And all other video games
One thing that has filled my heart with joy recently has been a lot of people enjoying the drama series The Last of Us. For full disclosure: I’ve never played the game, nor seen the TV show, but I live vicariously through tweets such as this one from Dan Walker, who doesn’t strike me as a gamer.
Video games, for me, is the only piece of media I regularly consume. I don’t read. I rarely watch movies (I watched Terminator 2 for the first time last Sunday – it was great). My TV viewing is comfort viewing of Red Dwarf & Phoenix Nights, along with sport and game/antique/cooking shows. That’s really it.
Video games and me
Video games however are my comfort art form, and I always feel like it gets a bad rap. They provoke emotions in me like no other art form. Be it the pangs of nostalgia from playing Tehkan’s Bomb Jack which takes me back to playing it in Rhos-on-Sea seafront arcade with my grandparents, to the endorphin rush of solving another three fates in Return of the Obra Dinn. It has been my comfort blanket for such a long time. Even during lockdown – when we couldn’t go anywhere – me and pals regularly met up in Sea of Thieves to consume (real and fictional) grog. It beat a Zoom call.
That’s just the games that don’t necessarily have the strongest narrative but evoke happy memories. Stories in games have really gotten better and better. The twisting narrative in The Detective for the Commodore 64, through to the RPGs of the Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger games, all the way to modern day classics like Mass Effect, Horizon: Zero Dawn. Stories can be told, with wonderful deep characters and meaning. I enjoy the interactivity, but I understand many don’t. Which is why you’re catered with the compelling stories in walking simulators, such as Firewatch and To the Moon.
I always take it a bit personally whenever it isn’t given the due I feel is deserves. At the time of writing I’ve 3 games on the go. A short blast in RC Pro-Am on the Nintendo, and two story driven games (Metal Gear Solid & Red Dead Redemption). If I said I had three books on the go, nobody would bat an eyelid. Or spending a weekend watching three shows? That’s fine. But I do feel at times occasionally I have to justify spending a weekend resting playing video games. Maybe it’s in my head a bit. It’s for kids, it’s violent and rots your brain, etc etc. Things like that. I’m reminded however of an OkCupid question of “how would you feel if your partner spent the weekend playing video games?”. I feel like no other art form would ask that question.
The main culprit I find is in mainstream media. Not in terms of attacks but, it doesn’t really penetrate into the public consciousness like other things. Take for example quiz shows. When was the last time you had a video game question of reasonable difficulty on The Chase or Pointless? However when was the last time you had a question on TV. Or a film. Or books. There’s probably a reason financially, but another reason could be the folks who are in the positions of power don’t really understand it, and haven’t grown up with it.
Video games in other media
Which is why I welcome TV shows like The Last of Us, as hopefully exposes more people to the art form. Like Marvel, that began it’s success with comic book fans watching their movies, I suspect HBO have made the decision to commission the compelling story because it would get fans of the show to watch first, causing a groundswell, and then get people into the story (the story – if it follows the games – is apparently excellent. You should listen to the Playthrough Podcast that deep dived into both games, and only really criticising the actual game).
With the success of The Last of Us, I hope some of the people who may not have been exposed to video games much, play the games, or indeed other games. I hope other franchises get converted into video games as there are so many stories to tell to new audiences. People missing out on the gripping finale of the reaper invasion in Mass Effect because “they don’t play video games”, I don’t know, just makes me a bit sad.
I’m sad as it’s people who willingly shut themselves off from an art because they don’t understand it or dismiss it for kids. Like people who don’t listen to Rammstein because they don’t speak German. I’m probably a massive hypocrite in this regard as I do the same with books, TV and movies.
But I don’t care. I’ll just get back to John Marsdon galloping around Blackwater in Red Dead Redemption. I’m getting to the the good bit.