped me and it does give me a warm feeling inside when I think back to those moments.

    Hell, videogames saved my bloody life!

    P.S – Well done on announcing the coming feature 😉

  7. I agree with Lewis. Anyone who’s read my blog will know that I have mused on some of the very same things, although not as precisely as here. For me, games provide an escape, they are a welcome distraction. But I always have a nagging sensation that I should be doing something more constructive if I actually have real problems; furthermore, no one game has ever changed my life. Never. Just not happened. I find games curiously disengaging and detached, for the most part, even though there have been moments of wonder and brilliance and amazement and poignancy. Games are certainly fun; but fun isn’t going to change my outlook on life.

    Unlike Lewis, though, I don’t really feel like I’m missing out. I love games – I really, really love them – but if I want something that resonates, I’ll dig out a book, play an album, or watch a film.

    However, I know my views are not representative of lots of people, and I think it’s great that other people have been moved, touched, affected by games and gaming. Surely the most important thing is that something – whatever it is – works for us?

  8. A song has never changed my life.


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