I realize that most people who read this probably do not play video games themselves. In fact, I hesitate to talk about how much I enjoy playing video games for the simple reason that I know that it is one of the most misunderstood and abused forms of entertainment there are.
To those on the outside, video games are often assumed to be for one of two people: 1) kids; or 2) adult men who can’t grow up and don’t have boundaries or discipline. It is true that these two groups represent much of video game consumers, if not most. But it does not represent ALL. I personally enjoy playing Xbox games and I have a healthy marriage, two amazing kids, and a career that I’m proud of. To me, a good video game is like reading a good fictional novel and it provides a way for my mind to relax and for my imagination muscles to be flexed. Like most things in life, they should be enjoyed with boundaries and when they are not, or when a person cannot, then it is probably best to avoid them. My wife and I don’t get into fights over me playing video games (which is not true for most guys from what I hear).
If I haven’t lost you yet, let me tell you three Xbox games that I’ve played recently and some life observations that I’ve drawn from them. Keep in mind that Xbox is primarily a platform for games more advanced than for kids (as is the large style controller itself). As such, 2 of the 3 of these games are definitely not designed for kids.
One of the themes I’ve noticed in video games is that they highlight the more fun parts of life and omit the tedious parts. Because of that, it is a relaxing way to enjoy a story. (Before you write this off as totally unhealthy, consider that TV, movies, and books do the same thing. How much of a TV show is spent depicting the characters eating, sleeping, or stopping to use the restroom? Those are very real parts of life yet get very little coverage in our entertainment. I remember watching the show 24 and noticing that Jack Bauer never needed to eat or use the restroom for 24 hours straight!)
Fallout: New Vegas
This is classified as an RPG (role playing game) and the character follows a storyline that takes place in post-apocalyptic Las Vegas. Think “Book of Eli” as a game. There are a number of factions trying to gain control and people are left sorting between them. The player must navigate through the storyline while also choosing who they want to be on good terms with and who they will choose as enemies.
The choices you make in life have real consequences. To make one group happy you often have to offend another group. One ally makes another enemy.
It also shows an interesting “Lord of the Flies” type mentality of human selfishness and our desire for survival. In this type of world you see people as they really are. When there is no government or police, how do people choose to treat one another?
- The map of the game is pretty large and you end up traveling often. This would be extremely tedious and time consuming if they made you actually walk to each location. To fix this, they allow you to “fast travel” to any location that you’ve already been to. I wish I could do this in real life! I would have hours more time in my day and no gas bill!
- The game offers a hardcore mode for the really devout players. The biggest difference is that it requires the player to keep hydrated! Seriously, you have to monitor your dehydration and make sure that you are finding and drinking water while you play. They chose to add in a much more realistic aspect of life in order to up the difficulty.
This is a game I have to get every year as they update it with new gaming improvements and the updated roster. My favorite part of these games are two modes: franchise mode and career mode. In franchise mode you get to take over a team and run it from the top down. I obviously choose the Yankees and start making all the decisions that I think they should make. The second mode that is very fun is the career mode. In this mode you create a player and follow his entire career while only playing the plays that he is in.
Things are always harder than they look. It is easy for me as a fan to critique how my team runs things. Clearly, I know the best decisions and its easy to get frustrated by moves that I don’t agree with. While these type of games streamline the details of what really go into the sports industry, you still get a feel for the trickiness of accomplishing your goals when your at the helm.
- Career mode is definitely my favorite part of the game. At first, it is a little weird that you only play the parts of each game where your character is fielding or batting. (It is also weird to anyone watching). But can you imagine how mind-numbing it would be to play a character that is standing in the field for the other plays? I don’t think I’d make it through one game! So, they conveniently skip me ahead to when I’m in the spotlight again.
- Your player in career mode starts in the minor leagues. You play against unknown teams and AI players with no announcers until you get into the bigs. While it may seem that this would not be a fun way to start the game, it turns out that this bit of realism actually causes you to emotionally invest in the career of your player once he gets promoted. Whereas added realism in Fallout added difficulty, added realism in MLB2K11 adds emotional buy in.
This is my favorite game franchise and I’ve played all three of them over the years. It is another RPG and it is set in a medieval style kingdom named Albion. This game also focuses on the consequences of your decisions. Every choice you make affects the storyline, the way characters treat you, and who your character develops into.
For every action there is a reaction. While it often takes us years, if not decades, to see the actual results of decisions we make today, this game allows you to get a much tighter snapshot of how that all works. You play through a lifetime in only hours with the game and it provides perspective for the lifetime that we go back to living.
- The game starts with you trying to overthrow the current king who is your brother. To gain support of the people you must go around and make promises of what you would do differently if given the chance. It teaches you that before people will trust and follow you they must believe that you have their best interests at heart.
- You become king at one point in the game and are suddenly forced to make decisions about the kingdom. And here is the kicker: fulfilling the promises that you made earlier in the game are in direct contrast to what you have to accomplish for the storyline. You are left to decide who to say yes to and who to break a promise to. The consequences of each can be assumed.
- They add a level of realism as detailed as having to set the tax rate for your kingdom. However, they don’t make you sit in on long political meetings and instead you just skip to the decision times. The added realism of this game creates a unique feeling of being a president or king and the benefits and challenges of that.
Video games are definitely becoming more realistic to life but it will be interesting to see where they continue to draw the line with tedious realities. What will be enhanced and what will be omitted?
Looking at the balance of reality in video games is a small glimpse reminding us that life truly is an adventure worth living. There is nothing in these games that isn’t a variation of real life experiences. The success of video games is that nobody gets lost on the mundane. The problem with life is that we often do.
God has designed us to live this life and the next in His Kingdom and while that will include tedious things like driving, sleeping, and eating, it should never leave us with the conclusion that life is designed to be dull.
Greg Boyd recently said that “I have this sense that if I was fully awake, moment-by-moment, I’d find wonder in everything – because those moments when I am, I do.”
That’s my encouragement to you. Learn from the success of video games and focus on the unknown and unexpected adventure that God has before you if you would only choose it. Everybody experiences the mundane but not everybody experiences the adventure.