It’s no secret that I play and enjoy video games. From the consoles of old and new, handheld to mobile all the way to the PC, I have a chance to play games anywhere I so choose. There are days when all I do is play, and others where I like to get in at least a few minutes if I can before I need to go run some errands or go to work. I always try to find a few minutes to play because for those few minutes of gameplay, I’m a street racer. I’m a 10 year old running around catching creatures. I’m a young woman finding out the truth about my past. I’m a Greek God connecting with my son. I’m a father who lost his daughter and will now do anything necessary to protect what I have left. I can be whoever or whatever I want to be, and the stories that I get to live are part of that. Video games allow stories to be told in unique and different ways. Not only can you be engaged in them, but because of the nature of games you are a part of it. You feel everything the character feels, from the punches you take, to the jumps you leap, to the heart ripping emotions. Video games have always been dismissed as entertainment for kids, because they are “mindless”. On the other side of the spectrum they are seen as things that cause violence. That is certainly not the truth. Video games, like movies and books, can be just as engaging and beautiful. Like music they can also be a means of escape for some and most of all they can bring out the best in us if given the time.

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When thinking of games, most people would think Super Mario Bros, Pac-Man, or even Pong. Which who can blame them, they are some of the most iconic video games of all time. As iconic as they are however, for the most part they are fairly simplistic games. Sure, Super Mario Bros in particular you can get very in depth with if you take the time, but let’s look at the bigger picture. In the eyes of your average person, these are games that can easily be picked up and played without too much explanation. You jump on top of some turtles, hit some blocks, go the right of the screen and win. In Pac-Man, you’re on a static screen, move around avoid some ghosts eat a strawberry and win. Pong? Hit the ball on the other side and win.  So here you can understand why some believe games are mindless. Then we see games like Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, and Mortal Kombat. In Call of Duty 2 Modern Warfare, there is a mission called ‘No Russian’ in which you play part in a mass shooting at an airport in Moscow. In Grand Theft Auto, you steal cars participate in drug runs and are free to kill innocent people and police. In Mortal Kombat you are quite literally tearing people limb from limb and crushing bones in your opponent. Mortal Kombat was the primary reason there are game ratings today. It started a whole controversy on its own back in the 90’s. These are the games that get the biggest spotlight, because they push the boundaries are make you ask why are these games so violent? Have you seen the movie John Wick? Have you watched any Quentin Tarantino film? There’s violence everywhere, even in books. Sure I love ripping someone’s spine out just as much as the next guy, but with any type of media there will always be the over the top violence or explicit words used. There are games that are meant to be shocking and are meant to be crazy and be the over the top action and gore, but that doesn’t mean that the media as a whole is like that. Just as it is with any art form, there is going to be things that some will like and others will dismiss. I may like a particular film, or painting, others may see it as nothing. Everything has a different meaning to someone. However, with anything, there is a middle ground. The games that the general public does not talk about or hear about, but you can bet in the gaming community these games are the gold standard. Uncharted. BioShock. The Last of Us. Metal Gear Solid. Horizon Zero Dawn. Kingdom Hearts, to name a few games that are story driven and games that teach us lessons about life.

Uncharted as a series is one of the best movies I have ever played. You read that correctly. The cinematic storytelling is fantastic. Who doesn’t like a wise cracking protagonist going on Indiana Jones-esk adventures. Except instead of just watching Indy punch, shoot and find treasure in history, it’s actually you doing it. You become part of the world. In BioShock you are pulled into an underwater city, with a message about political philosophy. Yes in a video game. You learn the value of making your own choices in life instead of being controlled and told what to do because that is what you were made for. I mentioned escape earlier as well, and that’s where games like Kingdom Hearts come in. In the game you play as the character of Sora who is the chosen weirder of the Keyblade. You go on adventures trying to stop the darkness in peoples hearts, and try to connect your heart with others. I saw myself in that sense. That I had issues connecting with people in the past. I was always a loner. I would go to school where I would talk to others, socialize, but you kind of have to almost like it’s forced. The second the bell rang and I went home I would play games by myself, be at home by myself, and not have anyone outside of my family to socialize. My heart wasn’t connected to anyone but my own. Video games were my escape however. I laughed with the characters, I cried with them, I became immersed with the world. I didn’t have a world of my own at that point, but I had games to take me places. Because of games like Kingdom Hearts, I remembered what it was like to try to connect to other people, and how far I’ve come. Today I have many friends that I socialize with and are proud to call my family, and we will forever be connected.

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On another level, pun intended, we have games like The Last of Us. In this game, you follow the story of a heart broken father as he traverses across the country and learns how to cope with loss and have your morality and humanity questioned. How far would you go to protect someone? These games have messages. They have lessons in them that question who we are as people and ask if we are doing the right things in our life. The Last of Us specifically struck a chord with me most recently after watching an episode of Retro Replay. If you are unfamiliar with the game, it takes place in a post apocalyptic world after a parasitic fungus known as Cordyceps takes over the bodies of people and wipes out sixty percent of the population. In the episode, Troy Baker who plays Joel in The Last of Us, talked about a moment in the game that you can very easily miss and walk away from. At a certain point you are in an underground sewer where people found shelter, but is has since been abandoned. There is a room that appears to have been a classroom, with very clear context that there are small bodies covered by sheets. A message written in scratches on the floor reads “They didn’t suffer”. Troy then describes that he was in tears, and it impacted him so deeply. He only caught it the second time he played. The first time he went right through it not thinking about it.

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We miss things the first time we go through. Not just in games but in life. Day by day we rush, we stumble, we fall. If we take the few moments to step back and see where we’re going, we can maybe learn a thing or two about ourselves. This is a lesson that I didn’t learn from school, or even my parents. I learned this from video games. I learned to search every corner, look around, feel the environment around me and figure out the puzzle of the game. Now I’m doing the same thing, but in life. Life is short, and if we rush through it it’s going to pass by so fast you’re going to wonder why didn’t you slow down. I’m not tying to speed run life like I can a game. Playing video games can be your escape from whatever you’re dealing with. You can put yourself in the characters shoes, and grow with them. In that growth is where you can learn all you need about yourself. I’m now in a point in my life where video games aren’t an escape because I don’t need to escape anymore. It’s released me back into my world, and I can enjoy it much better now. But playing a few rounds of Halo sounds like fun during life’s downtime.