All of my life, I have always associated a high value with experiences. Hiking, biking, travel, and so on have always been well worth my time because they offered something personal that I could reflect on for the rest of my life. I have also always been interested in video games, more so when I was younger for the social aspect of playing with friends, but my interest has had resurgence recently.
When I was younger, I was mostly interested in video games to compete with my brother and friends. They were a good time and offered a common interest to bridge that gap between myself and people that I may not have gotten to know any other way. I was a Nintendo kid and when I look back at the games I played, they seemed much simpler than they are now, although they were in no way simple. Some of those games stand the test of time and are still seen as great today. Get through a stage to beat a boss, fight against other players, win the race, get the highest score, my interest was always in the competition; whether I was facing off against an especially tough stage or against my friends. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s still one of the largest reasons people experience games today, and I love a close game anytime.
As I have matured, so has the video game industry. I was lucky enough to be born in 1988, not too far myself from the birth of the industry. I also had an older brother who likely kick started my gaming from a young age as a common interest. Since then, I have always been interested in gaming, though sometime it was placed far on the back-burner as other interests took the spotlight. With my newly rekindled interest, I’ve been able to appreciate the tremendous changes that the industry had gone through. In the recent months that I’ve been investing time in games, it has become clear that video games have become something much different than what people would typically expect.
Much like my values that started off this post, video games seem to focus on the unique experience more now than ever before. In so many ways, the term video game no longer suits the medium, bringing about the forever ongoing discussion of what makes something a game and the arguments about what is and what is not. There are games available today suited for almost any interest and, as game development becomes more approachable and affordable, there are also a huge variety of games built around the idea of sharing a personal experience. That experience may allow the player to take part in something they may not have been able to any other way or offer something that the player can personally identify with.
I listened to an episode of the podcast Reply All today that talked about a “game” that has received a fair amount of press since the demo emerged in 2014. I put the term in quotes for good reason. The game was developed by a grieving father and is inspired by the experience he had with his child who was born ill and soon developed terminal cancer. The game, That Dragon, Cancer, is a memorial to his son developed with help from his wife, children, and a few other developers who were captivated by his story and wanted to see it though to completion.
There are game like elements to the experience, some of the scenes offer tasks for the players to complete, but the result cannot be changed. The goal of the experience is not to win, it is a memorial meant to share the experience that these people had taking care of their son in the short time they had the opportunity to do so with anyone who is interested. It sounds like a truly beautiful tapestry depicting these parents love and heartbreak when facing a situation that is not winnable.
Comparing Super Mario Bros or the Legend of Zelda with That Dragon, Cancer wouldn’t yield many, if any at all, similarities. Yet, these are both video games that allow players to take a hands on approach to a situation and add their own input and form to the experience.
All video games do offer interactive experiences, but the diversity of these experiences has exploded since I was introduced to games and they can offer nearly anything now, from surviving in a prehistoric landscape to facing the reality of caring for a terminally ill infant. As defeating and saddening that experience would be, the ability to share it with the world is tremendous. “Games” like this display the true potential of the medium far beyond practicing shooting your friends for points, though there’s nothing wrong with some Call of Duty to blow off some steam.
Building experiences and allowing players to find their way through them could offer each and every one of us a viewpoint that we could not access any other way and give us a perspective on the world like no other medium is able to. The potential for these interactive experiences is incredible and I am so excited to see how games develop in the near future and beyond.
There’s nothing wrong with just playing for fun either, I can’t get enough car soccer myself, thanks Psyonix!
Image courtesy www.thatdragoncancer.com