And the moral of the story is…
For centuries people have claimed to learn things from texts they’ve read, found role models in their favourite novels or plays, and even praised films and TV shows for their didactic quality – so why is it then that discussions of the effects of gaming have been limited to violence and desensitisation for so long? Having grown up with the advent of video games transforming into the mainstream cultural phenomenon that they are today, it’s fair to say they’ve had a noticeable effect on how I perceive and act in the world, and quite honestly it seems as though it’s high time they received the credit they deserve.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m going to don a cape and cowl and start beating up bad guys (quite frankly, I live in a pretty nice area); just that if you look close enough, there’s more didactic value in games than you might have previously realised.
1. You Might Not Always Get the Girl
If there’s one character archetype that video game developers are incessantly drawn towards it’s the solitary, “I-work-best-alone” type. The truth of the matter is, of course, that we gamers are no different; grounded in the likes of Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne, we just can’t get enough of the foreboding outcast, the hero who exists on the fringes of the society he devotes himself to protecting. And what do all these guys have in common? Tragic love lives of course!
And when you stop to consider it properly, a vast majority of our favourite protagonists are subject to the same destiny; existing alone and being forced to deal with the breakdown of their most important relationships. Consider Kratos, for example, the titular God Of War whose very skin is a visual metaphor for his past actions towards his family and his incessant guilt surrounding them. Or think about Sebastian Castellanos, the (albeit emotionally stunted) protagonist of The Evil Within, whose familial breakdown led to the psychologically shattered soul we step into the shoes of. Even iconic hero Snake (Big Boss) is the product of his flawed relationship with mentor/ mother figure, The Boss. Granted, this is a pretty bleak and exaggerated lesson on the whole, but one that we all come to learn over painfully awkward teenage discos.
2. You Shouldn’t Really Bottle Things Up
We’ve all been there as a teenager, facing that chronic yet clichéd feeling that no one really understands or empathises with our problems, and generally considering forgoing human contact altogether in favour of a smelly bedroom and a My Chemical Romance CD (everyone had those – right?). The truth is, however, that you should never keep things bottled up – a sentiment I learned from a truly worrying amount of hours wandering the murky streets of Silent Hill.
What is James Sunderland’s narrative if not a lesson in the emotional and psychological consequences of repressing feelings and refusing to open up to people? In summary, then, it might look as though the Greatest Emo Hits CD understands your problems, but it’s always good to get out and talk to real people every now and then. Otherwise, you know, you might end up trapped in a scary town populated by repugnant demons – just saying.
3. Failure to Prepare…
Do you know what taught me the values and rewards of hard work? It wasn’t preparation for exams (I was quite the nerd, that was fun in itself); it wasn’t even saving up a meagre paper boy allowance to buy a PSP. No, in fact it was copious amounts of time spent crawling dungeons in RPG’s. Whether it was time spent exploring the sprawling metropolis of Midgar in Final Fantasy VII, or even tracing the path of the Fellowship through war-torn Middle Earth in The Third Age, these valuable hours actually taught me that hard work and preparation resoundingly pay off.
What’s more, it’s great to see this sense of work ethic carrying over to current generations, encouraging players to actively work to develop their characters and wider gaming experience. Take any number of monster battles Geralt faces in The Witcher 3. I’ve lost count of the times I rode in point blank with my silver sword and my cavalier attitude, only to quickly have my butt handed (or rather clawed) back to me before I scampered off ashamed. But then, of course, I went back to the drawing board; I developed my weapons, levelled up my character and even did a healthy bit of research, before emerging victorious, hideously deformed monster head in hand. Now that is hard work.
4. There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch
Do you remember those cheesy maths questions that used to be thought up for your exam papers throughout primary and secondary school? The ones that developed hilariously convoluted narratives involving groups of friends, peanuts and sweets just to trick you into thinking it wasn’t boring maths you were working out? The ones that, ultimately, taught us nothing else other than that the sweets and confectionery industry is a damn profitable one if people are buying bon bons at such ridiculous prices.
No, what really helped me to get my head around maths was in fact my trusty PlayStation, and an apparently misspent youth bartering with traders in fantastical realms. I honed addition/subtraction skills saving up for rare pieces of armour; I nailed long division by working out just how many hours of pure grinding it would take to reach that coveted next level. Most importantly, however, I realised that all these seemingly arbitrary maths lessons actually had a place in the real world – well, the real world of Tamriel anyways.
5. You’ll Get By With A Little Help From Your Friends
Contrary to those most popular of stereotypes, I came to learn throughout my years as a player that gaming ultimately is an inherently social experience. Whether you’re storming an alien infested trench with a band of brothers in Destiny, or just ringing your friends for some advice on a particularly tricky level of Portal, gaming is an experience best shared with others, and this, it turns it out, is the most valuable lesson I’ve learnt.
You might be taking the helm of the lone hero, stalking into enemy territory in a solo mission, but you’re always going to have a support network of close family and friends to fall back on, very much like your own personal Mother Base. You might have something you need to get off your chest, and you’ll always have someone there at the end of the codec to sound off to. You might even be dreading that final exam coming up in a few weeks, but if you take your time and prepare, you’re sure to succeed eventually. Oh – and if all else fails, remember how lucrative sweet shops can be.