In all honesty, I don’t enjoy video games. Mind you, I don’t hate them. I know they’re considered the epitome of art, technology, and story telling. I also recognize that it’s a multi billion dollar industry. In an effort to get hooked, I’ve tried a multitude of games on my own and with friends. I’ve just never been into them.
The reality is that you’d, “expect” a guy like me to be interested in them. After all, I fit the demographic. I’m in my 20’s, I’m a male, and have a strong interest in media and technology. I grew up with all the same consoles and have siblings who game passionately. So the heart of the question is: what holds me back?
As a side note, yes, guys like me actually exist in the world. We’re rolling our eyes when the topic shifts to games. We’re, “button mashing” and trying to act cool when we know we’re embarrassing ourselves. We’re also missing character/plot references left and right in everyday conversation and reading news headlines about the gaming industry with no idea what all the fuss is about.
I’ve never seen gaming as uncivilized or some kind of nerdy activity. In fact, I see it as a phenomenal past time for all ages. I see it as a celebration of our humanity. An ability to dream, imagine, and push the boundaries of art and technology. In short, I don’t look down on gamers or see them as nerds.
You could make the argument that maybe I’m just bad at gaming and that’s why I don’t enjoy them. I couldn’t argue with that, even when it comes to using a game controller properly, my experience is lacking. Perhaps there is a learning curve in gaming at first and it just becomes enjoyable after that point. However, I’ve never really had that drive that other gamers have to make it past such a learn learning curve, solve a level, or complete a game.
I’d like to draw a comparison. In the same way people don’t have an interest in swimming, or extreme sports, or chess, I just don’t have an interest in gaming.
Despite this lack of interest in gaming, just recently, a friend insisted I try out the Spec. Ops. 2 – The Line game. While I was reluctant to take part, he insisted I try it out for him. I’d like to take this opportunity to share my experience as I worked through the game. While I can admit I’m still not hooked on gaming, I hope that an outside perspective can provide a refreshing review for such a phenomenal game.
In the spec ops game, I was, naturally, part of a special operations team sent to rescue captives in the post-catastrophic wastelands of Dubai. The Special Forces team arrives with little idea of the events that took place prior to the catastrophe. The team has to piece together the events that happened as the story progresses. Having close friends caught in the middle of this disaster, the main character has an emotional connection to rescue the captives involved. I played the game at novice level and my friend got me through the more difficult parts.
A key takeaway from this game I found was the thought of, “what, exactly, is going on”? During the game, you end up deeply questioning exactly whose side you represent. While you’re wearing a US army uniform and navigate through challenges with other members in your team, you often find the enemy itself is wearing that same uniform or perhaps, even used to serve with you. You end up questioning what a casualty even looks like or who it is that you should rescue. At the beginning of the mission, my general motive was to save every person wearing the same US army uniform, but towards the end of the mission, I was regretting such a thing. As a character, I had to come to terms with what my former army colleagues had done. As the gamer, I was overwhelmed with confusion and difficult, straining emotions.
For the first time ever, I found I was feeling a unique kind of empathy I’d never felt before with other kinds of media. I had come to the realization: do actual Special Forces teams ever feel this alone? It’s very difficult to piece together key details as they unfold, and identify the culprits and the causalities. How do actual Special Forces personnel make such tough decisions? I couldn’t help but feel empathic for some military leaders – a thought that had never occurred to me before. It would be very difficult to detail my decision making process as a leader for this team to a court or military tribunal. I found these thoughts led to a unique kind of empathy I had never experienced before. Having been inside the main character’s mindset, making decisions for him, and learning key details as the mission unfolded I couldn’t help but relate to the character and the difficulty of his job. At the same time, I grew to appreciate the art of gaming.
A key part of the game involved being held at gun point and having to choose between saving a fellow soldier or a civilian, both were accused of wrongdoings. Immediately, I found myself siding with the soldier, only because we were from the same background and were wearing the same US army uniform. I killed the civilian right away.
Another key part of the game is when you’re given the option to use chemical warfare to increase your chances of meeting mission objectives. I used it without thinking twice and later found out they were all innocent civilians.
These decisions I made, which made sense to me during the mission, created a stain in the back of my mind and I couldn’t help but wonder: what could I have done instead?
Clearly, my choices within the game said a lot about me as a person. Chances are, if I was brought into a Special Forces unit, I would make similar decisions. Does this make me a bad guy? I had found it difficult to explain my actions to others later on and felt a kind of guilt I’d never felt before over making such calls. I felt this was a unique experience you could only get with gaming.
In summary, I’m glad my friend had shown me the game. Since I was left thinking about these kinds of questions, this clearly meant the game had gotten under my skin. Notably, I hadn’t experienced this with any other form of media before in my life. While I don’t think I’ll become hooked on games simply because I’m not in the habit, I have a greater respect for gamers now. I can see where they are coming from, and can truly understand what it means to experience a game.
I’ve learned that gaming places individuals within situations like no other form of media. It isn’t really just graphics and technical achievement which make a game great. I’ve found that the beauty of a game overall is the craft of the experience itself. Placing the audience in unique situations, cornering them to make tough decisions, bringing out their raw identities, and emphasizing the consequences of all of their choices – making the best experience possible – is the true craft behind game development.
I would highly recommend to any of my non-gamer friends out there to at least try out the Spec Ops game and to sit through most of it with an experienced gamer friend who can offer valuable feedback and perhaps even navigate you through the challenging parts. If you chunk out an evening, you can get through most of the game. Even if you don’t end up getting hooked on games, at the end of the day, you will at least have walked away with a refined perspective on where gamers are coming from, much like I have.