Monday, 3 February 2014

For The Love Of Video Games (Or Why All Video Games Are About Love)

I wrote an abridged version of this article for Forces Of Geek (Thursday 30th January 2014), I had so much to say but very little word count, so here's the unabridged version for you:

When the PS4 launched late last year, TV critic and avid gamer Charlie Brooker was interviewed for Channel 4 by Jon Snow about games. It turned out, Snow had no idea about games and very little tolerance for them, claiming them to be violent and childish. Cue numerous jokes and memes about Jon Snow knowing nothing a la Game Of Thrones...

Obvious joke aside, it was a rather difficult interview to watch as Snow refused to listen to any of the points Brooker made in defence of video games - not that he had much chance to answer, Snow repeatedly bulldozed the conversation leaving Brooker seemingly in shock - and the whole debacle highlighted the huge gap between old and new media.

I thoroughly recommend watching it and if you can manage to get through it without cringing or getting angry then you are a better person than me - well done!

If you don't want to watch the video, one of the many ill-informed statements was:
You know why none of them (gamers) would get married, don't you? It's because there are no women - Jon Snow, Channel 4 News.
I know couples who met through MMORPGs or first encountered one another at games conventions. There are countless blogs dedicated to couples who have found love through MMORPGs too, like MMO Couples. My own relationship even involves countless happy hours of gaming together.

Why am I bringing this up? Well films and TV shows tell us that geeks (and subsequently, gamers) are awful at beginning and maintaining relationships and the media seems obsessed with the obscure notion that video games are violent and exist solely for lonely individuals to kill one another repeatedly. These absurd ideas are simply not true. 

Unfortunately, until mainstream media realises the importance of gaming or opens its eyes to the truth that we aren't all socially awkward psychopaths, we are doomed to unfair and unreal portrayals of our lives through film, TV and traditional print media.

That said, I have a rebuttal to make and an honour to defend so I would like to put it to you, esteemed ladies and gentleman of the Internet that every game is in some way about love.

A bold statement, I know, but let me explain. To start, take some classic games like Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and The Legend Of Zelda, they are all about saving a princess or loved one. Take it further than this; Link saves the kingdom of Hyrule over and over, he must love the Hyrulian people otherwise he wouldn't repeatedly risk his life for them.

When Mario isn't saving a princess, he's saving his brother. This brotherly love is pretty strong considering that the Mario Bros. do everything together. It's not one-sided either, in Luigi's Mansion, Luigi overcomes intense fear in order to find and save his brother. If that's not love, I don't know what is.

In the Gears Of War series, Dom Santiago is fighting alongside his close friend Marcus Fenix, their friendship keeps them going throughout and their stubbornness means they are never willing to leave each other behind. This repeatedly leads to situations where each of them risk their lives for one another. Dom of course, had another reason for fighting so hard; his wife Maria, "it's the pay...I've got a family to feed now".

He could have taken a better photo, the lighting is just awful

With a best friend at his side and a loving wife and family to feed, Dom's character proves that thick necked military types have a softer side to them, willing to sacrifice their lives for love. In the third instalment of the game, after losing Maria in Gears Of War 2, Dom actually does make the ultimate sacrifice for Marcus and drives explosives into a horde of lambents to save him and and the rest of the Gears. That takes more than guts, it takes love.

What about the deep, emotional connections that some games build with their players? I know there are people out there like me who cried during Final Fantasy VII or took their fictional relationship with Kaidan in Mass Effect 2 and 3 far too seriously (hey, don't judge me! The option to seduce him was there, okay? And that fan fiction was just lying there waiting to be read..)

I can feel the tears welling up...

I cried when the characters I made virtual bonds with died because these games made me feel for their characters. It's astounding really, that games can invoke such intense reactions, if only old media realised that games can provoke something other than what they perceive as violence.

There are the games where we play protagonists who have the sole intention of finding their family or searching for their loved ones. Harry Mason in the first Silent Hill game is searching for Cheryl, his daughter...he mostly finds creepy disfigured nurses but his driving force throughout the game is his love for her which keeps him determined and allows him to keep searching instead of, I don't know, having a nervous breakdown and FREAKING THE HELL OUT!

Well, either it's love or a deep seated guilt for being an awful father who let his daughter wander off on her own to fend for herself in a big, scary place amidst heavy fog and terrifying monsters.

Creepy Disfigured Nurses...must be someone's type, right?

In Silent Hill 2, James Sunderland receives a love letter from his deceased wife asking him to come and find her. Some might call it unhealthy to follow instructions from beyond the grave, I mean, it certainly doesn't help the grieving process.

However, you could put it down to the fact that love transcends time, space and even death. It's James' love for his wife that causes him to go looking for her - though, I can't say a letter from a deceased loved one is more valid proof of existence than say, a death certificate...but er, I guess love blinds people? That's a thing, right?

Okay, so the majority of my suggestions are games revolving around loved ones, I'm hardly swaying you. Yet, even games like Pac-Man are about characters having a love of something, in Pac-Man's case, he loves to eat. 

There's also the fact that every game made came from people who cared about the very thing they were making. Chances are, the companies that make the games we enjoy have attachments to their game which go beyond financial gain and the amount of units sold. 

At least, that's what I hope. 

Another factor regarding romance and relationships is that the notion of love doesn't necessarily pertain to characters being nice to one another either, plenty of people have been in love and done or said hurtful things. 

It's for this reason that I think GLaDOS actually loves Chell, she lives in order to test her, without her, life would be meaningless which is why she tries so hard to ensure she never escapes. 

Portal: teaching us about unconventional love...and cake.

Promising her cake, scaring her so she doesn't leave, using the Companion Cube to teach her the harsh cruelty of loving anyone she occasionally reveals things about her own life like the fact she once saw a deer.

All these things indicate love, albeit a very unhealthy form of love, but then GLaDOS doesn't understand the concept in the conventional sense we do. In her own weirdly warped way, I believe she genuinely cares for Chell.

Another unlikely love interest can be found in zombies, of all types and in all games. Have you ever known any one, dead or alive, to run to you, smash through doors because they are so happy to see you and overcome physical obstacles to get to you?

Aw, don't lock them out...they just want a hug!

Zombies are the ultimate lovesick puppies, they really do love you. You might be lonely now, but when the inevitable zombie apocalypse comes, you'll be fighting plenty of potential lovers off! Plus, they love you for more than just your looks; they love your intellect. 

Okay, so they love your actual brains, but you get the idea.

I could keep going and find reasons for practically any game to suggest its connection to love. Even games with very little plot. Ultimately, if a game has a devoted fan base, it has done its job and has taught us about and encouraged love, not violence...unless of course you are a fan of the Call Of Duty series. In which case, I'm sorry, even I can't find an excuse for you.

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