Opinon

Video games as life long learning

One of the surprising outcomes of this pandemic have been that I have absolutely fallen in love with Fortnite. My partner originally suggested that we try it out, so we could play with another friend cross-platform. Occasionally he vocalises his despair about that decision, given our disparity in game time. Soon three of us, turned into five, as my brother and sister-in-law joined. Which turned into six , when the original friend’s ‘more demographically relevant’ cousin completed our group. Now we have a pool of people who play regularly, chatting over a messaging app to coordinate in game.

On Monday night, I booted up Fortnite (I play on the Switch, if you want to know), to await the new chapter event, where essentially the map changes and there are new missions. The basic mechanic remain the same: You try to kill all the other players. Even if you don’t want to, the map slowly shrinks, so you are forced into inevitable conflict. It’s cartoony and fun. I like bashing down the buildings, for no reason that I can fathom. Maybe it’s a cathartic way to de-stress. Maybe I just like hitting things.

Luckily, I didn’t get booted out of the server, given the amount of people trying to participate in the event. I even took pictures. It was joyful and strange and I was glad to have been able to be part of it.

Maybe this is a sign that Fortnite is definitely past it, given that I’m definitely not in the target demographic. But it made me reflect on my journey with video games and how they are a form of life long learning.

The first game I ever remember really loving was Bubble Bobble, which I definitely didn’t play that much because I was a child and didn’t have a lot of quarters. I don’t know why it captivated me so much, but I remember if I ever saw it, I would play it. I was probably terrible at it. Not entirely sure how I could even reach the buttons to play.

The second game I remember falling in love with was Excite Bike (definitely showing my age) on the NES. My brother and I got a NES one Christmas, literally bought on Christmas eve (we had a pretty fluid approach to festive shopping in our family). I remember there was a lot of snow, and I think we actually careened into the ditch driving home – but this was Canada, so not a huge trauma. The joy I got from hitting the jumps jussst right to speed ahead. Not only that but the creative mode, making stupidly big jumps and long straights. It definitely was a game that taught me about sequencing and getting things right to win.

I didn’t play many games though. Inevitably, I would watch my brother or friends play. I definitely remember watching, rather than playing, Zelda: A Link to the Past. Though I’m pretty sure I played Final Fantasy 2 (and liked being one of the mages). But they both taught me a love of fighting monsters, of open worlds and quests. Investing the time to save the princess or fight evil. The joy of opening treasure chests. There were of course a series of Mario Games, which I definitely did play. I remember it taking forever for me to master taking off to fly. I remember loving Yoshi. Mario definitely taught me about patience. All those fireballs, Koopas and giant bullets. If you didn’t get the timing right, you inevitably had to start all over again.

There was definitely a lull, somewhere there, where suddenly I must not have played many games. I always got to be Oddjob when playing Goldeneye because I was that terrible. My nickname was ‘Freekill’. I played with brother and his friends. It definitely taught me that I wasn’t good at memorising levels and that you don’t have to like all games.

I also read a lot as kid, so maybe I was reading more books than playing games. I can’t remember a reason for not playing. Maybe we didn’t buy new games. But sometime later, in University, I fell in love with Muppets Party Cruise. I played with my friend and other friends if they were over. I loved mini games. I still love mini games. I like a short challenge. It was fun. So fun. Frivolous, trivial, cartoony and delightful. It taught me that you can delight in simple games, fun is fun is fun.

I think that led to Guitar Hero 3. I got it later than everyone, probably having a Playstation 2 when the Playstation 3 came out. A bit behind the curve. But it had AFI and Dead Kennedys (I was well into punk by then) and of course, Dragonforce. Guitar Hero taught me that I was definitely willing to put the hours in for a perfect run, for no other reason than the SHEER JOY of getting it right. Just thinking about it makes me want to play again. But alas, I have given away my PS2.

My renaissance arrived when I moved in with @psythor, who had an Xbox 360. Bioshock! Assassin’s Creed! And the game that will always have a special place in my heart, Mass Effect.

Mass Effect is one of the only games I have played through multiple times, all three games. It’s the series I reward myself with another replay when I’ve accomplished something. It made me fall in love with characters and understand just how wonderful and complex games can be. It’s the first game which made me cry (OMG LEGION! I’M NOT OVER IT). It made me appreciate the voice artists (we all love Jennifer Hale, right?) It’s the first game that I bought merchandise for (I have two hoodies and a jacket). It’s so wonderful.

It’s the first game that made me realise that I absolutely love video games. That I like the complexity, that I get frustrated when they don’t live up to my expectations, that I love the worlds they create and the challenges they set. The Xbox 360 was replaced by a newer console and it looks like we’re going to do that dance again soon. Of course we are, we want to play the new shiny games. I have definitely learned that I will always need the new console.

Anyway, the lesson here is that games are great. If you’ve loved them all your life, return to them after not playing or have never played. They are shallow and complex, fun and frustrating (I’m looking at you Fallen Order). Some you finish because it’s like a marathon, some you complete every possible side mission because you don’t want it to end.

They teach you about yourself. They let you learn new things all the time. You don’t have to play ‘one type of game’. We have consoles, I play PokemonGo and Candy Crush, and occasionally still obsess over 2048. I’ve learned that mobile games are video games too. Don’t let anyone game-shame you.

Fortnite has taught me that you never know what game you’ll love next. That you should experiment, play with friends, enjoy the worlds created for you to explore and enjoy.

I can’t wait to fall in love with my next game. I hope it’s unexpected and different, opening a new world and a new challenge to carry on my life long learning.

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