Monday, May 11, 2015

PERSPECTIVES IV: Death and Video Games

Welcome to Perspectives IV, in which we do something completely different. Okay, a little different. 

Here’s how it works: an editoral, opinion piece or critical essay written by an external blogger, critic, journalist or creative person is presented by a regular contributor to nerds of a feather, flock together; it is then answered by other regular 'nerds of a feather, flock together' contributors. Crucially, each respondent will also respond to each preceding respondent. This episode's cast o' characters:

brian is a contributor at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together. He loves video games, maybe too much.

Dean is the author of the 3024AD series of science fiction stories. You can read his other ramblings and musings on a variety of topics (mostly writing) on his blog. When not holed up in his office
tweeting obnoxiously writing, he can be found watching or playing sports, or in his natural habitat of a bookstore.

EPISODE 4: In which we contemplate death, video games, and death in video games...
Death is a nearly unavoidable aspect of video gaming, and yet exceptionally rarely given any weight. In this episode of PERSPECTIVES, the Nerd of a Feather, Flock Together respondents take a whack at it in response to "I'm afraid to die in games" by Gita Jackson.

brian’s response

I am a sore loser. My first gaming experience, like many children of the 80’s, was Super Mario Bros., played on the neighbor’s Nintendo. It wasn’t mine, so I never got to spend a lot of dedicated time with it. I’d play it for a life or two, but then I’d have to hand it over. Dying in Mario was never a big deal because I never got very far in it. Not much loss of effort or time.

As I got older, my favorite games were Wolfenstein 3D, Mechwarrior 2, and Doom 2. But by this time my sore loserness was setting in. I couldn’t stand dying in these games, and I wasn’t about to take death lightly. I could defeat these games; I had cheat codes. For several young, impressionable years, my method of gaming was to search for cheat codes on Yahoo, apply cheat codes, play the game on the lowest difficulty, and metaphorically walk from beginning to end. Of course, I’d still participate in the game. I’d shoot the thing that should be shot. Collect the items. Finish the level. Feel like a winner.

When I was much younger, I had almost the opposite reaction of the author. Death in games held no meaning for me. I can’t die. I have all the weapons. I can walk through walls. I can skip levels. I’ve beaten this game because I’ve circumvented the challenge.

I eventually realized that these were hollow victories. I didn’t really accomplish anything. I started to play games on “normal” difficulty, and really enjoy them for the challenge they provided. I had to learn how to actually play video games because I’d been doing it wrong for so long. Nowadays, I forget that cheat codes exist sometimes, not only because they are a thing of the past in the world of video game achievements, but because I don’t want to win that way. I want to earn my victories and accept my defeats.

The lesson death in video games taught me was not that I was a failure when I died, but that time is short. I’m going to die eventually, so I should be happy with what I can accomplish, always try to do better, but never beat myself up for past failures. That’s a metaphor, by the way.

Dean’s Response

Woof, there is a lot to unpack in that article, not the least of which is there are a lot of people who take videogames far more seriously than I do. In fact, I rarely play them. There are several reasons for this, usually that things which are not books, or the creation thereof, rarely manage to hold my attention very long.

There is also the violence/death... thing.

This I find interesting, because in a book with which you may or may not be familiar, one character basically... guts another. This doesn't bother me in the least. Writing it didn't, nor did a very strongly implied torture scene later in the book (I will not include literal depictions of torture in my writing). But during Super Bowl week, two football players played the new Mortal Kombat, and I was out of the room, wondering what kind of monster was entertained by that.

I'm not going to say violence in video games causes violence in real life, but damn if it isn't obvious that is desensitizes people to it (just look at the GamerGate crowd- more than willing to threaten people with despicable acts for little or no reason). There is a lot of carry over from what we are entertained by to the real world, but interestingly in Gita's case, it goes both ways.

Usually we look at video games and say "it makes life cheap, since you kill- and die- over and over and over". But the potential lesson of failure=finality is very interesting. But at the same time, what's to stop you from going back over and over and over until you get it? That's not a good lesson, either, as far as life goes. It's not like you get to screw up infinitely at work and keep your job- nor does one C in a subject the vast majority of humanity despises doom you to minimum wage for eternity.

Now for the Freudian aspect. My dad loves to hunt, and man, would he love for me to hunt. But the whole thing is completely repulsive to me (even though the birds ARE delicious)- I hate killing things, I hate violence, save apparently, for in my own writing.

Besides all of that, what really fascinates (and confuses me) is that I have never understood the point of video games to keep my avatar alive. Death is an accepted part of the journey, and maybe it hurts but (worst analogy ever in 3...2...1…) it’s kind of like working out. Maybe it hurts, but that’s how you’re getting stronger. Your character dies, you learn not to do that and you go back and start at the last save.

I hate failure as much (probably more) than anyone, but living in fear of failure will make for few successes. 


POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014.