Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Inaugural Deviation: My Second Favorite Art Form


When I started this here blog thing, I mentioned that at times I might drift away from the subject of writing from time to time to talk about other interests. As it turns out, this is the first of such deviations.

At the age of four, my parents placed a video game controller joystick into my eager hands for the first time. I don't remember much about that day, other than being very happy, and arguing with my parents that this was clearly a Nintendo, not a Natari or whatever they were calling it. Having seen commercials/product placement for the original NES, my entire concept of video games was defined by the word Nintendo.


Eventually, I grew to accept the fact that what I actually had was an Atari 2600. I played the handful of games I had to death. To this day, I have fond memories of maddening Spider-Man marathons and harrowing tank duels with my dad in Combat.

What my parents might not have realized at the time is that they were planting the seeds for a love of video games that would stick around well into my adult life. Gaming is by far the most active and absorbing hobby in my life (bear in mind, I don't consider writing a hobby). I try to make time for it at least once or twice a week, even at my busiest. Though a particularly engrossing game or series can get its hooks in me and turn the habit daily if it's good enough.

One such series is Mass Effect.


Created by my favorite game developer, BioWare, the Mass Effect series and the universe explored therein are as compelling as nearly any science fiction work I've ever experienced, including books, television, and movies. It's right up there with Star Wars, Star Trek, and 2001 for me.Earlier this year, the final game in the trilogy was released. To gear up for the grand finale, I've decided to go back and play the entire series in order.

The games cast you as Commander Shepard, an elite human soldier who sets out to explore the galaxy on a quest to save it from an ancient race of machines known as the Reapers, who've made a habit of wiping out all traces of organic life in our neck of the universe every 50 million years or so. The game gives the player the freedom to pursue your goal in whatever way you see fit within the bounds of the story, either as a heroic war hero who does everything in his (or her) power to protect the innocent, or a ruthless soldier who will sacrifice anything (and anyone) for the greater good. The games keep track of the choices you make via the save data on your system, so in the latest installment you're still feeling the consequences of decisions you made five years ago in the first game.

Mass Effect is just one example of why I think video games should be held in the same light as any other medium for fiction. They may have begun as blinks and beeps in shopping malls and movie theater lobbies, but now they're telling stories. Now they're making statements on politics, life, and philosophy. When done well, games can be just as moving and rewarding as any other art form. No matter what Roger Ebert thinks.


I'd love to hear your opinion on video games and where you think they fall on the spectrum of entertainment and art. I'd especially like to hear what fellow writers have to say. Do you think video games are a medium you could use as a writer? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

With my next entry, it will be back to regularly scheduled programming. Specifically, I'll be gearing up for the April A-Z Challenge, which I'm excited and terrified for.

12 comments:

  1. I mostly play RPGs, and I consider them stories because they unfold like stories if you explore enough. The online text-based RPGs are better for readers and lovers of the written word, but it's also more complex to grasp at first because you have to learn all your commands before you can essentially do anything.

    But, yeah, I consider it an art form.

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    1. I'm with you, Diane. I play a pretty wide variety of games, but RPGs are probably my favorite. The game I mentioned in the entry, Mass Effect, is a kind of shooter/RPG hybrid.

      Thanks for reading!

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  2. My son the video game person around here and he plays everything there is to play. I think he does have Mass Effect. Video games make excellent writing for the younger audience and a good post is good for Stumbleupon since their stumblers tend to be younger.

    Great post, though! It has been thirty years since I played video games...they are too violent for me now.

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    1. There are some great games out there without violence, but you're right--they're few and far between. I think violent confrontation is probably just the easiest avenue for a game designer to take when looking for conflict and action to compel the player, similar to action movies with lots of guns and explosions.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  3. My husband is a video game addict. As soon as Mass Effect 3 was released he was all over it. LOL He enjoys (make that "LOVES") RPG and FPS games.

    I don't play video games anymore because I know I'd get totally addicted and would never get any of my artwork or writing completed.

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    1. I know what you mean! Video games can be a serious barrier to productivity, and has been in the past for me, I'm sure. These days, I just stick to a pretty rigorous schedule and don't let myself play any games until I've put in my writing time or met my word count goal for the day. Gaming time is like a reward for my hard work.

      Thanks for reading!

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  4. I don't play video games, but I do think they are an art form. People put a lot of time and energy into creating games, and they obviously have an impact on those who play them. :)

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    1. Glad you agree in that respect! These days people do seem to be recognizing that, especially as the gap between games and cinema continues to narrow.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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  5. Hey JW- Dropping by to let you know that I am giving your blog an award! Come on and check it out! http://emotionalnovel.blogspot.com

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    1. Wow, thanks! I'll stop by on the double.

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  6. I can't keep up w/your posts, JW. You're a blogging machine! Anyway... this post really made me think back on my old nintendo days and how much time I spent sitting in front of Mario 3 trying to get a raccoon suit. Thanks for taking me back.

    And I will be completely honest here: I'm a dork. My text message tone is the "1-up" sound, my ringtone is the theme to Mario 3 and the sound that plays when I get a new msg. on my iPhone is the little songlet the game plays when Mario dies...

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    1. Nothing wrong with dorkitude--I'm chock full of it, along with a healthy dose of nerdry. Mario 3 is a classic! I poured many hours of my youth into it myself.

      And I'm jealous of those ringtones! I used to have the Mario "star theme" on my old phone, but my current one just makes R2-D2 noises.

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Thanks for reading!