An Update and Why Video Games Are Cool

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Well, what a difference two months makes. And Lord how quickly time flies. When you lose yourself, really lose yourself in something, its a beautiful feeling. I’m just coming up for air now and on my 2nd draft of my 2nd book. I won’t say much more other than its well beyond my expectations. I remember hearing – or reading – somewhere that you need to write 10,000 pages before you really hone your craft. I’m not sure if that’s an arbitrary number manufactured from total bullshit, or if its a genuine scientific calculation (leaning toward the former), but I’d say I’ve passed the 5000 page mark, and it seems about right.

In total, I’ve written four full drafts and I’m at work on a fifth and I finally feel as if I am getting a handle on my material and my craft. What I’m working on now, I think, is the best thing that I’ve ever written, that it actually might be something meaningful and special, and I hope that you will all agree. That’s kind of how it should be though, we should always be improving, regardless of what we’re concentrating on in life. Without growth and challenge, we stagnate. The most terrifying thing, I still believe, is to blink and find that your life is near its end and you haven’t done a single thing that you are passionate about. If nothing else, I will finish this story (and its numerous parts); that much I have decided.

Which brings us to what we do to fill in all the spaces where we’re not chasing our dreams. Time wasting. I’m referring to activities that have no inherent benefit other than to allow our minds to wander. All of us do it, through different outlets and in varying amounts. “Exercise” and activity, are “active” pursuits, which I believe are a foundation of a sound mind and body; it is as mentally important to us as a satisfying career or dream and as physically and nutritionally important to us as sleep and wholesome food. So let’s now look at what I would term “passive” activities, where our bodies – and minds to different degrees – are not as engaged in exertion and our brains can wander freely. I think that this is a profoundly creative and important activity: the art of relaxation. And I find my relaxation primarily through three pastimes: reading, watching television with my husband or playing video-games (also going out when the occasion feels right, but never to clubs – far too old for that – and always to an event or venue). For purposes of this blog, I’m going to focus on the third item on my list. Video games.

A dicey subject, and I’m going to steer clear of all they political hooplah that surrounds the medium – so much scape-goating, heaven forbid that guns kills people or we pay attention to all the other forms of hyper-violent and glamorously over-sexualized media out there – and just focus on what “gaming” does for me. I should start by saying that I am more of a video-game archivist, for nowadays I tend to purchase far, far more than I play. Still, there is a lure about this hobby that has stayed with me since I was a child, and if you are not a gamer, or consider video-games abhorrent, mind-sucking wastes of time (yet FB is somehow more nutritive to the mind, okay; I realize the inherent irony as I link these blogs on FB – a necessary evil), perhaps I can portray the hobby from a more sympathetic angle.

The best made video games can have sweeping stories, grand production values and well-realized worlds. What was last mentioned on that list is the most important: rich, thought-engulfing worlds (which can happen regardless of how much money developers throw at a project). So few of these exist, as a great deal of the market still remains dedicated to fifteen to twenty year old males shooting things. That’s a shame really, because the potential for this medium stretches far beyond that. Video games have the potential to be virtual existences. Actual, living books that you can step inside and see the world exactly as its creators intended it; down to the swish in a blade of grass or the roguish grin of a specific character. In no other medium will you find such tools that allow you to not only see a world, but also interact with what you see. That is what makes video-games so appealing to me, and what I think that every iteration of technology brings us closer to achieving.

Yes, there is an ugly side of the industry: greed, misogyny, a lack of gender or sexually inclusive roles – but these faults are no more than what we are exposed to on television or experience in our daily lives. Yet if you dig through the trash – and there is a LOT of trash – you will find many a gem. Games like Journey, which is an abstract look at the acceptance of life and death, told through a ‘journey’ over a vast, mystical desert. Or at least that’s what I got from the game. What’s interesting, is that just like any other art, it is open to interpretation. More recently, I’ve been putting an hour here and there into Ni No Kuni, a Japanese RPG that tackles the subject of death quite bravely, as a child’s mother dies in the opening act and he goes into a magical world in the hopes of rescuing a fragment of her soul that remains there. While I haven’t reached the climax yet, I have a feeling that the boy’s resolution will not be what he expects, and there is beauty and poignancy in a lesson like that.

Not all video-games involve guns, blood and boobs. In fact I’d say that with the rise of iOS and indie gaming, the tides have shifted more in favour of creativity and experimentation. A golden age of gaming is ahead of us, with all of these little – or grand – stories that we can sink our creative selves into. Where we can walk inside another artist’s (or team of artists) vision, see, hear and feel the world that they have created. At least, that’s what gaming is at its best. And that is why I enjoy it, for the moments where the industry shines. For the moments where I am transported to another place. These moments are rare, but they do exist, and I would encourage you to try and find one or two in your life, even if the hobby seems untouchable in your mind.

And yes, I will be getting a PS4 this year 🙂

– Christian