by Nathan Lee
Call of Duty, Skyrim, Saints Row? These are the cinematic games of today. They are sleek, visually awesome, and they are fun. I love seeing technological advances and the science behind it. Today video games utilize colors our eyes can’t even see. At nearly 40, I have seen video games go from being simple blips on the screen to what we have now. I can’t tell you how many times I got off work to wipe out entire armies of warriors on my Ps3 or Xbox 360. Hearing the enemies cries of pain off set the fact that I was quite powerless in the real world. Naming a particularly nasty boss enemy after my own supervisor and aptly smashing him in the face brought me continuous joy. What can I say, it can be a healthy anger management tool sometimes.
However there is something missing in today’s video games.
As visually stunning as they are, they lack something the Golden Era of gaming had. What is the Golden Era, you ask? The Golden era was a time when games were making a leap from 8 bit to 16 bit. Nintendo was king and Mario and Sonic were the big boys on the block. They are still major bad asses today. When you consider the fact that they are senior citizens in the video game world and that they are still around, it is hard to deny the effect they have had on generations of gamers. I think in a lot of ways show us what the word “classic” means.
As much as I like the new games of today, I must admit, I keep returning to the simple run from left to right games I grew up on. Back in the days I was screaming for graphics that look like they do now. Well I got my fill of super graphics, movie like scores, a million on screen colors, and a gagillion bits of power. Now I want my 8/16 bits back.
I think what I am missing is the ability to use my imagination.
Graphics were not as thrilling in the good ole days and thus I was forced to use my imagination. Perhaps it’s the artist in me and a bit of nostalgia combined that shape my opinion. Because I’m the same way about books too. I understand the ease of downloading an entire book onto a Kindle supported platform, but there is nothing like the smell of a new book or the anticipation of it coming in the mail. I like the sound of pages turning and I liked wondering what was going to happen the moment my eyes hit the first words after the page flip. I use video games as a lead off for the heart of what I am really talking about which is a perceptible loss of imagination in our society. Things are handed to us on a silver plater when it comes to technology and media. It’s instant gratification. We no longer have to use our minds like we once did. Playing video games is like playing the reality we want to escape sometimes. And that escapist element is the very reason I played them to begin with. I need to mention how heartwarming it is to see my daughter snub a PS3 for a tiny little 8 bit system called the PC Engine. A bit of history, the PC Engine was an 8/16 bit system that came to the states from Japan and was renamed Turbografx. It was a horrible mess and a shell of its glorious Japanese counterpart. It came out in 1988 and my daughter still prefers it to the polygon pushing monsters of today.
Why? Well lil’ Miss Livy is three and learning to use her imagination. She is learning to process the world in her own way. I wonder if certain things in newer consoles look too real to her or may be she picks up some uncanny valley, which is the weird way something almost looks 100 percent human, but is off by enough of a statistical percentage that’s often perceived as a little disturbing to most viewers. Perhaps Livy likes the simple colors and point A to B gameplay. Perhaps she is just like her old man….
Now before parenting professionals start judging, you know who you are, that I let my little girl zone out to video games all day, truth is, she plays for a while and then we have tea parties (imaginary), blast-off in rocket ships (imaginary), and work on her reading. By playing with her, I notice she has something most of us lose over time. She has the ability to still imagine and create her own world.
Folks, I love technology, games, and iPads and all, but I miss the simplicity of being able to use my inner mind’s eye in the middle of world that leaves very little to the imagination.
Editor’s note: to add perspective to Nathan’s essay, I’d like to suggest reading a couple of blog posts to come to your own conclusions about spurring creativity and imagination with contemporary video games: 5 Incredible Video Games to Encourage Your Child’s Imagination and 6 Games to Expand Your Imagination. Should you be wondering if Minecraft is on either of those lists, you probably need to be reading these articles as that game is sort of hot shit right now. Also one more article, this one from MIT this past June, as to why Minecraft is so successful: The Secret to a Video-Game Phenomenon.
“Fitting then, perhaps, that Persson’s purpose with the game is somewhat evangelical, although it isn’t revealed until the closing credits. While Minecraft’s loose, player-defined goals are its strongest draw, there is an endgame for those who feel the need to beat a video game rather than simply enjoy one. If at this stage a giant dragon is discovered and felled, that will conclude the story line. The reward for defeating the dragon is a poem, written by the Irish novelist Julian Gough, that describes Minecraft as a dream. It reads:
This player dreamed of sunlight and trees. Of fire and water. It dreamed it created. And it dreamed it destroyed. It dreamed it hunted, and was hunted. It dreamed of shelter … And the player started to breathe faster and deeper and realised it was alive, it was alive, those thousand deaths had not been real, the player was alive … And the game was over and the player woke up from the dream. And the player began a new dream. And the player dreamed again, dreamed better.
Minecraft’s mainstream appeal may not lie in the poetry tucked away in an endgame few will see, but it is to be found in this poetry’s sentiment. Here is a game that enables humans to experience an accelerated form of existence—of dominion but also of stewardship. It makes clear the ancient ties between creativity and survival, and the wonder of collaboration, cooperation, and community, both in its world and in the reality on the other side of the screen. This is a recipe that demonstrates how video-game design, in the right hands, can be elevated to an art form every bit as strange and wonderful as any other, revealing deep truths about the human condition.”
Are you not EDUTAINED (it’s a verb too now)!? Then try these these links to brush up on some extra-credit edutainment:
Or watch this TED talk on some positive social benefits games can have on society: