Monday, 9 December 2013

10 Retro Game Life Lessons

Originally published on Forces of Geek, 26th November 2013.

Many contemporary gamers view retro games as dated relics of the past and unless a shiny new HD version is released, certain retro titles don't exist as far as they're concerned. They choose to ignore the valuable life lessons and advice that can be found in these games, favouring the crisp images, sharp sounds and glistening graphics of consoles and games today over their 8-bit, monotone predecessors.

I can't blame them for their ignorance of course, if the games of my childhood were as good as the games today then I'd probably have the same outlook but I've learnt a great deal from playing video games my whole life, I'd like to pass this wisdom on.

If I can persuade just one gamer to give a retro title the chance it deserves then my job here is done.

Here's my Retro Game Life Lessons, you're welcome (in advance):

1. Don't Judge People

This life lesson is one that contemporary games still have problems with. I was ecstatic when I finished Super Metroid to discover that the protagonist was a woman. It highlighted the importance of keeping open minded and never casting aspersions. Then there's Birdo, first introduced in the earlyMario games. Birdo wants to be a lady Birdo and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. These days, games have too many pre-determined ideas about gender.

Hard to believe we still have so few strong female characters and so many oversized burly military male counterparts. At least retro games understood that we should never judge another person, even if they are a plumber or...a yellow ball with an insatiable appetite.

It doesn't matter who you are, you have the ability to be strong and kick some serious arse.

2. Never Lose Hope

Hope is important, never lose it because no matter how low your health bar might be because there's always a chance you'll win - it is possible to defeat your enemy or overcome seemingly doomed circumstances. How many victories have been stolen at the last moment by the underdog? It's a classic film and TV trope, underdog overcoming near impossible odds.

Old school arcade games teach us that you can have your own Rocky moments in life. Your opponent may have more health and energy left in their meter but you can still get the final KO. Of course, I apply this to any undertaking in life because when the odds are against you, it's easy to lose sight of what's taking down your opponent when they least expect it!

3. Remain Calm Under Pressure 

Puzzle games like Tetris and Columns that speed up every level, can taught us to achieve a zen-like calmness when facing pressure from impending deadlines. This means I can still be at my best even when things are stacking up around me. I'd like to see gamers of today play a game of Space Invaders, I imagine they'd struggle. However, remaining calm so you can attack at the opportune moment is the key to winning. Many retro titles have a similar approach but they help us to build up resistance to stress. 

4. Don't Take Big Risks

Or alternatively, be careful when you cross the road. Yes, it may seem derivative but Frogger (although not directly teaching gamers to cross the road) reinforced what our parents and teachers taught us; look both ways before crossing the road.

5. Eat Plenty Of Fruit

If there's one thing that gamers of today lack, it's proper nutrients. Sitting in front of your console all day relying on sustenance from biscuits, sweets and crisps might sound perfect but you'll eventually waste away or worse...become morbidly obese!

Pac-Man taught me that fruit is good for you, it can fight off illnesses, keeps your immune system in shape can provide you with all the precious vitamins you need to continue killing ghosts.

6. Be Persistent

In the original Mario games and later, Sonic The Hedgehog, there were no open worlds because console engines couldn't handle that kind of expansion (I'm blatantly excluding early RPGs here). Instead, you would be presented with the first level and be expected to just muscle through until you got to the end. That was it.

Want to do a side mission? Tough. Want to try another area? Not until you've overcome this painful jumping obstacle that you simply can't seem to master. Keep trying and never give up...because you can't.  

7. Be Patient And Look Before You Leap

Well, don't be too patient because as any retro gamer knows cartridges load up far quicker than any current generation consoles do. Still, patience is something we can learn from the 2D platformers of the past, trying to rush through a level can lead to multiple miscalculations. Be patient, take your time and look around you before you needlessly fall to your death or misjudge the timing of an enemy attack.  

8. Honour The Virtues Of Chivalry And Love

In 1981, Jumpman was presented with a series of ladders and a giant ape named Donkey Kong throwing endless barrels at him. Despite these overwhelming odds, Jumpman (who later went on to become Mario) stood against an insurmountable foe and grave danger to save a damsel in distress. I could go into the sexist implications here but quite frankly, the same applies to both genders (please see life lesson one). 

9. Always Be Prepared

A familiar line from The Legend of Zelda series is "It's dangerous to go alone! Take This" and Link was right in taking so many objects, weapons and fairies trapped in jars (cruel, I know...but you never know when you'll need a fairy, right?). Being prepared for all situations is an important life lesson, just as weather changes suddenly, so does each metaphorical dungeon we come across.

Even seemingly insignificant items could come in handy in a specific situation at a particular moment in time...maybe.

Just don't take it too far, hoarders might be prepared but they have a hard time keeping track of where they put everything. Be sure to carry a purse or knapsack for your items, any more and you're pushing it.

10. Have Fun

Forget becoming emotionally invested in games, crying when your favourite character dies, going to war or stressing out because the fate of the galaxy is in your hands alone because games weren't always so serious. Retro games were simple (in concept not skill level) and were silly and frivolous because...well, they were about fun. Retro games are games, pure and simple, not real life war simulators like certain modern day titles would have us believe. Perhaps this is the ultimate life lesson...Enjoy games! 

There you have it, my retro game life lessons - may these games teach you as well as they taught me. 

If you think I've missed one or you have your own life lessons, leave a comment below!

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