“Timeless” is not just a reference to beauty. Whether or not you regularly play them, you have played some of these at one point and understand the references to them. Something about the simplicity of the controls, bizarreness of the premises, and primitiveness of the animation makes them unforgettable. Though they started showing up as early as the seventies, today’s kids will still recognize some of these, if only by the concept. The idea of a social gamer some may consider a misnomer, but since the advent of our fascination with video games, social gaming has always been a huge reality.
Video games bring people together, they always have. Before consoles were in the home, arcades were great gathering places for some wholesome fun. People would take turns with friends or play together in multiplayer games like Street Fighter, Galactica, and the iconic Space Invaders. Friendly competitiveness and healthy fun were no longer limited to the realm of sport. As technology changed, so did our social habits. Bars and cafes have popped up with classic, iconic video games as their selling point. We are no longer limited to pub trivia games or karaoke for fun together: you can instead order a pint and proceed to beat your best friend at 1942 or show off your Pacman skills. Sure a pint or two could affect your ability to play, especially racing games or anything to do with roads and reaction time, such as Out Run, Pole Position, even Frogger but the only real-world consequence of operating an arcade game while impaired is trash-talk from your friends and a headache the next day. If you are running a bar or pub that is popular with people in their 20s and 30s, why haven’t you obtained at least one of these machines yet? They are a Millennial magnet!
What appeals to us about video games is directly drawn from what interests us in the physical world. We build, we solve problems, we strategize, we fight evil, try to save the world, save the princess, shoot things, sort things, all without those pesky real world consequences aforementioned. We get a sense of accomplishment from achieving the goal within each game, which makes games more significant to us than merely a pastime. Depending on the game, your strategic thinking and response time can even benefit from the repeated practice.
More than anything, though, gaming is a social activity that connects us in different ways.
This will seem nonsensical to someone who holds the antiquated notion that video games are the pastime of the angry, antisocial nerd. Part of enjoying any type of media is sharing in that enjoyment with others. Reading books, listening to music, watching plays, used to be the media that dominated our consumption and later our conversations. These were all passive types of media, and now we have the opportunity to directly influence our favorite digital media pastime using our abilities and desires to affect the outcomes.
Some gamers are better than others, that is a given, but games are still a lot more inclusive than sports (another social activity), where natural, physical gifts play a significant role. There has to be an exception to this, of course, and that is Dance Dance Revolution and pretty much any Nintendo Wii, Xbox Kinect or PlayStation Move game as well as VR and AR, which are just around the corner. These games will exclude some people with disabilities, but for many who dislike the sedentary nature of other types of games, this offers a unique alternative. These motion-based video games are enhanced by the physical presence of other people, especially the dancing games, singing games and the iconic game Wii Sports. There is much laughter to be had and technique to discuss together and of course some well natured ripping on your fellow players. Thankfully, iconic video games and characters like Mario Brothers and Legend of Zelda transitioned nicely into this technology. This tech also gave rise to new titles incorporating iconic movies such as Star Wars and the Harry Potter series allowing the gamer to feel a part of the action with a flick of the wand or the slash of a lightsaber. Even the most passive gamer that was a fan of these movies had to take a shot at defeating these legendary foes.
Without the aspect of physical activity, games still bring people together. The stories within them speak to everyone. These games cross oceans and appeal to people of different cultures due to the archetypes and story elements that appear in the mythology of every culture.
Heroism is the obvious, biggest theme. A good hero story appeals to every person, so involving a person in a story of heroism, where they are in control of the outcome of every challenge, is appealing to everyone. It is taking one from listening to a story and turning it into something more captivating because of the player’s involvement with the tale. An especially devoted player will even feel an actual sense of pride, as though he has accomplished some great set of challenges like Theseus or Mario and Luigi. Beating smaller challenges and then the “big boss,” or the main bad guy at the end, is classically what the hero does. And after you have achieved your heroic quest you need to brag about it to all of your friends, both online and off.
Often a hero’s accomplishments are necessitated by the common themes of love and having his true abilities tested. Who doesn’t need more love in their lives, right? The gamer carefully weaves his character through the many perils in his path to rescue a princess, spouse, future spouse, family member, or someone else who is in peril. Besides the glory of having overcome the trials that have been thrown at him along the way, the hero’s good and correct actions must come with a reward in the form of the greatest thing we can accomplish together: love. After all, you are fighting for someone quite worthwhile, someone quite worth risking death by turtle shell for. It is interesting that heroes will often have either super powers such as Hercules’ strength or Luke Skywalker’s force. That or they will have some other exceptional quality or skill such as Beowulf’s bravery or Chun-Li’s fighting abilities. Even if he comes from humble beginnings, the hero will be tested to the point that his abilities, previously unknown, are revealed and used to save the day, reap the rewards and fall in love. Something we all aspire to.
Everyone wants to triumph over evil, and that will normally come in the form of a villain unless you are playing a building or social network game such as Sims or Farmville. It could be argued, however, that friends who send you invitations to play Farmville more than once are the villains in real life. The villains from video games have only gotten bigger and scarier as graphics have improved and the maturity of players with them. Through their actions, the hero is forced to take on a quest of recovering something or someone, revenge, saving mankind, or anything more specific to the plot. These villains may be even more effective in inspiring loathing and fear than their literature counterparts because they are actively getting in our way. Shere Khan is far more deplorable to me if he is attempting to bring about my demise rather than Mowgli. Shao Kahn from Mortal Kombat isn’t nearly as infuriating when one simply reads about him. The immersion in the story makes it that much more satisfying when they are finally defeated… by you!
While they are not always villainous, monsters and other creatures in iconic video games are also taken from directly or inspired by stories that have been with us for centuries. In Warcraft alone, you can come across Hydras, Chimaerae (Chimera), Krakens, and Hippogryphs (Hippogriff). Dragons are inevitable and span the few decades we have had gaming, like in the King’s Quest series or (once again) the long-running Warcraft with their dragonkin. Darker, scarier monsters that 90s kids may have been sheltered from fighting against by their parents existed in the realms of Quake and Doom, some even inspired by H.P Lovecraft. Looking at the history of video games, is the occurrence of protagonist monsters similar to that of antagonistic ones? Or are most simply like animals, who don’t choose a side? Has this been the case in classical myths and stories? It is definitely something to think about and spend hours discussing with your social circle, don’t you think?
Games are an all-in-one manifestation of story-telling, acting, challenging, socializing, all who can bring us together and make us feel good. They share aspects of how we relate as a species but also the timeless tales and archetypes that will likely always be with us, even into the next stage of our interactive media. Iconic video games are the ones most recognizable to even those who would not consider themselves “gamers.” You have, at least once, said or heard someone say: “Finish him!”, Or have recognized theme music. Like Shakespearian quotes and dance moves, elements of these games pervade culture and are points of reference as well as yet another thing people can relate to each other on. They can even help to bridge between cultures. Before, we could have read the same book or watched the same movie as someone, but never been able to share our loathing or love for it unless they were local to us. Now, we can play the same game with someone on the other side of the world and communicate with them in real time, either on the same team or as opponents.
To reap the benefits of these games, however, you needn’t devote the hours or financial resources that serious gamers do. Take an interest when people are playing at parties. Ask about what is going on and try it yourself. Visit arcades with friends; download Tetris or similar, older games on your phone. You’ll likely find enjoyment in at least one game, and you’ll have yet another connection to the humanity around you.
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