At a writer’s meeting within a games company in London I was explicitly told. ‘Girls will identify with a male protagonist but boys won’t identify with a female protagonist, and that’s one reason why we need a male action hero more than a female heroine’. That is sexist bullshit.
Yeah video games have been marketed since the beginning of the Jurassic – predominantly at teenage boys. However, more girls are engaging in the process of creation, design and just physically playing. And through that progression it feels like I’m seeing a huge renaissance in video game design.
The games industry has taught us to see games as loud, brash and arcane. On top of this, the most visible titles tend to conform to familiar stereotypes: Call of Duty is about killing enemies; Candy Crush Saga is about killing time. When you’re not entrenched in games, these highly marketed titles become representative – you don’t see the other things going on behind these entertainment monoliths. It’s just like, if you only go to the cinema in the summer, you’re in danger of thinking that all movies involve indestructible people wearing capes.
So here are several good reasons why, if you haven’t played many video games in the past, or still feel a little self-conscious about your Xbox or PlayStation, you should try more video games this year – and not feel bad about it.
They’re cheap entertainment
Most titles have replayability features built in. Big adventure games like Dishonored, Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider are filled with sub-quests, hidden areas and collectible items that encourage and reward replay and exploration. Competitive multiplayer titles such as Overwatch, Fifa and Rocket League effectively function like sports – you play and improve over many months, discovering new skillsets and features. And of course, waiting a few weeks before buying a game, or looking out for sales on download sites like Steam, Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, will get you those experiences for even less money.
A lot of the people now making, producing and funding television and movies grew up playing video games – and that influence is becoming ever more obvious and important. Two of the most interesting television programmes, Mr Robot and Westworld, were inspired by game design and conventions – the latter has been widely read as a comment on the sorts of interactive immersive worlds we find in games. We’re now seeing the very structure, culture and design principles of games being expressed and explored in traditional narrative media.
The popular stereotype of the lone gamer sat in a bedroom staring at a screen was never particularly accurate, but now it’s laughably out of date. Most titles have multiplayer components that let you easily play against other people online – but if that’s too intimidating, there are also a lot of “local” or “couch” multiplayer games that you can share with friends in the same room. You can also pick up a cheap old Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, grab a copy of Rock Band or Guitar Hero and enjoy many nights of terrifyingly incompetent karaoke fun.
They tell us where technology is headed
Video game players are hugely demanding when it comes to interface design – both in terms of input devices (i.e. controllers) and in-game information displays. Video games are also pushing the envelope when it comes to artificial intelligence, procedural content generation and physics modelling. This means a lot of the technologies that are going to affect our lives in the next decade are being tested and developed in the video game sphere.
Sometimes this is obvious. Currently, most virtual and augmented reality development is in video games: the PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets are mostly being used to make games, but that won’t always be the case – when headsets become less unwieldy and when more movie and television companies start to explore the possibilities of 360-degree video, VR and AR experiences are going to become a lot more common. We’ll be shopping in VR, attending sports events in VR, using AR to redesign our living rooms. Learning about these technologies now is a good idea.
It’s so interactive
With the arrival of smart phones and tablets, games are more pervasive than ever. Children are now growing up expecting all screens to be interactive – a phenomenon that’s being referred to as generation swipe. They are using tablets in school, they’re being taught to code, and they’re creating apps. They are digital natives. Alongside this, the mass adoption of social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube has given rise to a new relationship between teens, technology and entertainment. Kids expect to be able to interact.
Finally, they’re fun-tastic.
Did I mention that yet? Games are fun. They provide fascinating worlds to explore and take part in, they let us do incredible, sometimes terrible things without recourse. They test out intelligence and reaction; they posit weird futures and possibilities; they let us take control of lives and bodies that we could never own or experience. They are made by artists and visionaries, they provide moments of utter transfixing beauty and resonance. The glowing sunset over the city of Los Santos in GTA V, the swoop of a dragon over the plains of Skyrim; the desperate struggle to survive in the snowy wastelands of The Long Dark; the heart-wrenching power of friendship in Life is Strange – these are valid forms of escape and experience; they tell us things.
In 2017, a year of uncertainty and vast technological change, it is time to see video games alongside – and equal to – books, television and cinema as a popular imaginative medium. It’s okay to play, especially if you’re a girl.