Like many people who are unfamiliar with the world of video games, I always considered "gaming" to be a waste of time. Sure, it's fun to get together with friends every now and then and challenge them to dance competition games, or spend some down time taking on family members in sports matchups, but anything more than that seemed excessive. I wondered why anyone would sit around and waste time simulating life when they could be out living it; at least television and movies had real people in them.
It wasn't until my first semester of college that I finally understood the appeal of video games. I became friends with a guy who had many interests and hobbies in common with me, and we would take turns introducing each other to some of our favorite books, TV shows and films. After we had gone through a handful of our top picks, he told me that one of his favorite stories actually came from a video game and asked if I'd like to play through it with him. Having barely any background in gaming (my experience was solely in "Madden NFL 2007" and "Lego Star Wars"), I agreed to give it a shot, but with very little confidence that I was going to enjoy it.
I couldn't have been more wrong. The game was called "The Last of Us," and it took me for one hell of a ride. The story was rich and powerful, the characters were relatable, the scenery was gorgeous and the overall world of the game was incredibly well made. Every preconceived notion I had about gaming was shattered, and although this particular game set the bar high (having won hundreds of awards when it was first released), it inspired me to dive into the world of video games and discover the art form that I had no idea existed.
People who haven't ventured down the road of gaming usually have refrained from doing so because of associations with games and violence, or sci-fi worlds of ridiculous creatures and superpowers. These were some of my reasons for my lack of desire to explore video games as well, particularly with violence, as I'm someone who is made uncomfortable by both unnecessary and hateful violence in television and movies. And while these themes of brute force and mythology do exist in many games, it is rare to find a game that consists of nothing but these elements.
If there is violence, your character is often in a post-apocalyptic world and has no other method of survival. Fantasy worlds with made up beasts are beautifully crafted and fit in with the story being told. Plus, there are thousands of video games out there, so if you haven't found your taste, keep looking and you'll come across it sooner or later.
Here are five reasons why you should give video games a chance.
1. Video games are a unique medium for storytelling.
Video games are a combination of the various forms of storytelling found in other types of entertainment. They are similar to TV series in the sense that they deeply examine a plot or group of characters because they have the time to do so, but are also like movies where it's important to have the audience engaged in the story every step of the way. Some games are played from the first-person perspective, where the viewers feel like they're living through the action. Whole worlds are created with hidden details in every crack and crevice, and only in a video game can you explore the incredible handiwork of designers.
With the exception of the rare "choose your own adventure" books, most ways of storytelling are dictated by the producers. The characters make decisions on their own and because of this, there is only one direction that the story goes in. Details may be up for interpretation, but what is said by the people in the story is a certainty. However, in video games, there are a variety of different ways the plot can be altered by your decisions. Some games simply change the character's personality traits and relationships with others based on the player's choices, while others have many alternate endings created that come as results of decisions along the way. This makes for a different adventure every time the game is played, and no other entertainment form matches this freedom of choice.
2. Video games are gorgeous.
Art on a page takes just as much effort as art on a screen. While they can be modeled after the movement of real people, video games are constructed from scratch. The ability to create a digital world with such a strong resemblance to a real one is both an amazing talent and a technological wonder. Many games are so complex and beautiful that many people, including me, take time away from pursuing the plot and just explore the setting and characters. Looking around with your character often feels like you're the one scanning the environment and taking it all in.
Not only is the scenery able to nearly replicate the outside world, but the animation technology available makes the creation of characters more life-like than ever. Play as your favorite athlete, superhero or even actor, and the resemblance is so similar that it feels like you're controlling the characters in a movie. They even move like their authentic counterparts and are truly amazing to watch in action.
3. Video games are created by some of the most talented professionals in the field.
The process of making a video game from start to finish takes longer than any other art form by a long shot. All the elements present in other entertainment outlets -- acting, musical scoring, writing, directing -- are required for a video game, plus many additional needs. Due to time constrictions and the level of difficulty in the digital design required, only the best of the best workers are brought onto a project. One graphic designer could spend years working on the details of a tree or the movement of a hand until he or she reaches a level of accuracy that is sufficient for the game.
Game developers have to anticipate any and every decision that a player might make because if a character wanders off a path and the graphics of the setting begin to diminish, the magic of the story and the world is lost. Voice actors record every phrase imaginable that their character might need to say, as no two gameplays are alike. Because of the combination of so many art elements, video games can only be produced by well versed and dedicated workers.
4. Video games are a reflection of the most advanced technologies available.
More so than the screen, stage, or visual art, video games are a reflection of where digital technology currently stands. Because the goal is to create a life-like experience on screen, every new bit of knowledge regarding animation and 3D graphics is applied to games. Whether it be the incorporation of cheekbones in a character's face to provide realistic depth and perspective or illustrating the effects of wind on leaves people's hair, every innovative way to advance the construction of digital worlds is applied.
One form of technology used in modern gaming is the process of "motion capture." Voice actors (and occasionally animals) are monitored by electronic patches that create a digital image of the fluidity of their movements. This provides an outline for animators to build characters around. However, it doesn't create the figure for them. Because voice actors often don't look like the character they're supposed to be playing, the figure needs to be grown, shrunk, slimmed, fattened and even physically altered past the point of recognition. The motion capture technology simply gives the designers an idea of the way a character tends to move and how it relates to what they're saying or doing.
5. Video games bring people together.
From parties to family game nights to simply evenings in, games give people a chance to play and be entertained together. Participating in a puzzle or an adventure creates a bond much stronger than just watching events unfold on their on in like in a movie. Coming up with a strategy to take on the dark side together or facing off in the World Series is just another reason why video games offer a personal aspect to entertainment.
So if you've never given the art of video games a try, I highly recommend checking out a few. The stories will have a last impact on you, the gameplay will be fun and the odds are good that you'll, at least, make a few new friends out of it!