Hello and this is going to be another week of just this, a blog update, but since I’m still in exam mode, or exam period, or since I’m still in that exam time I really haven’t gotten much other than that to report on. I’ve just been doing my own thing as usual, but I have been recently watching and thinking about games. I’m an avid player of games, or so I reluctantly say, a gamer. And I’ve been re-watching some old “Extra Credits” videos. For those in the unknowing, Extra Credits is a YouTube channel dedicated to teaching game design. They have quite an amazing array of videos explaining things from fundamental game design to more specific facets like level design. But what catches my attention more than these amazing game design videos is the overarching philosophy that they and I share. It’s this philosophy that games matter. So let’s talk about games.
Games are to the unknowing things that consume time. To put it into even plain-er terms, time wasters. But there’s more to games than just that. If I were to say that books were time wasters, than I think I would get strange stares. How about…School? How about…Learning how to cook? How about…Driving? Here’s the key to this conundrum, they are all non-vital to your survival. I can’t even begin to fathom how many people get by without what people would call a “proper” education. Cooking? Go out to eat, go online, or prepackaged food. Driving? We’re soon going to see self-automated cars, and we’re currently living in the industry of Uber. All of these things are lost arts, things that most people can throw money at and get done. If you learn them now, sure it would be useful, but you can do that action much quicker by not indulging. You don’t need to read all the classic literature to have a fine taste for good narrative. You don’t need to throw Bronte, Ibsen or Shakespeare in front of my face to see if I can distinguish from bad and good narrative. In that sense, I would argue that having an obsession with the classics is a waste of time, but despite this many would argue with me. Why then, do games get the same treatment but not the consolidation? You don’t need to play games to have a cognitively active mind, nor do you need to play games to understand many things of the world. But I’d say that games are deeply entwined with many of what I’m able to do now.
I grew up on games. Games and T.V. But T.V is for another day, perhaps next week if I feel up to it. I grew up on games. I read some books sure, but that was when I was deep in middle school. I’m talking about my innate cognitive development, my window of opportunity was filled with games and interactions. I’ve never once forgotten the very first time my uncle installed a GameBoyAdvance ROM on my computer. I hadn’t gotten into MMO’s at this point so all the major game exposure came from my uncle’s meddling. He was also the one who introduced me to Age of Empire, and Rayman. But more on the GBA Roms. I of course also had my own GameBoy, but with the amount of games a single disk held compared to a single cartridge, you can already guess which I spent more time on. I could go on and on about the different kinds of games I played and all the things I learnt from them but I’ll hone in on one in specific, my favorite game to this day and probably of all time, “Super Robot Wars Original Generation” or I shall so abbreviate SRW. SRW is an amazing franchise with a bunch of history, but I won’t go harking on it’s intricacies, instead, I’ll tell you my first time playing it.
I booted up the system, watched as the title screen popped into view as the blue depiction of space flashed into my glass-y like eyes. I read the words that appeared on the screen, and suddenly realized what the “JP”in the Rom’s title stood for. The game was in Japanese. But I pressed start instinctively, by pressing X on the first button that the game’s title screen had. Thank god for game design and my previous experience with games that I could universally understand through the language of games what to do. I then saw two different heroes that I could play as, and chose one at seemingly random. To me, It didn’t matter, I couldn’t read the story, so I just chose whichever seemed cooler, but they were both pretty cool, so I just went ahead and chose the one with spikier hair. You see SRW is a strategy game played on a grid. You move units to get into range of attacks and then you watch an animated sequence play out that attack. There isn’t any more skill than brains that you need to play SRW. You don’t control how you dodge, it’s all determined on numbers. So this was the perfect game for me who didn’t understand the language. I’ll skip the amazement in playing such a game, but go ahead to the parts where learning happened.
I couldn’t read what any of the buttons did, but what I did learn was that I could “hack” the saves. In other words, I could save at any point with just a few clicks, way faster than what saving on a GBA would be. There was no hassle. And so I would soon learn by trial and error how to use certain abilities in SRW. You see, in SRW you could enhance your pilot(Remember the title, super ROBOT war) to either have more accuracy or to double their damage. However, to get to the screen to select this power up, you would have to manage the user interface of that pilot. Again, I couldn’t read how to do that, but I knew that the last button of the U.I was exit. And I knew the first one from just clicking on it gave me an overview of their stats. So I worked my way down until I got to this strange screen with numbers on it. I pressed on one of them, and it brought me out of the screen and back to the game area where my unit did a special animation, and words and numbers popped up. I then proceeded to attack not knowing what I did and noticed that my attack and dodge ratings were much adjusted to my favor. I had learned through trial and error and my own initiative what to do to play the game more in my favor. And despite not knowing why I was fighting these aliens, I could interpret through actions in game whenever I was betrayed, whenever I had to fight aliens, why they had happened. I didn’t understand the grand scheme of the story, but I was a pilot fighting off aliens, which is basically the story in a nut shell. I could understand queues and it’s this level of exploration and discovery and learning that almost every game proceeding SRW has been for me. And this feeling of discovery and self-learning and independence is one that still garners my life today.
It may seem rather fundamental or rudimentary, almost something that I should have learned otherwise, but when ever has it been to this degree? Sure kids can learn why things work in the real world in the same manner, but at what cost? They learn how scary the world is by touching stoves, by getting beat by their parents, by getting ridiculed. But a game doesn’t do that. A game will infinitely wait for me, it’s the most patient teacher I’ve ever had. And it’s this learning from games, and many more lessons from playing these games and from continually playing games that I can constantly sharpen the edge of the sword known as me. Without games, and without this seemingly unnecessary task, I probably wouldn’t be the person I am now. I wouldn’t have taken the world as my own and throw it out of the bubble I would have otherwise categorized the world in. The world is mine to manipulate both in my writing and in my actual going-ons. This sounds all archaic, but there’s a word that can describe all of what I just said. Games taught me how to be creative. Creativity leads to discovery, to play with the world and see what happens in it. Creativity doesn’t just have to be in art and writing and whatever creationism you may associate creativity with. Creativity really is just using your imagination, and without games, I wouldn’t have been pushed to use my imagination, my creativity to play those games. The difference here is that I was actually able to bring these skills to my actual life. I’ve always been a curious kid, and I still am. I’ll never stop being curious, and I’ll never stop wanting to learn more and explore the world and make it my own, to fill in the gaps of my imagination with this world. I’ll never stop using what I’ve learned in games, whether I can consciously draw it out or whether it’s already ingrained in me. For that, I cannot bestow the title of time-waster to games. For that, I will never stop advocating for games in education. For that I welcome the conversation. So let’s talk about games.