Video Games will rot your brain.
For several decades the gaming industry has battled the scrutiny of parents and politicians alike over the intellectual content of a video game and its impact on societal development or degeneration as they would see it. Despite the growth and development of more sophisticated gameplay delegated to a more eclectic and diverse set of genres, the general public still views games as less than intellectual by any means. Where that may be true in the execution of simpler games with less substance, there are still multitudes of other games that would honestly blow a Hemingway novel right out of the water. In fact, for every mindless button-masher there are hundreds of intellectually stimulating games on both a mental/ reading level as well as a physical/ reflexes level.
Games were first crafted to be simple and entertaining. Games like Pong and Pac-Man have very simplistic motivations and goals that do nothing for intellectual stimulation. Instead, they focused on reflexes and hand-eye coordination to achieve a success over the computer’s skills. It wasn’t until around 1986 when Dragon Warrior, of the now famous Dragon Quest franchise, changed the gaming industry with in-depth storytelling, a turn based system of options during battle that involved strategy, and a genre defining narrative that drew from classical literature that games began to reflect the need for over just beating the computer. Now, video games aspired to tell compelling stories while drawing the players into the roles of each character they take on. In the beginning the typical structure involved saving a princess which was again established by Dragon Warrior and carried on through titles such as The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario. Gradually, games would develop into an industry that thrived on substance rather than just gameplay.
As games and similarly flims progressed, more and more titles focused on cinematic storytelling in conjunction with engaging gameplay mechanics until the entire industry was buzzing with popularity. Like all literature, games now were divided into genres and sub-genres in order to appeal to a variety of audiences. A shooter game would contain a reason to shoot, a story about the shooter, and an overall story about the world in which he must shoot. Every warrior with a sword had his own story and his world described in epic detail. Even tactical games that model themselves after Chess and Shougi found ways to weave in narrative in order to compel the players into full involvement with their games. That’s not to say that there weren’t still games without stories. Puzzle games, simple shooters, and others still found a home with the fans who loved a challenge of their reflexes, but these games were beginning to fade into a humble origin.
Now with a gaming industry of billions of players, the level of intricacy is much higher. Audiences have grown smarter with each technological boom and the gamer of the 70’s and 80’s is no longer in the same league. A game like Angry Birds for cellular phones is ideal for the gamer on the go without time to invest in a deep storyline, but the gamer at home will not be quelled with simplicity. Companies like BioWare and Bethesda constantly produce writing heavy games with complex characters and storylines that rival in comparison to great writers like Tolkein and King. Every new game must outshine the next and like a good book the writing must always impress. In some cases gameplay can make up for a terrible story and a good story can make up for terrible gameplay, but together they can synergize in a way that creates a new intellectual experience.
As a creator interested in different mediums it can be frustrating to hear complaints about certain outlets. Comic books get the same reputation as video games as they both come from simplistic children-based origins. However the mold of which they were born has long been broken and the level of sophistication from both has surpassed what many would deem intellectual. For me it seems like a simple equation in the case of comic books; Art on its own has its merits as well as literature—but combined they create a new and more complex medium of expression with its own rules and merits. Film exists the same way in that it combines the human element of acting with written screenplays and a director’s magical vision. Video games combine the writing, with gameplay mechanics from programmers, cinematic experience from both the writers and the director, and in more modern games the acting involved from the voice actors—thus molding a new medium with a new set of rules and merits to accompany the art it creates.
Games have developed into an intellectual medium that transcends all of the levels of artistry that the combined mediums on their own could not have mustered without sacrificing any of the quality. What we have now is a respectable medium in which a new art form can be expressed while simultaneously entertaining and educating an audience that is attentive and involved throughout the entire ride both mentally and physically. To say that they rot your brain on any level would be the folly of not understanding the growth of both the industry and the players.
For smart readers unfamiliar with gaming, I hope you come to involve yourself in the medium soon after reading this in order to better understand it on an intellectual level. Below I’ve listed just a few of my favorite recent games with links that should really impress you in terms of quality and sophistication.
As for gamers: Congratulations, you’ve completed this article and learned a few things…but I’m afraid the princess is in another castle. You’ll just have to keep searching for knowledge until you find her in this vast new world of interactive-literary synergy.
Games To Consider: