Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Back To School: My Top 5 Games For Students

I originally wrote this for Forces Of Geek on the 4th September 2013, I didn't get any comments on the site but please share your own recommendations for student games in the comments section below and if you know any one venturing off to university in the coming week (lucky people, I miss my uni days!), be a darling and link them my article! Thanks guys!

As autumnal weather starts to set in and new terms and semesters begin, some us will be breathing a sigh of relief. Yet, those of you who are starting university this September are probably feeling pretty anxious or panicking about leaving home, about meeting new people and deciding what to bring with you.

I'm sure a lot of you are debating which games console to take with you. That was certainly the case for me, nine years ago.

I have some advice for you and not the usual "study hard" because that's just obvious. My advice is take your consoles, especially if you have multiple controllers and co-op games because one of the best ways to bond with your new friends, short of drinking copious amounts of alcohol and embarrassing yourselves together, is to game with them.

Even the uninitiated to video games will find themselves enjoying the social interaction that comes with multiplayer gaming.

In my first year at university, I left my Xbox at home and chose to bring my GameCube with me. A wise decision because within days, my roommates and I had purchased two more controllers were having all night long Mario Kart sessions.

Not only did it encourage friendly rivalry between us but it also provided a shared experience without having to go out partying every night because let's face it, we gamers aren't the most social creatures. Best of all, it was cheaper than a night out and when you live on a student budget anything that saves you money becomes the best thing ever.

It also led to a group of us heading to our local laser tag establishment once a week, switching our controllers for...bigger controllers. We went there so often, they introduced a discount especially for us. After 2 hour long laser tag sessions, having had ample exercise I might add, we would all grab a bite to eat and head home to watch films or play drinking games, but without fail, whatever we chose to do, most evenings would wrap up with several of us around a games console.

A recent research paper published last month by Queen Mary University of London and University College London suggests that certain video games are good for brain too. Previous research has demonstrated that action games much like Halo are great for improving decision making. However this research also revealed that strategy games make us more prone to creative problem solving and cognitive flexibility which is great for, what do you know, learning.

With that in mind, here are my top games to play at university with your friends:

Mario Kart

Whatever version you choose to play genuinely makes no difference to your enjoyment because each Mario Kart game is equally as fun as the next. The maps are varied and colourful enough that you never seem to get bored of them and it's mechanic is easy to pick up. The best social games are always the ones that involve a little friendly competition, so it's no surprise that this franchise is so popular.

Let's face it, being able to play as your favourite Mario character is also fun, even your friend who doesn't play games will find themselves picking favourites early on. This game is one that non-gamers seem to get on best with because there's no pressure to be good at it. It's no good being in first place when another player has a blue shell aimed at you, after all! Sometimes the winner is victorious through sheer luck...and a well thrown banana skin, carefully aimed red shells, speed boosts and well..you get the idea.

The Rock Band Franchise

Again, whichever version strums your chords, be it Beatles Rockband, Lego Rockband or one of the regular Rockband games, makes no difference because all of them boast hours and hours of gameplay. If you lack inspiration from the usual set lists, a quick browse on the marketplace and you will find hundreds of albums to choose from. Whatever your musical taste, Rockband can cater to it. You can even learn to play the guitar for real if you have the money and a guitar (Oh hello there, student loan!).

Another thing that makes Rockband a great franchise for students is that more than the usual four players can take part, some titles can have up to 6 or 7. Not only that but this is one of the best games to pass the controllers around in because somehow, it's also fun to watch. 

In the latest game you can even drop in and out of a song whenever you feel like it which is great for parties! Of course, if you've been studying too hard and lack the energy to drum or if you've been out drinking and can't focus on the colours, no problem because it's karaoke time!


Many of the games I've mentioned are successful because of the friendly competition they inspire, Minecraft however, is more about working together as a team. 

Planning out giant structures, railways and building with your friends and then working with each other to create your mega city is incredibly rewarding. Working to build a joint project can also build a lasting friendship.

Despite the simple game mechanic, Minecraft is incredibly addictive and you'll soon wonder where the night went. Maybe not one to play the night before a big exam.

The Grand Theft Auto Franchise

A single player game with one controller, this game might not seem particularly social but much in the same way no one ever really played the single player on the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games, the same can be said of the GTA franchise.

While you can play the solo campaign and engage in online multiplayer fun, when you have three or four friends sitting there watching, it can be rather dull for them. That is, until you make a new save and start messing around. 

Passing the controller from person to person, seeing who can attract the most police attention in the quickest time, or perform the best stunt on a bike or fly the longest in your car is incredibly satisfying, not only for the person playing it but for those watching too. You essentially make up your own mini-games within the game itself. 

That's the nice thing about the franchise, it doesn't rush you into completing the story, you can hold off doing a mission as long as you like, unlike others that auto start a cut scene the minute you're close to a certain area. One of my personal favourites; see how long you can drive in a straight line without hitting something.

Scene It?

Okay so this game isn't as heralded or even considered in the same vein as the others I've mentioned but it's the social aspect of it that led to it's inclusion on my list. You meet a wide range of people at university and not all of them will be willing to try a video game. A quiz on the other hand engages gamers and non-gamers alike. 

This film quiz game is fun provided your have batteries for all your buzzers. Once batteries have been acquired this game is surprisingly fun. It's essentially the equivalent of a pub quiz without the pub and with some fun interactive game show like sequences. 

As with most of the games on my list this one promotes friendly competition. However be careful not to play it too often, as the questions eventually repeat themselves. A great game but if you happen to live with film students, don't expect to win!

And the rest...

Of course there are many other games that are well suited to the student lifestyle, I played many others in my student days including TimeSplitters, Mario Party, Counterstrike, Halo, Worms and lots of retro NES and SNES games but by adding them all, my list would be exhaustive. 

If you have any suggestions of your own, I'd love to see what games you all play/played at university. Leave your comments below. 

Oh, and for those of you wondering why I didn't mention MMORPGs, I purposefully don't play them because I have seen first hand just how addictive and life consuming they can be so I don't want to be held responsible for ruining other people's studies!

But, the research shows that games are good for the brain, so maybe you don't have to feel so guilty the next time you pick up a controller instead of your course book?

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