This is a translation of an older post.
I’ve saved the galaxy (about 3 or 4 times). I’ve been an outlaw in the border of Mexico, and worked for the mob in Vice City. Faced monsters of rock and fur, became a spirit who jumped bodies, and been a Bounty Hunter. I save my cousin who was kidnapped by the Russians, and later was a Russian surviving in the post-nuclear-war subway. I’ve saved the same princess 79 times (42 times that Zelda chick, and around 67 times that annoying Peach, with her stupid habit of always being in another castle). I’ve been a giant robot pilot, a spaceship captain, I’ve face ogres and trolls and hunted vampires. I’ve commanded Marines against a race of aliens with psychic powers, to later ally myself with the to face the Swarm.
I’ve been a pirate, a nuclear physicist armed with a crowbar, FOXHOUND agent, hero, villain, future super soldier who blown up a ring-shaped artificial planet. I saved the world from an invasion by Forces of Hell, only to later invade Hell and guarantee it would not happen again. I got lost in the sea, to end up discovering that my father was the creator of a decadent city in the ocean floor. I’ve explored an abandoned spaceship looking for my girlfriend, while being terrorized by mutant monsters. I’ve been a renowned skater, an acclaimed guitar player (albeit only playing cover songs), survived one too many zombie apocalypse in different ways, and wandered the Wastes either looking for a Garden of Eden Creation Kit, or looking for the sonnuvabitch who shot me in the face and left me for dead in a shallow grave.
I think I’ve never put it this way, but a good game is like a good book. Ok, some of the examples above certainly don’t have the most touching of stories, as captivating and immersive as a good book, but there are certainly many others who do. In some cases, they are even more immersive than a book, because you don’t have to imagine the character doing stuff and you there, watching from the VIP chamber. You are controlling the characters. Your actions are driving the story forward. That is why, for example, I never ran all the time in Red Dead Redemption: the environment, the immersion in the game is so good, that you actually act the character, even though this is not an RPG game. Hell, when my first horse (that I had named White Lightning, because of his color) died, I went to Armadillo to get drunk and went out picking fights drunk, because I was pissed off.
And RDR isn’t even the best example of immersion there is: I usually quote Bioshock when I talk about it, more specifically the scene where Andrew Ryan, who up until now was the “greed heartless villain”, reveals he is your character’s father, and literally sacrifices himself in order to grant you freedom, in one of the most memorable games in gaming history, when without leaving the same first person view you have used during the whole game, you can do nothing but watch as your character is clubbing to death the one guy you don’t want dead anymore. Lesser games would make this a cinematic. This game not only does not take you away from character, it also adds a borderline genius explanation as to why you cannot do anything to avoid it. And you can notice how, like in Half-Life, you never have your perspective altered: you’re always witnessing everything through the first person. Even the structure of dialogue suggests your character does not speak, as you do not speak as a player. Add to that the meta language behind the whole would you kindly subplot, and you get the feeling that you were manipulated not only as a character, but also actively manipulated by the game as a player. When you finally realize you were manipulated, the script (correctly) assumes you want blind vengeance, without considering any other paths.
But going back to the focus of my comparison, with books: like a good book, a good game locks your attention, making you care about characters that only exists in your imagination, and gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling of participating in an adventure that would be impossible in real life. Not necessarily an escape from reality, but something like a side-dish, and add-on, a creative and empathic exercise, where you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, or in specific cases like the Mass Effect and Fallout series, the possibility of playing different roles in different situations.
But am I saying that games are “the death of books”? Not at all. My comparison stems directly from the fact that I’ve read an abundance of books during my teenage years. I never had any patience to read the “recommended reading” (with “recommended” here standing for “boring as hell”), so I would nag my teachers to write papers about some books that I was interested in. Instead of reading Clarice Lispector, Graciliano Ramos, Machado de Assis, or some other Brazilian author who I didn’t give a f*ck about during my rebellious years, I would write papers on stuff I liked reading, which always strengthened my interest in reading stuff like the (excellent) Perry Rhodan series (Fear my wrath, trekkies: it is better and earlier than Star Trek), or pearls like Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth and Ramses (which for some reason, I ended up never finishing it, and dropped it later for a lack of patience and an excess of Lord of the Rings). So it’s pretty damn important to read books as well. An they’re going to be around for quite the while, because games are not “the media that will kill [insert another media here]”. They’re just a new form of media, in constant growth, with more and more people finding out ever different ways to use it to share a tale or entertain.
In all, I think this might shed a light on one of the main reasons why I’m so passionate about gaming, for those non-gamers that sometimes ask me about it. And the other main reasons being “where else could I explode so many heads, kill so many of my friends, and not feel regret, or go to jail?”, and “Because I like it, mom, so stop bothering me about it”. And the fact that videogames are almost as fun as paintballing, with the exception that I can do it every day after work.
And for those of you that don’t need an explanation as to why games are great, consider this food for though.