Everyone who plays games for a long enough period of time sometimes finds that they enter a slump. A period where nothing that you play seems to resonate with you, nothing seems “sticky”. You don’t get that urge to pick up the controller and have one more go, or wake up keen to boot up the latest title and get a couple of hours of playtime in to see where the latest narrative thread is leading, or where your characters adventure will take them next.
To a non gamer, this will sound like such a non-issue. I’m sure many people would suggest that you were growing out of a “childish” hobby, that perhaps your tastes were maturing in some way. Of course, if you are coming the perspective of someone who does play games regularly, is in some way invested in them, or indeed works inside the industry, then you’ll know that losing your will to game can seem very serious to you, and in the case of people who work in the industry on either the development, or critical side represents a genuine life problem, but that’s not really the perspective I want to examine here.
When your primary source of recreation is video games, they are often, not only one of your sources of relaxation and stress relief, but also your most important source of escapism.
I’m not going to debate whether escapism is healthy or not, psychologically speaking, that’s for more educated and intellectual minds than mine to take up, but I will argue that from the earliest forms of communication between human beings we have begun, not just to do what we need to survive in the physical sense, but to also begin to do things that help us survive psychologically, and perhaps one of the first things that cam with the advent of written and pictoral communication, was the telling of stories. Stories of course have a valuable place in any society as a memorable way to pass down tribal knowledge and insight, and to preserve the learning and memory of the past of our community, but they also provide us with the framework to begin to not only document what we have seen and experienced, but to imagine things that we haven’t seen, and describe them to others, so that they can share our imagination, and begin to experience some portion of it with us.
Story telling preserves the past, but it allows us to imagine a future.
That imagination is key to human development. Our capability to imagine things that do not yet exist, describe them to others in a way that seems tangible, to plan how such a thing could perhaps exist and then to implement plans to make our imaginations reality. Such imagination is the core of human development throughout the ages at it’s most simple level, and at it’s root it all comes back to story telling. Story telling preserves the past, but it allows us to imagine a future. A better future, and in that image of a better future comes aspiration, and through aspiration we begin to change the world around us.
Whether you are talking about the hieroglyphs of the ancient Egyptian peoples, the plays of Shakespeare, the high drama of opera, or the latest episode of Eastenders, you are still talking about telling stories, and you are, at it’s core, talking about escapism.
When people say that music makes the hair on the back of their neck stand up, or that they became “lost” in a book, and couldn’t put it down, or how a poem “transported” them, or any other epiphanic moment, literally to stand outside of one’s self, you are talking about a form of escapism. Something that takes us from the mundanity of the here and now and into some other world of the artists creation.
In many ways, the creation of a completely artificial and immersive world that we can explore, and interact with, is the culmination (and please note I am being careful not to use the word “pinnacle”) of all of the creative art forms rolled into one. Video games take the composition, sense of colour and light, and aesthetic imagination of the painter, the photographer, they take the sense of narrative and tension, of suspense, and belief of the greatest film director, the prose skill, and story telling ability of the novelist, the realistic dialogue and interaction sculpted by the finest script writers, they are scored by the most talented musicians working in the world today, bringing the emotional resonance and dramatic amplification that only a carefully sculpted score or musical piece can provide, the creative flair and dramatic bombast of the classical composer, performed by the greatest and often most renowned orchestras in the world today, and a thousand other creative skills and disciplines, and roll them all together into a work of cohesion, that can, when it is executed well, by a skilled team transport us and enrich us, and tell stories with an emotional resonance that is difficult for any other medium to achieve.
Unlike some, I don’t take the opinion that games in this way are somehow superior to other art forms. But in the same way that I grant each different discipline’s adherents their right to enjoy whatever medium they choose to consume, I will demand that my chosen medium is granted equal respect.
I won’t say that an episode of Eastenders, or the latest romance novel has taken the skill, and ability in it’s creation as the greatest opera, or the most bombastic Shakespearian drama, but I will argue that they are trying to accomplish broadly the same thing. To take us out of ourselves for a while, and allow us to forget our own concerns and problems for a time and to dive into a world of the creators making. Each medium has it’s own advantages and disadvantages, and the only differentiation between their relative value is down to the individual.
Like all of the mediums for expression and telling stories that we have touched on, games are art, and they are my favourite way to consume it. As a consumer that is my choice, just as the way you spend your free time is yours.
Try not to judge others for the way they choose to enjoy themselves, relax, explore or entertain.
May will all continue to enjoy making and telling our stories for many years to come.